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Russian forces seen progressing toward Kyiv as ‘stuck’ convoy appears to disperse

President says 100,000 fled their homes in two days alone, but attempts to get aid to Mariupol blocked by tank attack on humanitarian corridor

  • Ukrainian soldiers on an armored personnel carrier pass by people carrying their belongings as they flee the conflict, in the Vyshgorod region close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
    Ukrainian soldiers on an armored personnel carrier pass by people carrying their belongings as they flee the conflict, in the Vyshgorod region close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
  • Dead bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022, as people cannot bury their dead because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)
    Dead bodies are placed into a mass grave on the outskirts of Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022, as people cannot bury their dead because of the heavy shelling by Russian forces. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looks on as he gives a press conference after meeting Ukraine's Foreign Minister for talks in Antalya, on March 10, 2022. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov looks on as he gives a press conference after meeting Ukraine's Foreign Minister for talks in Antalya, on March 10, 2022. (Ozan Kose/AFP)
  • A man walks with a bicycle in a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
    A man walks with a bicycle in a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
  • Destroyed Russian tanks are seen on a main road after battles near Brovary, north of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
    Destroyed Russian tanks are seen on a main road after battles near Brovary, north of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • A destroyed tank is seen after battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces on a main road near Brovary, north of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
    A destroyed tank is seen after battles between Ukrainian and Russian forces on a main road near Brovary, north of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
  • Residents evacuate the Ukrainian city of Irpin, north of Kyiv, on March 10, 2022 (Aris Messinis / AFP)
    Residents evacuate the Ukrainian city of Irpin, north of Kyiv, on March 10, 2022 (Aris Messinis / AFP)
  • Residents evacuate the Ukrainian city of Irpin, north of Kyiv, on March 10, 2022 (Aris Messinis / AFP)
    Residents evacuate the Ukrainian city of Irpin, north of Kyiv, on March 10, 2022 (Aris Messinis / AFP)
  • A child sits on a suitcase as refugees fleeing war in neighboring Ukraine arrive at the Medyka border crossing, Poland, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
    A child sits on a suitcase as refugees fleeing war in neighboring Ukraine arrive at the Medyka border crossing, Poland, March 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
  • Map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as of March 10, 2022. (Viewsridge/Wikipedia commons)
    Map of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as of March 10, 2022. (Viewsridge/Wikipedia commons)
  • A child looks out a steamy bus window with drawings on it as civilians are evacuated from Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022 (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
    A child looks out a steamy bus window with drawings on it as civilians are evacuated from Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022 (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
  • Protestors against the war and Russian invasion of Ukraine form the peace symbol during a demonstration at Heroes' Square in central Budapest, on March 9, 2022. (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)
    Protestors against the war and Russian invasion of Ukraine form the peace symbol during a demonstration at Heroes' Square in central Budapest, on March 9, 2022. (Attila KISBENEDEK / AFP)
  • People attempt to board a train leaving the Kyiv station, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
    People attempt to board a train leaving the Kyiv station, in Kyiv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.

US official says Russia trying to ‘gaslight’ world with chemical weapons claims

Olivia Dalton, spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations says Russia is trying to “gaslight” the world by accusing the US of “biological activities” in Ukraine.

“This is exactly the kind of false flag effort we have warned Russia might initiate to justify a biological or chemical weapons attack,” she says. “We’re not going to let Russia gaslight the world or use the UN Security Council as a venue for promoting their disinformation.“

“Russia has a well-documented history of using chemical weapons and has long maintained a biological weapons program in violation of international law” as well as “a track record of falsely accusing the West of the very violations that Russia itself is perpetrating,” Dalton says, after the UN scheduled a Security Council meeting to discuss Russia’s claims.

A tweet from Russia’s Ministry of Defense refers to a “briefing on the results of the analysis of documents related to the military biological activities of the United States on the territory of Ukraine.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric says the World Health Organization, which has been working with the Ukrainian government, “said they are unaware of any activity on the part of the Ukrainian government which is inconsistent with its international treaty obligations, including on chemical weapons or biological weapons.”

At a Security Council meeting on Syria’s chemical weapons held earlier in the day, US deputy ambassador Richard Mills said that unfortunately Syria has help on the council from its ally Russia, which he said “has repeatedly spread disinformation regarding Syria’s repeated use of chemical weapons.”

“The recent web of lies that Russia has cast in an attempt to justify the premeditated and unjustified war it has undertaken against Ukraine, should make clear, once and for all, that Russia also cannot be trusted when it talks about chemical weapon use in Syria,” Mills said.

Russian convoy outside Kyiv seen dispersing as US says offensive nearing capital

New satellite photos show the long Russian convoy outside Kyiv appears to have dispersed to surrounding areas.

Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies shows the 40-mile (64-kilometer) line of vehicles, tanks and artillery has broken up and been redeployed, with armored units seen in towns near the Antonov Airport north of the city. Some of the vehicles have moved into forests, Maxar reports, including howitzers set up near Lub’yanka, north of Kyiv.

The satellite intel comes as a US defense official tells the media that Russia forces have begun making progress toward the capital, after having appeared to stall for the last week.

The official says that the US expects the Russians to eventually overcome initial logistical challenges to mount a full-scale attack on the city, CNN reports.

“You’re starting to see a little bit of that happening in just the last 24 as they begin to creep a little closer towards Kyiv from the northwest,” the official says.

