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UN says acute malnutrition spreading fast among children in Gaza

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UN says acute malnutrition spreading fast among children in Gaza

Israel says it will send a delegation to Qatar for more talks with mediators after Hamas presented a new truce proposal.

The main United Nations aid agency operating in Gaza has said that acute malnutrition was accelerating in the north of the Palestinian enclave as Israel prepared to send a delegation to Qatar for new truce talks on a hostage deal with Hamas.

On Saturday, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said one in three children under the age of two in northern Gaza are now acutely malnourished, putting more pressure on Israel over the looming famine.

“Children’s malnutrition is spreading fast and reaching unprecedented levels in Gaza,” UNRWA said in a social media post.

On Friday, Israel said it would send a delegation to Qatar for more talks with mediators after Hamas presented a new proposal for a ceasefire with an exchange of hostages and prisoners.

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A source familiar with the talks told the Reuters news agency that the delegation will be led by the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to convene the security cabinet to discuss the proposal before the talks start.

Netanyahu’s office has said the Hamas offer was still based on “unrealistic demands”.

Repeated efforts failed to secure a ceasefire before the holy month of Ramadan, which started a week ago, with Israel saying it plans to launch a new offensive in Rafah in southern Gaza.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, starting a two-day visit to the region, voiced concerns about an assault on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are sheltering, saying there was a danger it would result “in many terrible civilian casualties”.

On Friday, Netanyahu’s office said he had approved an attack plan on Rafah and that the civilian population would be evacuated.

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It gave no timeframe, and there was no immediate evidence of extra preparations on the ground.

Humanitarian crisis

Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed at least 31,553 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the strip.

The assault has also devastated the enclave, forcing nearly all the inhabitants from their homes, leaving much of the territory in rubble and triggering a massive hunger crisis.

“Children’s malnutrition is spreading fast and reaching unprecedented levels in Gaza,” UNRWA said in a social media post. Hospitals in Gaza have reported some children dying of malnutrition and dehydration.

Western countries have called on Israel to do more to allow in aid, with the UN saying it faced “overwhelming obstacles” including crossing closures, onerous vetting, restrictions on movement and unrest inside Gaza.

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A first delivery into Gaza by the World Central Kitchen, pioneering a new sea route via Cyprus, arrived on Friday and was off-loaded, the charity said.

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said a second cargo of food aid was ready to depart by sea from Cyprus on Saturday, while the United States and Jordan said they carried out an airdrop of humanitarian aid.

In a CNN interview, Queen Rania of Jordan called the airdrops “literally just drops in the ocean of unmet needs” and accused Israel of “cutting off everything that is required to sustain a human life: food, fuel, medicine, water”.

Humanitarian aid for Gaza is loaded on a cargo ship in the port of Larnaca, Cyprus [Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters]
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US intelligence finding shows China surging equipment sales to Russia to help war effort in Ukraine

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US intelligence finding shows China surging equipment sales to Russia to help war effort in Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — China has surged sales to Russia of machine tools, microelectronics and other technology that Moscow in turn is using to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft and other weaponry for use in its war against Ukraine, according to a U.S. assessment.

Two senior Biden administration officials, who discussed the sensitive findings Friday on the condition of anonymity, said that in 2023 about 90% of Russia’s microelectronics came from China, which Russia has used to make missiles, tanks and aircraft. Nearly 70% of Russia’s approximately $900 million in machine tool imports in the last quarter of 2023 came from China.

US HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE HEAD SAYS PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN CHINA, RUSSIA IS GREATEST THREAT SINCE WWII

Chinese and Russian entities have also been working to jointly produce unmanned aerial vehicles inside Russia, and Chinese companies are likely providing Russia with nitrocellulose used in the manufacture of ammunition, the officials said. China-based companies Wuhan Global Sensor Technology Co., Wuhan Tongsheng Technology Co. Ltd. and Hikvision are providing optical components for use in Russian tanks and armored vehicles.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on April 9, 2024. China has surged sales to Russia of machine tools, microelectronics and other technology that Moscow in turn is using to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft and other weaponry. That’s according to two senior Biden administration officials who discussed the sensitive findings on the condition of anonymity. Russia’s microelectronics came from China, where Russia has used missiles, tanks and aircraft.  (Li Xueren/Xinhua via AP)

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The officials said Russia has received military optics for use in tanks and armored vehicles manufactured by Chinese firms iRay Technology and North China Research Institute of Electro-Optics, and China has been providing Russia with UAV engines and turbojet engines for cruise missiles.

