U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return this week to the Middle East as the U.S. hopes to find a way to extend a ceasefire in Gaza and get more hostages released, the State Department said Monday. It will be his third trip to the region since Israel's war with Hamas began last month. Blinken will travel to Israel and the West Bank after attending Ukraine-focused meetings on Tuesday and Wednesday in Brussels and Skopje, North Macedonia, where foreign ministers from NATO and the Organization for Peace and Security in Europe are gathering. Israel has agreed to pauses in its military operations in exchange for the gradual release of hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. The agreement had been due to expire Monday but was extended for an additional two days, meaning the extension will be expiring just as Blinken is arriving in Israel. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday the U.S. hopes to see the pause extended further, but it is dependent on Hamas continuing to release hostages. Read: Tens of thousands march in London calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza In Israel and the West Bank, Blinken will “discuss Israel’s right to defend itself consistent with international humanitarian law, as well as continued efforts to secure the release of remaining hostages, protect civilian life during Israel’s operations in Gaza, and accelerate humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. He said Blinken also will discuss the principles for a post-conflict Gaza, as well as the need to establish an independent Palestinian state and prevent the conflict from widening. In the occupied West Bank, Blinken is expected to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Blinken and other U.S. officials have said they believe the Palestinian Authority should play a significant role in governing post-conflict Gaza. From Israel and the West Bank, Blinken will travel to the United Arab Emirates for discussions with regional leaders who will be in Dubai to attend the COP28 climate summit. Blinken has been engaged in furious diplomacy to try to prevent the Gaza conflict from spreading, expand the provision of humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in the territory, secure the release of hostages and arrange for foreigners and dual nationals to leave Gaza overland to Egypt. Read: Israel and Hamas complete 2nd day of swaps after tense delay, as Gaza ceasefire holds On each of his prior two trips, Blinken has traveled to Israel and Jordan multiple times. Between the two trips, he also made stops in Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE. Blinken will arrive in Israel having just participated in an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe foreign ministers meeting in Skopje. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said he plans to attend the OSCE meeting, possibly setting the stage for a U.S.-Russia confrontation there over Ukraine. In Brussels, Blinken will attend the two-day NATO gathering, which will include the first foreign minister-level meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Council, a body created by alliance leaders at their last summit to improve cooperation and coordination and help prepare Kyiv for eventual membership. “Allies will continue to support Ukraine’s self-defense until Russia stops its war of aggression,” said Jim O’Brien, the top U.S. diplomat for Europe. The NATO meeting will also address the tensions in the Western Balkans, where there are calls for NATO to increase its military presence in response to concerns that hostility between Serbia and Kosovo could escalate to outright conflict. Read: On Day One of Gaza ceasefire, Hamas and Israel carry out first swap of hostages and prisoners Violence between the two has broken out twice in recent months, and Western countries fear that Russia could try to foment trouble in the Balkans to avert attention from the war in Ukraine. Last week, Albania's prime minister urged NATO to further boost its military forces in Kosovo and secure the country’s borders with Serbia, warning that recent ethnic violence in Kosovo could potentially trigger a wider Balkan conflict. NATO has already strengthened its military presence in Kosovo — established after the 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia — with about 1,000 additional troops and heavier weaponry, bringing its deployment there to about 4,500 troops. Blinken will underscore U.S. and NATO support for democracy and stability in the region, including a commitment to back all countries’ aspirations to join the European Union, O’Brien said. Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s formal declaration of independence in 2008. Both countries want to join the European Union, which is mediating a dialogue between the former foes. Brussels has warned both that refusal to compromise jeopardizes their chances of joining the bloc. Read: PM Hasina urges G20 leaders to press for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, ensure humanitarian relief The NATO ministers will also discuss plans for the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit to be held in Washington in July 2024.