A satellite image taken by the US company Maxar, which it says shows part of a 40-mile-long Russian military convoy assembled northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Tech/Agencies)

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko says half the city’s population has fled, adding that the city “has been transformed into a fortress. Every street, every building, every checkpoint has been fortified.”

On Kyiv’s northeastern edge, Ukrainian soldiers describe a night of fierce fighting for control of the main highway leading into the capital.

An AFP team witnesses missile strikes in Velyka Dymerka just outside Kyiv’s city limits.

Ukrainian forces only had a minimal presence in the village, which locals said witnessed heavy battles overnight.

“It’s frightening, but what can you do?” says Vasyl Popov, a 38-year-old advertising salesman. “There is nowhere to really run or hide. We live here.”

Zelensky says aid to Mariupol blocked by Russian attacks

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky says around 100,000 people had evacuated the country’s cities in two days, but accused Russian forces of targeting a humanitarian corridor in the city of Mariupol.

Zelensky says he decided to send a convoy of trucks into the besieged port city with food, water and medicine.

But “the occupiers launched a tank attack exactly where this corridor was supposed to be”, he said in a video statement, describing it as “outright terror.”

“They have a clear order to hold Mariupol hostage, to mock it, to constantly bomb and shell it,” Zelensky says in his nightly video address to the nation.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says no evacuations from the beleaguered city were possible.

Ukraine has accused Russia of carrying out an air strike on Wednesday on a maternity hospital in Mariupol, a strategic port on the Azov Sea, killing three people, including a young girl.

Moscow is promising to open humanitarian corridors every day to allow Ukrainians to flee onto its soil, but Kyiv has previously rejected evacuation routes leading into Russia.

Nuclear facility in Kharkiv damaged by Russian shelling, Ukraine says

Russian forces shelled a nuclear research institute in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city on Thursday, setting buildings on fire, says Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry.

The facility is part of the Kharkiv Institute of Physics and Technology, a research institute that produces radioactive material for medical and industrial applications.

A shell hit a building where there is equipment that could release radiation if it were damaged, Gerashchenko says. According to the president’s office, there has been no change in the background radiation.

The shelling caused a fire, but firefighters were able to put it out.

The same institute in Kharkiv was hit on Sunday, the IAEA reported earlier this week. At the time, the agency said that because the site’s “inventory of radioactive material is very low” and kept at a “subcritical” state, “the damage reported to it would not have had any radiological consequence.”

Russian forces have already taken over two nuclear power plants in Ukraine, raising concerns about the security of the nuclear facilities.

Nearly 2 million Ukrainians internally displaced, UN says

In addition to the more than 2.3 million people who have fled the war in Ukraine, an estimated 1.9 million people are displaced within the country, according to UN officials.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric says most of the internally displaced people are moving away from the front lines and heading west toward Lviv. The humanitarian situation “continues to deteriorate at an alarming pace,” he said.

“Humanitarian organizations are deploying additional staff across the country and are working to move supplies to warehouses in different hubs within Ukraine and outside,” Dujarric says. “So far, we — along with our partners — have reached more than 500,000 people with some form of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine, including life-saving food, shelter, blankets, and medical supplies.”

By Wednesday, he says, the UN refugee agency UNHCR had delivered 85 metric tonnes of humanitarian assistance to reception and transit centers in Vinnytsia in central Ukraine, which is hosting people who have fled hostilities further east.

The UN World Food Program plans to assist up to 3.1 million people, giving priority to pre-positioning bulk food, bread, and other rations in cities and areas where fighting is expected to flare, Dujarric says.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization is warning that between February and May, farmers need to start preparing land for planting wheat, barley, maize and sunflowers and they need to prepare land for sowing vegetables in the middle of March, he said. FAO is also stressing that all efforts should be made to protect harvests and livestock, he says.

Ukraine says Russian advance halted, village re-captured

The Ukrainian military says it has successfully held back Russian troops in all directions, preventing them from making any new gains.

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff says that Russian forces were trying to encircle Kyiv moving from the north and west, but their advance has slowed down or even stopped.

It says that Ukrainian forces on Thursday drove Russians out of the village of Baklanova Muraviika near Chernihiv, which sits on a road leading to Kyiv.

Ukraine jitters send Wall Street closing lower

Major US stock indices finish today’s trading lower as fears of a protracted conflict in Ukraine that could harm the global economy sap traders’ enthusiasm.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva warns the Washington-based crisis lender will downgrade its forecast for global growth this year due to the conflict, which has seen Western countries impose stiff sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion of its neighbor.

US government data also shows consumer prices rising at an annual pace not seen for more than 40 years in February, with housing, gasoline, and food costs increasing the most.

In this photo provided by the New York Stock Exchange, trader John Romolo works on the trading floor, on Thursday, March 10, 2022. (Allie Joseph/New York Stock Exchange via AP)

‘Scourge to humanity’: victims of opioid abuse address Sacklers

Survivors of opioid abuse and relatives of victims deliver emotional and stinging rebukes to members of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharma, accused of fueling the US addiction crisis.

As part of Purdue Pharma’s bankruptcy settlement, members of the Sackler family are compelled to listen at an extraordinary court hearing to the stories of opioid victims and their relatives.

“We buried Matthew and Kyle because of your family’s vicious acts of disregard for human life,” Liz Fitzgerald says of the deaths of two of her sons. “Two boys are gone because of your ‘safe’ medication.”

