Netanyahu Rejects Hamas Cease-Fire Plan, Vows ‘Absolute Victory’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected a plan offered by Hamas to end the war in Gaza, instead vowing to push forward with its attack on the militants until it achieves “absolute victory.”

The Israeli leader ruled out an offer by Hamas for an end to four months of fighting accompanied by a staged, 4½-month release of about 100 hostages held by Hamas in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. But the Hamas offer also called for the militants to retain governing control of the narrow territory along the Mediterranean Sea and the right to rebuild its military capability.

“We are on the way to an absolute victory. There is no other solution,” Netanyahu said at a news conference after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He said the Jewish state’s war effort would take months, not years.

The top US diplomat, who is holding his own news conference later Wednesday, is on his fifth round of talks with Mideast leaders in a so-far fruitless effort to end the warfare that erupted with the shock October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. 

Bomb Blasts Kill 30 in Pakistan Ahead of Thursday’s Elections

Authorities in Pakistan said Wednesday that at least 30 people are dead and dozens more injured in two bomb blasts targeting election campaign offices in southwestern Baluchistan province.

The deadly bombings in Pishin and Qilla Saifullah districts have fueled security concerns ahead of Thursday’s national elections in the country of about 241 million people.

“It is important to emphasize that the scheduled elections will proceed as planned,” said Jan Achakzai, the provincial government spokesperson. He added that “terrorists” would not be allowed to undermine the “crucial democratic process.”

A regional affiliate of Islamic State, known as Islamic State-Khorasan or IS-K, claimed the Pishin bombing, but no group took credit for the second blast. The violence came a week after a bomb explosion hit an election rally in another Baluchistan district and killed five people. IS-K claimed responsibility for that attack.

Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, condemned Wednesday’s bombings and reaffirmed his government’s commitment to ensuring peaceful elections in the country, according to a statement released by his office in Islamabad.

US, NATO Reaffirm Need to Support Ukraine

US and NATO officials on Wednesday reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s continued battle against Russia’s invasion, as humanitarian leaders denounced missile attacks that Ukraine’s president said killed at least five people in the capital and the southern port city of Mykolaiv.

Speaking at NATO headquarters, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan sounded confident despite Tuesday’s dramatic collapse of a US Senate deal to fund Ukraine’s defence and buttress the southern border of the United States.

In remarks delivered before the bill cratered, US President Joe Biden said the lapse in US support is “just what Putin wants.”

But Sullivan said he is hopeful.

“Even in the last 24 hours, you’ve seen a significant number of Republicans come out and say that no matter what else happens, we need to move forward a package of support for Ukraine,” he said. “As President Biden said yesterday, history will record any failure to deliver the type of assistance that’s contained in the package that was put forward this week.”

NATO Allies Pressure Hungary over Blocking Sweden’s Accession

Hungary’s NATO allies are putting pressure on Prime Minister Viktor Orban to swiftly approve Sweden’s accession to the alliance after his MPs refused an opportunity to vote on the issue this week.

Sweden applied to join the alliance in May 2022 in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of that year. But Hungary has repeatedly delayed ratification.

Hungary is now the only country preventing Sweden from joining NATO after Turkey finally gave its approval last month. Ankara had initially raised concerns over Sweden’s purported harbouring of Kurdish separatist groups, which Turkey considers terrorists.

With Hungary’s parliament currently on winter recess, opposition MPs convened an extraordinary session of lawmakers Monday to force a vote.

Lawmakers from Orban’s Fidesz Party refused to attend, despite Orban declaring last month that he supports Sweden’s accession to NATO and would urge his party to approve the application at the first opportunity.

Tompos Marton of Hungary’s Momentum Party was among the opposition lawmakers pushing for Monday’s vote.

UN Launches Appeal to Aid Millions in War-torn Sudan

As Sudan is about to enter its 10th month of conflict, United Nations agencies launched a $4.1 billion appeal Tuesday to provide urgent aid for 14.7 million people inside Sudan and 2.7 million people who have taken refuge in five neighbouring countries.

The UN launch in Geneva got off to a poignant start with a video of Sudanese victims who recounted the terrible impact the war has had on their lives. Mena, a young Sudanese refugee in Egypt, said the war has robbed her and other children of their education.

“How can we build our future in this situation? No school, which means no studying, no education, no medical service and most importantly,” she said. “We lost our childhood. This is our future, and it must be preserved.”

UN officials at the conference agreed that Sudan’s conflict has fueled “suffering of epic proportions.” 

