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Joe Biden plans to send $1bn in new military aid to Israel

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Joe Biden plans to send $1bn in new military aid to Israel

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The Biden administration has told Congress it plans to send a $1bn package of military aid to Israel despite US opposition to the Israeli military’s plans for a full assault on Rafah, the city in southern Gaza.

The move by the White House comes after the US paused one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel over concerns about their use in densely populated areas of Gaza, which risks further increasing the Palestinian civilian death toll.

While that step marked the first time Biden had withheld weapons in an effort to restrain Israel’s military conduct since the war with Hamas began in October, the $1bn package in the works shows that Washington is not seeking to restrict its arms supply to Israel more broadly.

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The signal from the Biden administration that it wanted to proceed with the $1bn weapons package was conveyed this week, according to a congressional aide. It is expected to include mostly tank ammunition and tactical vehicles.

“We are continuing to send military assistance, and we will ensure that Israel receives the full amount provided in the supplemental,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters on Monday, referring to $95bn foreign security aid bill for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific enacted last month.

“Arms transfers are proceeding as scheduled,” another US official said on Tuesday.

The state department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the Biden administration’s plans for a new $1bn weapons transfer to Israel.

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Biden decided to freeze the transfer of some of its most lethal bombs as it sought to deter the Israel Defense Forces from a full assault on Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where more than 1mn Palestinians are estimated to be sheltering. The US is also seeking to finalise a temporary ceasefire deal and secure the release of hostages held by Hamas.

The state department last week warned that US-made weapons might have been used in the conflict in a way that violated humanitarian rights.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted with defiance to Biden’s arms suspension, saying Israel would “stand alone” in the absence of support form the US, its closest ally.

While some Democrats were relieved to see Biden make more aggressive use of US leverage over Israel, the president also faced a backlash from lawmakers within his party who were upset about the move, including Jacky Rosen, the Nevada senator, and John Fetterman, the Pennsylvania senator.

Rosen said the US needed to provide Israel with “unconditional security assistance”.

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Donald Trump’s trial ends with duelling portrayals of star witness Michael Cohen

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Donald Trump’s trial ends with duelling portrayals of star witness Michael Cohen

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Donald Trump should not be convicted on the word of “the greatest liar of all time”, the former president’s defence told a New York jury during closing statements at the former president’s “hush money” trial, while prosecutors defended the account given by their star witness.

The days-long testimony of Michael Cohen, a former Trump acolyte turned sworn enemy, is crucial to establishing that the then-presidential candidate orchestrated a scheme to buy the silence of porn actor Stormy Daniels, who alleged an extramarital affair in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Cohen, then a lawyer for Trump, paid Daniels with $130,000 of his own money. Trump is charged with falsely recording reimbursements to Cohen as legal expenses, in order to circumvent election laws.

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Both sides homed in on Cohen during their closing statements, which lasted for nine hours on Tuesday.

Todd Blanche, an attorney for Trump, told jurors that Cohen — who once also acted as Trump’s general purpose “fixer” — had previously lied to federal judges, to US Congress, to his family and to banks, and was therefore the “human embodiment of reasonable doubt”. Cohen pleaded guilty to a suite of federal charges in 2018 and is a convicted perjurer.

Cohen “is biased and motivated to tell you a story that is not true”, Blanche added. Cohen had revealed he has made more than $1mn from books and podcasts in which he recounts his animus towards Trump.

In response, prosecutors spent hours walking the jury through cheques, invoices, text messages, call logs and even extracts from Trump’s books that they said supported Cohen’s narrative. “Those documents tell you everything you need to know,” assistant district attorney Joshua Steinglass said. “You don’t need Michael Cohen to connect those dots.”

Steinglass emphasised that the prosecution did not “choose Michael Cohen as a witness” or “pick him up at the witness store”.

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“The defendant chose Michael Cohen,” he said. “He was his fixer.” Trump was “frugal, immersed in the details and insists on signing his own cheques” for whom the “cardinal sin” is overpaying for a service, Steinglass claimed, casting doubt on the idea that Trump was ignorant of how the alleged reimbursement scheme was set up.

Trump is a “micromanager” who “set in motion a chain of events that led to the creation of the false business records”, Steinglass claimed. Cohen’s payment — designed to prevent a damaging story from leaking — amounted to a “campaign contribution that massively exceeded the $2,700 limit” but also violated city, state and federal tax laws, he claimed.

“The law is the law and applies to everyone equally,” he told jurors as he wrapped up his hours-long presentation.

The duelling remarks came as the trial entered its final stretch, after the testimony of 22 witnesses over five weeks, including Daniels.

A verdict could come as soon as Wednesday, when the seven men and five women who make up the jury are likely to be handed the case for deliberations.

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If found guilty, Trump is unlikely to be jailed but would probably face financial penalties and, if he were to win November’s election, would become the first US president to be a convicted criminal. He is also likely to appeal against any conviction. The trial — which comes in one of four criminal cases he is facing — has done little to dent his standing in the presidential polls.

While closing arguments were taking place on Tuesday, the campaign team for President Joe Biden for the first time sent surrogates to speak outside the Manhattan courthouse, including Hollywood actor Robert De Niro and two former police officers who were at the Capitol during the January 6 2021 riots and are now campaigning for the incumbent president.

Robert De Niro made a surprise appearance at a Biden campaign event outside the New York courthouse on Tuesday © Brendan McDermid/Reuters

“Donald Trump wants to destroy not only this city but the country, and eventually he could destroy the world,” said De Niro, a native New Yorker. “He doesn’t belong in my city,” the actor added. “I don’t know where he belongs, but he certainly doesn’t belong here.”