In an age of deepfakes and post-truth, as artificial intelligence rose and Elon Musk turned Twitter into X, the Merriam-Webster word of the year for 2023 is "authentic." Authentic cuisine. Authentic voice. Authentic self. Authenticity as artifice. Lookups for the word are routinely heavy on the dictionary company's site but were boosted to new heights throughout the year, editor at large Peter Sokolowski told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. "We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity," he said ahead of Monday's announcement of this year's word. "What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more." Sokolowski and his team don't delve into the reasons people head for dictionaries and websites in search of specific words. Rather, they chase the data on lookup spikes and world events that correlate. This time around, there was no particularly huge boost at any given time but a constancy to the increased interest in "authentic." This was the year of artificial intelligence, for sure, but also a moment when ChatGPT-maker OpenAI suffered a leadership crisis. Taylor Swift and Prince Harry chased after authenticity in their words and deeds. Musk himself, at February's World Government Summit in Dubai, urged the heads of companies, politicians, ministers and other leaders to "speak authentically" on social media by running their own accounts. "Can we trust whether a student wrote this paper? Can we trust whether a politician made this statement? We don't always trust what we see anymore," Sokolowski said. "We sometimes don't believe our own eyes or our own ears. We are now recognizing that authenticity is a performance itself." Merriam-Webster's entry for "authentic" is busy with meaning. There is "not false or imitation: real, actual," as in an authentic cockney accent. There's "true to one's own personality, spirit or character." There's "worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact." There is "made or done the same way as an original." And, perhaps the most telling, there's "conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features." "Authentic" follows 2022's choice of "gaslighting." And 2023 marks Merriam-Webster's 20th anniversary choosing a top word. The company's data crunchers filter out evergreen words like "love" and "affect" vs. "effect" that are always high in lookups among the 500,000 words it defines online. This year, the wordsmiths also filtered out numerous five-letter words because Wordle and Quordle players clearly use the company's site in search of them as they play the daily games, Sokolowski said. Sokolowski, a lexicologist, and his colleagues have a bevy of runners-up for word of the year that also attracted unusual traffic. They include "X" (lookups spiked in July after Musk's rebranding of Twitter), "EGOT" (there was a boost in February when Viola Davis achieved that rare quadruple-award status with a Grammy) and "Elemental," the title of a new Pixar film that had lookups jumping in June. Rounding out the company's top words of 2023, in no particular order: RIZZ: Slang for "romantic appeal or charm" and seemingly short for charisma. Merriam-Webster added the word to its online dictionary in September and it's been among the top lookups since, Sokolowski said. KIBBUTZ: There was a massive spike in lookups for "a communal farm or settlement in Israel" after Hamas militants attacked several near the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7. The first kibbutz was founded circa 1909 in what is today Israel. IMPLODE: The June 18 implosion of the Titan submersible on a commercial expedition to explore the Titanic wreckage sent lookups soaring for this word, meaning "to burst inward." "It was a story that completely occupied the world," Sokolowski said. DEADNAME: Interest was high in what Merriam-Webster defines as "the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning." Lookups followed an onslaught of legislation aimed at curtailing LGBTQ+ rights around the country. DOPPELGANGER: Sokolowski calls this "a word lover's word." Merriam-Webster defines it as a "double," an "alter ego" or a "ghostly counterpart." It derives from German folklore. Interest in the word surrounded Naomi Klein's latest book, "Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World," released this year. She uses her own experience of often being confused with feminist author and conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf as a springboard into a broader narrative on the crazy times we're all living in. CORONATION: King Charles III had one on May 6, sending lookups for the word soaring 15,681% over the year before, Sokolowski said. Merriam-Webster defines it as "the act or occasion of crowning." DEEPFAKE: The dictionary company's definition is "an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said." Interest spiked after Musk's lawyers in a Tesla lawsuit said he is often the subject of deepfake videos and again after the likeness of Ryan Reynolds appeared in a fake, AI-generated Tesla ad. DYSTOPIAN: Climate chaos brought on interest in the word. So did books, movies and TV fare intended to entertain. "It's unusual to me to see a word that is used in both contexts," Sokolowski said. COVENANT: Lookups for the word meaning "a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement" swelled on March 27, after a deadly mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. The shooter was a former student killed by police after killing three students and three adults. Interest also spiked with this year's release of "Guy Ritchie's The Covenant" and Abraham Verghese's long-awaited new novel, "The Covenant of Water," which Oprah Winfrey chose as a book club pick. More recently, soon after U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson ascended to House speaker, a 2022 interview with the Louisiana congressman recirculated. He discussed how his teen son was then his "accountability partner" on Covenant Eyes, software that tracks browser history and sends reports to each partner when porn or other potentially objectionable sites are viewed. INDICT: Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on felony charges in four criminal cases in New York, Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C., in addition to fighting a lawsuit threatening his real estate empire.