“We lost Kyle at the age of 25 after a nine-year battle with opioids because of a medication you peddled no different than the typical street drug dealer,” she says. “After nearly 15 years of addiction, Matthew lost his life at 32.”

Listening to the stories on Zoom are former Purdue president Richard Sackler, his son David, and Theresa Sackler, the wife of one of the three Sackler brothers who purchased the company in the early 1950s and turned it into a pharmaceutical empire.

Addressing Richard Sackler directly, Fitzgerald calls him a “parasite” and a “scourge to humanity.”

A file photo shows the offices of Purdue Pharma, maker of the prescription painkiller OxyContin. (Drew Angerer/ Getty Images North America/AFP)

US says recent North Korea missile tests were of new ICBM system

Recent missile tests conducted by North Korea were of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system, marking a “serious escalation” by Pyongyang that will be punished with fresh sanctions, a senior US official says.

Although the individual February 26 and March 4 tests did not display ICBM range or capability, they were clearly intended “to test elements of this new system before [North Korea] conducts a launch in full range,” the official says.

Six lions evacuated from Ukraine arrive in Spain, Belgium

Six lions evacuated from war-torn Ukraine, including one rescued from a nightclub, have arrived at two animal shelters in Spain and Belgium, the shelters say.

The lions, along with six tigers, two wild cats, and a wild dog, arrived last week at a zoo in Poland by truck from a refuge near Kyiv following a two-day odyssey skirting battle frontlines. Four of the lions and the wild dog were taken in yesterday by a rescue center in Alicante in eastern Spain run by Dutch animal welfare charity AAP, the group says.

The lions had been living at a shelter near Kyiv after being rescued from “dire” circumstances, with one called Gyz kept in a “small cage in a shopping center.”

Another lion called Flori was kept as a pet in a small apartment where it was fed cat food while another named Nila was rescued from a nightclub where it was kept to “entertain customers.”

“It will be a challenge to improve their fragile health, step by step, through an adequate diet, exercise and rest,” the statement adds.

IAEA says Ukraine nuclear facilities situation is ‘complex’ but it aims to ensure their safety

BERLIN  — While the situation regarding Ukraine’s nuclear facilities is “complex and difficult,” the head of the UN nuclear agency says he is in contact with all sides to ascertain how to help ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities.

Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, tells reporters this evening in Vienna that the nuclear watchdog has ”scheduled physical inspections” of nuclear facilities in Ukraine.

He would not give any details on when or how those inspections would take place citing the sensitivity of the situation.

Grossi adds that the IAEA also has “a number of remote monitoring devices” in operation.

When it comes to nuclear facilities based in conflict zones, the director-general said “we are trying to make sure that we will not have again added suffering because of any radioactive release or anything having to do with nuclear facilities.”

Grossi says he does not expect any side to intentionally target nuclear reactors, but there was the risk of unintentional shelling. He also stressed that at facilities taken by the Russian military, but operated by Ukrainian staff, it was paramount that employees get enough rest to be focused while working.

Grossi tells reporters that there was no immediate danger of power cuts at the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, which Russian forces seized last week, and that even in the case of power cuts there would be “ample time” to restore it before anything dangerous could happen.

Moscow says it will open daily humanitarian corridors from Ukraine, but only to Russia

Moscow says it will open daily humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians fleeing fighting in Ukraine to Russian territory, despite Kyiv insisting that no evacuation routes should lead to Russia.

“Humanitarian corridors towards the Russian Federation will now be opened, without any agreements, every day from 10:00 a.m.,” defense ministry official Mikhail Mizintsev is quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

He says evacuation routes in other directions would proceed “in agreement with the Ukrainian side.”

Citizenship Law passes final reading in Knesset, with backing from right-wing opposition

After weeks of coalition infighting, the Knesset reauthorized a longstanding ban on Palestinians who marry Israelis receiving residency in Israel.

The so-called Citizenship Law was passed in 2003 as a temporary security measure. It was renewed on an annual basis until last July, when the coalition failed to marshal the votes to pass it.

The law is enormously controversial — surviving two Supreme Court challenges by the vote of one justice. Israeli politicians say the law helps preserve a Jewish majority in Israel, while Arab Israelis call it racist.

The Islamist Ra’am party and the left-wing Meretz party voted against the law.

To pass the bill, the center and right-wing Zionist parties that make up Israel’s diverse coalition received backing from the right-wing opposition.

Khamenei says Iran will not relinquish ‘defensive power, regional presence, nuclear progress’

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Tehran will not bow to pressure to reduce its “defensive power,” regional proxies, and progress in nuclear technology, Reuters reports, citing Iranian state media.

“Suggestions to reduce our defensive power so as to appease the enemy are nothing more than naive and ill-advised… Over time, these flawed proposals have been rebutted, but if they weren’t, Iran would have now faced great threats,” Khamenei is quoted as saying.

“Regional presence gives us strategic depth and more power. Why should we give it up? Scientific progress in the nuclear field is related to our future needs, and if we give that up, will anyone help us in the future?” he adds.

Iran is said to be in the final stages of talks with world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal that would lift sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Israel has warned that funds from an economy freed from sanctions will enable Iran to step up support for its proxies across the Middle East, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.

