Pope Francis, who has been suffering from the flu, was brought to a hospital in central Rome after the papal audience on Wednesday, arriving at the Gemelli Hospital on Tiber Island in a small white Fiat 500 and leaving again under escort in the same car after a short period. The Vatican had no immediate comment. The 86-year-old pope was pushed in a wheelchair into the audience hall at the Vatican earlier in the day, appearing weary as he dropped heavily into his seat. In recent weeks he has walked the short distance to his chair, but he has been struggling with mild flu symptoms the past week. The pope also canceled appointments Saturday and Monday due to the flu, but appeared as usual for the Sunday blessing from a window overlooking St. Peter's Square. Last week, Francis coughed repeatedly during Ash Wednesday services that he presided over at a Roman church, and opted not to participate in the traditional procession that inaugurates the church’s Lenten season. This time of year in 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to hit Italy, Francis also suffered a bad cold that forced him to cancel several days of official audiences and his participation in the Vatican’s annual spiritual retreat. The Vatican had already scrubbed the retreat for this year in favor of personal spiritual exercises The Argentine pope had part of one lung removed as a young man because of a respiratory infection, and in 2021 had a chunk of his colon removed because of an intestinal inflammation. He has been using a wheelchair and cane since last year because of strained knee ligaments and a small knee fracture that have made walking and standing difficult. The Pope used his brief words at the end of Wednesday's audience to mark the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the Anti-Personnel Mines Convention, expressing his “closeness to the numerous victims of these insidious devices that remind us of the dramatic cruelty of war.” He also appealed for peace in the Middle East, Ukraine and prayed for the victims of attacks in Burkina Faso and Haiti. At the end of the audience, the pope spent about an hour greeting the faithful from his wheelchair, stopping to talk, bless babies and exchange gifts.
The number of babies born in Japan last year fell for an eighth straight year to a new low, government data showed Tuesday, and a top official said it was critical for the country to reverse the trend in the coming half-dozen years. The 758,631 babies born in Japan in 2023 were a 5.1% decline from the previous year, according to the Health and Welfare Ministry. It was the lowest number of births since Japan started compiling the statistics in 1899. The number of marriages fell by 5.9% to 489,281 couples, falling below a half-million for the first time in 90 years — one of the key reasons for the declining births. Out-of-wedlock births are rare in Japan because of family values based on a paternalistic tradition. Surveys show that many younger Japanese balk at marrying or having families, discouraged by bleak job prospects, the high cost of living that rises at a faster pace than salaries and corporate cultures that are not compatible with having both parents work. Crying babies and children playing outside are increasingly considered a nuisance, and many young parents say they often feel isolated. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters Tuesday that the ongoing declining birth rate is at "critical state." "The period over the next six years or so until 2030s, when the younger population will start declining rapidly, will be the last chance we may be able to reverse the trend," he said. "There is no time to waste." Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has called the low births "the biggest crisis Japan faces," and put forward a package of measures that have included more support and subsidies mostly for childbirth, children and their families. But experts say they doubt whether the government's efforts will be effective because so far they have largely focused on people who already are married or already are planning to have children, while not adequately addressing a growing population of young people who are reluctant to go that far. The number of births has been falling since 50 years ago, when it peaked at about 2.1 million. The decline to an annual number below 760,000 has happened faster than earlier projections predicting that would happen by 2035. Japan's population of more than 125 million is projected to fall by about 30% to 87 million by 2070, with four out of every 10 people at age 65 or older. A shrinking and aging population has big implications for the economy and for national security as the country seeks to fortify its military to counter China's increasingly assertive territorial ambitions.
