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US doubles down on its defence of arming Israel despite Gaza atrocities

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Biden administration says ‘too many civilians’ killed in Gaza but reasserts commitment to supporting Israel in war.

Washington, DC – The United States has defended its arms transfers to Israel, reasserting its commitment to the country’s security despite growing concerns about rights abuses in the Gaza Strip.

Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller was asked on Monday whether recent weapons transfers, which included fighter jets and 900kg (2,000lb) bombs, damaged the “credibility” and “sincerity” of US statements decrying the crisis in Gaza.

“I do not agree with that at all. We have been very clear that we want to see Israel do everything it can to minimise civilian casualties. We have made clear that they need to operate at all times in full compliance with international humanitarian law,” Miller said.

“At the same time, we are committed to Israel’s right to self-defence, and this is a long-term commitment the United States has made.”

The administration of President Joe Biden has been facing criticism over its policy of arming Israel, which critics say violates US laws prohibiting military aid and weapon sales to countries engaged in rights abuses.

The Washington Post reported last week that the US had approved the transfer of billions of dollars in weapons to Israel, including thousands of bombs.

Miller said on Monday that the weapons were pre-approved, stressing that the administration had notified Congress about the transfers.

He gave what he called a fictional example to describe the situation: “Let’s say they requested 100 planes. We make a decision. We notify Congress. That doesn’t mean that they take 100 planes tomorrow. … They draw those down over time, and sometimes it takes years to fulfil those requests.”

Still, the administration has the final say over what it chooses to transfer to Israel.

Unlike with military aid to Ukraine, the Pentagon and State Department have not publicly announced and detailed what the Israeli drawdowns would entail.

The weapons transfers come amid accusations that Israel is committing widespread violations of international humanitarian law — a set of rules aimed at protecting civilians in armed conflicts, including the Geneva Conventions.

Witnesses and rights groups have accused Israel of indiscriminate bombing in Gaza, targeting civilian infrastructure, mistreating detainees, extrajudicial executions and using humanitarian aid as a weapon of war, among other abuses.

But last week, the State Department said it has not found Israel to be in violation of international humanitarian law in any incident.

On Monday, Miller argued that the ongoing US arming of Israel is not just about the war in Gaza but is also designed to help the country against regional adversaries, including Iran and Hezbollah.

US officials, including Biden, have criticised Israel’s tactics in Gaza. But so far, his administration has rejected calls to place conditions on its military aid to Israel.

Miller stressed that Washington regularly urges Israel to use its weapons in accordance with international humanitarian law.

“We have had very frank conversations with them about the fact that far too many civilians have died through their operations and that they need to do better and take into account the need to minimise civilian harm, and we’ll continue to do that,” he said.

Several progressive lawmakers have urged Biden to end his unconditional support for Israel.

On this Easter, let’s ponder Netanyahu’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, which has killed more than 20,000 women and children, and his restriction of humanitarian aid, which has pushed Palestinians to the brink of famine.

— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) March 31, 2024

On Sunday, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley invoked the Easter holiday to slam the war on Gaza.

“We must also recognize that America is complicit in this tragedy by resupplying Israel with bombs and failing to use America’s leverage to increase aid delivered into Gaza,” he wrote in a series of social media posts.

“Reflecting on the admonition to feed the hungry and assist the stranger, and ‘blessed are the peacemakers,’ let’s push Team Biden to do better. More aid. No bombs.”

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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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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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