UK’s Johnson warns Russia may use chemical weapons in Ukraine

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined other Western officials in warning that Russia could use chemical weapons in Ukraine, and accused the Kremlin of a “cynical, barbaric” attempt to justify such a move.

Johnson said the Kremlin is preparing a “fake story” that chemical weapons are being stored by their opponents or by the Americans as a pretext for deploying the weapons themselves.

“The stuff which you are hearing about chemical weapons is straight out of their playbook,” he tells Sky News.

“You have seen it in Syria, you saw it even in the UK I just note that that is what they are already doing. It is a cynical, barbaric government I’m afraid.”

Mariupol unable to evacuate civilians amid constant Russian shelling, official says

KYIV, Ukraine — Constant shelling has thwarted attempts to evacuate civilians from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, a senior Ukrainian official says.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 1,300 civilians have been killed in Mariupol, a strategic port on the Azov Sea during the nine days of siege. The city has been left without power, food, and water.

Vereshchuk says in televised remarks that the Russian forces start shelling the city each time a humanitarian convoy makes an attempt to depart for Mariupol to evacuate its residents.

“They want to destroy the people of Mariupol, they want to make them starve,” she says. “It’s a war crime.”

Macron condemns Russian airstrike on Mariupol hospital

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron condemns “a shameful and amoral act of war” after a Russian airstrike on a Mariupol maternity hospital.

Macron says he was deeply upset by images showing “lethal weapons have been used in an indiscriminate manner in the city center.”

He is speaking ahead of a summit of EU heads of state and government at the Versailles Palace, west of Paris.

Macron says “nothing justifies” what happened in Mariupol.

“I am very worried and pessimistic,” about the war in Ukraine, Macron says.

“I don’t see a ceasefire [being] realistic in the coming hours.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron greets Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz (right) at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris, on March 10, 2022, prior to the EU leaders summit to discuss the fallout of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

Summary of military control in Ukraine, on the 15th day of Russia’s invasion

On the 15th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian forces are encircling at least four major cities and have inched closer towards the city limits of Kyiv.

Here is a summary of the situation on the ground:

The east

Kharkiv remains in Ukrainian hands despite increasingly intense Russian bombardment, according to Western sources, and the city is likely now surrounded.

Russian forces are also pressing an offensive through the separatist Donetsk and Lugansk regions that are backed by Russia and seeking to join up with Russian forces who entered from the north.

The city of Sumy in northeast Ukraine is now encircled by Russian troops but thousands have been able to leave through a humanitarian corridor.

Kyiv and the north

Kyiv remains under Ukrainian control despite heavy bombardments, though Western observers point to a Russian column of hundreds of vehicles outside the city. The British defense ministry says the column is suffering “continued losses” at the hands of Ukrainian forces.

Ukrainian forces also retain control of the northern town of Chernihiv, which has seen heavy civilian casualties in recent days and appears to be encircled.

The south

Russia has besieged the strategic city of Mariupol, and attempts to evacuate an estimated 200,000 civilians from the city have so far failed.

The major port city of Odesa remains under Ukrainian control and has so far been spared fighting. The US Defense Department says Russian ground forces appeared primed to attack the city, possibly in coordination with an amphibious assault.

Russian forces last week took the southern city of Kherson, just north of Crimea, and there is now heavy fighting for control of the city of Mykolayiv to the northwest. Some sources believe Russia could bypass Mykolayiv and head directly for Odesa.

The west and center

The west of Ukraine remains largely spared from the fighting. The main city of Lviv has become a hub for foreign diplomatic missions and journalists, as well as Ukrainians seeking safety or wanting to leave the country.

Russian army says Mariupol hospital attack ‘staged’ by Ukraine

MOSCOW — The Russian army claims an attack on a children’s hospital in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol — which killed three including a child, and caused global outrage — was a “staged provocation” by Ukraine.

“The Russian aviation carried out absolutely no missions to hit targets on the ground in the Mariupol area,” Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov says.

“The airstrike that allegedly took place is a completely staged provocation to maintain anti-Russian hype for a Western audience,” he says.

EU to Ukraine: No ‘fast track’ exists for membership

VERSAILLES, France — European Union leaders tell Ukraine there is no fast way for the country to join the bloc, dousing Kyiv’s hopes as it faces an onslaught from Russian forces.

“There is no such thing as a fast track,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says as he arrived for an EU summit at the Versailles Palace in France, reflecting the position of several member states.

“I want to focus on what can we do for {Ukrainian President} Volodymyr Zelensky tonight, tomorrow, and EU accession of Ukraine is something for the long term, if at all,” he adds.

Red Cross warns humanitarian situation in Mariupol ‘increasingly dire’

The humanitarian situation in the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol is becoming “increasingly dire and desperate,” the International Committee of the Red Cross says according to CNN.

Russian forces have laid siege to Mariupol for nearly 10 days, while cutting its electricity, food, water, heating, and transportation in the depths of winter, according to local officials.

The ICRC says “people urgently need respite from violence and humanitarian aid.”

“All the shops and pharmacies were looted four to five days ago. Some people still have food but I’m not sure for how long it will last,” says ICRC official Sasha Volkov in a video recorded yesterday.

“Many people in Mariupol have reported having no food for children,” Volkov says.

She warns residents have begun to attack each other for food, and some have been siphoning fuel from other’s cars.

Islamic State names new leader, confirms death of Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The Islamic State terror group confirms the death of its leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi in a statement, and names Abu Hasan al-Hashemi al-Qurashi as his replacement.

