Biden Tells Netanyahu He Expects “Significant De-Escalation Today” in Gaza Conflict as Violence Continues
Following Biden’s demand, Netanyahu met with his military staff and said Israel is “determined to continue” its operation until its aim is met.
Biden Calls for “Significant De-Escalation”
Based on a description from White House aides about a Monday phone call between President Joe Biden and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it appears the U.S. may be changing course and backing off its support of Israel.
Early Wednesday morning, White House aides described to White House reporters that in the phone call, President Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire.” Despite the possible shift in U.S. policy, it comes with some major caveats.
It’s unclear what “significant de-escalation” actually means, and that ambiguity leaves a lot to be desired for people who wish the administration was more active in stopping the violence. Additionally, it’s unclear just how seriously Netanyahu will actually take the warning because he has since made it clear, after meeting with his military staff, that Israel is “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
Additionally, the prime minister told foreign ambassadors Wednesday morning, “You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them.”
“We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say, we don’t rule out anything. We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe,” Netanyahu later added.
Criticism of $735 Billion Arms Sale
Adding to what has been seen as a mixed-U.S. stance on the situation, the White House approved a $735 billion arms deal with Israel for devices that help make guided missiles; leading many to wonder how serious the administration is about peace.
The missile sale was actually in the works well before the current fighting began and was a routine sale. Per protocol, the White House informed Congress about the sale on May 5, and Congress has 15 days to object. Since then, fighting has broken out, but Democrats and Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — the group that would need to object — made it clear they aren’t going to.
Even if the sale is routine, the reality on the ground has changed, causing many to point to the negative optics of selling devices to Israel that are believed to be used against buildings, including homes, in Gaza.
This has led to a pretty significant rift within the Democratic Party, with some like Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) tweeting, “We cannot just condemn rockets fired by Hamas and ignore Israel’s state-sanctioned police violence against Palestinians — including unlawful evictions, violent attacks on protestors & the murder of Palestinian children. U.S. aid should not be funding this violence.”
There’s now a concerted effort to have the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee not just rubber-stamp every arms deal to Israel moving forward, but it remains to be seen how effective that will be. However, even if the U.S.’ position on the matter has seemingly been vague or even contradictory, other nations have a more clear stance.
Worldwide Demands For Ceasefire
Since fighting began on March 10, Egyptian and U.N. mediators have been trying to broker a ceasefire. More recently, despite American efforts to block resolutions on the U.N. Security Council, France used its position as a permanent council member to once again demand a ceasefire.
Additionally, Russia warned Israel’s ambassador Wednesday that any further civilian casualties in Gaza were unacceptable while Germany also called for a ceasefire and promised to provide aid to Palestinians once the fighting stops.
Any aid will likely be sorely needed. Since the fighting began, over 52,000 Palestinians have been displaced and nearly 450 buildings have been either destroyed or severely damaged. In total, at least 219 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes and over 1500 wounded. For their part, Hamas has fired over 3,700 rockets into Israel, killing 12 and injuring dozens.
For the time being, it remains unclear if there was a more clear understanding of “de-escalation” between Biden and Netanyahu, and whether or not Israel will follow the demands of the U.S. President.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (CNBC) (Axios)
U.S. Intel Suggests Pro-Ukraine Group Sabotaged Nord Stream Pipeline
There is no evidence that the culprits behind the attack were acting under the direction of the Ukrainian government.
Europe Braces for Shocking Revelations
A pro-Ukraine group blew up the Nord Stream pipelines last September, intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests.
The New York Times reported the news Tuesday, citing officials who said there was no evidence of involvement by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, any of his top lieutenants, or any government officials.
The strength of the evidence, however, is not clear, and U.S. officials declined to inform The Times on the nature of the intelligence or how it was obtained. They reportedly added that the intelligence indicates neither who the group’s members are nor who funded and directed the operation.
The Times’ sources said they believe the saboteurs were most likely Russian or Ukrainian nationals and that they possibly received specialized government training in the past.
It’s also possible that the group behind the attack was a proxy with covert ties to Kyiv, the report added.
When three of four Nord Stream pipelines were found to be severely damaged last year, the revelation shook markets and sent European gas prices soaring. Nord Stream 1, which was completed in 2011, and Nord Stream 2, which had been laid down but wasn’t yet operational, supplied Germany and by extension the rest of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas.
Following the explosions, Poland and Ukraine blamed Russia, and Russia blamed Britain. Other observers speculated that Ukraine might be behind it too.
More Ongoing Investigations
Last month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claimed in a Substack article that the United States military carried out the attack and that President Biden authorized it himself. However, Hersh’s report cited only one anonymous source in support of its central claim, so it was largely dismissed as not credible.