Russia’s semiconductor imports from China jumped from $200 million in 2021 to over $500 million in 2022, according to Russian customs data analyzed by the Free Russia Foundation, a group that advocates for civil society development.

Beijing is also working with Russia to improve its satellite and other space-based capabilities for use in Ukraine, a development the officials say could in the longer term increase the threat Russia poses across Europe. The officials, citing downgraded intelligence findings, said the U.S. has also determined that China is providing imagery to Russia for its war on Ukraine.

The officials discussed the findings as Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China this month for talks. Blinken is scheduled to travel next week to the Group of 7 foreign ministers meeting in Capri, Italy, where he’s expected to raise concerns about China’s growing indirect support for Russia as Moscow revamps its military and looks to consolidate recent gains in Ukraine.

President Joe Biden has previously raised his concerns directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping about Beijing indirectly supporting Russia’s war effort.

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While China has not provided direct lethal military support for Russia, it has backed it diplomatically in blaming the West for provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to launch the war and refrained from calling it an invasion in deference to the Kremlin.

China has repeatedly said it isn’t providing Russia with arms or military assistance, although it has maintained robust economic connections with Moscow, alongside India and other countries, amid sanctions from Washington and its allies.

“The normal trade between China and Russia should not be interfered or restricted,” said Liu Pengyu, spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Washington. “We urge the U.S. side to refrain from disparaging and scapegoating the normal relationship between China and Russia.”

Xi met in Beijing on Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who heaped praise on Xi’s leadership.

Russia’s growing economic and diplomatic isolation has made it increasingly reliant on China, its former rival for leadership of the Communist bloc during the Cold War.

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who returned to Washington this week from a visit to Beijing, said she warned Chinese officials that the Biden administration was prepared to sanction Chinese banks, companies and Beijing’s leadership, if they assist Russia’s armed forces with its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

The Democratic president issued an executive order in December giving Yellen the authority to sanction financial institutions that aided Russia’s military-industrial complex.

“We continue to be concerned about the role that any firms, including those in the PRC, are playing in Russia’s military procurement,” Yellen told reporters, using the initials for the People’s Republic of China. “I stressed that companies, including those in the PRC, must not provide material support for Russia’s war and that they will face significant consequences if they do. And I reinforced that any banks that facilitate significant transactions that channel military or dual-use goods to Russia’s defense industrial base expose themselves to the risk of U.S. sanctions.”

The U.S. has frequently downgraded and unveiled intelligence findings about Russia’s plans and operations over the course of the more than 2-year-old war with Ukraine.

Such efforts have been focused on highlighting plans for Russian misinformation operations or to throw attention on Moscow’s difficulties in prosecuting its war against Ukraine as well as its coordination with Iran and North Korea to supply it with badly needed weaponry. Blinken last year spotlighted intelligence that showed China was considering providing arms and ammunition to Russia.

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The White House believes that the public airing of the intelligence findings has led China, at least for now, to hold off on directly arming Russia. China’s economy has also been slow to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese officials could be sensitive to reaction from European capitals, which have maintained closer ties to Beijing even as the U.S.-China relationship has become more complicated.

Meanwhile, China on Thursday announced rare sanctions against two U.S. defense companies over what it called their support for arms sales to Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy Beijing claims as its own territory to be recovered by force if necessary.

The announcement freezes the assets of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems held within China. It also bars the companies’ management from entering the country.

Filings show General Dynamics operates a half-dozen Gulfstream and jet aviation services operations in China, which remains heavily reliant on foreign aerospace technology even as it attempts to build its own presence in the field.