IS members have “pledged allegiance” to “Abu Hasan al-Hashemi al-Qurashi as an emir over believers and the caliph of Muslims,” the group’s spokesperson says in an audio recording that confirms the death of the former IS chief along with the group’s ex-spokesman.

The former leader blew himself up in early February during a US raid in northwest Syria, an area controlled by rival jihadists.

Sweden asks public to report suspicious naval activity

STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s navy is asking the public to report any suspicious underwater along the country’s Baltic coast, saying “we are very interested in tips.”

The request comes amid heightened awareness around the Baltic Sea region after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Skärgården, a newspaper covering Stockholm’s vast archipelago, says Naval Security Chief Anders Engqvist asked residents to keep an eye out for things such as unnatural-looking waves or periscopes.

He also asks people to alert authorities if they see anyone moor or go ashore near military installations or if someone drops anchor in a prohibited area.

Sweden’s Baltic Sea island of Gotland sits a little more than 300 kilometers (186 miles) from the Russian Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad.

Goldman Sachs shuts down Russia business; US hotel chains freeze investments over invasion of Ukraine

NEW YORK — Goldman Sachs says it is closing its operations in Russia entirely, making it the first major Wall Street bank to do so since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Goldman’s announcement comes after Citigroup said it would start winding down its Russia operations. But that process will likely take longer because Citi operates a consumer banking and business banking division in the country.

Like other Wall Street banks, Goldman operated a small investment banking business in the country for the past few years. The bank said in a statement Thursday it has roughly $650 million in exposure to Russian debt.

Banking is the latest industry to come under pressure to cut its Russian ties due to the war. But unlike companies who make goods that ship to Russia, banks have loans, deposits, and existing customer relationships that take time to wind down or sell off.

Earlier, all three international hotel chains based in the United States froze their investments in Russia and put on hold any planned openings of new hotels there.

Marriott joins Hyatt and Hilton, which yesterday ceased any development of properties in Russia.

Marriott, like Hilton, says it’s shuttering its corporate office in Moscow as well.

Marriott hotels in Russia are owned by third parties and the company said it is evaluating the “ability” of those locations to remain open. Hyatt also said it’s evaluating the operations of hotels that remain open there.

All three hotels are either earmarking aid funds, donating profits from Russian properties, or opening hotel rooms to refugees in Europe.

Further sanctions on Russia possible amid ‘intensifying’ atrocities, warns US treasurer

WASHINGTON — Amid signs Russia has ramped up attacks on Ukrainian civilians, the United States and its European allies could impose additional penalties on Moscow, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says.

“The atrocities that they’re committing against civilians seem to be intensifying, so it’s certainly appropriate for us to be working with our allies to consider further sanctions,” Yellen says.

But sanctions taken to date have “devastated” the Russian economy, she adds.

Israel to authorize 2,000 more entry permits for Gaza workers

Israel is set to issue another 2,000 work permits for Palestinians living in Gaza, raising the total number of Gazans working in the country to 12,000.

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, widely known by its acronym COGAT, says the policy change is contingent on continued “security stability” between Israel and Gaza.

According to an Israeli security official, the Israeli Defense Ministry is working towards expanding the quota to 20,000.

The Gaza Strip has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt for over 15 years in an attempt to contain the enclave’s Hamas rulers. Israel says the tight restrictions on goods and people are necessary for national security.

Critics lament the blockade’s impact on ordinary Gazans, around 50 percent of whom are unemployed, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The sky-high poverty rates make employment in Israel an attractive option to those lucky enough to receive permits.

Lapid meets King Abdullah in Jordan following tensions in Jerusalem

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman.

The meeting comes ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and amid growing tensions in Jerusalem following several stabbing attacks there in the past week.

“We agreed that we must work together to calm tensions and promote understanding, particularly in the lead-up to the month of Ramadan and Passover,”  Lapid says according to his office.

“Our special relationship with the Kingdom of Jordan ensures a better future for our children, and the peace between us isn’t just good neighborliness, but is also our moral responsibility to both our peoples,” he adds.

It was Lapid’s second meeting with Abdullah since Israel formed a new government last year.

WATCH: Ukrainian refugees left waiting for hours at Ben Gurion Airport

Dozens of Ukrainian refugees waited hours for questioning at Ben Gurion Airport last night.

Footage shows young children sleeping on the floor and on a baggage carousel, as well as an elderly woman being treated after apparently fainting.

Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata says she agrees the situation is unacceptable.

“I recommend that Interior Minister [Ayelet Shaked] should demand answers and lead her teams, reinforce them… so that there will be food, water, diapers, everything they need,” she says.

“This is something we cannot accept,” she says.

Zelensky slated to address Knesset in coming days, speaker says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is slated to address the Israeli parliament via Zoom in the coming days, according to Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy.

Levy says he spoke with Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk to reiterate his invitation to Zelensky to address the members of Knesset.

Korniychuk and Levy have agreed to schedule a date for Zelensky’s address in the coming days, a statement says.

Zelensky had first asked to address the Knesset plenum, but Levy said the Knesset was going on recess, after today, and the building was scheduled for renovations.

“The ambassador thanked Speaker Levy for his welcoming response to his letter and for publicly clarifying and refuting the false information published in the press, that allegedly argued that the Speaker refused President Zelensky’s request to address members of the Knesset,” the statement says.

