U.S. and China held in March first informal nuclear talks in five years, delegates reveal

The United States and China resumed semi-official nuclear arms talks in March for the first time in five years, with Beijing’s representatives telling U.S. counterparts that they would not resort to atomic threats over Taiwan, according to two American delegates who attended. The Chinese representatives offered reassurances after their U.S. interlocutors raised concerns that China might use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons if it faced defeat in a conflict over Taiwan.

“They told the U.S. side that they were absolutely convinced that they are able to prevail in a conventional fight over Taiwan without using nuclear weapons,” said scholar David Santoro, the U.S. organiser of the Track Two talks, the details of which are being reported by Reuters for the first time.

Participants in Track Two talks are generally former officials and academics who can speak with authority on their government’s position, even if they are not directly involved with setting it. Government-to-government negotiations are known as Track One. Washington was represented by about half a dozen delegates, including former officials and scholars at the two-day discussions, which took place in a Shanghai hotel conference room.

Beijing sent a delegation of scholars and analysts, which included several former People’s Liberation Army officers.

A State Department spokesperson said in response to Reuters’ questions that Track Two talks could be “beneficial”. The department did not participate in the March meeting though it was aware of it, the spokesperson said. Such discussions cannot replace formal negotiations “that require participants to speak authoritatively on issues that are often highly compartmentalized within (Chinese) government circles,” the spokesperson said.

Members of the Chinese delegation and Beijing’s defence ministry did not respond to requests for comment. The informal discussions between the nuclear-armed powers took place with the U.S. and China at odds over major economic and geopolitical issues, with leaders in Washington and Beijing accusing each other of dealing in bad faith.

The two countries briefly resumed Track One talks over nuclear arms in November but those negotiations have since stalled, with a top U.S. official publicly expressing frustration at China’s responsiveness. The Pentagon, which estimates that Beijing’s nuclear arsenal increased by more than 20% between 2021 and 2023, said in October that China “would also consider nuclear use to restore deterrence if a conventional military defeat in Taiwan” threatened CCP rule.

Track Two negotiations

The Track Two talks are part of a two-decade nuclear weapons and posture dialogue that stalled after the Trump administration pulled funding in 2019.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, semi-official discussions resumed on broader security and energy issues, but only the Shanghai meeting dealt in detail with nuclear weapons and posture.

Nuclear policy analyst William Alberque of the Henry Stimson Centre think-tank, who was not involved in the March discussions, said the Track Two negotiations were useful at a time of glacial U.S.-Chinese relations.

“It’s important to continue talking with China with absolutely no expectations,” he said, when nuclear arms are at issue.

No first-use?

The U.S. Department of Defence estimated last year that Beijing has 500 operational nuclear warheads and will probably field more than 1,000 by 2030.

That compares to 1,770 and 1,710 operational warheads deployed by the U.S. and Russia respectively. The Pentagon said that by 2030, much of Beijing’s weapons will likely be held at higher readiness levels. Since 2020, China has also modernised its arsenal, starting production of its next-generation ballistic missile submarine, testing hypersonic glide vehicle warheads and conducting regular nuclear-armed sea patrols. Weapons on land, in the air and at sea give China the “nuclear triad” – a hallmark of a major nuclear power.

A key point the U.S. side wanted to discuss, according to Santoro, was whether China still stood by its no-first-use and minimal deterrence policies, which date from the creation of its first nuclear bomb in the early 1960s.

Minimal deterrence refers to having just enough atomic weapons to dissuade adversaries. China is also one of two nuclear powers – the other being India – to have pledged not to initiate a nuclear exchange. Chinese military analysts have speculated that the no-first-use policy is conditional – and that nuclear arms could be used against Taiwan’s allies – but it remains Beijing’s stated stance.

Santoro said the Chinese delegates told U.S. representatives that Beijing maintained these policies and that “‘we are not interested in reaching nuclear parity with you, let alone superiority.'”

“‘Nothing has changed, business as usual, you guys are exaggerating’,” Santoro said in summarising Beijing’s position.

His description of the discussions was corroborated by fellow U.S. delegate Lyle Morris, a security scholar at the Asia Society Policy Institute. A report on the discussions is being prepared for U.S. government but would not be made public, Santoro said.

‘Risk and opacity’

Top U.S. arms control official Bonnie Jenkins told Congress in May that China had not responded to nuclear-weapons risk reduction proposals that Washington raised during last year’s formal talks.

China has yet to agree to further government-to-government meetings.

Bejing’s “refusal to substantively engage” in discussions over its nuclear build-up raises questions around its “already ambiguous stated “no-first-use” policy and its nuclear doctrine more broadly,” the State Department spokesperson told Reuters.

China’s Track Two delegation did not discuss specifics about Beijing’s modernisation effort, Santoro and Morris said.

Alberque of the Henry Stimson Centre said that China relied heavily on “risk and opacity” to mitigate U.S. nuclear superiority and there was “no imperative” for Beijing to have constructive discussions.

China’s expanded arsenal – which includes anti-ship cruise missiles, bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines – exceeded the needs of a state with a minimal deterrence and no-first-use policy, Alberque said.

Chinese talking points revolved around the “survivability” of Beijing’s nuclear weapons if it suffered a first strike, said Morris.

The U.S. delegates said the Chinese described their efforts as a deterrence-based modernisation programme to cope with developments such as improved U.S. missile defences, better surveillance capabilities, and strengthened alliances. The U.S., Britain and Australia last year signed a deal to share nuclear submarine technology and develop a new class of boats, while Washington is now working with Seoul to coordinate responses to a potential atomic attack.

Washington’s policy on nuclear weapons includes the possibility of using them if deterrence fails, though the Pentagon says it would only consider that in extreme circumstances. It did not provide specifics.

One Chinese delegate “pointed to studies that said Chinese nuclear weapons were still vulnerable to U.S. strikes – their second-strike capability was not enough”, said Morris.

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In setback to Turkey’s Erdogan, opposition makes huge gains in local election

Turkey’s main opposition party retained its control over key cities and made huge gains elsewhere in Sunday’s local elections, in a major upset to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had set his sights on retaking control of those urban areas.

With more than 90% of ballot boxes counted, incumbent Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, was leading by a wide margin in Turkey’s largest city and economic hub, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. Mansur Yavas, the mayor of the capital, Ankara, retained his seat with a stunning 25-point difference over his challenger, the results indicated.

In all, the CHP won the municipalities of 36 of Turkey’s 81 provinces, according to Anadolu, making inroads into many strongholds of Erdogan’s party. It gained 37% of the votes nationwide, compared to 36% for the president’s party, marking the CHP’s greatest electoral victory since President Erdogan came to power two decades ago.

Mr. Erdogan acknowledged the electoral setback in a speech delivered from the balcony of the presidential palace, saying his party had suffered “a loss of altitude” across Turkey. The people delivered a “message” that his party will “analyse” by engaging in “courageous” self-criticism, he said.

“Unfortunately, nine months after our victory in the May 28 elections, we could not get the result we wanted in the local election test,” Mr. Erdogan added. “We will correct our mistakes and redress our shortcomings.”

He vowed to press ahead with an economic program introduced last year that aims to combat inflation.

The vote was seen as a barometer of Mr. Erdogan’s popularity as he sought to win back control of key urban areas he lost to the opposition in elections five years ago. The CHP’s victory in Ankara and Istanbul in 2019 had shattered Erdogan’s aura of invincibility.

The main battleground for the 70-year-old Turkish president was Istanbul, a city of 16 million people where he was born and raised and where he began his political career as mayor in 1994.

The result came as a boost for the opposition, which was left divided and demoralized after a defeat to Mr. Erdogan and his ruling Islamic-oriented Justice and Development Party, or AKP, in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.