Tens of thousands of people turned out on central London's streets Saturday for a pro-Palestinian march calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. Police said that while the majority of people protested peacefully, 18 people were arrested including at least five people who were detained on suspicion of inciting racial hatred. The National March for Palestine in central London was the latest in several huge protests staged in the British capital and many European cities every weekend since the Israel-Hamas war began last month. Read: Hamas is set to exchange more hostages for Palestinian prisoners Saturday's protests came on the second day of a four-day cease-fire that has allowed critical humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and given civilians their first respite after seven weeks of war. The Metropolitan Police said officers arrested a man on suspicion of inciting racial hatred after he was spotted carrying a placard with Nazi symbols on it. Four others were detained for distributing “literature featuring a swastika inside a Star of David.” The pro-Palestinian rallies in recent weeks have triggered heated debate in Britain over the freedom of protest as well as police powers to clamp down on what some in the Jewish community see as hateful, racist or antisemitic language or actions. Earlier this month, the U.K.’s former interior minister, Suella Braverman, came under heavy criticism when she described pro-Palestinian protesters as “hate marchers.” Critics accused her of inflaming tensions, and she was sacked by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak soon after. On Saturday officers handed out leaflets march that sought to clarify what would be deemed a criminal offence, after the force faced pressure from senior government officials to be tougher on alleged displays of antisemitism at the protests. “Anyone who is racist or incites hatred against any group should expect to be arrested. As should anyone who supports Hamas or any other banned organization,” said Deputy Assistant Police Commissioner Ade Adelekan. “We will not tolerate anyone who celebrates or promotes acts of terrorism – such as the killing or kidnap of innocent people – or who spreads hate speech," he added. Read: 4-day truce begins in Gaza, setting stage to swap dozens of hostages for Palestinian prisoners The force said 1,500 officers were deployed to police the march. Hundreds also gathered outside the Egyptian Embassy in London for a demonstration organized by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamist group. Police said two women who were seen holding “offensive” placards were arrested for a racially aggravated public order offense. In Paris, a march staged for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women drew both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli activists as well as other groups. Some protesters, waving Palestinian flags and posters reading “Free Palestine,” walked in a show of solidarity with “Gaza and Palestine’s women who are being murdered.” A group of Jewish women also joined the march to denounce crimes committed by Hamas, including rapes and killings, chanting, “We are women, we are proud, we are Jewish and we are angry.” Meanwhile, some pro-Palestinian protests were organized over the weekend in France’s major cities including Strasbourg, Lyon and Marseille. In Vienna, many marched amid first snow in the city, waving Palestinian flags at a “Peace for Palestine” rally. Organizers called on the Austrian government to back a cease-fire in Gaza, the release of all Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners, and the lifting of the Gaza blockade. Organizers warned potential participants ahead of Saturday's demonstration that any antisemitic or far-right actions would be “stopped immediately” and offenders would be asked to leave the event. Tens of thousands of people are also expected to take part in a march organized by the Campaign Against Antisemitism charity on Sunday to show solidarity with the Jewish community in the U.K.
On the cusp of the COP28 climate talks, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited frozen but rapidly melting Antarctica and said Thursday that intense action must be taken at the conference where countries will address their commitments to lowering emissions of planet-warming gases. "We are witnessing an acceleration that is absolutely devastating," Guterres said about the rate of ice melt in Antarctica, which is considered to be a "sleeping giant." "The Antarctic is waking up, and the world must wake up," he added. Guterres is on a three-day official visit to Antarctica. Chilean President Gabriel Boric joined him for an official visit to Chile´s Eduardo Frei Air Force Base on King George Island. Guterres also was scheduled to visit the Collins and Nelson glaciers by boat. He described the U.N. climate change conference that begins in Dubai next week as an opportunity for nations to "decide the phase-out of fossil fuels in an adequate time frame" to prevent the world from warming 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures. Guterres said the COP28 conference also gives nations the chance to commit to more renewable energy projects and to improve energy efficiency of existing grids and technologies. The U.N. chief also said he thinks that Sultan al-Jaber, the president of the upcoming climate talks and head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has a "bigger responsibility" to encourage the fossil fuel industry to make more clean energy investments because of his ties to the sector. "He needs to be able to explain to all those that are responsible in the fossil fuel industry, and especially to the oil and gas industry that is making obscene profits all over the world, that this is the moment to use those profits instead of doubling down on fossil fuels," Guterres said. Warming air and ocean temperatures are causing Antarctic ice to melt. The frozen continent plays a significant role in regulating Earth's climate because it reflects sunlight away and drives major ocean currents. For years, scientists and environmentalists have kept an eye on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet as an important indicator of global warming. A study published in Nature Climate Change last month said warming has increased to the point that the ice sheet will now experience "unavoidable" melting regardless of how much the world reduces emissions of planet-warming gases like carbon dioxide. The study's lead author, Kaitlin Naughten, estimated that melting ice in Antarctica's most at-risk areas could raise global sea levels by about 1.8 meters (5.9 feet) over the next few centuries. Another study published in Science Advances, also last month, reported that nearly 50 Antarctic ice shelves have shrunk by at least 30% since 1997 and 28 of those have lost more than half their ice in that short period of time.