The U.S. Army is slashing the size of its force by about 24,000, or almost 5%, and restructuring to be better able to fight the next major war, as the service struggles with recruiting shortfalls that made it impossible to bring in enough soldiers to fill all the jobs. The cuts will mainly be in already-empty posts — not actual soldiers — including in jobs related to counterinsurgency that swelled during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars but are not needed as much today. About 3,000 of the cuts would come from Army special operations forces. At the same time, however, the plan will add about 7,500 troops in other critical missions, including air-defense and counter-drone units and five new task forces around the world with enhanced cyber, intelligence and long-range strike capabilities. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she and Gen. Randy George, the Army chief, worked to thin out the number of places where they had empty or excess slots. "We're moving away from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. We want to be postured for large-scale combat operations," Wormuth told reporters on Tuesday. "So we looked at where were there pieces of force structure that were probably more associated with counterinsurgency, for example, that we don't need anymore." George added that Army leaders did a lot of analysis to choose the places to cut. "The things that we want to not have in our formation are actually things that we don't think are going to make us successful on the battlefield going forward," he said. According to an Army document, the service is "significantly overstructured" and there aren't enough soldiers to fill existing units. The cuts, it said, are "spaces" not "faces" and the Army will not be asking soldiers to leave the force. Instead, the decision reflects the reality that for years the Army hasn't been able to fill thousands of empty posts. While the Army as it's currently structured can have up to 494,000 soldiers, the total number of active-duty soldiers right now is about 445,000. Under the new plan, the goal is to bring in enough troops over the next five years to reach a level of 470,000. The planned overhaul comes after two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan that forced the Army to quickly and dramatically expand in order to fill the brigades sent to the battlefront. That included a massive counterinsurgency mission to battle al-Qaida, the Taliban and the Islamic State group. Over time the military's focus has shifted to great power competition from adversaries such as China and Russia, and threats from Iran and North Korea. And the war in Ukraine has shown the need for greater emphasis on air-defense systems and high-tech abilities both to use and counter airborne and sea-based drones. Army leaders said they looked carefully across the board at all the service's job specialties in search of places to trim. And they examined the ongoing effort to modernize the Army, with new high-tech weapons, to determine where additional forces should be focused. According to the plan, the Army will cut about 10,000 spaces for engineers and similar jobs that were tied to counter-insurgency missions. An additional 2,700 cuts will come from units that don't deploy often and can be trimmed, and 6,500 will come from various training and other posts. There also will be about 10,000 posts cut from cavalry squadrons, Stryker brigade combat teams, infantry brigade combat teams and security force assistance brigades, which are used to train foreign forces. The changes represent a significant shift for the Army to prepare for large-scale combat operations against more sophisticated enemies. But they also underscore the steep recruiting challenges that all of the military services are facing. In the last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the Navy, Army and Air Force all failed to meet their recruitment goals, while the Marine Corps and the tiny Space Force met their targets. The Army brought in a bit more than 50,000 recruits, falling well short of the publicly stated "stretch goal" of 65,000. The previous fiscal year, the Army also missed its enlistment goal by 15,000. That year the goal was 60,000. In response, the service launched a sweeping overhaul of its recruiting last fall to focus more on young people who have spent time in college or are job hunting early in their careers. And it is forming a new professional force of recruiters, rather than relying on soldiers randomly assigned to the task. In discussing the changes at the time, Wormuth acknowledged that the service hasn't been recruiting well "for many more years than one would think from just looking at the headlines in the last 18 months." The service, she said, hasn't met its annual goal for new enlistment contracts since 2014.