A plenum session in the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 5, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Foreign Ministry: Nearly 11,000 Israelis fled Ukraine, some 1,500 remain

The Foreign Ministry says nearly 11,000 Israelis have fled Ukraine in the past four weeks.

Some 1,500 still remain in the country amid Russia’s invasion. According to the ministry, most of them are not interested in leaving currently or are not allowed to due to conscription laws.

All Ukrainian men aged 18-60 are expected to stay in the country to serve as a potential fighting force.

Zelensky asks to address Yad Vashem — report

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked to address the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum on Russia’s invasion of his country, according to Reuters.

Yad Vashem says in a statement it will discuss the proposal with Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, according to the report.

There was no immediate comment from the Ukrainian embassy on the matter,

Both sides in the war have invoked the Holocaust.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has said the military operation is to “denazify” Ukraine.

Zelensky, who is Jewish, said Russian shelling near the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial in Kyiv last week was “history repeating.”

 

Satellite images show damage in Russian attacks on Mariupol

Satellite photos from Maxar Technologies show the extent of the damage to homes and stores across the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

Russian forces have laid siege to Mariupol for nearly 10 days, while cutting its electricity, food, water, heating, and transportation in the depths of winter, according to local officials.

Mariupol’s mayor said yesterday that 1,207 civilians have died in the city amid the Russian attacks.

Yad Vashem cuts ties with sanctioned Russian-Israeli oligarch Abramovich

The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum announces it is cutting ties with Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich following new sanctions imposed on him over his past connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“In light of recent developments, Yad Vashem has decided to suspend the strategic partnership with Mr. Roman Abramovich,” the museum says in a statement.

Abramovich had previously pledged funding that would strengthen the museum’s endeavors in the areas of Holocaust research and remembrance, estimated to be at least NIS 10 million ($3 million).

IDF says several Hamas activists arrested in West Bank

The Arabic-language spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces says the military arrested several Hamas activists in the Ramallah area yesterday, charging them with being in contact with a senior member in the Gaza Strip.

According to Avichay Adraee, the suspects were in contact with Khaled Najjar, who heads the so-called Ramallah Committee, which is the terror group’s unit for coordinating operations in the West Bank, from Gaza.

Adraee says the suspects were directed by Najjar to conduct terror activities for Hamas in the West Bank.

It is not clear how many suspects were detained.

Former US officials Pence, Friedman given honorary doctorates at Israeli West Bank university

Former US vice president Mike Pence and the former US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman are awarded honorary doctorates from Ariel University, located in the West Bank.

Pence was awarded the title “in recognition of his many years of commitment and dedication to the Jewish people and for his advocacy of Zionism and of the State of Israel,” the university says in a statement.

“I thank and appreciate the fact that I was in the most sympathetic American administration the State of Israel has ever had, an administration that kept the promise and moved the American embassy to Jerusalem,” Pence says at the event, according to the university.

Meanwhile, Friedman was given the award in recognition of his “outstanding contributions in the field of diplomacy,” Ariel says.

“When people think about this part of the world, they focus far too much on the problems and far too little on the solutions, even when solutions are staring them in the face,” Friedman is quoted as saying.

“Ariel University is a solution: a solution to ignorance, a solution to intolerance, and a solution to prejudice,” he adds.

Ariel University has faced boycotts from various academics abroad and its professors have lamented discrimination by other universities within Israel, which they say refuse to recognize its legitimacy due to its location in the West Bank.

Former US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman speaks at Ariel University, March 9, 2022. (Liron Modovan/Ariel University)

Ra’am to vote against Citizenship Law, even if it topples government, Abbas says

Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas says on the Knesset floor that his parliamentarians will vote against the so-called Citizenship Law, even if it becomes a vote of no confidence in the government.

“Governments should fall because of such a law. We will vote against the law even if the vote turns into a no-confidence vote in the government,” Abbas says from the Knesset plenum.

The 2003 law effectively bars Palestinians married to Israelis — most of them Arab — from obtaining residency to live with their families in Israel. One of Israel’s most controversial laws, the statute expired last June after the coalition failed to renew it.

“We led a move that created political stability in the State of Israel. If we come to the conclusion that this move does not bring results for Arab society – we will reconsider matters,” Abbas says.

Russia bans export of some products, equipment after sanctions

MOSCOW — Russia announces an export ban on more than 200 types of foreign products and equipment until the end of 2022, as part of Moscow’s response to sanctions imposed over the Ukraine conflict.

“The list includes technological, communication and medical equipment, vehicles, agricultural machinery and electrical equipment — more than 200 types of goods in total,” according to an order signed by Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

Moscow has been facing an avalanche of coordinated sanctions by Western governments and boycotts by private companies over its invasion of Ukraine.

— with Times of Israel staff

US urges Ukraine war crimes investigation

WARSAW — US Vice President Kamala Harris has embraced calls for an international war crimes investigation of Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and the bombing of civilians, including a maternity hospital.

Speaking Thursday in Warsaw, where she is demonstrating US support for NATO’s eastern flank allies, Harris expressed outrage over the bombing of the maternity hospital on Wednesday and scenes of bloodied pregnant women being evacuated.

“Absolutely there should be an investigation, and we should all be watching,” says Harris.

Standing alongside Harris, Polish President Andrzej Duda says, “It is obvious to us that in Ukraine Russians are committing war crimes.”

