Over 1,000 USAID officials call for Gaza cease-fire in letter

Flares fired by Israeli forces light up the night sky in Gaza City, on Nov. 6, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 11 November 2023
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Over 1,000 USAID officials call for Gaza cease-fire in letter

  • The letter is latest sign of unease within the US government over President Joe Biden’s unwavering support for Israel
  • “(W)e are alarmed and disheartened at the numerous violations of international law; laws which aim to protect civilians,” the letter read

WASHINGTON: More than 1,000 officials in the US Agency for International Development (USAID) have signed an open letter urging the Biden administration to call for an immediate cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.
The letter is latest sign of unease within the US government over President Joe Biden’s unwavering support for Israel in its response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Palestinian Hamas militants that killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians.
Washington has rebuffed calls from Arab and Palestinian leaders and others to call for Israel to halt its assault on the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip which has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, including over 4,500 children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
“(W)e are alarmed and disheartened at the numerous violations of international law; laws which aim to protect civilians, medical and media personnel, as well as schools, hospitals, and places of worship,” the letter reads.
“We believe that further catastrophic loss of human life can only be avoided if the United States Government calls for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.”
The letter, published on Nov. 2, had now garnered 1,029 signatures from staff of the US aid agency. Signatories’ names are hidden but the letter shows it was signed by officials in many of the agency’s bureaus in Washington as well as officials posted around the world.
“We appreciate the ongoing dialogue we have with our dedicated staff and partners, and continue to welcome our team to share their opinions with leadership,” USAID Spokesperson Jessica Jennings said in an emailed response.
It comes amid protests in the United States and elsewhere calling for a cease-fire, and widespread concern among officials over the US response to the Middle East crisis, which has included the public resignation of one State Department official who said he opposed continued lethal assistance to Israel.
More than 500 people who worked on Biden’s 2020 election campaign on Thursday published a letter, seen by Reuters, calling for the president to support an immediate cease-fire, and a group of congressional staffers held a vigil on Wednesday at the Capitol demanding a cease-fire, images on social media showed.
A source familiar with the matter said there has been “deep frustration” among officials in the aftermath of Oct. 7 and how the administration has given what the sources see as a “carte-blanche” to Israel, allowing it conduct a military offensive in Gaza.
The source said they were aware of at least four cables that have been drafted for the State Department’s internal “dissent channel,” which allows diplomats to raise concerns about policy anonymously with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The State Department does not confirm the existence of dissent cables.
The department has held a number of listening sessions in the past month, including in US missions in the Middle East, two sources who attended the sessions said.
Deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Thursday it has been important for Blinken and other leaders to “engage directly with the workforce,” a reference to listening sessions held with concerned staff.
“We also recognize that this has been a trying time for our workforce,” Patel said.
“We have ensured that our missions around the world, particularly those that might be more heightened attention right now to what’s happening in the Middle East have access to those resources and are able to interface with department leaders about not just what’s happening in the region, but the ways that this department can continue to serve them.”


Mystery sonic boom rattles Mediterranean resorts

Updated 4 sec ago
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Mystery sonic boom rattles Mediterranean resorts

  • The Corriere della Sera daily quoted an unnamed person from Italy’s civil protection agency saying “the impact would have been registered by seismographs

ROME: A sonic boom heard in Tuscany and on the French island of Corsica, initially mistaken by holidaymakers, locals and officials for an earthquake, may have been a meteorite, experts said Thursday.
The town of Campo nell’Elba, on the Italian tourist island of Elba, said on its Facebook page that a nearby tracking station had “captured a seismic, acoustic event felt by everyone” at 4:30pm (1430gmt).
Corsican media reports said it was also felt on the island.
Tuscany regional government president Eugenio Giani initially said it was an earthquake, before backtracking after Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) ruled one out.
The Italian Air Force told Giani it had nothing to do with the sonic boom.
“The type of event which caused the tremor, felt by many as an earthquake over the entire coast of Tuscany and in some inland areas, is currently unconfirmed,” Giani wrote on social media.
The region’s Geophysics Institute and the University of Florence said in a joint statement that whatever caused the boom was traveling at 400 miles per second.
“A meteorite entering the atmosphere seems the most likely and in line with the data registered.”
The Corriere della Sera daily quoted an unnamed person from Italy’s civil protection agency saying “the impact would have been registered by seismographs. The most likely hypothesis is still an airplane.”
It is not the first time mysterious sonic booms have been registered on Elba, the Corriere della Sera said. Similar events in 2012, 2016 and 2023 have yet to be explained, it said.


US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

Updated 56 min 48 sec ago
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US ‘incredibly’ concerned by Putin threat to send N.Korea weapons

  • The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters

WASHINGTON: The United States expressed deep concern Thursday over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to supply North Korea with weapons, warning such a move would “destabilize” the Korean peninsula.
Putin, during a rare visit to Pyongyang, signed a mutual defense pact on Wednesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who pledged his country’s “full support” for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking on Thursday in Vietnam, Putin said Moscow would not rule out sending weapons to Pyongyang, calling it repercussions for the West supplying Ukraine.
The threat “is incredibly concerning,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“It would destabilize the Korean peninsula, potentially, depending on the type of weapons, and might violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself has supported,” Miller said.
Washington and its allies have previously accused North Korea of supplying Russia with missiles and artillery that it has used to attack Ukraine.
Putin warned Seoul on Thursday not to supply Ukraine with weapons, after South Korea said it was reconsidering its current ban.
Seoul has a longstanding policy that bars it from selling weapons into active conflict zones, which it has stuck to despite calls from Washington and Kyiv to reconsider.
Miller said such a decision was “for every country to make in terms of whether they’re going to supply weapons to Ukraine.”
“We welcome any support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression,” he added.
 