Hamas on Friday released 24 hostages it held captive in Gaza for weeks, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison in the first stage of a swap under a four-day cease-fire that offered a small glimmer of relief to both sides. Israel — wrenched by the abduction of nearly 240 people in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war — cheered as 13 Israeli women and children emerged free from Gaza. Most were in their 70s or 80s, and the youngest was a 2-year-old. Also released were 10 people from Thailand and one from the Philippines. In Gaza, the truce’s start Friday morning brought the first quiet for 2.3 million Palestinians reeling and desperate from relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent as well. South African parliament votes in favour of closing Israel embassy, cutting diplomatic ties Increased supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel promised under the deal began to roll into Gaza, where U.N. officials had warned that Israel’s seal on the territory threatened to push it to starvation. But relief has been tempered — among Israelis by the fact that not all hostages will be freed and among Palestinians by the briefness of the pause. The short truce leaves Gaza mired in humanitarian crisis and under the threat that fighting could soon resume. Israel says the cease-fire could be extended if more hostages are released, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it had received a new list of hostages to be released by Hamas on Saturday. But Israel has vowed to resume its massive offensive once the truce ends. That has clouded hopes that the deal could eventually help wind down the conflict, which has fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East. Israeli troops battle militants across north Gaza, which has been without power or water for weeks FIRST HOSTAGES FREEDUnder the deal, Hamas is to release at least 50 hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners over the four days. Both sides were starting with women and children. Israel said the four-day truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed. After nightfall Friday, a line of ambulances emerged from Gaza through the Rafah Crossing into Egypt carrying the freed hostages, as seen live on Egypt’s state-run Al-Qahera TV. The freed Israelis included nine women and four children 9 and under. The released hostages were taken to three Israeli hospitals for observation. The Schneider Children’s Medical Center said it was treating eight Israelis — four children and four women — and that all appeared to be in good physical condition. The center said they were also receiving psychological treatment, adding that “these are sensitive moments” for the families. Israeli airstrike on south Lebanon kills 2 journalists of a pan-Arab TV station, official says At a plaza dubbed “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv, a crowd of Israelis celebrated at the news. Yael Adar spotted her mother, 85-year-old Yaffa Adar, in a TV newscast of the release and was cheered to see her walking. “That was a huge concern, what would happen to her health during these almost two months,” she told Israel’s Channel 12. But Yael’s 38-year-old son, Tamir Adar, remained in captivity. Both were kidnapped on Oct. 7 from Kibbutz Nir Oz. “Everyone needs to come back. It’s happiness locked up in grief.” The hostages included multiple generations. Nine-year-old Ohad Munder-Zichri was freed along with his mother, Keren Munder, and grandmother Ruti Munder. The fourth-grader was abducted during a holiday visit to his grandparents at the kibbutz where about 80 people — nearly a quarter of all residents of the small community — are believed to have been taken hostage. The plight of the hostages has raised anger among some families that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not doing enough to bring them home. Hours later, 24 Palestinian women and 15 teenagers held in Israeli prisons in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem were freed. In the West Bank town of Beituna, hundreds of Palestinians poured out of their homes to celebrate, honking horns and setting off fireworks that lite up the nights sky. The teenagers had been jailed for minor offenses like throwing stones. The women included several convicted of trying to stab Israeli soldiers, and others who had been arrested at checkpoints in the West Bank. “As a Palestinian, my heart is broken for my brothers in Gaza, so I can’t really celebrate,” said Abdulqader Khatib, a U.N. worker whose 17-year-old son, Iyas, was freed. “But I am a father. And deep inside, I am very happy.” Iyas had been taken last year into “administrative detention,” without charges or trial and based on secret evidence. Israel often holds detainees for months without charges. Most of those who are tried are put before military courts that almost never acquit defendants and often don’t follow due process, human rights groups say. According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is currently holding 7,200 Palestinians, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war. CEASE-FIRE TAKES HOLDFriday’s halt in fighting brought Gaza’s uprooted population a moment to catch their breath after weeks of fleeing for shelter, searching for food and fearing for family. After the truce began Friday morning, four trucks of fuel and four trucks of cooking gas entered from Egypt, as well as 200 trucks of relief supplies, Israel said. Israel has barred all imports into Gaza throughout the war, except for a trickle of supplies from Egypt. Its ban on fuel, which it said could be diverted to Hamas, caused a territory-wide blackout. Hospitals, water systems, bakeries and shelters have struggled to keep generators running. During the truce, Israel agreed to allow the delivery of 130,000 liters (34,340 gallons) of fuel per day — still only a small portion of Gaza’s estimated daily needs of more than 1 million liters. Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crowded into the southern portion of the territory, with more than 1 million living in U.N. schools-turned-shelters. The calm brought a chance for displaced residents of the south to visit homes and retrieve some belongings. But the hundreds of thousands who evacuated from northern Gaza to the south were warned not to return in leaflets dropped by Israel. Israeli troops hold much of the north, including Gaza City. Still, hundreds of Palestinians tried walking north Friday. Two were shot and killed by Israeli troops and another 11 were wounded. Sofian Abu Amer decided to risk checking his home in Gaza City. “We don’t have enough clothes, food and drinks,” he said. “The situation is disastrous. It’s better for a person to die.” Israel’s northern border with Lebanon was also quiet on Friday, a day after the militant Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas, carried out the highest number of attacks in one day since fighting there began Oct. 8. Hezbollah is not a party to the cease-fire agreement but was widely expected to halt its attacks. A LONGER PEACE?The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers. The hope is that “momentum” from the deal will lead to an “end to this violence,” said Majed al-Ansari, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, which served as a mediator along with the United States and Egypt. But hours before it came into effect, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops that their respite would be short and that the war would resume with intensity for at least two more months. Netanyahu has also vowed to continue the war to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, end its 16-year rule in Gaza and return all the hostages. The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza government. Women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead, though the latest number was not broken down. The figure does not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north, where communications have broken down. The ministry says some 6,000 people have been reported missing, feared buried under rubble. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and militants in its death tolls. Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, without presenting evidence for its count.
Ofri Bibas Levy has been haunted by nightmares since Oct. 7, when her brother, sister-in-law and their two young children were snatched by Hamas militants from their homes and dragged into the Gaza Strip. In those dreams she sees her captive relatives, all except for her brother Yarden. That subconscious omission may reflect her ordeal: Only women and children are expected to be among the 50 hostages released during a four-day cease-fire between Israel and Hamas that started Friday. All of the men, and many women, will remain captive in Gaza for now. It was not clear if all children were expected to be freed. Hamas on Friday freed 24 people, including 13 Israeli women and children, 10 people from Thailand and one Filipino. “It's a deal that puts the families in a situation that is inhuman. Who will come out and who won't?” Bibas Levy asked. “The children come out, but my brother and many other people stay?” Her relatives were not among those freed in the first release. Israeli official says talks continuing, hostage release won't take place before Friday The deal will bring relief to dozens whose relatives are captive — as well as to Palestinians in Gaza who have endured weeks of bombardment and dire conditions. But with some 240 hostages in militant hands, only a fraction of families will be reunited under the current arrangement. There is some hope that the agreement could be expanded: Israel has said it will extend the truce one day for every 10 hostages freed. But many families are expected to be left to endure the torment of not knowing the fate of their loved ones. Israel-Hamas pause in fighting to start Thursday morning, Egyptian state media say The plight of the hostages — who include men, women, babies, children and older adults — has gripped Israelis. The captives' families have embarked on a campaign to free their loved ones that has tugged at the heartstrings of many and ratcheted up pressure on the Israeli government to make concessions and secure deals for their release. That pressure and the families' widespread public support could force the government into extending the cease-fire even though it has pledged to keep fighting once the current truce expires. Israeli Cabinet OKs cease-fire with Hamas that includes release of some 50 hostages Securing the freedom of all hostages, especially the soldiers among them, could prove difficult. Militants in Gaza see the captives as a critical bargaining chip in their war with Israel. The leader of Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied with Hamas, said Friday that Israeli soldiers who were taken wouldn't be freed until all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel are released. Bibas Levy has put her life on pause to devote herself to fighting for her family’s release — her nephews age 10 months and 4 years were some of the youngest taken captive. The occupational therapist who moved out of a targeted southern Israeli community two months before Hamas' attack, said she will keep battling until all her relatives return. Dani Miran — whose son Omri was taken hostage — has been distraught over his son's well-being. With the unbearable uncertainty and without a sign of life for seven weeks, he is plagued by difficult thoughts. “My son is not on the list. He’s 46 years old. and I hope that he is in a health condition where he can cope with all the hardship that there is there, that they didn’t wound him, didn’t torture him and didn’t do things that are inhuman," Miran said. For many families, the news of a deal has sparked a mix of emotions — grief in cases where they don't expect their loved ones to be freed and hope that it may lead to further releases. “I wish that all of them would come back, and I believe that all of them will come back. But we must have patience, and just be strong,” said Yaakov Argamani, whose daughter Noa, 26, was taken captive, along with dozens of other young adults from a music festival that came under attack. Many families have said they cannot endure listening to the news because all the twists and turns of the negotiations are incapacitating. The current deal, brought about after weeks of fitful negotiations, appeared definite until a last-minute snag prompted a one-day delay. “It's like a rollercoaster," said Eyal Nouri, whose aunt Adina Moshe, 72, was among those released Friday. Earlier, Nouri had said that he did not expect her to be among those freed. Moshe's husband, Said, was killed on Oct. 7. The nightmare for many won’t end even if their relatives are released, Nouri said. After the joy of the reunion, those freed will need to reckon with the trauma of their captivity, their dead loved ones, their destroyed communities and their country at war. “She has nothing. No clothes, no house, no husband, no town. Nothing,” said Nouri. Once she's released “she'll need to build her life from scratch, at 72 years old. Our lives are completely different.”
