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In Washington, DC: Celebrating Ramadan, protesting Israel’s siege of Gaza

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Washington, DC – Forty-eight folding chairs, but will it be enough?

“It’s OK, some of us will stand,” said 60-year-old Haitham Arafat, a soft-spoken, bespectacled man in a keffiyeh and a canary yellow shirt.

But soon, more chairs arrived, and were quickly lined up along 40 metres (131 feet) of table that stretched along a street facing the Israeli embassy in the northwest corner of this US capital city. A row of Ramadan lanterns lit the place settings ahead of the iftar meal.

“We break fast here every day,” said Arafat, who has been coming to the embassy for the last 21 days as part of a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week protest. “But today is special.”

The long-haul demonstration began 35 days ago, inspired by a sister demonstration outside the Virginia home of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. That protest – dubbed Kibbutz Blinken – has been going for 68 consecutive days.

Washington DC, Iftar
Protesters set up an iftar table in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

But on Sunday, family and friends of protesters were invited to attend an iftar meal at the Israeli embassy. Arafat described it as the latest effort to show the community’s resolve as the killings and deprivation in Gaza continue.

Like many of those gathered, Arafat simply would not entertain the notion that fasting for Ramadan was a burden, noting that he has personally lost about 100 relatives in northern Gaza since October 7.

“With the massacres that are happening in Palestine, the starvation, this is nothing compared to what they are experiencing,” he said, his voice growing sharper as he spoke. “If we can just experience a little bit of their hardship, just to show them that ‘Hey, we think of you every day, we’re doing our best to stop this madness.’”

Soon, Nora Burgan began dispensing hot drinks and cups of tomato and lentil soup to ward off the brisk air of early spring. Salad, dates, kebabs, rice and hummus were spread along the table’s expanse. People took their seats, sitting along one side of the table under a sky that had threatened rain earlier but was now beginning to clear.

Iftar Israeli embassy
Nora Burgan loads cups of soup onto a tray for iftar [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

“It’s not meant to be a feast,” Burgan told Al Jazeera. “It’s not perfect, but we will share whatever food we have … very simple, humble and accepting of community and this moment.”

“We want to always think about Gaza, a free Gaza and a free Palestine,” she told those who had gathered for iftar.

As of Monday, the official death toll in Gaza had reached 32,845, with humanitarian organisations continuing to warn of impending famine while accusing Israel of blocking the delivery of food, medicine and other supplies to the enclave.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained that Israeli forces will move ahead with an offensive in the southern city of Rafah, where most of Gaza’s displaced have fled.

Meanwhile, warnings from US President Joe Biden’s administration have not yielded any substantive changes on the ground in Gaza. Last week, the Washington Post reported the administration had signed off on yet more weapons transfers to Israel, including one-tonne (2,000-pound) bombs linked to mass casualty events.

Iftar washington DC
Ahmed Afifi hands out food during iftar at a protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

‘Unapologetically out here’

As the day’s fast broke and the evening turned a darker shade of blue, Hazami Barmada, the activist who spearheaded the camps at Blinken’s home and the Israeli embassy, stood over the now-crowded span of table.

“We are unapologetically out here breaking bread, side by side in solidarity on a main road, in front of the very thing that does not want us to be here,” said Barmada, whose watermelon earrings danced while her 16-month-old son shifted his weight in her arms.

Barmada has learned a lot about this type of protesting in recent months. The demonstration at Blinken’s home began with just Barmada and a few others, who began to stay around the clock.

At the end of February, she landed in the emergency room with a fever of more than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

But the effort has become more formalised since, with schedules and rotating shifts to relieve some of the pressure on the protesters, as well as providing them with a support system to help with needs such as child care or transportation. Barmada believes that the unrelenting demonstration is unique in its ability to shine a light on the public outrage over what is happening in Gaza.

Iftar washington, DC
A protest camp is seen in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

Barmada has also become adept at making sure the demonstrations remain peaceful and in compliance with local regulations, while also managing to confront counterprotesters, angry embassy staff and the ever-present US Secret Service and local police.

Demonstrators document their interactions to avoid false charges that could conceivably shut down the protests, she said.

‘Part of resistance is finding joy’

Some protesters have been involved in the marathon demonstration since the beginning, and others have just joined.

“I think it’s a moral boost for us coming out here and being in a community,” said 41-year-old Jinan Deena, who waved a Palestinian flag in front of the embassy in what she said was her second day of protesting there.

Iftar washington, DC
Hazami Barmada glances at the Israeli embassy as she speaks to those gathered for iftar [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

“But also seeing the symbolism of an Israeli embassy being occupied by Palestinians. It’s kind of like a reverse occupation,” Deena said.

The scene reflects the deep divide that is inherent in the conflict, with photos of bloodied Gazan children surrounded by Palestinian flags and signs reading “Genocide is Not Self Defense” and “Israel bombs babies”.