“The voters decided to establish a new political order in Turkey,” CHP leader Ozgur Ozel told a crowd of jubilant supporters. “Today, the voters decided to change the 22-year-old picture in Turkey and open the door to a new political climate in our country.”

A large crowd, meanwhile, gathered outside Ankara City Hall to celebrate Mr. Yavas’ victory. “Ankara is proud of you!” supporters chanted.

Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based Edam think tank, said “the surprising outcome” was due to voters wanting to punish the ruling party over the “depth of an economic malaise.” Skyrocketing inflation has left many Turkish households struggling to afford basic goods.

AKP supporters opted to stay away from the ballot stations or voted for other parties, Mr. Ulgen said.

“Turnout was relatively low compared to past elections,” he said. “There were cross-party shifts in the vote, which did not happen in the nationals elections because of stronger ideological attachments. This time around the economy prevailed over identity.”

Some 61 million people, including more than a million first-time voters, were eligible to cast ballots for all metropolitan municipalities, town and district mayorships as well as neighborhood administrations.

Turnout was around 76%, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency, compared to 87% last year.

Some 594,000 security personnel were on duty across the country to ensure the vote goes smoothly. Nevertheless, one person was killed and 11 others were hurt in the city of Diyarbakir where a dispute over the election of a neighborhood administrator turned violent, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. At least six people were also injured in fighting that erupted in the nearby province of Sanliurfa.

“According to the data we have obtained, it seems our citizens’ trust in us, their faith in us has paid off,” Mr. Imamoglu said of the early results.

Mr. Imamoglu won 50.6% of the votes in Istanbul, while AKP candidate Murat Kurum, a former urbanization and environment minister, received 40.5%, according to Anadolu. Opinion polls had pointed to a close race between the two.

Mr. Imamoglu — a popular figure touted as a possible future challenger to President Erdogan — ran without the support of some of the parties that helped him to victory in 2019. Both the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy Party and the nationalist IYI Party fielded their own candidates in the race.

A six-party opposition alliance led by CHP disintegrated after it failed to oust President Erdogan in last year’s election, unable to capitalize on the economic crisis and the government’s initially poor response to last year’s devastating earthquake that killed more than 53,000 people.

Mr. Ulgen said the result has thrust Imamoglu into the role of possible leader of the opposition to challenge Erdogan for the presidency in 2028.

“This outcome has certainly been a watershed for Imamoglu,” he said. “He will emerge as the natural candidate of the opposition for the next round of presidential elections.

Meanwhile, a new religious-conservative party, the New Welfare Party, or YRP, is appealing to voters who have been disillusioned with President Erdogan’s handling of the economy.

In Turkey’s mainly Kurdish-populated southeast, the DEM Party was poised to win many of the municipalities but it’s unclear whether it would be allowed to retain them. In previous years, Erdogan’s government removed elected pro-Kurdish mayors from office for alleged links to Kurdish militants and replaced them with state-appointed trustees.

Analysts said a strong showing for Erdogan’s party would have hardened his resolve to usher in a new constitution — one that would reflect his conservative values and allow him to rule beyond 2028 when his current term ends.

Mr. Erdogan, who has presided over Turkey for more than two decades — as prime minister since 2003 and president since 2014 — has been advocating a new constitution that would put family values at the forefront.

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China’s Two sessions | What is it and key highlights of this year’s event

The story so far: China held its annual parliamentary meetings known as ‘Two Sessions’ last week from March 4 to 11 to vote on legislations pre-approved by its ruling party, the Communist Party of China (CPC). The ‘Two Sessions’ event, which lasted for a week and comprised Beijing’s top political advisory body Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and its unicameral legislature the National People’s Congress (NPC), saw Beijing set the CPC’s agenda for the next year – a push for technology innovation, 5% economic growth and concentrating more power into Xi Jinping’s hands.

While the passage of the laws is a given in the nation’s single-party system, the ‘Two Sessions’ event offers a rare view of China’s top leadership, particularly the Chinese Premier – the CPC’s second-in-command – via his press conference at the end of the session. However, this annual event has been scrapped in the latest edition. This year, the NPC also amended the State Council Organic Law, directing the State Council to ‘faithfully implement the CPC’s directives’.

Hit with an economic crisis and loss of investment, China has set an ambitious 5% growth target for next year but did not announce any major policy changes to reach this figure. It has also not announced any new appointments to the State Council headed by Chinese Premier Li Qiang, leaving the posts of Foreign Minister and Defence Minister vacant since last year.

 Here’s a look at the ‘Two Sessions’ event and key outcomes this year

What are the ‘Two Sessions’ ?

Lianghui or ‘Two Sessions’ is the collective term used for the annual event held by the Chinese Parliament, called the National People’s Congress (NPC), and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). As per the NPC Observer, the NPC, China’s topmost legislative body, with 2977 delegates elected for a five year term, meets only once every year in early March. This was the second session of the 14th NPC and 14th CPPCC – kicking off on March 5 and 4 respectively.

 14th National People’s Congress

In its session, the NPC deliberates on the government’s work report, reviews Central and local budgets, debates and passes laws pre-approved by the CCP, deliberates on annual work reports of the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) — the permanent standing committee of the NPC, Supreme People’s Court (SPC) – China’s apex court, and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) – Beijing’s top public prosecutor to investigate and prosecute crimes.

Every year, in March, the NPC holds three plenary sessions at the Great Hall of the People on the west side of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. In the first session, held on March 5 this year, the delegates reviewed reports and development plans for 2024 and were briefed on the government’s work report by Chinese Premier Li Qiang, and on the revision to the State Council Organic Law by NPCSPC Vice-Chairman Li Hongzhong.

In the second session, on March 8, delegates were briefed on the work reports of the NPCSC by its chairman Zhao Leji, the work of SPC by its President Zhang Jun and that of the SPP by the Procurator-General Ying Yong. In the last session, held on March 11, the delegates voted on resolutions pertaining to the work reports and the draft of the revised State Council Organic Law. Changes to the reports, legislations or any new delegate bills were proposed during deliberations in smaller groups on days between the sessions. The three work reports were then adopted via resolutions and the revised State Council Organic Law was passed.

14th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference

This year’s CPPCC kicked off with an opening session on March 4 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, with President Xi Jinping in attendance along with Premier Li Qiang and other top CPC leaders like Zhao Leji, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, Li Xi and Han Zheng. In the opening session, also attended by several foreign envoys and foreign media, CPPCC National Committee’s chairman Wang Huning read the work report of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC National Committee. Later, the National committee’s members held group meetings to deliberate on the report on political proposals.

The closing meeting of the second session of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 10, 2024

On March 5, members of the CPPCC National committee attended the NPC’s opening plenary session as non-voting members to listen to the Government Work report. Apart from CCP leaders, the CPPCC also comprises of businessmen, celebrities, and military officials and has a national-level committee and regional committees which advise the government/NPC on social and political issues. The body works in a purely advisory capacity and wields no legislative power, unlike the NPC.

Key moments and outcomes

Premier’s press conference scrapped

On March 4, NPC spokesperson Lou Qinjian announced that the annual press conference by Premier Li Qiang, customarily held at the end of the event, had been scrapped by the NPC. He said that Mr. Li wouldn’t hold the annual press conferences for the remainder of the term, which ends in 2027, barring “special circumstances,” without mentioning what those were. Three other press conferences on the Chinese economy, foreign relations, and Chinese livelihoods were held by various other ministers.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang delivers the work report at the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2024.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang delivers the work report at the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2024.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

The cancellation of the Premier’s press conference, a tradition since 1993, has deprived international media of an opportunity to question the nation’s second-in-command. With access to Mr. Li cut-off, China’s policymakers remain completely insulated from the world.

5% economic growth, no change in policy

Delivering his maiden government work report at the opening day of the NPC, Premier Li Qiang set an economic growth target of 5% for 2024, vowing to push China’s ‘growth model’, make structural adjustments and enhance performance.