Israel and Hamas on Tuesday played down chances of an imminent breakthrough in talks for a cease-fire in Gaza, after U.S. President Joe Biden said Israel has agreed to pause its offensive during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan if a deal is reached to release some hostages. The president's remarks came on the eve of the Michigan primary, where he faces pressure from the state's large Arab American population over his staunch support for Israel's offensive. Biden said he had been briefed on the status of talks by his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, but said his comments reflected his optimism for a deal, not that all the remaining hurdles had been overcome. In the wake of Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, Israel's air, sea and ground campaign in Gaza has killed tens of thousands of people, obliterated large swaths of the urban landscape and displaced 80% of the battered enclave's population. Israel's seal on the territory, which allows in only a trickle of food and other aid, has sparked alarm that a famine could be imminent, according to the United Nations. With U.N. truck deliveries of aid hampered by the lack of safe corridors, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and France conducted an airdrop of food, medical supplies and other aid into Gaza on Tuesday. At a beach in southern Gaza, boxes of supplies dropped from military aircraft drifted down on parachutes as thousands of Palestinians ran along the sand to retrieve them. But alarm is growing over worsening hunger among Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinians. Two infants died from dehydration and malnutrition at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza City, said the spokesman for Gaza's Health Ministry, Ashraf al-Qidra. He warned that infant mortality threatens to surge. "Dehydration and malnutrition will kill thousands of children and pregnant women in the Gaza Strip," he said. The U.N. Population Fund said the Al Helal Al Emirati maternity hospital in Gaza's southernmost town of Rafah reported that newborns were dying because mothers were unable to get prenatal or postnatal care. Premature births are also rising, forcing staff to put four or five newborns in a single incubator. Most of them do not survive, it said, without giving figures on the numbers of deaths. Now the prospect of an invasion of Rafah has prompted global alarm over the fate of around 1.4 million civilians trapped there. Talks to pause the fighting have gained momentum recently and were underway Tuesday. Negotiators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar have been working to broker a cease-fire that would see Hamas free some of the dozens of hostages it holds in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, a six-week halt in fighting and an increase in aid deliveries to Gaza. The start of Ramadan, which is expected to be around March 10, is seen as an unofficial deadline for a deal. The month is a time of heightened religious observance and dawn-to-dusk fasting for hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world. Israeli-Palestinian tensions have flared in the past during the holy month. "Ramadan's coming up, and there has been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out," Biden said in an appearance on NBC's "Late Night With Seth Meyers" that was recorded Monday. In separate comments the same day, Biden said that he hoped a cease-fire deal could take effect by next week. At the same time, Biden did not call for an end to the war, which was triggered when Hamas militants killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted roughly 250 people, according to Israeli authorities. Israeli officials said Biden's comments came as a surprise and were not made in coordination with the country's leadership. A Hamas official played down any sense of progress, saying the group wouldn't soften its demands. The Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the sensitive talks with the media, said Israel wants a deal immediately, but that Hamas continues to push excessive demands. They also said that Israel is insisting that female soldiers be part of the first group of hostages released under any truce deal. Hamas official Ahmad Abdel-Hadi indicated that optimism on a deal was premature. "The resistance is not interested in giving up any of its demands, and what is proposed does not meet what it had requested," he told the Pan-Arab TV channel Al Mayadeen. Hamas has previously demanded that Israel end the war as part of any deal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called "delusional." In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone separately with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to discuss planning for post-conflict reconstruction and governance of Gaza. Neither country is directly involved with the ceasefire negotiations but both will be critical in supporting what will an expensive, lengthy and difficult scenario when the fighting stops, particularly in winning popular Arab backing for security guarantees for Israel should it agree to talks on the creation of a Palestinian state. In nearly identical statements, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Blinken had discussed with the ministers the U.S. "commitment to achieving sustained peace through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel." At a news conference in Doha on Tuesday, Qatar Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari said his country felt "optimistic" about the talks, without elaborating. A senior official from Egypt has said the draft deal includes the release of up to 40 women and older hostages in return for up to 300 Palestinian prisoners — mostly women, minors and older people. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, said the proposed six-week pause in fighting would allow hundreds of trucks to bring desperately needed aid into Gaza every day, including to the hard-hit north. Biden, who has shown staunch support for Israel throughout the war, left open the door in his remarks for an eventual Israeli ground offensive in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, on the border with Egypt, where more than half of the enclave's 2.3 million people have fled under Israeli evacuation orders. Netanyahu has said a ground operation in Rafah is an inevitable component of Israel's strategy for crushing Hamas. This week, the military submitted for Cabinet approval operational plans for the offensive, as well as evacuation plans for civilians there. Biden said he believes Israel has slowed its bombardment of Rafah. "They have to, and they have made a commitment to me that they're going to see to it that there's an ability to evacuate significant portions of Rafah before they go and take out the remainder Hamas," he said. "But it's a process." Israel's offensive in Gaza has killed more than 29,700 people, most of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. It does not distinguish between fighters and civilians in its count. The first and only cease-fire in the war, in late November, brought about the release of about 100 hostages — mostly women, children and foreign nationals — in exchange for about 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, as well as a brief halt in the fighting. Roughly 130 hostages remain in Gaza, but Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.