On the embassy’s grounds, Israeli flags are planted in the grass or hung on external walls, next to photos of Israelis taken captive on October 7.

As the crowd of about 60 people began to eat, a quiet calm settled over the meal. Those who arrived late were greeted with a familiar refrain: “Have you eaten? Have some food.”

A vegan was identified and quickly informed of all viable options.

“How is it?” a woman asked of her homemade shorbet adas, a traditional Ramadan lentil soup. “I made it, but I did not taste it yet.”

Hitham
Hitham Arafat (in hat) breaks his fast protest in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

As the streetlights came on, the diners passed katayif – a walnut or cheese-stuffed Palestinian sweet – along the breadth of the table.

Ahmed Afifi, 28, said the night had offered a rare opportunity to meet fellow activists he had only previously encountered through texts or social media.

“It’s nice to actually have this today,” he said. “With all the atrocities going on, it’s important to remember that part of resistance is finding joy and feeling joy with people that share the same goals as you.”

“For me, that’s beautiful and inspiring, and I’m inspired by all of them,” he said.

By 8:30pm, the clean-up had begun, with tables cleared and folded almost as quickly as they appeared. Some chairs were returned to other areas of the protest camp, for those who would stay the night.

The meal ended with a huddle for a group photo, followed by an impromptu chant.

“Ceasefire now,” they said in unison. “Let Gaza live.”

Iftar washington, DC
The sun sets as iftar begins in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC [Joseph Stepansky/Al Jazeera]

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NPR editor resigns after accusing US outlet of liberal bias

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Uri Berliner quits broadcaster days after being suspended over essay accusing network of lacking viewpoint diversity.

A senior editor at a public broadcaster in the United States who accused his employer of liberal bias, igniting heated debate about standards in journalism, has resigned.

Uri Berliner, an editor with National Public Radio (NPR), announced his resignation on Wednesday just over a week after he published an essay accusing the outlet of being fixated on race and identity and lacking “viewpoint diversity”.

“I am resigning from NPR, a great American institution where I have worked for 25 years. I don’t support calls to defund NPR. I respect the integrity of my colleagues and wish for NPR to thrive and do important journalism,” Berliner said in a resignation letter posted on X.

“But I cannot work in a newsroom where I am disparaged by a new CEO whose divisive views confirm the very problems at NPR I cite in my Free Press essay.”

My resignation letter to NPR CEO @krmaher pic.twitter.com/0hafVbcZAK

— Uri Berliner (@uberliner) April 17, 2024

NPR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Berliner’s resignation came after NPR on Friday slapped the editor with a five-day suspension without pay in response to his essay calling out the network.

In the essay published in The Free Press, Berliner argued that the outlet had lost the public’s trust by putting a progressive slant on coverage of major news stories, including the COVID-19 pandemic and claims that Donald Trump colluded with Russia.

“There’s an unspoken consensus about the stories we should pursue and how they should be framed,” Berliner wrote.

“It’s frictionless – one story after another about instances of supposed racism, transphobia, signs of the climate apocalypse, Israel doing something bad and the dire threat of Republican policies. It’s almost like an assembly line.”

Berlinera also cited voter registration data that he said showed there were 87 Democrats and no Republicans on staff at the outlet’s Washington, DC, headquarters.

Berliner’s essay promoted public pushback from NPR employees, including recently-appointed CEO Katherine Maher, whose own views came under scrutiny after conservatives surfaced old tweets expressing progressive views.

“Asking a question about whether we’re living up to our mission should always be fair game: after all, journalism is nothing if not hard questions,” Maher said in a memo to staff that was also published online.

“Questioning whether our people are serving our mission with integrity, based on little more than the recognition of their identity, is profoundly disrespectful, hurtful, and demeaning.”

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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More than 11,000 evacuated in northern Indonesia as Ruang volcano erupts

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Authorities further extend exclusion zone after volcano sends ash and smoke more than two kilometres into the sky.

More than 11,000 people have been told to evacuate from around the Ruang volcano in northern Indonesia amid fears it could collapse causing a tsunami, after erupting multiple times.

Mount Ruang, located in in North Sulawesi Province, first erupted at 9:45pm (13:45 GMT) on Tuesday sending billowing clouds of smoke and ash high into the sky.

After four more eruptions on Wednesday, Indonesia’s volcanology agency raised the alert level for the 725-metre (2,379-foot) high mountain to four, the highest on the scale.

They also widened the exclusion zone around the crater from four kilometres (2.5 miles) to six kilometres (3.7 miles).

More than 800 people were evacuated initially from Ruang to nearby Tagulandang Island, which is located more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) north of the provincial capital, Manado.

But officials said on Thursday morning that more people would need to be evacuated as a result of the widening exclusion zone, and would be taken to Manado.