Also Read | Explained | On China’s economic slowdown

Hit with a property crisis due to the collapse of developer Evergrande, Chinese real estate developers have been struggling to remain solvent, leading to a slump in new home sales. Refusing to bail out developers, the government has urged companies to file for bankruptcy instead. Since the onset of COVID-19 leading to a total lockdown of the nation — multiple times due to the recurring COVID-19 waves — China has lost many of its investments. With low demand, consumer prices too have fallen in China, bringing the nation to the brink of deflation. All these issues have also wreaked havoc to the Chinese stock market, with many domestic and foreign investors losing confidence in what is the world’s largest market.

A view of an unfinished residential compound developed by China Evergrande Group in the outskirts of Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China February 1, 2024. A court ordered the liquidation of the property developer who has plunged China into a real estate crisis.

A view of an unfinished residential compound developed by China Evergrande Group in the outskirts of Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China February 1, 2024. A court ordered the liquidation of the property developer who has plunged China into a real estate crisis.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

Despite myriad sectors facing issues, Mr. Li announced no new stimulus or policy change to achieve the targeted 5% growth rate. Setting a fiscal budget deficit target of 3%, China seeks to stave off deflation and control its rising debt. Admitting that achieving 5% growth with 2023’s base of 5.2% ‘will not be easy’, Mr. Li said that the need to boost employment and incomes must be taken into account. His statement was met with scepticism, with many economists terming the growth target ‘ambitious’ due to the lack of any major stimulus.

Mr. Li also announced a 7.2% rise in defence spending — the same as last year— indicating no additional push to enhance its defence capabilities, acquisition or manufacturing. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index (HSI) fell by 2.6% in response to the Premier’s growth target announcement, CNN has reported.

Technology push

China’s biggest focus currently is ‘shifting to future industries,’ as announced by the Premier. Highlighting new areas of focus in technology such as electric vehicles, artificial intelligence (AI), renewable energy, biomanufacturing, and commercial space fights, he announced a 10% increase in the annual budget for science and technology, bringing it to 370.8 billion yuan ($51.5 billion). Emphasizing ‘self-reliance and strength in science and technology,’ Mr. Li critiqued the ‘external environment’ impacting China’s development – alluding to the US tightening its hold over the export of cutting-edge technologies to China.

The technology push was also highlighted in the 2024 development plan, which called for a comprehensive approach to modernise China’s industrial system through innovation. It suggested the pooling of resources to achieve scientific breakthroughs, nurturing of emerging industrial clusters and more support for basic research— allocating 98 billion yuan ($13.62 billion) for the same, according to South China Morning Post. Total expenditure on research and development in 2023 had increased by 8.1% and accounted for 2.64% of the GDP.

In October 2023, the US Commerce department announced new export controls to limit China’s ability to acquire advanced computer chips to manufacture high-level semiconductors used in hypersonic missiles and artificial intelligence. It also announced restrictions on chip exports to companies in Macao, a Chinese territory, and other countries where the sale of US arms is embargoed. In a press conference on the sidelines of the NPC, Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused Washington of using ‘tactics to suppress China,’ terming the controls on chip sales ‘unfathomable absurdity’.

 Foreign relations

In a press meet on the sidelines of the NPC, Foreign Minister Wang Yi fielded questions on China’s relations with the U.S., Taiwan, Russia, and Israel. Mr. Wang said U.S.-China relations had improved since Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in San Francisco last year. Accusing the U.S. of suppressing China via ‘unilateral sanctions,’ he said that the U.S. had an ‘erroneous perception about China. However, he. added that Mr. Biden had assured that the U.S. would not seek a new Cold War, seek to change the Chinese system or back Taiwan’s independence.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress (NPC), in Beijing, China March 7, 2024

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress (NPC), in Beijing, China March 7, 2024
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

With two wars being fought at the western end of Asia, China termed its relations with Russia a ‘strategic choice’, asserting that major countries should not seek conflicts. Noting that bilateral trade between the two nations had reached $240 billion in 2023, he highlighted that new opportunities lay ahead for the two nations. Weighing in on the Israeli bombing of Gaza, he called for an immediate ceasefire and said that China would back Palestine’s full membership in the United Nations.

CPC’s tightening hold in the Chinese government

On the final day, the NPC passed the amended State Council Organic Law, with 2883 delegates voting for, eight against and nine opposing. The law, which has been amended for the first time since 1982, adds articles which mandate that the State Council ‘resolutely uphold the Party Central Committee’s authority and its centralised and unified leadership.’ The law was reportedly amended to deepen reform of party and state institutions to fully implement the Constitution, which was last amended in 2018.

Handing over more power to the President, the new law mandates that the Council ‘follow Xi Jinping Thought’ – CPC’s name for the President’s ideology setting a unified agenda for the Chinese people on socialism, discipline, diplomacy, policy, and culture. In 2023, the Chinese government had re-organised its structure, appointing a new CPC official to oversee certain ministries and giving additional monitoring power to the CPC in the government’s day-to-day working. Subsequently, the State Council amended its working rules to affirm that executive decision-making power lay with the CPC.

(L-R) Newly-elected Chinese state councilors Qin Gang, Wu Zhenglong and Li Shangfu swear an oath after they were elected during the fifth plenary session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 12, 2023.

(L-R) Newly-elected Chinese state councilors Qin Gang, Wu Zhenglong and Li Shangfu swear an oath after they were elected during the fifth plenary session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 12, 2023.
| Photo Credit:
AFP

Moreover, the NPC did not appoint a replacement for the vacant ministerial posts for Defence and Foreign Affairs in the State Council. On July 25, 2023, then foreign minister Qin Gang was abruptly replaced by his predecessor Wang Yi, after a month-long absence. Mr. Qin had last been seen on June 25, 2023 in public. Similarly, Defence Minister Li Shangfu was removed on October 24, 2023, from his ministerial post as well as from membership of the Central Military Commission – a body commanding the armed forces, and his position as one of the five state councillors in China. The NPCSC, which approved the move, did not name a successor to Mr. Li, who was last publicly seen in late August.

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Israel bombs Gaza as UN warns territory ‘uninhabitable’

January 06, 2024 01:50 pm | Updated 01:51 pm IST – Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories

Israel bombed Gaza on January 6 as the United Nations warned the Palestinian territory has become “uninhabitable” after three months of fighting that threatens to engulf the wider region.

Israeli strikes were reported early January 6 on Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of people have sought shelter from the fighting.

Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict, with the UN warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis as famine looms and disease spreads.

Abu Mohammed, 60, who fled to Rafah from the central Bureij refugee camp, told AFP Gaza’s future was “dark and gloomy and very difficult”.

With much of the territory already reduced to rubble, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said that “Gaza has simply become uninhabitable”.

The UN’s children’s agency warned that clashes, malnutrition and a lack of health services had created “a deadly cycle that threatens over 1.1 million children” in Gaza.

Israeli forces were continuing “to fight in all parts of the Gaza Strip, in the north, centre and south”, military spokesman Daniel Hagari said.

Mr. Hagari said Israeli forces were maintaining a “very high state of readiness” near the border with Lebanon following the killing of a top Hamas commander in a strike in Beirut.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the strike, but a US defence official told AFP that Israel carried it out.

The war in Gaza was triggered by an unprecedented attack on Israel launched by Hamas on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

The militants also took around 250 hostages, 132 of whom remain in captivity, according to Israel, including at least 24 believed to have been killed.

In response, Israel has launched a relentless bombardment and ground invasion that have killed at least 22,600 people, most of them women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Also Read: What is the global fallout of two warfronts? | Explained

Fighting rages

AFP correspondents reported on January 5 that Israeli strikes had hit the southern cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah as well as parts of central Gaza.

A hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah reported that 35 people had been killed there.