Pakistan's imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife appeared in a court near Islamabad on Tuesday and pleaded not guilty in a graft case alleging they accepted the gift of land from a real estate tycoon in exchange for large sums of laundered money, officials said. The case is the second to indict Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi over acts of corruption allegedly committed while the former cricket star turned Islamist politician was in office. Prosecutors accuse the couple of using their family’s charity to set up a university on land gifted to them by the tycoon, Malik Riaz. In turn, the businessman was allegedly given 190 million British pounds ($240 million) in laundered money that was returned to Pakistan by British authorities. Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees seriously oppressing women and girls Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022, is currently serving multiple prison terms and has some 170 legal cases pending against him on charges ranging from corruption to inciting people to violence and terrorism. The couple has also been convicted earlier in a graft case on charges of selling state gifts while in office. Khan has denied wrongdoing and has insisted since his arrest last year that all the charges against him are a plot by his rivals to keep him from returning to office. He was barred from running in the Feb. 8 parliamentary elections in which his rivals from the Pakistan Muslim League party, or PML-N, emerged as the largest in the National Assembly or lower house of the parliament. Khan's rival, former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is now on track to form a coalition government when the parliament meets for its inaugural session on Friday. On Tuesday, Khan was brought before the judge at the high security court set up inside the Adiala Prison, in the garrison city of Rawalpindi just outside Islamabad, where he is serving his prison terms concurrently. Bibi, who is imprisoned at the couple's home in Islamabad, was brought to the court in a security convoy. The couple pleaded not guilty after the latest charge was read to them and the judge adjourned the proceedings till next month, Khan's legal team said. Separately, Khan and Bibi have also been sentenced to seven years in prison each on charges that their 2018 wedding violated marriage laws, allegedly because insufficient time had lapsed between Bibi's previous divorce and their union. India seeks to boost rooftop solar, especially for its remote areas Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party condemned Tuesday's proceedings as “one sided” and complained because Khan's legal team has had limited access to him and because the media have been barred from covering the trial. Khan has so far been convicted on charges of corruption, revealing official secrets and violating marriage laws in three separate verdicts and sentenced to 10, 14 and seven years respectively. Under Pakistani law, he is to serve the terms concurrently — meaning, the length of the longest of the sentences. Khan is appealing all the convictions.
Most UN Security Council members demand Taliban rescind decrees seriously oppressing women and girls
More than two-thirds of the U.N. Security Council’s members demanded Monday that the Taliban rescind all policies and decrees oppressing and discriminating against women and girls, including banning girls education above the sixth grade and women’s right to work and move freely. A statement by 11 of the 15 council members condemned the Taliban’s repression of women and girls since they took power in August 2021, and again insisted on their equal participation in public, political, economic, cultural and social life -- especially at all decision-making levels seeking to advance international engagement with Afghanistan’s de facto rulers. Guyana’s U.N. Ambassador Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett read the statement, surrounding by ambassadors of the 10 other countries, before a closed council meeting on U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ conference with more than 25 envoys to Afghanistan on Feb. 18-19 in Qatar’s capital, Doha. Afghan civil society representatives, including women, participated in the Doha meeting, which the council members welcomed. The Taliban refused to attend, its Foreign Ministry saying in a statement that its participation would be “beneficial” only if it was the sole and official representative for the country at the talks. While the Taliban did not attend the meetings, U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo did meet with Taliban officials based in Doha, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. DiCarlo also briefed council members at Monday’s closed meeting. The Taliban have not been recognized by any country, and the U.N. envoy for Afghanistan last year warned the de facto rulers that international recognition as the country’s legitimate government will remain “nearly impossible” unless they lift the restrictions on women. Read: World Food Program appeals for $19 million to provide emergency food in quake-hit Afghanistan The 11 council nations supporting the statement -- Ecuador, France, Guyana, Japan, Malta, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States – underscored that there can only be sustainable peace in Afghanistan if its political process is inclusive and the human rights of all Afghans are respected including women and girls. Four Security Council nations didn’t sign on to the statement – Russia, China, Mozambique and Algeria. The Taliban refused to attend the Doha meeting. A Foreign Ministry statement said participation would only be beneficial if the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, as the Taliban call