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Friday that China's cooperation is vital on an issue that has divided it and much of Europe: ending the war in Ukraine. She encouraged China to continue working on its Ukrainian peace proposal while also ensuring that Chinese entities do not aid Russia in what she called “the ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine” — phrasing the Chinese side would disagree with. “France underlines once again how its cooperation with China is essential to promote a just and lasting peace,” she said after talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. "We are counting on the vigilance of the Chinese authorities so that no structure in China, particularly private, contributes directly or indirectly to Russia’s illegal war effort in Ukraine.” Her meetings in Beijing underscored an effort by both sides to continue a dialogue despite their growing differences, whether on the Ukraine war, the Israel-Hamas war or Europe's huge trade deficit with China. The talks in some ways foreshadowed an EU-China leaders meeting next month. In a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang earlier in the day, Colonna said their countries should work together to address issues such as climate change and biodiversity. A major U.N. climate conference starts next week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “As big powers, we both share the responsibility to tackle global challenges ... and we can make concerted efforts in alleviating tensions around the world,” she said. China has been critical of U.S. efforts to seek the help of its allies, including in Europe, in its competition with China over trade, technology and security. It has accused the U.S. of building groupings to contain China's development and rise. Wang warned against the politicizing of issues and protectionism. The European Union has been taking a tougher line on China, launching a trade investigation into subsidies given to Chinese electric vehicle makers. “We believe that as long as China and Europe work together, there will be no confrontation between camps, no division of the world, and no new Cold War," Wang said. The Chinese government has refrained from criticizing Russia’s invasion or the Hamas attack that sparked its latest war with Israel, taking a different stance than many in Europe and the United States. It has accused the West of prolonging the European conflict by supplying arms to Ukraine and called for an end to the fighting in both wars. Colonna said that dialogue with China on the Gaza situation, and even cooperation, would be useful. She called for the release of all the hostages, including eight French-Israeli citizens, three of whom are children. “Every state has the right to defend itself, but we must cooperate so that terrorism is contained and so that what happened cannot happen again,” she said. Her trip came shortly after a delegation of foreign ministers from Muslim-majority countries and territories visited China and France as part of a series of meetings with permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to push for a cease-fire in Gaza. A four-day truce in the war started Friday. Despite their differences, China has been trying to repair its relations with major trading partners including Europe, the U.S. and Australia. The lifting of China’s pandemic restrictions last December has helped, making it much easier to hold in-person meetings. French President Emmanuel Macron visited China in April followed by Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in July. “Relations between China and France are getting better and better in all aspects,” Premier Li, the country's No. 2 leader, said. “In particular, our exchanges at all levels are now becoming more frequent because many of the mechanisms have been restored.” Wang tried to reassure European companies that China remains a good and safe place to do business. New regulations have added uncertainty to the business environment and made foreign investors wary at a time when China is seeking investment to help revive a sluggish economy. “We will listen to the voices of the European business community, earnestly solving the problems of investors in China,” he said
Israel and Hamas on Wednesday agreed to a four-day cease-fire in the war in Gaza — a diplomatic breakthrough that will free dozens of hostages held by militants as well as Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, and bring a large influx of aid to the besieged territory. The truce raised hopes of eventually winding down the war, which was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 deadly rampage into Israel. Now in its seventh week, the war has leveled vast swaths of Gaza, fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank, and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a nationally televised news conference that the war would resume after the truce expires. Israel’s goals are to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities and return all 240 hostages held captive in Gaza. Israel-Hamas pause in fighting to start Thursday morning, Egyptian state media say “I want to be clear. The war is continuing. The war is continuing. We will continue it until we achieve all our goals,” Netanyahu said, adding he had delivered the same message in a phone call to U.S. President Joe Biden. He also said he had instructed the Mossad spy agency to hunt down Hamas’ exiled leadership “wherever they are.” The cease-fire efforts hit another hurdle when Israel's national security adviser said in a late-night announcement that the deal would not take effect before Friday, a day later than originally expected. Tzachi Hanegbi gave no reason for the delay, but Channel 13 TV said there were still some last-minute details being ironed out. If implemented, the deal temporarily freezes both sides at a tenuous moment. Israeli troops hold much of northern Gaza and say they have dismantled tunnels and much of Hamas’ infrastructure there. But Israeli officials acknowledge the group’s infrastructure remains intact elsewhere. Netanyahu’s