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Biden to visit Asia next month to build united front on N.Korea, Russia

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(Last Updated On: April 28, 2022)

Visiting Asia next month for the first time since becoming U.S. president in 2021, Joe Biden will hold talks with allies in Japan and South Korea over China’s growing influence in the region and the latest threats from nuclear-armed North Korea.

“The leaders will discuss opportunities to deepen our vital security relationships, enhance economic ties, and expand our close cooperation to deliver practical results,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden will meet South Korea’s new president Yoon Suk-yeol on May 21, during a three day visit that comes shortly after Yoon’s swearing-in on May 10, Yonhap news agency reported.

The U.S. president will travel to Japan on May 22, where he will meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, before both leaders attend a gathering of the Quad security group along with their counterparts from Australia and India.

Biden’s trip to Asia comes at a time when Washington is seeking to reinforce unity and commitment among allies in response to both Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and China’s growing economic and security influence in the region.

North Korea is expected to be a key topic for discussion in both Seoul and Tokyo, as Pyongyang is outlining an expansive new doctrine for nuclear weapons use.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has threatened to use nuclear weapons to strike anyone who violates the North’s “fundamental interests.”

North Korea resumed testing of its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017 last month, and Seoul and Washington officials say it may be preparing for a new round of nuclear tests.

Yoon and Biden will hold in-depth discussions on a broad range of issues including developing the alliance between the United States and South Korea, “policy coordination on North Korea, economic security, and major regional and international affairs,” Yoon’s spokesperson Bae Hyun-jin said.

During his election campaign, Yoon pledged to bolster South Korea’s defence capability to counter North Korea’s threats.

In Tokyo, Biden and Kishida will seek ways to build on their ties to further peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a briefing.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a unilateral attempt by force to change the status quo and a huge shock to the international order, and … it’s essential to further strengthen the US-Japan alliance and verify the ties that will allow us to work towards a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

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(Last Updated On: May 18, 2024)

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south Hamas attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armour had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance, Reuters reported.

“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.

Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Hamas re-grouping there.

In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.

“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, U.N. humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north towards the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.

As the fighting raged, the U.S. military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land – disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah – were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.

“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

U.S. aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.

Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade”.

The White House said U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.

A group of U.S. medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

HUMANITARIAN FEARS

The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive”.

A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

“The 7th Brigade’s fire control centre directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.

Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.

In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honourable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”

Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

‘TRAGIC WAR’

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

UNRWA, the main U.N. aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.

“They’re moving to areas where there is no water – we’ve got to truck it in – and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.

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EU adds Russian media outlets to sanctions list despite Kremlin warning

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(Last Updated On: May 16, 2024)

European Union countries on Wednesday agreed in principle to add four Russian state media outlets to the EU’s list of entities under sanctions, accusing them of propaganda, as the Kremlin vowed repercussions for Western journalists in Moscow, Reuters reported.

“Four Kremlin-linked propaganda networks (have been) added to the sanctions list: Voice of Europe, RIA Novosti, Izvestija and Rossiyskaya Gazeta”, EU Commissioner for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said on social media platform X.

The outlets include newspapers and online media, read the report.

Russia earlier warned the European Union against the move. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the Kremlin would retaliate against Western correspondents in Moscow.

“If these measures are taken against the Russian media, Russian journalists, then, despite the fact that Western correspondents will not want to, they will also have to feel our retaliatory measures,” Zakharova said.

“We will respond with lightning speed and extremely painfully for the Westerners,” she said.

The EU did not immediately specify the measures applying to the media outlets but media sanctioned previously lost broadcasting rights in the EU, Reuters reported.

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Manhunt underway after gunmen ambush French prison van to free drug dealer

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(Last Updated On: May 15, 2024)

Gunmen wearing balaclavas ambushed a prison van in northern France on Tuesday to free a drug dealer known as “The Fly,” killing two prison guards, severely wounding three and triggering a major police manhunt.

The brazen, morning attack at a toll booth in Incarville in the Eure region of northern France underlines the growing threat of drug crime across Europe, the world’s No.1 cocaine market, Reuters reported.

It came on the same day that France’s Senate released a major report on drug trafficking, warning that the country faces a “tipping point” from rising narco violence that represents “a threat to the fundamental interests of the nation.”

The fugitive inmate, named Mohamed Amra, is a 30-year-old drug dealer from northern France, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office and police sources.

He had been convicted of burglary by a court in Evreux on May 10 and was being held at the Val de Reuil prison, Reuters reported.

Amra had also been indicted by prosecutors in Marseille for a kidnapping that led to a death, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.

A police source in Marseille told Reuters Amra was a drug dealer with ties to the city’s powerful “Blacks” gang.

Images on social media showed gunmen in balaclavas circling near an SUV that was in flames. The SUV appeared to have been rammed into the front of the prison van.

Amra’s lawyer, Hugues Vigier, told BFM TV that the violence of the incident did not correspond with the person he knew. He said Amra had tried to escape from prison on Sunday by sawing at the bars of his cell.

“This element suggests that there was an escape attempt in preparation,” Vigier said.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said a major manhunt had been launched, with several hundred officers involved.

Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti said the prison van was attacked while Amra was being driven to meet an investigating judge in Rouen. He said two of the injured officers were in critical condition.

“Absolutely everything will be done to find the perpetrators of this despicable crime,” he told BFM TV. “These are people for whom life means nothing. They will be arrested, judged and punished according to the crime they committed.”

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