their administration, are the sole and official representative for the country at the talks. Secretary-General Guterres told reporters in Doha that among participants — also including representatives of the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — there was “total consensus” on requirements for Afghanistan to be integrated into the international community. Read: UN is seeking to verify that Afghanistan's Taliban are letting girls study at religious schools To reach this “endgame,” he said, Afghanistan must not be “the hotbed of terrorist activities that impact other countries,” its institutions must include diverse groups including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Pashtuns and Hazaras, and human rights must be respected especially the rights of women and girls. Guterres said to a certain extent there is currently “a kind of situation of the chicken and the egg.” “On one hand, Afghanistan remains with a government that is not recognized internationally and, in many aspects, not integrated in the global institutions and in the global economy,” he said. “And on the other hand, there is in the international community a perception that inclusivity has not improved; that the situation of women and girls and human rights in general has in fact deteriorated in recent times.” The secretary-general said one objective of the meeting with the envoys was “to overcome this deadlock” and develop a roadmap in which the international community’s concerns and the Taliban’s concerns are “taken into account simultaneously.” A Security Council resolution asked Guterres to appoint a U.N. envoy after consultations with all parties, member states, the Taliban and others. Guterres said the participants decided he should initiate consultations “to see if there are conditions to create a U.N. envoy that might be able not only to have a coordinating role in relation to the engagements that are taking place but that can also work effectively with the de facto authorities of Afghanistan.” “I will initiate immediately those consultations,” the U.N. chief said. Read more: U.S. sanctions officials from Afghanistan to China on declaration of human rights anniversary
The Palestinian Authority's prime minister announced his government's resignation on Monday, seen as the first step in a reform process urged by the United States as part of its latest ambitious plans to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But it will do little to address the authority's longstanding lack of legitimacy among its own people or its strained relations with Israel. Both pose major obstacles to U.S. plans calling for the PA, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to govern postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood. That's assuming that the war in Gaza ends with the defeat of the Hamas militant group — an Israeli and U.S. goal that seems elusive nearly five months into the grueling war that has killed almost 30,000 Palestinians and pushed the territory to the brink of famine. Here's a look at the government shakeup and what it means for the Israel-Hamas war. WHAT IS THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY? The PA was created in the early 1990s through interim peace agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, then led by Yasser Arafat. It was granted limited autonomy in parts of the West Bank and Gaza ahead of what the Palestinians hoped would be full statehood in both territories as well as east Jerusalem, lands that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war. But the sides were unable to reach a final agreement through several rounds of peace talks. Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the PA in 2005, months after Arafat's death. Hamas won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections the following year, triggering an international boycott of the PA. A power struggle between Abbas' secular Fatah party and Hamas boiled over in the summer of 2007, with Hamas seizing power in Gaza after a week of street battles. That effectively confined Abbas' authority to parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Abbas recognizes Israel, is opposed to armed struggle and is committed to a two-state solution. His security forces have cooperated with the Israeli military to crack down on Hamas and other armed groups, and his government has worked with Israel to facilitate work permits, medical travel and other civilian affairs. WHAT DOES THE RESIGNATION MEAN? In announcing his resignation, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said new arrangements were needed to address "the new reality in the Gaza Strip.” Abbas accepted Shtayyeh's resignation and is expected to replace him with Mohammad Mustafa, a U.S.-educated economist who has held senior positions at the World Bank and currently leads the Palestine Investment Fund. He was deputy prime minister and economy minister from 2013-2015. As a political independent and not a Fatah loyalist like Shtayyeh, Mustafa's appointment would likely be welcomed by the U.S., Israel and other countries. Mustafa has no political base of his own, and the 88-year-old Abbas will still have the final say on any major policies. Still, the appointment would convey the image of a reformed, professional PA that can run Gaza, which is important for the U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said it was up to the Palestinians to choose their leaders, but that the U.S. welcomes any steps to “reform and revitalize” the PA. “We think those steps are positive. We think that they’re an important step to achieving a reunited Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.” HOW DO PALESTINIANS VIEW THE AUTHORITY? Abbas' popularity has plummeted in recent years, with polls consistently finding that