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US warns that Israel risks ‘strategic defeat’ unless it protects civilians in Gaza

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US warns that Israel risks ‘strategic defeat’ unless it protects civilians in Gaza

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US defence secretary Lloyd Austin has warned Israel that it risks “strategic defeat” unless it protects Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

In a sign of growing tensions between the close allies as Israel resumes its military campaign in southern Gaza, Austin said Israel would only win if it protected civilians and created humanitarian corridors.

“In this kind of a fight, the centre of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat,” Austin said in a speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum in California.

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US president Joe Biden and other senior American officials have warned their Israeli counterparts that they must avoid the kind of mass internal displacement triggered by their bombardment of Gaza’s north. They have urged Israel to be more precise in the next phase of its campaign.

Austin and other US military officials have invoked lessons learned in Washington’s fight against Islamic State in Iraq, which involved intense urban combat.

Lloyd Austin said urban warfare was winnable only if the civilian population was protected © AP

“Like Hamas, ISIS was deeply embedded in urban areas. And the international coalition against ISIS worked hard to protect civilians and create humanitarian corridors, even during the toughest battles,” said Austin, who is a former commander of US forces in the Middle East.

“The lesson is not that you can win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians.”

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Friday that Israel had shared with him its plans about how to protect civilians in the next phase of the military effort, and said the US would monitor the ongoing campaign closely.

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Biden is under increasing pressure from within his administration and the Democratic party to do more to constrain Israel.

“It is critical that Israel defeats Hamas. If they continue killing this many civilians, they’re going to make them stronger,” Democratic congressman Seth Moulton said.

The Israeli military intensified air strikes in southern Gaza on Saturday and ordered residents of some Palestinian border towns to leave their homes.

Since the breakdown of the truce on Friday, Israel’s renewed offensive in Gaza has killed 193 people, Palestinian health officials said.

Israel’s military said it had hit multiple “terror targets” in northern Gaza, including a mosque it said was being used as a command centre by militants. It added that its jets “struck over 50 targets in the area of Khan Younis” in southern Gaza overnight.

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Palestinian health officials say more than 15,200 people have been killed by Israel’s military response to the attacks by Hamas on October 7, in which the militant group kidnapped 240 people and killed 1,200 in southern Israel.

During the temporary ceasefire Hamas freed 84 women and children while Israel released about 240 Palestinian women and children from prison. The Israel Defense Forces said Hamas was still holding 136 people hostage, among them 17 women and children. The remainder of the hostages are mainly Israeli soldiers and reservists.

Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant said the military campaign was degrading Hamas’ capabilities as well as forcing it to negotiate over hostages.

“Through our military action, we also create the conditions that push [Hamas] to pay a heavy price, and that is in the release of hostages,” he said.

He asserted that Israel had killed “thousands” of Hamas fighters, “struck dozens of headquarters” and detained “hundreds” of operatives.

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The UK government said it would conduct military surveillance flights over Gaza to help the hostage rescue operation. British nationals are among those held. The UK Ministry of Defence said only information related to hostage rescue would be passed to Israel.

Additional reporting by Chloe Cornish in Jerusalem and Lucy Fisher in London

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Vladimir Putin warns of wider conflict over Ukraine

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Vladimir Putin warns of wider conflict over Ukraine

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Vladimir Putin has said that western support for Ukraine risks triggering a global war, in his most explicit threat to use nuclear weapons since he ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

In his state of the nation speech on Thursday, the Russian president said claims that his country might attack Europe were “nonsense”, but warned that Russia could strike back against western countries in response.

Putin said in the address to the country’s political elite that western support for Ukraine “really risks a conflict using nuclear weapons, which means the destruction of all of civilisation”.

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Referring to French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to rule out sending western troops to Ukraine this week, Putin said Russia remembered “the fate of those who once sent their contingents to our country. Now the consequences for possible interveners will be much more tragic”.

“We also have weapons that can strike targets on their territory,” Putin added. He said western supplies of advanced weaponry and the prospect of a Nato troop deployment risked nuclear conflict.

Putin added: “They think this is some kind of game. They are blinded by their own superiority complex.”

The Kremlin had billed Putin’s speech as a road map for the next six years of his rule ahead of Russia’s presidential elections next month, in which he faces no credible challengers after 24 years in power, having quashed most opposition and outlawed dissent.

Pro-Kremlin cinema owners across the country held free screenings of the speech, which began at midday in Moscow. But even as Putin devoted the bulk of it to social support programmes for mothers and attempts to cut dependence on imported technology, the speech revealed how far the war in Ukraine and his strategic rivalry with the west has consumed his attention.

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“Instead of Russia, they need some dependent, declining, dying space where they can do whatever they want,” Putin said of the west.

Putin confirmed Russia would beef up troop deployments on its border with Nato countries to “neutralise threats” created by Sweden and Finland joining the alliance following his invasion of Ukraine.