The Israeli army said its forces had “struck over 100 targets” across Gaza in the previous 24 hours, including military positions, rocket launch sites and weapons depots.

The Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory said it had recorded 162 deaths over the same period.

A fighter jet bombed the central area of Bureij overnight, killing “an armed terrorist cell”, the army said, after what it described as an attempted attack on an Israeli tank.

And a number of Palestinian militants were killed in clashes in Khan Yunis, a city that has become a major battleground, the army said.

Troops also uncovered tunnels under the Blue Beach Hotel in northern Gaza that had been used “by terrorists as shelter from where they planned and executed attacks”, according to the army.

AFPTV footage on Friday showed entire families, seeking safety from the violence, arriving in Rafah in overloaded cars and on foot, pushing handcarts stacked with possessions.

Palestinian girl Rofan Nasser, who was wounded in an Israeli strike in which her parents and three of her siblings were killed, is comforted by her grandmother at the European hospital, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, January 6, 2024.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

“We fled Jabalia camp to Maan (in Khan Yunis) and now we are fleeing from Maan to Rafah,” said one woman who declined to give her name. “(We have) no water, no electricity and no food.”

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported renewed shelling and drone fire in the area around Al-Amal hospital in Khan Yunis after seven displaced people, including a five-day-old baby, were killed while sheltering in the compound.

“We are facing a humanitarian catastrophe due to the spread of epidemics, with the hospital overcrowded with displaced people,” said a spokesman for Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in central Gaza.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, meanwhile, slammed a proposal by two Israeli ministers to resettle Gazans outside the territory.

“It’s not up to Israel to determine the future of Gaza, which is Palestinian land,” Colonna told CNN on Friday.

Diplomatic push

Top Western diplomats were in the region as part of a fresh push to raise the flow of aid into the besieged territory and calm rising tensions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Turkey on January 6 where he was due to discuss the Gaza war with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Istanbul, Turkey, January 5, 2024.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Istanbul, Turkey, January 5, 2024.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

Mr. Blinken will also visit several Arab states before heading to Israel and the occupied West Bank next week.

During his visit, Blinken plans to discuss with Israeli leaders “immediate measures to increase substantially humanitarian assistance to Gaza”, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell travelled to Lebanon on Friday for talks on “all aspects of the situation in and around Gaza”, including escalating tensions with Israel.

Germany’s top diplomat, Annalena Baerbock, was also due to travel to the region, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

She plans to discuss “the dramatic humanitarian situation in Gaza” and tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border, spokesman Sebastian Fischer said.

The war in Gaza and almost daily exchanges of cross-border fire between Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group since October 7 have raised fears of a wider conflagration.

Those fears grew this week following the killing of Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Aruri in Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Israel that the group would swiftly respond “on the battlefield” to Aruri’s death.

Israel’s military that its fighter jets had conducted fresh strikes against Hezbollah targets just across the border.

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Israel on alert for possible Hezbollah response after senior Hamas leader is killed in Beirut strike

Palestinian demonstrators wave Hamas flags and shout slogans during a protest following the killing of top Hamas official Saleh Arouri in Beirut, in the West Bank city of Nablus on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024. Arouri, the No. 2 figure in Hamas, was killed in an explosion blamed on Israel. He is the highest-ranked Hamas figure to be killed in the nearly three-month war between Israel and Hamas.
| Photo Credit: AP

Israel was on high alert for an escalation with Hezbollah on January 3 after one of the top leaders of the Palestinian Hamas was killed in a strike in Beirut that was widely blamed on Israel and heightened the risk of a broader Middle East conflict.

The killing of Saleh Arouri, the most senior Hamas member slain since the war in Gaza erupted nearly three months ago, provided a morale boost for Israelis still reeling from Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack as the militants put up stiff resistance in Gaza and continue to hold scores of hostages.

But its implications for the war remain unclear. Israel has killed several top Hamas leaders over the years, only to see them quickly replaced. And the strike in Hezbollah’s southern Beirut stronghold could cause the low-intensity fighting along the Lebanon border to boil over into all-out war.


Also Read | Gaza fighting rages after Israel warns war will last all year

Much depends on how Hassan Nasrallah — who has led Hezbollah since an Israeli strike killed his predecessor in 1992 — chooses to respond. He has previously vowed to retaliate for any Israeli targeting of allied militant leaders in Lebanon, and was expected to deliver a speech at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT).

Hezbollah and the Israeli military have been exchanging fire almost daily over the Israeli-Lebanese border since the war in Gaza began, but Nasrallah has appeared reluctant to escalate it further, perhaps fearing a repeat of the monthlong 2006 war, in which Israel heavily bombed Beirut and southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah announced a flurry of rocket launches into northern Israel late on January 2 but did not directly link them to the killing of Arouri. Journalists in southern Lebanon reported heavy Israeli shelling and airstrikes. But there were no reports of casualties, and by early Wednesday the border area was calm.

Israeli officials have not commented on the strike that killed Arouri, but Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said “we are on high readiness for any scenario.”


Also Read | Widening war: On the Gaza war going beyond Israel-Palestine 

The United States has sought to prevent any widening of the conflict, including by deploying two aircraft carriers and other military assets to the region. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was expected in the region this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to kill Hamas leaders wherever they are. The group’s Oct. 7 attack from Gaza into southern Israel killed around 1,200 people, and some 240 others were taken hostage.

Israel claims to have killed a number of mid-level Hamas leaders in Gaza, but this would be the first time since the war that it has reached into another country to target the group’s top leaders, many of whom live in exile around the region.

Arouri was the deputy of Hamas’ supreme political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, and headed the group’s presence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He was also a key liaison with Hezbollah. The U.S. State Department had listed him as a terrorist and offered a $5 million reward for information about him.

Haniyeh said Hamas was “more powerful and determined” following the attack, which killed six other members of the group, including two military commanders. “They left behind them strong men who will carry the banner after them,” he said of those killed.

Hezbollah called the strike “a serious attack on Lebanon, its people, its security, sovereignty and resistance.”

“We affirm that this crime will never pass without response and punishment,” it said.

The focus of the war remains on Gaza, where Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel is seeking a “clear victory” over Hamas, which has ruled the territory since 2007.


Also Read | South Africa files ICJ case accusing Israel of ‘genocidal acts’ in Gaza

Israel’s air, ground and sea assault in Gaza has killed more than 22,300 people, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

The campaign has driven some 85% of Gaza’s population from their homes, forcing hundreds of thousands of people into overcrowded shelters or teeming tent camps in Israeli-designated safe areas that the military has nevertheless bombed. A quarter of Gaza’s population face starvation, according to the United Nations, as Israeli restrictions and heavy fighting hinder aid delivery.

The unprecedented death and destruction has led South Africa to accuse Israel of genocide in a case filed with the International Court of Justice, allegations Israel has strongly denied and vowed to contest.

Still, Israel appears far from achieving its goals of crushing Hamas and returning the estimated 129 hostages still held by the group after more than 100 were released in a cease-fire deal in November.

Gallant said several thousand Hamas fighters remain in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops have been battling militants for over two months and where entire neighborhoods have been blasted into rubble.

Heavy fighting is also underway in central Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis, where Israeli officials say Hamas’ military structure is still largely intact. Yehya Sinwar, Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, and his deputies have thus far eluded Israeli forces.

Egypt, which along with Qatar has served as a mediator between Israel and Hamas, has proposed a multistage plan for ending the war in which all hostages would eventually be released in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Israel would withdraw from Gaza and a government of Palestinian technocrats would govern Gaza and parts of the occupied West Bank until elections are held.

Neither Israel nor Hamas have accepted the plan in its entirety, but neither has rejected it outright.

An Israeli delegation was in Cairo on January 3 to discuss the proposal, according to an Egyptian official who was not authorized to brief media and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said the killing of Arouri was likely to hamper the negotiations for a couple days.

