US announces new $600 million aid package for Ukraine to boost counteroffensive

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, stands next to Ukrainian security forces before departing a train station in Kyiv on Sept. 7, 2023. (Pool via AP)
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Updated 08 September 2023
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US announces new $600 million aid package for Ukraine to boost counteroffensive

  • Latest package include non-arms-related aid to Ukraine, including for law enforcement, humanitarian aid, for removal of land mines and anti-corruption measures
  • Zelensky discusses Israeli support for Kyiv with PM Netanyahu

Latest package include non-arms-related aid to Ukraine, including for law enforcement, humanitarian aid, for removal of land mines and anti-corruption measures

WASHINGTON: The US Defense Department announced a new $600 million package of long-term aid to Ukraine on Thursday, providing funding for an array of weapons and other equipment just a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the country and pledged $1 billion in new military and humanitarian aid.

The department said the latest package will come through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides money for long-term contracts for weapons systems that need to be built or modified by defense companies.
Included in the aid is funding for equipment to sustain and integrate Ukraine’s air defense systems, ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), artillery rounds, electronic warfare and counter-electronic warfare equipment, demolition munitions and mine-clearing equipment, as well as for training and maintenance.
The aid comes as the Biden administration works to show its continued support for Ukraine’s three-month-old counteroffensive, as troops try to break through Russian defenses and clear vast mine fields. Some allies have quietly expressed concerns about the slow-moving offensive, while others say Ukraine has made some progress and has successfully used air defenses to knock down Russian missiles.
Blinken, on a trip to Kyiv on Wednesday, announced that the Pentagon will provide about $175 million for weapons that will be pulled from Pentagon stocks and an additional $100 million in grants to allow the Ukrainians to purchase arms and equipment.
In addition, he announced the US will send nearly $805 million in non-arms-related aid to Ukraine, including $300 million for law enforcement, $206 million in humanitarian aid, $203 million to combat corruption and $90.5 million for removing mines, the State Department said. That package also included a previously announced $5.4 million transfer to Ukraine of frozen assets from Russian oligarchs.
The aid announced this week comes from money previously approved by Congress. President Joe Biden has requested $21 billion more in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine for the final months of 2023, but it’s not clear how much — if any — will be approved by Congress.

Zelensky-Netanyahu discuss Israeli support

Also on Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed ways in which Israel can support Kyiv in its conflict with Russia, the Ukrainian leader’s office said.

Zelensky has previously urged Israel to provide more open support for Kyiv and criticized its attempts to maintain an even-handed approach in the 18-month-old war.
“The president noted the importance of Israel’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” read the account of the conversation on the Ukrainian presidential website.
“The two sides discussed possible paths of Israeli support for Ukraine in opposing Russia’s invasion.”
Israel has provided Ukraine with humanitarian and diplomatic assistance but not arms, mindful of the need to coordinate Israeli air strikes against Iranian targets in neighboring Syria with Moscow given Russia’s clout with Damascus.
Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders discussed “the continuation of Israeli assistance to Ukraine, including to Ukrainian refugees in Israel, as well as the advancement of development assistance of civilian air defense systems.”
Netanyahu also asked Zelensky to ensure safe conditions for the annual pilgrimmage this month by Hasidic Jews from around the world to Uman in central Ukraine, burial place of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, who revived the Hasidic movement and died in 1810.
Zelensky, who is of Jewish descent, said Ukraine was happy to welcome the pilgrims but noted that there was capacity in air raid shelters for only 11,000 people and Israel estimates up to 50,000 could attend.
“This is a security challenge which will require an emergency joint response,” the website quoted him as saying.


Tourists banned from Italy’s Capri over water shortage

Updated 6 sec ago
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Tourists banned from Italy’s Capri over water shortage

The ban by Capri mayor Paolo Falco forced several ferries on their way to the island from Naples and Sorrento in southern Italy to turn back
Falco warned of “a real emergency“

ROME: The Italian island of Capri banned tourists from disembarking Saturday after problems with the water supply from the mainland threatened to leave the holiday hotspot parched.
The ban by Capri mayor Paolo Falco forced several ferries on their way to the island from Naples and Sorrento in southern Italy to turn back.
The company charged with supplying the island with water said there had been a technical problem on the mainland on Thursday, and while that had since been fixed problems with the supply to Capri remained.
Falco warned of “a real emergency” and said that while there was still water on most of the island on Friday, local tanks were “running out.”
“The emergency would be worsened by the arrival of the thousands of tourists which arrive on Capri daily,” he said.
Locals could collect up to 25 liters of drinking water per household from a supply tanker, he said.
The ban, which does not apply to residents, will be in place until further notice.
Capri, in the Bay of Naples, is famed for its white villas, cove-studded coastline and upscale hotels. There are some 13,000 permanent residents but huge numbers of day-trippers in summer months.

Russian attack kills two in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, governor says

Updated 29 min 51 sec ago
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Russian attack kills two in Ukraine’s Kharkiv, governor says

  • Russian forces hit residential quarters with guided bombs

KYIV: A Russian attack on the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv killed two civilians and injured at least two others on Saturday, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said.
He said Russian forces hit residential quarters with guided bombs. Rescue workers were working at the site, he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.


Bangladesh says it won’t let in any more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar fighting

Updated 42 min 34 sec ago
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Bangladesh says it won’t let in any more Rohingya fleeing Myanmar fighting

  • Clashes between Myanmar junta and insurgents started in October 2023
  • Deadly fighting engulfs Rohingya-inhabited border areas

DHAKA: Bangladesh will not take in any more Rohingya fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar, Mizanur Rahman, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said on Saturday, amid reports that people from the areas affected by fighting have been gathering on the border.