Western governments expressed caution on Wednesday in response to The Times report.
“There are ongoing national investigations and I think it’s right to wait until those are finalized before we say anything more about who was behind it,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
Russia, by contrast, pounced on the opportunity to renew its demand for inclusion in a proposed international probe into the pipeline explosion.
The Ukrainian government denied any involvement in the Nord Stream explosions.
On Wednesday, multiple German media outlets reported that investigators have largely reconstructed how the attack happened, pinning the blame on six people who allegedly used a yacht hired by a Ukrainian-owned company in Poland.
German officials reportedly searched a vessel suspected of carrying the explosives in January, but the investigation is ongoing.
The country’s defense minister suggested the explosions may have been a “false flag” attack to smear Ukraine.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
Turkey, Syria Earthquake Death Toll Rises to 41,000 as Survivors Pulled from Rubble
A pair of brothers spent around 200 hours trapped under debris, living off of protein powder and their own urine.
A Humanitarian Crisis Explodes
The number of confirmed dead from the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last week has surpassed 41,000.
Millions more people have been left stranded without adequate shelter, food, clean water, or medical supplies.
At night, the region has dropped to below-freezing temperatures.
Now health authorities are worried that the lack of sanitation infrastructure, which was damaged by the quakes, will lead to a disease outbreak.
“We haven’t been able to rinse off since the earthquake,” 21-year-old Mohammad Emin, whose home was destroyed, told Reuters.
He was helping out at a clinic serving displaced people in an open-air stadium, but with no showers and only six toilets, the resource shortage was poignant.
“They are offering tetanus shots to residents who request them, and distributing hygiene kits with shampoo, deodorant, pads and wipes,” added Akin Hacioglu, a doctor at the clinic.
The World Health Organization monitors the population for waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid, as well as seasonal influenza and COVID-19.
Rescuers Race Against the Clock
After more than a week of searching, hopes that more living victims will be found amid the collapsed buildings are fading, but rescuers continue to pull out the final few survivors.
Abdulbaki Yeninar, 21, and his brother Muhammed Enes Yeninar, 17, spent about 200 hours under rubble in the city of Kahramanmaras before they were extracted Tuesday. They told reporters they held on by eating protein powder, drinking their own urine, and swallowing gulps of air.
In the same city, teams dug a 16-foot tunnel through debris to rescue a woman, and to the south, a volunteer mining crew joined the efforts to save another.
With no homes to go back to, some survivors have joined the ranks of volunteers themselves.
In the past week, more than 35,000 Turkish search-and-rescue teams worked alongside thousands of international workers in the effort, according to Turkey’s emergency management agency.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the earthquakes the “disaster of the century” and said in a statement that at least 13,000 people were being treated in hospitals.
The death toll is expected to rise even further in the coming weeks.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (Al Jazeera)
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon Resigns
“In my head and in my heart I know that time is now,” she said to reporters
Sturgeon Steps Down
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation on Wednesday.
Sturgeon has been Scotland’s longest-serving First Minister and she is also the first woman to ever hold the position. She has been in politics since 1999, leading the charge for Scotland’s independence from the United Kingdom. Sturgeon also guided the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sturgeon made sure to mention that her decision was not in response to the latest round of political pressure she is facing after her recent controversies regarding gender reform. Rather, her reasons are rooted in her own personal struggle with whether she can continue to do the job well.
“To be clear, I am not expecting violins here. But I am a human being as well as a politician,” she said during a press conference on Wednesday. “My point is this – giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But, in truth, that can only be done by anyone for so long.
“For me, it is now in danger of becoming too long,” Sturgeon continued. “A First Minister is never off-duty. Particularly in this day and age, there is virtually no privacy. Even ordinary stuff that most people take for granted like going for a coffee with friends or going for a walk on your own becomes very difficult.”
Sturgeon’s Political Future
Sturgeon’s approval ratings are reportedly the lowest they’ve been since she’s been in office. Regardless, many political figures in Scotland, as well as the U.K., have applauded her and her historic service as First Minister.
There are still several unknowns moving forward. There is still no confirmation on who will take over the position. However, Sturgeon did say that she will serve until someone else is elected.
The push for Scotland’s independence is hanging in limbo as well, and no one knows what it’ll look like without Sturgeon’s leadership. She did mention, however, that she does not intend to leave politics fully and will still fight for the cause as a lawmaker in Parliament.
Sturgeon said the support for Scottish independence needs to be solidified and grow.
“To achieve that we need to reach across the divide in Scottish politics,” she said. “And my judgment now is that this needs a new leader.”