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As Gaza war grinds on, tensions soar along Israel’s volatile northern border with Lebanon

Israeli officials are stepping up threats against the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, warning that Israel is running out of patience as the two sides continue to trade fire along Israel’s volatile northern border.

Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s War Cabinet, said Wednesday that if the international community and the Lebanese government don’t restrain Hezbollah, Israel will. Israel’s army chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said the military is in a state of high readiness and has approved plans in case it decides to open a second front in the north.

The fighting along Israel’s northern border broke out when Hezbollah began firing rockets shortly after the Oct. 7 cross-border attack by Hamas triggered the war in Gaza.

While at a lower intensity than the battle in Gaza, the simultaneous fighting has caused destruction, displacement and death on both sides and raised fears of a wider regional war.

Here is a look at the battle between Israel and Hezbollah: WHAT DOES THE FIGHTING INVOLVE? Hezbollah fighters have been attacking Israeli posts and villages along the border, and the group has launched rockets and drones toward Israeli targets. Israeli tanks, artillery and aircraft have been striking areas on the Lebanese side of the border. The fighting has been mostly brief, but almost daily.

The Israeli military says more than 1,700 rockets have been fired from Lebanon toward Israel, killing 15 Israelis, including nine soldiers, and injuring more than 150 people.

Israel has evacuated about 60,000 people from more than 40 northern communities, including the main city of Kiryat Shemona, which has 22,000 residents. Israeli media outlets have aired footage of battered homes and barren communities, with Israeli soldiers guarding empty streets.

On the Lebanese side, around 74,500 people have been displaced by the fighting, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Nearly 160 people have been killed by Israeli airstrikes and shelling in Lebanon, according to an Associated Press tally. Most of those were fighters with Hezbollah and allied groups, but at least 19 civilians have also been killed, including journalists and children.

Human rights groups and local officials have also accused Israel of hitting Lebanese border areas with shells containing white phosphorus, a controversial incendiary munition. The strikes have burned hundreds of hectares (acres) of farm and woodland and injured civilians. Israel says all its actions conform with international law.

WHY ARE THEY FIGHTING?

Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah are longtime bitter enemies, dating back to Israel’s occupation of parts of south Lebanon from 1982 to 2000.

After Hezbollah fighters ambushed an Israeli patrol in 2006 and took two Israeli soldiers hostage, the sides fought a vicious monthlong war that ended in a draw — but not before Israeli bombardment wreaked widespread destruction in southern Lebanon and parts of Beirut.

The border area had largely been quiet since that war, aside from sparse skirmishes and sporadic tensions. Israel estimates that Hezbollah has some 150,000 rockets and missiles in its arsenal, many of which can strike virtually anywhere in Israel, including the economic capital, Tel Aviv.

Hezbollah says its attacks aim to ease pressure on the Gaza Strip, where Israel is fighting an unprecedented ground, air and sea offensive meant to topple Hamas and return some 129 people held captive in the territory.

THE IRAN CONNECTION Although there has been no proof that Iran, Israel’s archenemy, ordered the Oct. 7 attack, its fingerprints have been visible throughout the ensuing conflict.

In addition to Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran-backed groups in Yemen, Syria and Iraq have launched attacks on Israel and its allies in support of Hamas.


Also Read |‘Harrowing’: WHO decries deadly strike on Gaza refugee camp

In the Red Sea, attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen against ships they believe to be connected to Israel have disrupted trade and prompted the launch of a U.S.-led multinational naval operation to protect shipping routes.

Iran-backed militias in Iraq have also launched dozens of attacks on bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria, which they have said are in retaliation for Washington’s support of Israel.

And on Monday, Iranian state media blamed Israel for a strike on a Damascus neighborhood that killed a high-ranking Iranian general.

Amos Harel, a military commentator for the daily Haaretz newspaper, wrote Wednesday that the general’s killing was a message to Iran that it can no longer enjoy immunity while its proxies attack Israel.

“It also brings us closer to the possibility of a growing escalation against Hezbollah, and even against the Iranians, on the northern front,” he wrote.

WHAT IS HEZBOLLAH’S ROLE?

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, faces a risky balancing act.

Joining Hamas would risk dragging Lebanon — beset by economic calamity and internal political tensions — into a conflict it can ill afford, fueling domestic opposition to the group. The World Bank has already said the clashes are likely to harm Lebanon’s economy.

Lebanon is in the fourth year of a crippling economic crisis and is bitterly divided between Hezbollah and its allies and opponents, paralyzing the political system.

But staying entirely on the sidelines as Israeli troops battle in the Gaza Strip could compromise Hezbollah’s credibility, and a Hamas defeat would be a blow to Iran.

Hezbollah has been careful to limit its attacks on Israel, while keeping open the threat of a broader escalation.

“If Israel goes too far, we will retaliate twice as much,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, said Thursday. “We will not fear either Israeli or American threats or intimidation.”

A NEW FRONT FOR ISRAEL?

With its soldiers bogged down in Gaza, Israel has mostly sought to limit the fighting in its north. Hezbollah’s military capabilities are far superior to those of Hamas.

Still, Israeli officials are increasingly warning that the country is prepared to expand the fighting and that Hezbollah should be prepared to pay a price for the damage it has wrought over the past three months.

Israel already has bolstered forces in the north and could well turn its sights on Hezbollah once it scales down or wraps up the war in Gaza.

Israel’s top ally, the U.S, which has sent military reinforcements to the region, says it prefers to see a negotiated solution to the mounting tensions rather than a second war front.

Israel also wants Hezbollah to abide by a 2006 U.N. cease-fire agreement that states the border area in southern Lebanon must be “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons” other than Lebanese government forces and U.N. peacekeepers. Under the resolution, Hezbollah should not have military presence in the border region.

Lebanon, meanwhile, argues that Israel violates the resolution with its air force’s frequent entry into Lebanese airspace and by its presence in Chebaa Farms, a disputed area along the country’s border with the Golan Heights, an area seized by Israel from Syria in 1967.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Wednesday that Hezbollah must respect the 2006 cease-fire. Otherwise, he warned, Nasrallah “must understand that he’s next.”

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The Hindu Morning Digest: December 27, 2023

We were beaten throughout the day, says J&K civilian

There is growing evidence indicating torture by sprinkling salt and chilli on the wounds of rounded-up civilians, in the wake of the militants’ ambush that left four soldiers dead in Dera Ki Gali in the Poonch-Rajouri sector on December 21. Local people claim two civilians could be seen in the 29-second viral video of “torture” allegedly committed by the security forces. Farooq Din, son of Gulab Din, a resident of Upper Bangai, Thanamandi, was among five “severely injured” admitted at the Rajouri hospital. They were all rounded up from Upper and Lower Bangai and Haspalote areas in Rajouri’s Thanamandi on Friday morning around 9 a.m., a day after the attack.

‘Blast-like’ sound heard near Israel Embassy in Delhi; no explosive found

An explosion-like sound was heard behind the Israeli Embassy on Thursday evening; however, no explosive was recovered from the spot, the police said on Tuesday. A PCR call was received at 5.53 p.m. regarding a loud noise behind the Embassy of Israel, and Jindal House, the police said. “Considering the sensitivity of the location, and mention of explosion-type sound, senior officers rushed to the location,” DCP (PRO) Kumar Gyanesh said.

Despite gazette notification, confusion over implementation of three criminal laws

A day after the three criminal laws received President’s assent and were notified in the official gazette, confusion prevailed in police stations and courts regarding its implementation, according to several police officials .three legislation replace the British-era laws but in the absence of the required paraphernalia on the ground and adequate training of police officials, it will be several months for the Acts to be effective. Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in Chandigarh on December 22 that the framework to implement the laws in all the union territories would be ready by December 2024.