Though Putin said Russia was prepared to hold talks with the US on arms control, which has essentially collapsed since the full-scale invasion, he made it clear Russia was also interested in ramping up its ability to strike western countries.

He boasted that the country’s nuclear forces were fully ready for use, and added that work would soon conclude on new weapons systems that he claims are essentially impossible to shoot down.

“We are dealing with a state whose ruling circles are taking openly hostile actions against us. They are planning in all seriousness to discuss strategic stability with us while simultaneously, as they say themselves, trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us on the battlefield,” Putin said.

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Denying US claims that Russia plans to deploy a nuclear weapon in space, Putin accused the west of trying to “drag us into an arms race, repeating the trick they played with the Soviet Union in the 1980s,” when the USSR overspent on its military, hastening its collapse in 1991.

He said Russia would work to “create the outlines for equal and inseparable security in Eurasia,” adding that “without a sovereign, strong Russia, no stable world order is possible”.

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Crowded field of potential McConnell successors emerges in Senate

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Crowded field of potential McConnell successors emerges in Senate

Several potential successors are being eyed to fill outgoing Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s role as the party faces growing division between more mainstream Republicans and a faction of hardline conservative members.

Among those who are being floated as a potential replacement for the leadership position are senators John Cornyn, R-Texas; John Thune, R-N.D.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Rick Scott R-Fla.; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; and Steve Daines, R-Mont. 

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced in a floor speech Wednesday he will step down from leadership in November. The Kentucky Republican is the Senate’s longest-serving party leader in history.

Speculation about Thune, Barrasso or Daines taking over as leader stems from their current roles in GOP leadership. They serve as Republican whip, Senate Republican Conference chairman and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, respectively. 

MITCH MCCONNELL STEPPING DOWN AS REPUBLICAN LEADER

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There are several potential successors for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Getty Images)

“Chairman Daines is laser-focused on taking back the Senate majority,” NRSC communications director Mike Berg told Fox News Digital.

One source familiar with Senate Republican conference discussions shared that the “three Johns” — Thune, Cornyn and Barrasso — are not of the same political stripe. Barrasso is considered the most conservative out of the three, the source said. Barrasso is also believed to be a more palatable option for the various factions of Republicans in the Senate who don’t always see eye to eye. He notably endorsed former President Trump early last month.

SEN. COTTON PROBES DOD HOW US AIRMAN WHO LIT HIMSELF ON FIRE WAS ‘ALLOWED TO SERVE ON ACTIVE DUTY’

“What I’m focused on is the election,” Barrasso told reporters shortly after McConnell’s announcement.

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As for decisions regarding leadership, he said, “I’m going to talk to members of the conference, hear what they have to say, listen to them in terms of what direction that they want to take with us.”

Both Cornyn and Thune also endorsed Trump after Barrasso. Thune had initially endorsed fellow Sen. Tim Scott R-S.C., who ultimately dropped out and endorsed Trump. 

Sen. Rick Scott was more pointed in his statement following McConnell’s surprise announcement, saying in a statement, “I have been very clear and have long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate that represents our voters and the issues we were sent here to fight for.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Russian geopolitical machinations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Russian geopolitical machinations. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

When Scott challenged McConnell for the position, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told reporters McConnell received 37 votes from conference members, while Scott received 10. One Republican voted “present.” Some of those who reportedly voted against McConnell were senators Josh Hawley, R-Mo; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Braun; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who supported Scott in 2022, would welcome Scott’s leadership if he were to take over, a staffer in Lee’s office told Fox News Digital.

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MCCONNELL SAYS SENATE TRIAL FOR MAYORKAS IMPEACHMENT IS THE ‘BEST WAY FORWARD’

The source also shared that Cotton was being mentioned as a potential contender for the position. Cotton’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. 

Cornyn, who does not hold a leadership position in the GOP and is poised to launch a potential bid for leader, said in a statement Wednesday that “today is about Mitch McConnell.”

“But I’ve made no secret about my intentions,” he added.

Cornyn on his timeline: “Not today.”

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Cornyn also endorsed former President Trump to be the Republican presidential nominee, and some lawmakers have begun looking to the likely GOP candidate for guidance about who should replace McConnell.

Donald Trump wearing a red make america great again hat

A new article from The Atlantic warned that House Democrats may vote against certifying former President Trump’s election if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t rule whether he is eligible for office beforehand. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., told reporters Wednesday the next person “absolutely” needs to have a more positive relationship with Trump, adding, “He’s going to be the next president, we have to work together.”

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., agreed. 

“It’s so important that the next leader have a very positive relationship with the president,” Marshall told Fox News Digital in an interview Wednesday. “I think that this next leader needs to have a little bit more, maybe a lot more of a populist view.”

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Marshall, who positioned himself alongside conservative hardliners who were critical of McConnell and voted against the bipartisan border deal in the national security supplemental package this month, added that the names being floated for leadership have been “interviewing for the job since I got here.”