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The company also helps make the Abrams tank being purchased by Taiwan to replace outdated armor intended to deter or resist an invasion from China.

General Atomics produces the Predator and Reaper drones used by the U.S. military.

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Belgium probing Russian influence network suspected of paying MEPs

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Belgium probing Russian influence network suspected of paying MEPs

The Belgian federal prosecutor has opened an investigation into EU lawmakers accused of receiving payments for spreading pro-Russian propaganda.

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Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told reporters on Friday that Belgium’s intelligence services had confirmed the “existence of a pro-Russian interference network with activities in several European countries” which is “subject to prosecution” in the country.

A recent investigation led by Czech authorities revealed lawmakers sitting in the European Parliament in Brussels had received cash from a Moscow-backed influence operation to “promote” its propaganda in the bloc.

“The cash payments did not take place in Belgium, but the interference does,” De Croo said.

“As Belgium is the seat of the EU institutions, we have a responsibility to uphold every citizen’s right to a free and safe vote,” he added.

It comes just over two months before EU voters head to the polls to elect 720 members to the European Parliament, and amid mounting fears Kremlin proxies could be using information manipulation to skew the democratic vote.

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Three of the major factions of the European Parliament – the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, the centrist Renew Europe and the Greens – have called for a swift investigation, and the parliament’s press services have confirmed to Euronews they are “looking into” the allegations.

While De Croo was unable to specify how many EU lawmakers could face prosecution, Czech media citing intelligence officials have said the allegations involve politicians from Germany, France, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Hungary.

The Czech investigation resulted in the sanctioning of two individuals and news company Voice of Europe, through which investigators say the Russian operation had been channelled.

MEP Maximilian Krah of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), has spoken out after being associated with Voice of Europe, asserting that despite giving interviews to the company, he had not benefitted financially.

“There is no specific allegation that I was paid for any of these,” Krah said on X. “This shows what to think of the current campaign: Nothing!”

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Belgium calls on EU to step up

De Croo said he had discussed the probe with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola as well as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and had asked Eurojust, the bloc’s agency for cooperation on criminal justice, to “convene and discuss this matter urgently.”

De Croo also wants to examine whether the mandates of both the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) can allow for a “prosecution” in the case.

“If that is not the case, we should broaden these mandates,” he added.

Belgian authorities are also currently investigating a sprawling corruption scandal involving MEPs and other parliament officials, accused of receiving cash in exchange for wielding their political influence in favour of officials from Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania.

But the probe has faced turmoil and put the Belgian judicial services to the test, with the previous prosecutor forced to step down following allegations he was not impartial.

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The numerous debacles in the Belgian investigation have led many to brand the case as ‘Belgium-gate’.

De Croo said his authorities remained “dedicated” to their role as “consensus builders” and would  continue to work “not just in the interest of Belgium, but for the entire EU.”

He supported the Czech Republic’s proposal to look at slapping EU-wide sanctions on individuals connected to the propaganda network, but said that the people who “receive” bribes also need to be scrutinised as part of the Belgian investigation.

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Multiple injuries, arrest made after semitrailer crashes into public safety office in Texas

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Multiple injuries, arrest made after semitrailer crashes into public safety office in Texas

A suspect is in custody after a commercial vehicle crashed into a Texas Department of Public Safety office in a rural town west of Houston on Friday, seriously injuring several people, according the agency.

Texas DPS officials said in a social media post on X that the crash happened at the agency’s office in Brenham, Texas, located about 75 miles (120 kilometers) west of Houston. Officials said there are reports of multiple serious injuries but did not specify how many people were affected or the extent of the injuries. They also requested people avoid the area to clear the way for responding medical personnel.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the incident and there is no further threat, DPS officials said Friday.

Multiple news outlets showed images of a large, red tractor-trailer hauling material on a flatbed in the parking lot of the building. The front end of the 18-wheeler was damaged and covered with debris from the front doors of the office. Debris was also scattered out front near a gaping hole in the entrance.

DPS officials did not immediately respond to requests for additional information.

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City of Brenham officials did not immediately respond to calls seeking further information.

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