announcement Wednesday appeared to be aimed at public concerns that a truce will lead Israel to halt its offensive before achieving its goals. Israeli Cabinet OKs cease-fire with Hamas that includes release of some 50 hostages Israel has said it is determined to take its ground offensive into the south. That could be potentially devastating for Gaza’s uprooted population, most of which is squeezed into the south with nowhere to go to avoid the assault. Residents in Gaza City said the fighting intensified overnight into Wednesday, with gunfire, heavy artillery and airstrikes. Palestinian militants continued firing rockets at Israel throughout the day, without causing casualties. A DIPLOMATIC BREAKTHROUGHThe announcement of the truce capped weeks of indirect, stop-and-go negotiations to free some of the hostages taken by Hamas and other militants during their Oct. 7 raid. Egypt and Qatar, along with the United States, helped mediate the deal. Fifty hostages will be freed in stages, in exchange for the release of what Hamas said would be 150 Palestinian prisoners. Both sides will let go women and children first. Israel said the truce would be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed by Hamas. Hamas said hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian aid — including fuel — would be allowed to enter Gaza. Netanyahu said the deal also included a provision for the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the hostages in captivity. The cease-fire is to take effect at 10 a.m. local time (0800 GMT) Thursday, according to Egypt’s state-run Qahera TV channel. Biden welcomed the deal, saying Netanyahu committed to supporting an “extended pause.” Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, said he hoped it would eventually lead to a permanent cease-fire and “serious talks” on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel’s Justice Ministry published a list of 300 prisoners eligible to be released, mainly teenagers detained over the past year for rock-throwing and other minor offenses. South African parliament votes in favour of closing Israel embassy, cutting diplomatic ties WILL THE WAR RESUME?The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants broke into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking hostages. Weeks of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, followed by a ground invasion, have killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. It does not differentiate between civilians and militants, though some two-thirds of the dead have been identified as women and minors. The ministry said that as of Nov. 11 it had lost the ability to count the dead because of the collapse of large parts of the health system, but says the number has risen sharply since then. Some 2,700 people are missing and believed buried under rubble. Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, though it has presented no evidence for its count. Hamas, meanwhile, will have a chance to regroup. Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar will likely present the release of the prisoners — seen by most Palestinians as heroes resisting occupation — as a major achievement, and declare victory if the war ends. STRIKES CONTINUEAn airstrike overnight hit a residential building in the southern town of Khan Younis, killing 17 people, including children, said Ahmad Balouny, a relative of the deceased. An Associated Press reporter saw the bodies of two children pulled from the rubble. Outside Khan Younis, workers dug a mass grave for 111 bodies that Israeli authorities handed over after troops took them from Shifa Hospital and other parts of northern Gaza. Israeli troops had taken the bodies apparently for DNA analysis amid the search for hostages in the north. Strikes also leveled buildings in the Nusseirat refugee camp and the city of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza. The city’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital said 128 bodies were brought in overnight after strikes. In northern Gaza, about 60 bodies and 200 people wounded by heavy fighting were brought into the Kamal Adwan Hospital overnight, hospital director Dr. Ahmed al-Kahlout told Al-Jazeera television Wednesday. Over 1.7 million Palestinians have been displaced in the war. Many, if not most, will be unable to return home because of the vast damage and the continued presence of Israeli troops in the north. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said that more than 1 million Palestinians were seeking shelter in 156 of its facilities in Gaza. The cease-fire deal promises an increase of aid to the south, bringing some relief to hundreds of thousands who have struggled to find food and water. Israel has barred imports to Gaza since the start of the war, except for a trickle of aid entering through Egypt’s Rafah crossing. A Qatari statement said the cease-fire would allow a “larger number of humanitarian convoys and relief aid,” including fuel. But it gave no details on actual quantities. Humanitarian aid groups operating in Gaza criticized the cease-fire, saying the truce was too short and the Rafah crossing’s capacity was insufficient to deliver enough aid to meet the urgent demand. The Palestine Red Crescent aid group and U.N. teams evacuated 190 wounded and sick people, their companions and some medical teams from Shifa Hospital to hospitals in southern Gaza, Wednesday, a Red Crescent spokesperson said. DEAL COULD DIVIDE ISRAELISThe return of hostages could lift spirits in Israel, where their plight has gripped the country. Families of the hostages have staged mass demonstrations to pressure the government to bring them home. But they could also find themselves divided as some hostages are freed and others not. Ofri Bibas Levy, whose brother, sister-in-law and two nephews — aged 4 and 10 months — are among the captives, said the deal puts the families in an “inhumane” situation. “Who will be released, who won’t?” she asked. “No matter which way it happens, there will still be families that will remain worried and sad and angry.”