 


Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

Young Sikh migrant workers walk on a street in the Agro Pontino area, south of Rome. Picture taken May 19, 2019 (REUTERS)
Updated 57 min 26 sec ago
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Death of Indian laborer highlights plight of farm workers in Italy

  • “These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said, in comments relayed by her office

ROME: The death of an Indian farm laborer in a gruesome accident in which his right arm was severed by machinery has put a spotlight the conditions of migrant agricultural workers in Italy, whom trade unions say are often employed illegally and exploited.
Satnam Singh, 31, died in a hospital in Rome on Wednesday, two days after being injured while working in a melon greenhouse in the Agro Pontino, a rural area south of the capital.
According to media reports, Singh was left outside his home after suffering injuries to his arm and legs, with his severed limb placed in a fruit crate.
“We heard shouting outside, the guy’s wife threw herself at me saying, ‘call an ambulance, call an ambulance’,” a neighbor told RAI public television.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni deplored the tragedy as she chaired a cabinet meeting on Thursday.
“These are inhumane acts that do not belong to the Italian people, and I hope that this barbarity will be punished harshly,” she said, in comments relayed by her office.
The owner of the farm, Renzo Lovato, expressed his sorrow over the accident, but said Singh had been warned not to get close to the machine that injured him.
“The worker did it his own way. It was carelessness, unfortunately,” Lovato told RAI.
An investigation into Lovato’s son, who allegedly left Singh outside his home, has been opened over potential charges of manslaughter and failure to assist a person in danger, the lead prosecutor in the case, Giuseppe De Falco, said in an email.
“He spontaneously went to the judicial police an hour after the events, as any decent person would do,” Lovato’s family lawyer told Reuters. He added that his client was waiting for the charges to be formalized to defend himself.
Responding to the allegation that Singh had been abandoned without calling an ambulance, the lawyer, Valerio Righi, said: “You will see during the proceedings that maybe help was called sooner than people think.”
Some politicians and trade unions said the tragedy highlighted the broader issue of “caporalato,” the illegal gangmaster system of hiring migrant workers common in the Agro Pontino and other parts of Italy.
Righi declined to comment on reports that Singh and his wife were employed illegally. Other details of the conditions in which he worked were unclear.
Maria Grazia Gabrielli, from Italy’s largest trade union Cgil, decried an “event of unprecedented brutality,” linking it to what she said were slave-like conditions endured by many farm hands.
“Exploitation in the fields very often results in starvation wages, unsafe and inhuman working rhythms and conditions, psychological and physical violence,” she said in a statement.
According to 2021 data from national statistics office Istat, about 11 percent of Italian workers were employed illegally, rising to more than 23 percent in agriculture.
The Lazio region, which includes the Agro Pontino, offered to cover Singh’s funeral costs.
Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida, responding to the furor over Singh’s death, said the government was “first in line on all fronts to counter any form of exploitation at work.” 

 


Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

Updated 20 June 2024
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Russia fires deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and extends his arrest

  • Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months
  • Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe

MOSCOW: Russian authorities have formally dismissed a deputy defense minister jailed on bribery charges and accused by Kremlin critics of living a lavish lifestyle, Russian media reported Thursday. A court ordered that his pre-trial detention be extended for three more months.
Timur Ivanov, 48, is one of several senior military officers arrested on corruption charges in recent months. He was a close associate of Sergei Shoigu, whom President Vladimir Putin replaced as defense minister last month.
Ivanov, arrested in April, was charged with taking an especially large bribe. His lawyers said he maintains his innocence. The Basmanny District Court in Moscow on Thursday extended his detention pending investigation and trial until at least Sept. 23. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.
Russian media, citing an online registry of government officials, said Thursday that Ivanov was dismissed from his post. His lawyer Denis Baluyev confirmed the dismissal in comments to Russian business news site RBK. It wasn’t immediately clear from the reports when exactly Ivanov was fired.
Other top military officials arrested in recent months include deputy chief of the Russian military general staff Lt. Gen. Vadim Shamarin; Gen. Ivan Popov, a former top commander in Russia’s offensive in Ukraine; and Lt. Gen. Yury Kuznetsov, head of the Defense Ministry’s personnel directorate. All three have been accused of bribery.
According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.
Ivanov’s arrest came nearly a month after Putin called on the Federal Security Service to “keep up a systemic anti-corruption effort” and pay special attention to state defense procurement.
Russian media reported that Ivanov oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war. Ivanov has been sanctioned by both the United States and European Union.
Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.
That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate.
The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.


Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

Updated 20 June 2024
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Italian coast guard recovers 12 more bodies of shipwreck victims in the Ionian Sea

  • The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year

MILAN: The Italian coast guard on Thursday recovered 12 more bodies from a weekend shipwreck in the Ionian Sea off the southern Italian coastline, bringing to 20 the number of known victims from the sinking. Dozens more are missing and presumed dead.
The bodies, including women and children, were being transferred to a port in Calabria. Two more coast guard ships were on their way to join the air-and-sea search, some 190 kilometers (120 miles) from shore.
Survivors reported that the boat motor had caught fire, causing it to capsize off the Italian coast overnight Sunday about eight days after departing from Turkiye with about 75 people from Iran, Syria and Iraq on board, according to the UN refugee agency and other UN organizations. Eleven survivors were being treated on shore.
The deaths bring to more than 800 people who have died or went missing and are presumed dead crossing the central Mediterranean so far this year, an average of five dead a day, the UN agencies said.
Humanitarian groups have decried the deaths as evidence of the failure of European migration policy.