Prince William Back to Work After Kate’s Surgery, King Charles’ Cancer

Britain’s Prince William returned to public duty on Wednesday following his wife Kate’s surgery and news that King Charles had cancer, as his younger brother Prince Harry was set to return to the United States after a flying visit to see their father.

William, the heir to the throne, had postponed all his planned engagements to look after his three children after Kate, 42, underwent planned abdominal surgery on January 16 and spent two weeks in hospital recovering.

Since then, his father has undergone treatment at the same hospital for an enlarged prostate before Buckingham Palace announced on Monday that subsequent tests on the 75-year-old monarch had revealed he had a form of cancer.

On Wednesday, William, 41, made his first official public appearance since the series of health blows to the royals when he carried out an investiture – a ceremony to hand out state honours – at Windsor Castle and will later attend a gala dinner for London’s Air Ambulance Charity.

Taiwan Stops New Group Trips to China Amid Tourism, Air Route Spat

Taiwan’s Tourism Administration on Wednesday told travel agents to stop organizing new group tours to China since Beijing has yet to allow such trips to the island by Chinese tourists and has altered a flight path in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

Post-pandemic, China has largely resumed permission for its nationals to visit a host of popular tourist destinations, including Japan, but has yet to add Taiwan back on its approved list amid ongoing tensions between Beijing and Taipei.

China claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory despite the government’s strong objections in Taipei.

Taiwan had planned to resume group tours for Taiwanese to China from March 1 after they were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the tourism authority said those already organized from that date to May 31 could go ahead.

But “considering the change in the situation,” including China not allowing Chinese to visit Taiwan and China’s altering of a flight route through the Taiwan Strait last week, Taiwanese travel agencies cannot arrange any more tours, the Tourism Administration said in a statement.

China’s Taiwan Affairs Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Report: China Increasing Digital Surveillance of Tibetans

A new report by Tibetan activist groups and experts shows new evidence that the Chinese government is increasing digital surveillance of Tibetans through practices such as the mandatory installation of apps at police checkpoints or utilizing big data policing platforms supported by technologies from American tech firms.

Some analysts say these new findings provide a glimpse into Beijing’s security apparatus in Tibet. “The Chinese government’s apparatus in Tibet remains a black box in nature, but this report provides [the outside world] with a glimpse into how these systems work,” Greg Walton, senior investigator at U.K.-based security consulting firm Secdev Group and one of the report’s authors, told VOA by phone.

The report from Tibet Watch and a Tibet-focused research network called Turquoise Roof found that authorities have been asking residents in Tibet to install an app called “National Anti-Fraud Center” on their smartphones since 2021.

According to some testimonies from Tibetans, police would routinely ask residents to install the security application on their smartphones at checkpoints while local authorities have been teaching the public how to download and use the app. Some Tibetans have expressed concern that the app may be used to track their movements and potentially access data on their phones.

Ex-Chilean President Sebastian Pinera Killed in Chopper Crash

Former Chile President Sebastian Pinera was killed Tuesday in a helicopter crash.

The 74-year-old Pinera was travelling with three other people when the helicopter went down in Lake Ranco in southern Chile. The other three passengers survived the crash and managed to swim to shore. It was unclear who was piloting the helicopter, but Pinera often flew himself in his own helicopter.

Pinera entered politics in the 1990s after amassing a fortune that began when he introduced credit cards to Chile during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973 until 1990. He invested in a variety of ventures, including real estate, banking and broadcasting.

His election in 2010 represented a return of Chile’s conservative faction to political power after the Pinochet dictatorship. 

But his first term was consumed by recovery efforts from a powerful earthquake and tsunami that killed 525 people, as well as the successful recovery of 33 miners trapped for more than three months in a collapsed mine in the northern Atacama Desert.

US Intelligence Warns of Growing Iranian-Houthi Weapons Cooperation

The United States is offering fresh evidence that Houthi attacks on international shipping are being carried out with weaponry designed by Iran, though some analysts and experts warn the findings raise concerns about the effectiveness of the US actions against the Houthis and what it portends of Iran’s weapons development program.

The Defense Intelligence Agency late Tuesday issued an unclassified report with details on the drones and missiles the Houthis have used in their more than 40 attacks since mid-November. The report also sheds light on missiles the Houthis have in their arsenal but have yet to unleash.

“Analysis confirms that Houthi forces have employed various Iranian-origin missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles against military and civilian targets throughout the region,” the DIA said in a statement, pointing to an ever-tighter relationship between Tehran and Houthi leadership.

“Since 2014, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force [IRGC-QF] has provided the Houthis a growing arsenal of sophisticated weapons and training,” DIA said. “Iran’s aid has enabled the Houthis to conduct a campaign of missile and UAV attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November 2023.”

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