Ukraine claims to defeat Russian tank regiment on Kyiv outskirts

Ukraine claims to have defeated a Russian tank regiment and eliminated its commander in the city of Brovary near the capital Kyiv.

The military intelligence service of the Ukrainian government, which is under the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, posts a video to Twitter showing several military vehicles being struck by artillery fire.

The video shows several armored vehicles turning around and retreating under the Ukrainian fire.

The military intelligence service says the battalion tactical group of the 6th tank regiment of the 90th tank division of the Central Command “suffered significant losses” and the regiment’s commander, Colonel A. Zakharov, was killed.

Other videos posted online show burning Russian tanks in the area.

Russian troops have been approaching Kyiv since the war began two weeks ago.

Half of Kyiv population has left, mayor says

KYIV — Half the population of Kyiv has fled since the Russian invasion began, its mayor Vitali Klitschko says, as Moscow’s forces press ever closer to the Ukrainian capital.

“From our information, one in two Kyiv residents has left the city,” he tells Ukraine television.

“A little less than two million people have currently left. However, Kyiv has been transformed into a fortress. Every street, every building, every checkpoint has been fortified.”

Scholz, Macron demand ‘immediate ceasefire’ in call with Putin

BERLIN — Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to continue with talks over the war in Ukraine in a phone call, French and German sources say.

“Germany and France demanded an immediate ceasefire from Russia” and “insisted that any solution to this crisis must come through negotiations between Ukraine and Russia,” according to German government sources.

The Elysee confirms the call in a statement, adding that EU leaders would be discussing the conflict in Ukraine at their summit in Versailles this evening.

“The three leaders agreed to remain in close contact over the coming days,” it says.

The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine held their first face-to-face talks in Turkey earlier today after two weeks of war, amid international outrage over Moscow’s bombing of a children’s hospital in Kyiv.

But Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said they had made “no progress” on a ceasefire, 14 days after Russia invaded its pro-Western neighbor.

Herzog returns to Israel after landmark meeting in Turkey

President Isaac Herzog is heading back to Israel after an eventful day in Turkey yesterday, which saw a landmark meeting between him and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Herzog is accompanied by his wife, First Lady Michal Herzog.

His trip to Ankara was the highest-level visit by an Israeli official since former prime minister Ehud Olmert went to Turkey in 2008.

Russian FM scoffs at casualty reports from Ukraine: ‘Pathetic shrieks’

Russia’s foreign minister is dismissing concerns about Russian military attacks on civilians, including on a maternity hospital, as “pathetic shrieks” from its enemies.

Sergey Lavrov speaks after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart in Turkey in the highest-level Russian-Ukrainian talks since the war began last month.

In the Russian government’s first public comment on Wednesday’s strike on a maternity hospital in the besieged city of Mariupol, Lavrov doesn’t deny or shy away from responsibility for the attack.

He claims the site had earlier been seized by Ukrainian far-right radical fighters who were using it as a base. Even though there were many images of civilians wounded in the attack and the city council said a child was among the three people killed, Lavrov claims all the patients and nurses were moved out of the hospital before the assault.

“It is not the first time we see pathetic shrieks concerning so-called atrocities,” he says.

It is believed that thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in he war so far.

Putin not welcome at Davos meeting of elites

The World Economic Forum, best known as the host of an annual meeting of elites in Davos, Switzerland, says it’s freezing all its relations with Russian entities following the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last participated in the event at a virtual “Davos Agenda” meeting in January 2021. Previously, he attended the event in person.

The forum says in a statement that it “will not engage with any sanctioned individual or institution in any of our activities,” including the annual meeting.

Russia and Belarus were also suspended today from another international forum: the Northern Dimension, which includes the European Union, Iceland and Norway.

A man silhouettes in front of the logo of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 19, 2020 (Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

EU lawmakers to probe ‘political’ Pegasus spyware use

The European Parliament creates a “committee of inquiry” to probe accusations over the use of Pegasus spyware by governments in the bloc, notably in Hungary and Poland.

Lawmakers vote overwhelmingly to “investigate alleged breaches of EU law in the use of the surveillance software,” a statement says.

The 38-member committee “is going to look into existing national laws regulating surveillance, and whether Pegasus spyware was used for political purposes against, for example, journalists, politicians and lawyers.”

The Pegasus malware, created by Israeli technology firm NSO Group, was engulfed in controversy last July after a collaborative investigation by several media outlets reported that a string of governments around the world had used it to spy on critics and opponents.

Recently Israel was taken by storm following accusations by the Calcalist newspaper of widespread police use of the software to spy on citizens without court oversight. A government investigation into the matter found no evidence of police wrongdoing, though the force has admitted to using unidentified spyware technology to hack phones under court-issued warrants.

Knesset expected to pass bill nixing residency for Palestinians who marry Israelis

The Knesset is expected today to pass a new version of the so-called “Citizenship Law,” which largely prevents Palestinians who marry Israelis from obtaining permanent residency. The law had been renewed annually by every Knesset since its first enactment in 2003, until last year.

Likud, Religious Zionism, United Torah Judaism, and Shas are supposed to contribute 53 votes in support of the measure, according to a spokeswoman for Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, who has been a main force behind inserting changes to the law as part of a deal for opposition support. Their votes are necessary to pass the law, which lacks the backing of coalition member parties Meretz and Ra’am.