“I watch how they vote. I watch what their priorities are. I’ve been watching their volume on what issues they’re championing,” he said. “All the names … have great qualities. They would do a fine job. But I’ve not even started a process of weeding them out. And I tell you, it’ll be one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made.”

Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

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US Supreme Court will hear Donald Trump presidential immunity appeal

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US Supreme Court will hear Donald Trump presidential immunity appeal

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The US Supreme Court has agreed to take up an appeal over whether Donald Trump is immune from criminal prosecution for acts committed in office, putting another potentially blockbuster case involving the former president on the high court’s docket ahead of the 2024 election.

The order on Wednesday will further delay a trial in a criminal case filed by the Department of Justice accusing Trump of seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It will also give the high court — three of whose members were appointed by the former president — the chance to issue a landmark ruling on a question that could have major consequences for the upcoming election and for the presidency more broadly.

The Supreme Court set oral arguments in the matter for the week of April 22, with a decision expected in the case by the end of its term, which usually concludes in late June.

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It had previously refused a request from Jack Smith, the DoJ special counsel overseeing federal criminal cases against Trump, to bypass the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, an intermediate appeals court, and hear the presidential immunity matter immediately last year.

Earlier this month, that court handed down a unanimous ruling that barred Trump from using presidential immunity as a shield against the DoJ indictment.

Lawyers for Trump subsequently asked the Supreme Court to put the appeals court order on hold while he appealed against the decision. They argued that a “claim that presidents have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution for their official acts presents a novel, complex, and momentous question that warrants careful consideration on appeal”.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday said the appellate court’s order would remain on hold until it resolves the issue. The federal elections trial was originally set to begin on March 4 but has been postponed.

Had the court not taken the case, the lower appeals court’s ruling would have remained in place and proceedings in the trial court could have resumed imminently. It is unclear now whether Trump will face trial in the case before the election in November, when he is likely to face Joe Biden in a rematch of 2020.

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Smith had warned the Supreme Court that a “delay in the resolution of [the election] charges threatens to frustrate the public interest in a speedy and fair verdict”.

Trump reacted to the decision with satisfaction, suggesting he sees it as a big legal victory. “Legal Scholars are extremely thankful for the Supreme Court’s Decision today to take up presidential immunity,” he said, adding: “Without presidential immunity, a president will not be able to properly function, or make decisions, in the best interest of the United States of America.” 

Democrats were extremely critical both because of the delay that the decision would bring to Trump’s trial, and concern that some justices on the court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, may be sympathetic to the former president’s argument that he is immune from prosecution for his official actions while in office. 

“The Supreme Court is placing itself on trial with this decision to hear the former president’s total immunity claim,” Nancy Pelosi, the California congresswoman and former House speaker, wrote on X. “It remains to be seen whether the justices will uphold the fundamental American value that no one is above the law — not even a former president.”

The high court has previously ruled on presidential immunity against civil claims, but it has yet to address the issue in relation to criminal charges.

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Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School, said that even if the high court decides the case speedily, “a determination that the prosecution can proceed will leave the district court hard-pressed to schedule a trial before the general election”.

“Arguments that Trump and the people have a strong first amendment interest in presenting his views to the electorate are substantial, and may well counsel against requiring him to sit in the courtroom instead of campaigning,” he added.

The DoJ declined to comment.

Trump’s latest presidential campaign has been unfolding alongside a jam-packed legal calendar as he faces cases in courts across the country. Most recently he was slammed with a penalty of more than $450mn, including interest, in a civil lawsuit in New York over “blatant” fraud committed by his real estate empire. An appeals court judge in New York on Wednesday declined to pause enforcement of that judgment while Trump appeals.

He faces a total of 91 criminal charges across four separate cases. The DoJ and the state of Georgia have separately charged Trump with meddling in the 2020 election. Another federal indictment accused him of mishandling sensitive government documents.

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The first case to reach trial will be one brought by Alvin Bragg, Manhattan district attorney, who alleged that Trump made “hush money” payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels in the lead-up to the 2016 election. Proceedings are set to start on March 25.

According to recent polling, Americans see the federal case related to the 2020 polls as the most serious for Trump, and a conviction in the case could lead to a drop in support for him in the general election.

The Supreme Court has also taken up another politically sensitive case involving Trump. It is poised to decide whether he can be barred from Colorado’s primary ballot in the presidential election, after a ruling from that state’s high court determined he was ineligible to hold office. It heard oral arguments in the case earlier this month.

An Illinois court on Wednesday joined Colorado and Maine in throwing Trump off the state’s presidential primary ballot on the basis that he engaged in insurrection. The evidence in the case is linked to the January 6 2021 attack when his supporters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to halt the certification of Biden’s victory. The order remains on hold pending a potential appeal and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Colorado case.

Trump’s campaign called the Illinois ruling “unconstitutional” and vowed to “quickly” appeal against it.

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Additional reporting by James Politi

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