“At least 11,615 residents who are in the risk area must evacuate to a safe place,” Abdul Muhari, the head of the disaster agency’s disaster data, communications and information centre was quoted as saying by the Kompas newspaper.

Officials also worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami as it did during a previous eruption in 1871.

Video footage showed flows of red lava streaming down the mountain, reflected in the waters below, and billowing clouds of grey ash above Ruang’s crater.

Muhammad Wafid, the head of Indonesia’s geological agency, earlier said Ruang’s initial eruption sent an ash column two kilometres (1.2 miles) into the sky, with the second eruption pushing it to 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles).

The volcanology agency said volcanic activity had increased at Ruang after two earthquakes in recent weeks.

Indonesia, which sits along the ‘Ring of Fire’, a horseshoe-shaped series of tectonic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean, has 120 active volcanoes.

In 2018, the eruption of Indonesia’s Anak Krakatoa volcano triggered a tsunami along the coasts of Sumatra and Java after parts of the mountain fell into the ocean. Hundreds of people were killed.

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Russia-Ukraine war: List of key events, day 784

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As the war enters its 784th day, these are the main developments.

Rescue workers at the site of a collapsed building in Chernihiv. There is an excavator at the front on top of the rubble. The buildings, which are several stories high. are behind.

Rescue workers at the site of Wednesday’s missile attack on Chernihiv [Genya Savilov/AFP]

Here is the situation on Thursday, April 18, 2024.

Fighting

  • At least 17 people were killed in the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv after it was struck by three Russian missiles. Emergency services said 60 people, including three children, were injured. About 250,000 people live in Chernihiv, which is about 150km (90 miles) north of the capital, Kyiv.
  • One woman was injured by falling debris after Russian forces brought down a done over the Voronezh region. Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said air defence also destroyed 14 airborne targets over the southern Belgorod region. No injuries were reported.
  • The BBC reported the number of Russian soldiers killed in the war in Ukraine had topped 50,000. The data was compiled by BBC Russian, independent media group Mediazona and volunteers.
  • Colonel Serhii Pakhomov, acting head of the Ukrainian military’s atomic, biological and chemical defence forces, told the Reuters news agency that Kyiv had recorded about 900 uses of riot control agents on the front line by Russia in the past six months. The gases, banned for use on the battlefield by the international Chemical Weapons Convention, are being used to try and clear trenches, Pakhomov said. Some 500 troops had required medical help after exposure to toxic substances on the battlefield and at least one soldier died after suffocating on tear gas, he added.
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the Ukrainian military attacked a large Russian airfield at Dzhankoi in the north of occupied Crimea. A series of explosions were reported at the base. There were no reports of damage.

Politics and diplomacy

  • US House Speaker Mike Johnson said the House would hold a long-delayed vote on a $60bn aid package for Ukraine on Saturday. The bill, passed by the Senate in February, has been held up amid objections from far-right members of Johnson’s Republican party.
  • Writing in the Wall Street Journal, US President Joe Biden urged Congress to approve the package saying the conflict was at a “pivotal moment”.
  • China said that “a lot of work” would need to be done before a planned peace conference on the Ukraine war could take place in Switzerland. It did not say whether it would attend the meeting, which is expected to take place in June.
  • Russia’s FSB security service arrested four people, accusing them of sending money to Ukrainian armed forces and planning to join the country’s military.
  • France appointed investigating magistrates to run a war crimes investigation into the death of Fox News cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, a dual French-Irish national, who was killed covering the war in Ukraine in March 2022. Producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova was also killed when the news team’s vehicle came under fire in Horenka near Kyiv. Correspondent Benjamin Hall was badly injured.
  • Cybersecurity firm Mandiant warned a cyber group known as Sandworm, with links to Russian military intelligence, is emerging as a significant global threat after playing an increasingly critical role in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Sandworm “is actively engaged in the full spectrum of espionage, attack, and influence operations”, Mandiant said.

Weapons

  • President Zelenskyy, addressing the European Council by videolink hours after the Chernihiv attack, pleaded for more defence systems. Zelenskyy said Ukraine should enjoy the same cover from aerial attacks as Israel, which was able to intercept a barrage of drones and missiles fired by Iran last weekend. “Our Ukrainian sky, the sky of our neighbours deserves the same level of defence,” he said. “All lives are equally valuable.”
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other senior German officials pressed fellow European Union members to take action as soon as possible to boost Ukraine’s air defences. On Saturday, Germany announced it was sending an additional Patriot air defence system to Ukraine.
  • NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the NATO-Ukraine Council will meet on Friday to discuss ways on how to provide more air defence systems for Kyiv.
  • A crowdfunding initiative launched by a Slovak group on Monday has so far raised 750,000 euros ($798,000) from members of the public. The group, Peace for Ukraine, hopes to raise one million euros ($1.07 million) for the Czech Republic’s initiative to buy ammunition for Ukraine. Slovakia’s government has refused to send military aid to Kyiv.


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