a large majority of Palestinians want him to resign. The PA's security coordination with Israel is extremely unpopular, causing many Palestinians to view it as a subcontractor of the occupation. Both the PA and Hamas have cracked down on dissent in the territories they control, violently suppressing protests and jailing and torturing critics. Abbas' mandate expired in 2009 but he has refused to hold elections, citing Israeli restrictions. Hamas, whose popularity has soared during this and previous rounds of violence, would likely do well in any free election. But the most popular Palestinian leader by far is Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison after a 2004 terrorism conviction. Hamas is demanding his release in exchange for some of the hostages it captured in the Oct. 7 attack that ignited the war, but Israel has refused. Hamas has called for all the Palestinian factions to establish an interim government to prepare the way for elections. But Israel, the U.S. and other Western countries are likely to boycott any Palestinian body that includes the militant group, which they view as a terrorist organization. DOES ISRAEL SUPPORT THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY? Israel prefers the PA to Hamas. But even though they cooperate on security matters, Israel accuses the PA of inciting terrorism, and the PA accuses Israel of apartheid and genocide. Israel's criticism largely focuses on the PA's provision of financial aid to the families of Palestinian prisoners and Palestinians killed by Israeli forces — including militants who killed Israelis. Israel says the payments incentivize terrorism. The PA portrays them as social welfare for victims of the occupation. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the PA should have no role in postwar Gaza. He says Israel will maintain open-ended security control over the territory while local Palestinian leaders administer civilian affairs. Netanyahu’s government is opposed to Palestinian statehood. The U.S. has outlined a path to a broader postwar settlement in which Saudi Arabia would recognize Israel and join other Arab states and a revitalized PA in helping to rebuild and govern Gaza — all in exchange for a credible path to an independent Palestinian state. The reform of the PA represents a small part of that package, which has yet to win over the Israeli government.
President Joe Biden said Monday that he hopes a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that would pause hostilities and allow for remaining hostages to be released can take effect by early next week. Asked when he thought a cease-fire could begin, Biden said: “Well I hope by the beginning of the weekend. The end of the weekend. My national security adviser tells me that we’re close. We’re close. We’re not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.” Biden commented in New York after taping an appearance on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” Negotiations are underway for a weekslong cease-fire between Israel and Hamas to allow for the release of hostages being held in Gaza by the militant group in return for Israel releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. The proposed six-week pause in fighting would also include allowing hundreds of trucks to deliver desperately needed aid into Gaza every day. Negotiators face an unofficial deadline of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan around March 10, a period that often sees heightened Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Meanwhile, Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations' top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war. In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the U.N.’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in the tiny Palestinian enclave. It stopped short of ordering an end to the military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe. Israel denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting in self-defense. Nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have sought safety. Read: 'Will no longer be complicit in genocide': US Air Force personnel sets himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy in Washington Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details. The situation in Rafah has sparked global concern. Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against the Hamas militant group. Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh submitted his government's resignation, and President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to appoint technocrats in line with U.S. demands for internal reform. The U.S. has called for a revitalized Palestinian Authority to govern postwar Gaza ahead of eventual statehood — a scenario rejected by Israel. In its Jan. 26 ruling, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance" to Gaza. Read: Israel vows to target Lebanon's Hezbollah even if cease-fire reached with Hamas in Gaza Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said late Monday that it has filed such a report. It declined to share it or discuss its contents. Israel said 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday. That’s less than half the amount that entered daily before the war. Human Rights Watch, citing U.N. figures, noted a 30% drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering was 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the ruling. The daily average dropped to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed. The rights group said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries. “The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. The Association of International Development Agencies, a coalition of over 70 humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, said almost no aid had reached areas in Gaza north of Rafah since the court’s ruling. Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating in Gaza, saying large aid shipments sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The U.N. says it can’t always reach the crossing because it is at times too dangerous. In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped them of supplies. The U.N. has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the process. Read more: Netanyahu says a cease-fire deal would only delay 'somewhat' an Israeli military offensive in Rafah Netanyahu’s office said that the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details. The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has caused vast devastation in Gaza. Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence. Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza's urban landscape, displacing about 80% of the territory’s 2.3 million people, who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety. The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion. Starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings. “I wish death for the children because I cannot get them bread. I cannot feed them. I cannot feed my own children!" Naim Abouseido yelled as he waited for aid in Gaza City. "What did we do to deserve this?” Bushra Khalidi with U.K. aid organization Oxfam told The Associated Press that it had verified reports that children have died of starvation in the north in recent weeks, which she said indicated aid was not being scaled up despite the court ruling. Aid groups say deliveries also continue to be hobbled by security issues. The French aid groups Médecins du Monde and Doctors Without Borders each said that their facilities were struck by Israeli forces in the weeks following the court order.
‘Will no longer be complicit in genocide’: US airman dies after setting himself on fire outside Israeli Embassy
An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force has died after he set himself ablaze outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., while declaring that he “will no longer be complicit in genocide." The 25-year-old airman, Aaron Bushnell, of San Antonio, Texas, died from his injuries, the Metropolitan Police Department said Monday. Bushnell had walked up to the embassy shortly before 1 p.m. Sunday and began livestreaming on the video streaming platform Twitch, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. Law enforcement officials believe he set his phone down and then doused himself in accelerant and ignited the flames. At one point, he said he “will no longer be complicit in genocide,” the person said. The video was later removed from the platform, but law enforcement officials have obtained and reviewed a copy. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the ongoing investigation and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. Investigators believe Bushnell had been staying at a Travelodge in Silver Spring, Maryland, which was searched Monday by federal agents, a law enforcement official said. That official was not authorized to disclose details of the investigation publicly and also spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. In a statement Monday, the Air Force said, “The individual involved in yesterday’s incident succumbed to his injuries and passed away last night.” Read: Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of blocking aid to Palestinians in violation of a UN court order Later Monday, the Air Force said Bushnell was a cyber defense operations specialist with the 531st Intelligence Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio. He had served on active duty since May 2020. Col. Celina Noyes, commander the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing, said: “When a tragedy like this occurs, every member of the Air Force feels it. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Senior Airman Bushnell." Demonstrators held a vigil for Bushnell outside the Israeli embassy Monday night. The incident happened as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking the cabinet approval for a military operation in the southern Gazan city of Rafah while a temporary cease-fire deal is being negotiated. Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, however, has drawn criticisms, including genocide claims against the Palestinians. Israel has adamantly denied the genocide allegations and says it is carrying out operations in accordance with international law in the Israel-Hamas war. In December, a person self-immolated outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta and used gasoline as an accelerant, according to Atlanta’s fire authorities. A Palestinian flag was found at the scene, and the act was believed to be one of “extreme political protest.” Read more: Palestinian prime minister submits government’s resignation, a move that could open door to reforms