Concerns that a war between Myanmar’s junta and the opposition ethnic-minority Arakan Army would trigger a new wave of refugees seeking safety in Bangladesh have been on the rise over the past few months.

Clashes between Myanmar’s military-controlled government forces and insurgents in Rakhine and Chin States started in late October 2023 with a multi-pronged offensive against the junta, which has been in control of the country since early 2021.

Most of the Rohingya — hundreds of thousands of whom fled to Bangladesh following a brutal military crackdown and persecution in 2017 — come from Rakhine. One of the most heavily Rohingya-populated areas in the state, Maungdaw, has been under the control of the Arakan Army, which last week warned it was expecting the junta to attempt to recapture it.

“On the other side of the border in Myanmar, a fierce gunbattle is happening and, every day, people are dying. Maungdaw town is a predominantly Rohingya-inhabited area,” Rahman told Arab News.

“We have heard that (some) Rohingyas have tried to enter Bangladesh ... (they) have gathered on the border on the Myanmar side, mainly near the Teknaf subdistrict under Cox’s Bazar.”

More than a million Rohingya Muslims currently live in squalid camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, turning the coastal district into the world’s largest refugee settlement.

Rahman said Bangladesh cannot receive more refugees and will not allow any more Rohingya to enter the country from Myanmar.

“The Rohingyas living in Cox’s Bazar camps are very anxious about the safety and fate of their relatives living in Maungdaw and the surrounding area,” he said. “(But) we can’t receive any more Rohingyas, as Bangladesh is already overburdened with more than 1 million. Our stand is that not a single more Rohingya will enter our land.”

The UN estimates that 95 percent of Rohingya refugees are dependent on humanitarian assistance, which has been dropping since 2020, despite urgent pleas for donations by the World Food Program and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The protracted humanitarian crisis has started to affect the host community, which, despite not being a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, has been supporting the Rohingya by providing not only land, but also water, electricity, healthcare and a huge law-enforcement presence.

The Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief estimates the government has spent around $2 billion since the beginning of the crisis on maintaining infrastructure for refugees.


Agricultural fire that killed 12 in southeast Turkey under control, media says

Updated 47 min 1 sec ago
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Agricultural fire that killed 12 in southeast Turkey under control, media says

ANKARA: Turkish authorities have brought under control an agricultural fire that killed 12 people and wounded 78 others in a region near the Turkish border with Syria and Iraq, local media reported on Saturday.
The fire had started late on Thursday due to the burning of straw and spread because of strong winds, the local governor's office said. Authorities have launched an investigation into the cause of the fire, Justice Minister Yilmaz Tunc said in a post on X on Friday.
Broadcaster NTV and others said the fire was now under control and authorities were working to cool the scorched areas. NTV said many animals trapped in the fire were also killed.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said late on Friday that the treatment of the wounded was still underway, with some in critical condition.
"We are continuing the treatment and monitoring of five of our wounded. Three of our five wounded receiving treatment in Diyarbakir are intubated," Koca said on X.
Burning straw is a common practice by farmers and villagers in central Anatolia following harvest periods. 


Mauritanian president calls on West African states to ally against jihadism

Updated 57 min 32 sec ago
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Mauritanian president calls on West African states to ally against jihadism

  • Former army chief and defense minister is tipped for a second term as head of the country of 4.5 million

ATAR, Mauritania: Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani called on West African countries to come together in the face of jihadism, in an interview with AFP ahead of the country’s presidential vote.
“The region must generate a common political will to be able to fight against insecurity,” Ghazouani said on Friday, on the campaign trail ahead of an election on June 29.
“I am not one of those who think today that countries can face a threat like terrorism individually.”
The 67-year-old former army chief and defense minister is tipped for a second term as head of the country of 4.5 million that lies strategically between north and sub-Saharan Africa.
He said that the “security situation in the sub-region is not at all good” and has become “worse.”
The military has seized power by force in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in recent years, heightening uncertainty in the region. Ghazouni’s huge desert nation has a frontier of more than 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) with Mali.
While jihadism has spread in the Sahel, particularly in Mali, Mauritania has not seen an attack since 2011.
“We need to form a coalition,” Ghazouani said, urging the countries of the region to “come together.”
He spoke to AFP in Atar, some 450 kilometers northeast of the capital Nouakchott, where he launched his re-election campaign last week.
Ghazouani called for a possible replacement to the G5 Sahel alliance, which was created in 2014 by Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Chad, with the support of Western countries, to confront jihadism.
The military leaders in Mali, Burkina and Niger have all withdrawn from the G5 alliance in recent years.
“If the G5 Sahel is not the right one, we must find another G-something,” he said.
The three countries, which have broken militarily and politically with the former French colonial power, have pivoted closer to Russia under their new military rulers.
They have also pulled out of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and created their own alliance of Sahel states. Ghazouni said he Mauritania did not seek any role in the internal affairs of the other Sahel countries.
“We respect their sovereignty in their decisions. We want these countries to move as fast as possible toward elections,” he said.
Mauritania, which is rich in natural resources but still has a low gross domestic product, was hit by a series of coups from 1978 to 2008, before the 2019 election marked the first transition between two elected presidents.
The president said that stability has been maintained by being aware of the militant threat as well as “enormous efforts” made in education and health provision.
Ghazouani has pledged to “step up” his social welfare policy for the poor if re-elected, claiming more than 1.5 million people had benefited already from housing and financial help during his first term.