Railways spending big on PM’s selfie booths: RTI reply; brazen waste of money, says Opposition

The Centre is spending up to ₹6.25 lakh on every permanent 3D selfie booth with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image in railway stations, according to a reply obtained from Central Railway on a Right to Information (RTI) application. The cost incurred on each temporary selfie booth is ₹1.25 lakh. In reply to a query filed under the RTI by a retired railway official, Ajay Bose, Central Railway deputy general manager Abhay Mishra has said that it had installed or erected Mr. Modi’s 3D selfie booths across 50 railway stations in five divisions – Mumbai, Bhusaval, Nagpur, Pune and Solapur. 

Tale of Ajay Reddy | How the Indian blind cricket team captain found a way to serve the nation

Growing up, Ajay Kumar Reddy only wanted to become a soldier and serve the country. He was heartbroken when he got to know that the visually impaired cannot enter the army .But Ajay, who became partially sighted at an early age, soon found another way to serve India: by playing cricket and winning the World Cups. For his contributions, he will receive the Arjuna Award next month, becoming the first to win the honour from blind cricket. Born in Gurazala, Andhra Pradesh, the Indian blind cricket team skipper lost his left eye in a freak accident when he was just four.

Vinesh Phogat to return Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award; writes to PM Modi

World Championship medallist Vinesh Phogat on December 26 said she is returning her Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award to the government protesting against the election of Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh-loyalist Sanjay Singh as the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president, the wrestler wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Vinesh’s decision comes days after Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia and Deafylmpics champion Virender Singh Yadav returned their Padma Shri awards.

Anti-militancy operations in Poonch enter sixth day

Security forces continued with the anti-militancy operation in the Poonch-Rajouri sector in the Pir Panjal Valley for the sixth day on Tuesday, to trace those behind the December 21 attack that left four soldiers dead. Officials said security forces, aided by helicopters and drones, continue to comb the dense forests and high peaks around Dera Ki Gali, the spot where two Army vehicles were ambushed by militants last week.

Trinamool takes out protests against Bengal BJP chief for ‘insulting’ Vivekananda

The Trinamool Congress leadership staged protests in Kolkata on Tuesday demanding an apology from BJP State president Sukanta Majumdar. The Trinamool has accused Mr. Majumdar of insulting Swami Vivekananda, an allegation denied by the BJP leader. On December 22, during the Gita chanting event at Kolkata’s Brigade Parade Grounds, the State BJP president had said, “Little knowledge is dangerous. Those who said ‘playing football is better than reading Gita’ are byproducts of a Leftist ideology”.

Philippines is not provoking conflict in South China Sea, its military says

The Philippines is not provoking conflict in the South China Sea, its military spokesperson said on December 26, responding to China’s accusation that Manila was encroaching on Beijing’s territory. It was the latest salvo amid rising tension as the two have traded accusations in recent months over a series of maritime run-ins, including China allegedly ramming a ship this month carrying the Philippines’ military chief.

PM Modi discusses maritime security with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Mohammed bin Salman

In the backdrop of an increased security threat to shipping vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday held a telephone conversation with the Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussion is part of the Indian leadership’s engagement with regional stakeholders in the backdrop of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. “The two leaders emphasised the need for maintaining the maritime security and the freedom of navigation,” a press release by the government said. 

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh to visit Rajouri on December 27

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has said he will visit Jammu and Rajouri on Wednesday. “Tomorrow, 27th December, I shall be in Jammu and Rajouri,” Mr. Singh said in a post on X on Tuesday. The Minister’s visit comes following the death of four army personnel, two of them captain, during an encounter between security forces and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district last week. Three more soldiers were injured in the same encounter.

Israel Army arrests senior Palestinian lawmaker Jarrar

The Israeli Army on December 26 said it arrested senior Palestinian politician Khalida Jarrar in the occupied West Bank, along with other activists of her leftist party. Jarrar, 60, is a prominent figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a faction in the Palestine Liberation Organisation considered a “terrorist” group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Kashmir will become Gaza without India-Pakistan dialogue, says Farooq Abdullah

Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and senior National Conference (NC) leader and MP Farooq Abdullah on December 26 warned of a situation akin to Gaza in Palestine if India did not have a dialogue with Pakistan over Kashmir. “Dialogue is the only way forward to resolve lingering issues. If a conducive atmosphere for a dialogue is not worked out between India and Pakistan, the day is not far when J&K will become like Gaza, and people will suffer like in Palestine,” Dr. Abdullah said in Srinagar.

India’s fiscal deficit may breach 5.9% of GDP target: India Ratings and Research

India’s fiscal deficit may breach the 5.9% of GDP target for this year and could hit 6%, even though tax collections have been buoyant and may offset a wide shortfall in disinvestment outcomes, due to the likelihood of revenue spending exceeding the Budget Estimate by about ₹2 lakh crore, India Ratings and Research said on December 26. The Centre has recently secured Parliamentary approval for the first supplementary demand for grants this year, involving an additional cash outgo of ₹53,378 crore, lifting its total spending commitment for 2023-24 to ₹45.6 lakh crore, including about ₹35.6 lakh crore of revenue expenditure and ₹10.1 lakh crore of capital expenditure.

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The Hindu Morning Digest, December 26, 2023

Jaishankar lands in Moscow, talks to focus on bilateral issues

Striking a nostalgic note on India-Russia ties, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar shared memories of a visit to Moscow during his childhood, at the beginning of his five-day visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg on Monday for bilateral talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Trade Minister Denis Manturov.  Shortly after landing in Moscow, Mr. Jaishankar visited the Kremlin, posting an entry pass in his name from a 1962 commemoration for the first Russian cosmonauts in space at the Red Square, where he visited as a seven-year-old boy,  along with a current picture of himself at the Red Square amidst sub-zero temperatures, entitling it “How it started”, and “How it is going”. 

Three officers in Poonch area attached as Army probes three civilian deaths

Three officers, including the Brigadier in-charge in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district, have been sidestepped and attached with the local unit pending inquiry, over the deaths of three civilians in the district on December 22. The J&K Police have already registered a murder case against unidentified persons over the deaths .Amid the prevailing tension, Army Chief General Manoj Pande visited Poonch sector on Monday, and was given an update on the prevalent security situation. The three officers have been “attached as per procedure” while an Army inquiry is under way into the incident, two sources independently confirmed. All three were attached to the Nagrota-based 16 Corps, another source stated.

Railway officers to be trained in disaster management; NAIR, IRIDM to impart training

Disaster management has now been incorporated as an integral component of the training module for railway officers at the induction/foundation course level and also included in refresher or mid-career training programmes. The National Academy of Indian Railways (NAIR), Vadodara, and the Indian Railway Institute of Disaster Management (IRIDM), Bengaluru, would work together in imparting the comprehensive training programme, railway sources said on Monday. 

France allows aircraft with 303 Indians to fly back to India

An aircraft with 303 passengers, mostly Indian citizens, that was detained by the French authorities on December 21 over alleged concerns of undocumented immigration was allowed to return to India on Monday, the Embassy of India in Paris announced. The aircraft, an Airbus A-340, had landed for a technical halt at the Vatry airport, located approximately 160 km away from the French capital on Thursday when an anonymous tip off had prompted the French government to stop the aircraft from taking off. 

Initial assessment of merchant vessel Chem Pluto indicates a drone attack: Navy

Merchant vessel Chem Pluto that was hit by a projectile reached Mumbai on Monday and the preliminary assessment of the area of attack and th“However, further forensic and technical analysis will be required to establish the vector of attack, including type and amount of explosive used,” the Navy said in a statement. A joint investigation by various agencies has commenced on completion of the analysis by the Navy’s EOD.