Israel has failed to comply with an order by the United Nations' top court to provide urgently needed aid to desperate people in the Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch said Monday, a month after a landmark ruling in The Hague ordered Israel to moderate its war. In a preliminary response to a South African petition accusing Israel of genocide, the U.N.’s top court ordered Israel to do all it can to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in Gaza. It stopped short of ordering an end to its military offensive that has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe in the tiny Palestinian enclave. Israel vehemently denies the charges against it, saying it is fighting a war in self-defense. One month later and nearly five months into the war, preparations are underway for Israel to expand its ground operation into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town along the border with Egypt, where 1.4 million Palestinians have flooded into in search of safety. Early Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the army had presented to the War Cabinet its operational plan for Rafah as well as plans to evacuate civilians from the battle zones. It gave no further details. The situation in Rafah, where dense tent camps have sprouted to house the displaced, has sparked global concern and Israel’s allies have warned that it must protect civilians in its battle against Hamas. Zelenskyy: 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russia launched full-scale invasion Also Monday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said he was submitting his government's resignation. The move, which still must be accepted by President Mahmoud Abbas, could open the door to U.S.-backed reforms in the Palestinian Authority, which the U.S. wants to rule postwar Gaza but in a revitalized shape. In its ruling last month, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to follow six provisional measures, including taking “immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.” Under the orders, Israel also must submit a report on what it is doing to adhere to the measures within a month. While Monday marked a month since the court’s orders were issued, it was not immediately clear whether Israel had handed in such a report. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment. Human Rights Watch said Israel was not adhering to the court’s order on aid provision, citing a 30% drop in the daily average number of aid trucks entering Gaza in the weeks following the court’s ruling. It said Israel was not adequately facilitating fuel deliveries to hard-hit northern Gaza and blamed Israel for blocking aid from reaching the north, where the World Food Program said last week it was forced to suspend aid deliveries because of increasing chaos in the isolated part of the territory. “The Israeli government has simply ignored the court’s ruling, and in some ways even intensified its repression, including further blocking lifesaving aid,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. Former Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif's daughter and close aide takes over top provincial post Echoing Human Rights Watch, the Association of International Development Agencies, a coalition of over 70 humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, said aid deliveries have slowed since the court's ruling, with almost no aid reaching areas in Gaza north of Rafah. Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has instead blamed humanitarian organizations operating inside Gaza, saying hundreds of trucks filled with aid sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The U.N. says it can’t always reach the trucks at the crossing because it is at times too dangerous. Netanyahu’s office also said Monday the War Cabinet had approved a plan to deliver humanitarian aid safely into Gaza in a way that would “prevent the cases of looting.” It did not disclose further details. The war, launched after Hamas-led militants rampaged across southern Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 people hostage, has unleashed unimaginable devastation in Gaza. Nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza, two thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza which does not distinguish in its count between fighters and noncombatants. Israel says it has killed 10,000 militants, without providing evidence. Palestinian prime minister submits government’s resignation, a move that could open door to reforms Fighting has flattened large swaths of Gaza's urban landscape, displacing about 80% of the territory’s 2.3 million people who have crammed into increasingly smaller spaces looking for elusive safety. The crisis has pushed a quarter of the population toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine, especially in the northern part of Gaza, which was the first focus of Israel’s ground invasion and where starving residents have been forced to eat animal fodder and search for food in demolished buildings. “I wish death for the children because I cannot get them bread. I cannot feed them. I cannot feed my own children," Naim Abouseido yelled in anguish as he waited for aid in Gaza City. "What did we do to deserve this?” Bushra Khalidi, with U.K. aid organization Oxfam, told The Associated Press that it had verified reports that children have died of starvation in the north in recent weeks, which she said indicated aid was not being scaled up despite the court ruling. Israel said that 245 trucks of aid entered Gaza on Sunday, less than half the amount that entered daily before the war. But Human Rights Watch, citing U.N. figures, said that between Jan. 27 and Feb. 21, the daily average of trucks entering stood at 93, compared to 147 trucks a day in the three weeks before the world court’s ruling. The daily average dropped further, to 57, between Feb. 9 and 21, the figures showed. Aid groups say deliveries continue to be hobbled by security issues. The French aid groups Médecins du Monde and Doctors Without Borders each said that facilities belonging to them were struck by Israeli forces in the weeks following the court order. United Nations agencies and aid groups say the hostilities, the Israeli military’s refusal to facilitate deliveries and the breakdown of order inside Gaza make it increasingly difficult to get vital aid to much of the coastal enclave. In some cases, crowds of desperate Palestinians have surrounded delivery trucks and stripped the supplies off them. The U.N. has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the coordination process.