Israel’s Cabinet approved a cease-fire agreement with the Hamas militant group that would bring a temporary halt to the devastating war that is now in its seventh week. The Israeli government said that under an outline of the deal, Hamas is to free at least 50 of the roughly 240 hostages taken in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack over a four-day period. Media reports ahead of the vote said Israel would free some 150 Palestinian prisoners and allow additional humanitarian aid into Gaza as part of the deal, but the Israeli statement made no mention of either of these elements. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said before the Cabinet voted early Wednesday that the war would continue even if a deal was reached. South African parliament votes in favour of closing Israel embassy, cutting diplomatic ties Israel, the United States and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating for weeks over a hostage release that would be paired with a temporary cease-fire in Gaza and the entry of more humanitarian aid. Similar predictions of a hostage agreement in recent weeks have proven premature. Israel's army is widening its operations across northern Gaza, where it battled Palestinian militants on Tuesday in the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp, the territory's largest. The military said forces are “preparing the battlefield” in the Jabaliya area, just north of Gaza City, and have killed dozens of militants in recent days. Troops discovered three tunnel shafts where fighters were hiding and destroyed rocket launchers, it said. Israeli troops battle militants across north Gaza, which has been without power or water for weeks It wasn't possible to independently confirm details of the fighting. A strike on a nearby hospital killed 12 people on Monday as Israeli troops and tanks battled militants outside its gates. Israel says Hamas uses civilians and hospitals as shields, while critics say Israel’s siege and relentless aerial bombardment amount to collective punishment of the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians after Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel. Israeli airstrike on south Lebanon kills 2 journalists of a pan-Arab TV station, official says More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and minors, and more than 2,700 others are missing and believed buried under rubble, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. The ministry says it has been unable to update its count since Nov. 11 because of the health sector’s collapse. Gaza health officials say the toll has risen sharply since, and hospitals continue to report deaths from daily strikes, often dozens at a time. The Health Ministry in the West Bank last reported a toll of 13,300 but stopped providing its own count Tuesday without giving a reason. Because of that, and because officials there declined to explain in detail how they tracked deaths after Nov. 11, the AP decided to stop reporting its count. Some 1,200 people have been killed in Israel, mostly during the Oct. 7 attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders from the BRICS bloc of developing countries will hold a virtual meeting on the Israel-Hamas war on Tuesday, with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres also participating. The leaders of fellow BRICS members Brazil, India and South Africa, as well as of Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, which are set to join the bloc in January, will also take part, according to the office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa will chair the “extraordinary meeting” because of South Africa's position as current chair of BRICS, his office said. It said the leaders are expected to deliver statements on the “humanitarian crisis" in Gaza and will likely adopt a joint statement. The meeting comes a day after China's top diplomat hosted the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Indonesia in Beijing, their first stop on a tour of U.N. Security Council permanent members. The meeting underlined China's longstanding support for the Palestinians and its growing geopolitical influence. Russia has adopted a more cautious approach to the Israel-Hamas war, but also has an opportunity to advance its role as a global power broker. Read: 31 premature babies are evacuated from Gaza's largest hospital, but scores of trauma patients remain Putin has condemned the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants on towns in southern Israel that sparked Israel's offensive in Gaza. More than 12,700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank. Officials there say another 4,000 are missing. But Putin has also warned Israel over its response and against blockading the Gaza Strip. Russia and China are leading voices in BRICS, which has largely cast itself in recent years as standing against the perceived dominance of the West in global affairs. But it has also struggled to adopt united policies or positions on many issues because of the differing priorities of the five current members. India, which also wants to be seen as a leader of the developing world, has long walked a tightrope between Israel and the Palestinians and historically has close ties to both. Read: Israeli troops kill 5 Palestinians, including 3 militants, as West Bank violence surges South Africa has been fiercely critical of Israel over the war in Gaza and has filed a request with the International Criminal Court to investigate it over alleged war crimes. South Africa has for years compared Israel's policies in Gaza and the West Bank with the apartheid regime of racial segregation. South Africa's Parliament is to vote on a motion on Tuesday to shut down the Israeli Embassy and sever ties with the country over the war. Israel on Monday recalled its ambassador to South Africa for discussions.