Delhi Health Minister, Chief Secy. clash over Burari Hospital case report

In a note to Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar on Sunday, Health Minister Saurabh Bharadwaj sought an action taken report (ATR) within six hours. Sources in Mr. Kumar’s office on Monday alleged that AAP released the note on social media hours before the bureaucrat got it on email and that Mr. Bharadwaj’s office was “politically compromised”. Meanwhile, the Chief Secretary sought the suspension of Mr. Bharadwaj’s private secretary.

Inauguration of Ram Temple befitting reply to those who mocked BJP: Fadnavis

The inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22 is a befitting reply to those who used to attack the BJP with the ‘mandir wahi banayenge par tarikh nahi batayenge‘ taunt, said Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Monday .The opposition Congress and leaders from other parties often mocked the Bharatiya Janata Party claiming it was using the temple issue for political gains despite being unsure of whether it would ever get built.

Gaza refugee camp in ruins after Israeli strike

Residents of Gaza’s Al-Maghazi refugee camp returned to their neighbourhood on Monday only to find blocks of concrete strewn where their homes had stood just a day ago. “These houses are destroyed. Our house was bombed,” said camp resident Abu Rami Abu al-Ais amid the debris. “There’s no safe place in the Gaza Strip. ”Late on Sunday three houses in the camp were hit by Israeli air strikes that killed at least 70 people, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. AFP was unable to independently verify the information.

Chhattisgarh CM Sai, Singh Deo join the debate over deforestation in Hasdeo

As protests against the ongoing deforestation in Chhattisgarh’s Hasdeo region continued on Monday, Chief Minister Vishnu Deo Sai blamed the Congress for the exercise, while former Deputy CM T.S. Singh Deo insisted that public opinion should be sought for any mining-related activity. “They should see that the permission for deforestation is from a time when it was their [Congress] government in power…. Whatever has happened, even if it is deforestation, is happening with their permission,” Mr. Sai said, responding to a query from the media on the issue.

India has had its moments in the Rainbow Nation, will look for maiden Test series win

South Africa has produced some of cricket’s finest cricketers and a team that brimmed with extraordinary talent. But that side, led by Ali Bacher and possessing gifted cricketers like Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Mike Procter, didn’t get the opportunities it deserved as South Africa was banned by the ICC for the country’s apartheid policy .The Test that the team played in 1970, against Australia at Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth), would be Proteas’ last for more than two decades. And it was in 1992 that the South Africans could play in another Test at home. The opponent was India, which had earlier played host on South Africa’s return to international cricket with an ODI at Kolkata.

Russian forces gain control of Maryinka in east Ukraine, defence minister says

Russian forces have gained full control of Maryinka, a town in eastern Ukraine, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told President Vladimir Putin, one of Russia’s most significant gains since the capture of Bakhmut in May. Most accounts of Maryinka, southwest of the Russian-held regional centre of Donetsk, describe it as a ghost town. Putin said control of the town, which was once home to 10,000 people, will allow the Russian forces to move enemy combat units away from Donetsk.

Army detained a few youth for questioning, three of them died, says FIR

The First Information Report (FIR) filed in the alleged custodial death in the Poonch-Rajouri sector stated that in the aftermath of the terror incident on December 21, Army troops detained a few youth for questioning and three of them succumbed to injuries and “as such a cognizable offence under section 302 of IPC is made out”. The FIR has been filed by the Surankote police station against “unknown” accused persons. Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertains to murder.

Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu heckled by hostage families during parliament address

Families of hostages taken by Gaza militants booed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on December 25 as he addressed parliament, vowing to bring the captives home but saying “more time” was needed. Mr. Netanyahu’s address came after his Likud party reported that he visited the Gaza Strip on Monday and vowed to step up the army’s assault in the Palestinian territory.

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The Hindu Morning Digest, December 25, 2023

J&K Police file murder case over death of three civilians in Army custody

The Jammu and Kashmir Police on Sunday registered a murder case against unidentified persons after three men picked up by the Army for questioning were found dead with multiple injuries on December 22. Eight men were detained following the ambush on an Army convoy on December 21 in Poonch-Rajouri area where four soldiers were killed and three others were injured. The terrorists involved in the ambush are yet to be identified or arrested. 

Plane carrying 303 passengers, mostly Indians, allowed to leave France

A Nicaragua-bound flight carrying 303 passengers, mostly Indians, was allowed to resume its journey on Monday, three days after they were detained by the French authorities at an airport near Paris over suspected “human trafficking”, according to local media reports on Sunday. After authorising the A340 aircraft, operated by Romanian company Legend Airlines, to leave, the French judges chose to cancel the hearings of the over 300 passengers due to irregularities in the procedure, BFM TV, a French news broadcast television and radio network, reported.

As COVID-19 cases rise, WHO asks countries to strengthen surveillance

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries in Southeast Asia to strengthen surveillance in view of the increasing cases of respiratory diseases, including due to COVID-19 and its new sub-variant JN.1, and influenza. The WHO also urged people to take protective measures. “The COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, change, and circulate in all countries globally. While current evidence suggests the additional public health risk posed by JN.1 is low, we must continue to track the evolution of these viruses to tailor our response.

Virat Kohli rejoins team India ahead of first Test against South Africa

Stalwart batter Virat Kohli has rejoined the Indian red-ball squad in South Africa ahead of the Boxing Day Test at Centurion against the Proteas, according to sources .Earlier this week, a BCCI source revealed that Kohli returned to India due to personal reasons and now is in contention to make his first on-field appearance on December 26, after the World Cup final heartbreak last month. The two-match Test series will be a part of the World Test Championship 2023-25 cycle. As of now, India are at the top of the WTC table, with a win and a draw, giving them a total of 66.67 points percentage.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar to visit Russia

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar will visit Russia from December 25-28. During the year-end visit, he will interact with Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on December 24. During the visit, Dr. Jaishankar is expected meet his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who visited Delhi during the G-20 summit, when he led the Russian delegation to the event. 

UK to send naval ship to Guyana amid Venezuela border dispute

Britain will deploy a naval ship off Guyana later this month, its ministry of defence said on Sunday, as the South American nation faces a border dispute with neighbour Venezuela over the oil-rich Essequibo region. The deployment follows a visit by a British junior foreign minister to Guyana earlier this month, intended to offer the UK’s support for the country, an ally and former British colony. Guyana and Venezuela agreed earlier this month to avoid any use of force and not to escalate tensions in the long-running dispute.

Maharashtra government tries to dissuade Jarange-Patil from staging rally in Mumbai

While lauding the Supreme Court’s decision to hear a curative petition on Maratha reservation on January 24, the Maharashtra government on Sunday urged quota activist Manoj Jarange-Patil to cancel his protest rally in Mumbai, scheduled for January 2024. However, the activist refused to yield, warning the government that all doors for discussion would be shut after January 20, when he plans to hold a mega rally of the Maratha community in the State capital. Speaking in Mumbai, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde thanked the Supreme Court for the chance to hear the curative petition on the Maratha reservation issue. 

Prioritising international cricket has helped my game: Starc on turning down multiple IPL fortunes

Senior Australian seamer Mitchell Starc has admitted that he had in the past turned down multiple lucrative offers from the Indian Premier League (IPL) to prioritise his international career, which has “helped” him in improving his game .Starc has been roped in by two-time winners Kolkata Knight Riders for a record Rs 24.75 crore during the auction last week, and it would be his first stint in the tournament since 2015. Starc said that the break during the IPL allowed him to recharge himself and stay fit for the international assignments.

J&K: Retired SSP shot dead by terrorists while offering ‘azaan’

A 72-year-old retired police officer, who was the local “muezzin”, was shot dead by terrorists while he was giving “azaan” – the call for prayer – from a mosque in Jammu and Kashmir’s Baramulla district on Sunday, police said. Recalling the moments before Mohammad Shafi Mir was killed, his cousin Mohammad Mustafa, who was at home, said the call for the pre-dawn prayers was being given by a loudspeaker and suddenly it stopped. Mir’s last words were “reham” (mercy), he said.