Trump, who was joined in court by his sons Eric and Don Jr, and by his daughter Tiffany, once again decried the case as “election interference” in his morning remarks. “They should have brought this case seven years ago, not in the middle of a presidential election,” he said.

Additional reporting by Lauren Fedor

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Mormon Crickets Are Causing Crashes in Nevada

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Mormon Crickets Are Causing Crashes in Nevada


In Nevada, Mormon crickets are back—and in some areas, they’re making things extremely messy. The Eureka County Sheriff’s Office has warned drivers to beware of “Mormon cricket sludge” on the roads, NBC News reports. In a Facebook post, the sheriff’s office said the slippery remains of insects run over by vehicles caused several crashes on Interstate 80 over the weekend. The combination of smashed Mormon crickets and rain makes roadways “EXTREMELY slick and unpredictable for stopping distance,” the sheriff’s office said.


During the insects’ migration last year, road crews in Elko, Nevada had to use plows to clear the roads of squashed Mormon crickets, which gave off a stench described as “like fish or dog feces.” Last week, an elementary school in Sparks, Nevada, had to cancel outdoor activities after it was inundated with the insects. Teacher Sybella Pope-Sears told News 4 it looked like the lawn was moving. KLAS notes that despite the name, Mormon crickets are a species of katydid that “resembles fat grasshoppers that can’t fly and can be up to two inches long.” (More Mormon crickets stories.)

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Israeli tanks enter central Rafah

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Israeli tanks enter central Rafah

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Israel stepped up its military offensive in Rafah on Tuesday, sending tanks into the heart of Gaza’s southernmost city despite growing international condemnation of the operation.

In the wake of a lethal Israeli air strike over the weekend that killed dozens of civilians, Israel pressed farther towards Rafah’s centre with military vehicles taking positions near the Awda roundabout, according to eyewitnesses.

At least five Israeli military combat brigades were operating by Tuesday in Rafah and the adjoining frontier with Egypt, called the Philadelphi corridor, pushing westwards into more densely populated areas of the city.

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The scale of the military deployment suggests Israel is mounting its most significant operation inside Gaza for several months.

Israel considers Rafah Hamas’s last stronghold in Gaza and launched its assault earlier this month despite widespread international concern for the 1.4mn Palestinians that had sought refuge in the city.

Humanitarian organisations have warned about the risks to civilians of an operation in Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are sheltering, but the US state department on Tuesday said it did not believe Israel’s offensive amounted to a full-scale military assault that would cross any red lines set by President Joe Biden.

Matthew Miller, a state department spokesperson, said the US judged Israel’s operations to be on a more limited scale than its previous operations in Khan Younis and Gaza City. “This so far is a different type of military operation,” he added.

“We will continue to emphasise to Israel their obligation to comply fully with international humanitarian law, minimise the impact of their operations on civilians, and maximise the flow of humanitarian assistance to those in need,” Miller said.

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According to the UN, about 1mn people have fled Rafah ahead of advancing Israeli troops, to what Israel describes as humanitarian “safe zones”, but which international aid groups have criticised as lacking basic infrastructure and supplies.

“Many citizens are trapped in the middle of the city,” said one Palestinian in the area.

Local officials in the Rafah governorate said later in the day that 21 people were killed, and dozens injured, by Israeli fire in an encampment of tents for the displaced in the city’s western outskirts.

The Financial Times could not immediately establish more details relating to the incident. Israel’s military denied any such attack: “Contrary to the reports from the last few hours, the [Israel Defense Forces] did not strike in the humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi.”

A woman reacts as Palestinians inspect tents on Tuesday after an Israeli army operation on an area in Rafah previously designated by the army as safe for displaced Palestinians © Haitham Imad/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The report came just two days after an Israeli air strike killed at least 45 people in another camp for displaced people in the north-western Tal as-Sultan neighbourhood.

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Miller said the US had expressed its “deep concern” to Israel over the incident and added that Washington was waiting for the results of the full Israeli investigation into the incident.

He noted that the IDF’s preliminary conclusions were that the strike hit 1.7km away from the area where civilians were seeking refuge.

Israeli leaders have made clear that nothing will stop the Rafah offensive, which is a bid to dismantle the last four standing Hamas battalions in the territory as well as to rescue Israeli hostages that the IDF says are being held in the area.

The IDF has also seized at least 50 per cent of the 14km-long Philadelphi corridor, according to one Israeli official. IDF infantry and combat engineers have been working to locate and destroy tunnels connecting Gaza to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, which Hamas has allegedly used for years to smuggle weapons and commercial goods.

IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the military was working “in a precise way, more accurate, more safe and sometimes slower” than past operations in the strip over the past seven months of war.

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Hagari added that the military investigation was ongoing into the exact cause of the massive fires that raged through the makeshift shelters in Rafah over the weekend after an Israeli strike killed two senior Hamas operatives in a nearby compound.

According to Hagari, a preliminary Israeli military investigation has found that the strike, which deployed two relatively small 17kg munitions, hit only the targeted compound. But he said “another something” caused a second compound nearby to ignite.

“Our munition alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” Hagari added, while emphasising that the camp was almost 200 metres away from the attack site. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called it a “tragic mistake”.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s aid chief, said “no place is safe in Gaza”, as he described the attack at the weekend as an “abomination”.

“We have also warned that a military operation in Rafah would lead to a slaughter,” he said. “Whether the attack [at the weekend] was a war crime or a ‘tragic mistake’, for the people of Gaza, there is no debate.”

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