After poll debacle, Congress drags its feet on key Rajasthan posts

The Congress was quick to make changes in the State leadership in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh after the recent poll debacle, but in Rajasthan the party continues to drag its feet.  On Saturday, the party announced its long awaited organisational reshuffle. It promoted Rajasthan’s former Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot to the position of general secretary. Last week, the party had nominated former Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot as a member of the National Alliance Committee. The two appointments indicate that it will be looking for a fresh face for the post of leader of the Congress Legislature Party. The other question looming over is whether the party will retain State chief Govind Singh Dotasra.  

Decision to suspend WFI taken under pressure: Opposition leaders

Opposition leaders on Sunday said the government’s decision to suspend the newly-elected WFI was not enough to give justice to protesting wrestlers and questioned why a loyalist of former WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh was allowed to contest the election to the sports body in the first place. The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) elections were held on December 21 with Sanjay Singh and his panel winning the polls by big margins.

Security is stepped up around Christmas celebrations in Germany and Austria over attack concerns

Sightseeing visits were barred at Germany’s landmark cathedral in Cologne and Christmas Eve worshippers faced security checks to get into midnight Mass there Sunday as police responded to indications of a potential attack. However a top security official urged people not to shy away from holiday celebrations out of fear. Churchgoers attended multiple services at the cathedral despite the ban on visits purely for sightseeing, a day after police descended on the cathedral and searched it with sniffer dogs. With several dozen officers on duty outside, Auxiliary Bishop Rolf Steinhaeuser greeted those attending what he said was “probably the most secure church service in all of Germany.”

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The Hindu Morning Digest, December 24, 2023

Jammu and Kashmir government initiates legal action after three civilians picked up by Army found dead

A day after four Army jawans were killed in an ambush by unidentified terrorists in the Poonch-Rajouri area of Jammu and Kashmir, three civilians who were picked up allegedly by the Army for questioning were found dead on December 22 with multiple injuries. Five more persons have been admitted to hospital with serious injuries. A relative of one of the deceased civilian told The Hindu that the three men were tortured to death and the families were asked to collect the bodies from an Army camp on Friday evening.

Priyanka no longer U.P. in-charge; Sachin Pilot to handle Chhattisgarh

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is now a Congress general secretary “without any assignment portfolio” while Sachin Pilot will be the general secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh as part of a major organisational reshuffle that Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge carried out on Saturday .Ms. Vadra was in charge of Uttar Pradesh earlier. The much-awaited reshuffle displays a sense of urgency in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha poll and comes just two days after a meeting of the Congress Working Committee (CWC), the party’s highest decision-making body.

Row over Calcutta High Court judge’s husband being quizzed by Bengal CID

At a time when the Trinamool Congress government and its leaders are defending allegations of corruption before the Calcutta High Court, the husband of a sitting High Court judge has alleged torture by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the West Bengal Police. Pratap Chandra Dey, husband of Justice Amrita Sinha, was summoned for questioning by the CID earlier this week and his allegations have triggered a political row. Justice Sinha is hearing a number of cases including those related to the State recruitment scam and allegations against Trinamool leader Abhishek Banerjee.

BJP devises micro-level plans to increase vote share in 2024 Lok Sabha elections

Chaired by BJP president J.P. Nadda, the meeting was attended by national office-bearers, morcha presidents and those in charge of particular States as well State-level generation secretaries of organisation, with the Prime Minister addressing the gathering on Friday and Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday. Plans by the BJP to reach out to at least 10 crore people by the time the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is inaugurated on January 22 was also discussed.

Dhoni to resume training in the next few weeks: CSK CEO

Chennai Super Kings skipper M.S. Dhoni is set to resume training in the next few weeks as part of his preparation for the 2024 IPL, according to the franchise’s CEO, K.S. Viswanathan .The former India skipper underwent surgery on his left knee after leading the Super Kings to a fifth IPL title earlier this year. The 42-year-old was often seen sporting knee strapping during the 2023 edition and struggled a bit, especially while running between the wickets. Giving an update about Dhoni’s fitness, Viswanathan said, “He is doing well now. He has started his rehab and is working in the gym. And, probably in another 10 days, he will also start working in the nets.”

Air India’s 1st wide-body A350-900 aircraft lands in Delhi

Air India’s first wide-body A350-900 aircraft, sporting new brand livery, arrived in New Delhi from European aviation major Airbus’ Toulouse facility in France. The aircraft, registered as VT-JRA, touched down at the national capital’s Indira Gandhi International Airport at 1346 hrs, making the Tata Group-owned airline the first aircraft operator in India to have this type of aircraft in its fleet, a statement said. The delivery flight is operated using a special call sign AI350, it said.

Sai Sudharsan always looking to learn and improve, says Hemang Badani

Rising star Sai Sudharsan has had a stellar run in the last 12 months. He has won the TNPL, Deodhar Trophy, Irani Cup, and County Championship (playing for Surrey) this year. His batting exploits in the 50-over Vijay Hazare tournament helped Tamil Nadu make the knockouts, which culminated in his India call-up for the ODI series against South Africa .In his debut against South Africa in the first ODI, he looked very comfortable facing a strong Proteas’ bowling unit and scored a match-winning half-century in tough conditions.

Jarange-Patil announces another hunger strike next month in Mumbai; Maharashtra CM says SC to take up hearing on Maratha quota

Granting a nearly month-long reprieve to the Eknath Shinde-led government concerning the Maratha reservation issue, pro-quota activist Manoj Jarange-Patil on Saturday announced an indefinite strike at Azad Maidan in Mumbai from January 20 to intensify his demands for reservation to the community. Mr. Jarange-Patil was addressing a mega rally in Marathwada region’s Beed district. In his address, he said that “crores of people from the Maratha community” will march to Mumbai on January 20.

U.S. Federal Reserve’s rate cuts come into view as inflation retreats

Federal Reserve policymakers are set to start the new year with fresh evidence that their 2022-2023 interest-rate hike campaign put U.S. price pressures firmly in retreat, with data on Friday showing that by some key measures inflation is now at or below their 2% goal. Traders broke out the champagne after a government report showed the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index fell 0.1% in November from October, responding to the first decline on that measure since April 2020 by boosting bets not only that the Fed will begin reducing borrowing costs in March but will continue to cut them throughout the year.

Turkey says 12 soldiers killed in clashes with Kurdish militants

Twelve Turkish soldiers have been killed in the past two days in clashes with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in northern Iraq, the Defence Ministry said on December 23. The military carried out air strikes on PKK targets, “neutralising” at least 13 PKK militants on Saturday in ongoing clashes, the ministry said in a statement on social messaging platform X. Turkey typically uses the term “neutralised” to mean killed. The ministry also said seven militants had been killed on Friday.

Liquor in GIFT City: Congress, AAP slam Gujarat’s BJP govt. over decision

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Opposition Congress on Saturday clashed over the Gujarat government’s decision a day earlier to allow liquor in GIFT City, which partially overturned the State’s strict prohibition policy. The State government, on Friday, lifted the ban on liquor in the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT) to provide a “global ecosystem”. While the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party said it was an unfortunate decision that would ruin the youth, the BJP said it would provide proper environment for the development of business in the region.

U.S. court rules Twitter breached contract over failure to pay bonuses

A U.S. federal court ruled on Friday that social media company Twitter, now branded X, violated contracts by failing to pay annual performance bonuses it orally promised its workers. The breach-of-contract lawsuit was brought by former employer Mark Schobinger in June. The lawsuit said Twitter had promised workers a 2022 performance bonus if they stayed with the company through the final possible payout date, which was the first quarter of this year. The court threw out Twitter’s attempts to have the case dismissed, ruling that Schobinger’s claim of breach of contract under California law was valid.

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#Hindu #Morning #Digest #December