After two weeks of committee discussions aimed at unifying the government and private bills proposed by Rothman, New Hope MK Zvi Hauser and Likud MK Avi Dichter, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee finalized the legislation this morning.

Meretz MK Mossi Raz tells The Times of Israel that the law is a “worse version” than its previous version, but that disagreements about the law will not turn into a coalition crisis. “The coalition will survive,” Raz says.

In February, the coalition faced a potential crisis when former Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi tanked a vote on an IDF enlistment law in retaliation for the coalition passing the “Citizenship Law” in its first reading. Zoabi was recently appointed consul to Shanghai. Earlier this week, Meretz and Ra’am presented the deliberating Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee with 50,000 reservations against the law, in a move to jam up the bill unification process.

Passing this law has been a coalition priority during the Knesset’s winter session, which ends today.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman at a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ukraine war offers intel bonanza for Russia watchers

Russia’s massive assault on Ukraine is providing Western intelligence agencies and analysts with a rare live opportunity to verify their assessments of the Russian army’s strengths and weaknesses in the field.

The scale of the deployment means Moscow’s military equipment, methods, doctrine and especially its weak points are on full show — including via vast quantities of open-source data, images and video.

“What people are realizing is that what they imagined [about the threat from this country] does not correspond to the reality of this deployment,” says Alexandre Papaemmanuel, a professor at Paris’ Institute for Political Studies (IEP).

The Ukraine war is exposing “logistics that aren’t up to date and ineffective coordination” on Russia’s part, he tells AFP.

Information publicly available to spies, analysts and experts on the war in Ukraine ranges from high-quality day and night satellite photos from private firms in almost real time to images of fighting, captured equipment and alleged Russian atrocities posted by the Ukrainian defenders and civilians.

Recent conflicts like the Syrian civil war have thrown out an increasing volume of online data to be pored over by a growing community of so-called “open-source intelligence” (OSINT) analysts, as well as government spies. But the flow of unclassified data from Ukraine is on a different scale.

“Western and Ukrainian intelligence agencies’ targets are much more visible and accessible,” says Damien van Puyvelde, a University of Glasgow intelligence researcher.

They will be using “intelligence from images, electromagnetic, and doubtless partly also intelligence stemming from human sources,” he adds.

Russia claims Mariupol hospital was base for Ukraine nationalists

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claims that a hospital that was attacked in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol had been serving as a military base for nationalists.

“This maternity hospital has long been occupied by the Azov Battalion and other radicals. They drove out the women in labor, nurses and general staff. It was the base of the ultra-radical Azov Battalion,” Lavrov says, following talks in Turkey with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Notably, photos following the attack showed injured pregnant women.

An injured pregnant woman in a maternity hospital hit by Russian shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from maternity hospital destroyed by Russian bombing in Mariupol, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Ukraine’s FM after talks with Lavrov: Russia seeks a surrender, won’t get it

Ukraine and Russia make no progress towards agreeing on a ceasefire after the Russian invasion at tense talks in Turkey, the Ukrainian foreign minister says.

“We also talked on the ceasefire but no progress was accomplished on that,” Dmytro Kuleba tells reporters after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Antalya, describing the meeting as “difficult” and accusing his counterpart of bringing “traditional narratives” to the table.

“My impression is that Russia is not in a position at this point to establish a ceasefire. They seek a surrender from Ukraine. This is not what they’re going to get.”

“I want to repeat that Ukraine has not surrendered, does not surrender, and will not surrender,” Kuleba says.

Sanctions on Abramovich see restrictions placed on Chelsea club

The sanctions on Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich have brought about unprecedented restrictions on the team.

Abramovich is among seven wealthy Russians who have had their assets frozen by the government. It freezes his ability to sell Chelsea, which was announced last week after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The government has issued what it calls a “special license” to ensure Chelsea can continue to play games and staff can be paid. But the club won’t be able to sell new tickets to any fans or sell merchandise.

It is about “depriving Abramovich of benefiting from his ownership of the club,” Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries tweets. “I know this brings some uncertainty, but the Government will work with the league & clubs to keep football being played while ensuring sanctions hit those intended. Football clubs are cultural assets and the bedrock of our communities. We’re committed to protecting them.”

Chelsea’s Callum Hudson-Odoi, top, duels for the ball with Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka during the English Premier League soccer match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Stamford Bridge Stadium in London, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. (AP/Matt Dunham)

Kremlin will ask military for information on Ukraine hospital strike

The Kremlin says it will approach the Russian military for details of a strike on a hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelensky called a “war crime.”

“We will certainly ask our military about this, since we don’t have clear information about what happened there. Without fail, the military will provide some kind of information,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters, as Moscow’s advance into Ukraine enters its third week.

A car burns at the side of the damaged by shelling maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Russian-Israeli Roman Abramovich among seven oligarchs under new UK sanctions

Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich, a Russian Israeli, is hit with an assets freeze and travel ban as part of new UK government sanctions targeting seven Russian oligarchs.

Among others sanctioned are leading industrialist Oleg Deripaska, Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin and the head of Gazprom Alexei Miller, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says.

Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich attends the UEFA Women’s Champions League final soccer match against FC Barcelona in Gothenburg, Sweden, on May 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

TV report: Ukrainian arrivals facing callous treatment at Ben Gurion Airport

Despite Israel saying it will accept 5,000 Ukrainian refugees, many are stuck at Ben Gurion Airport, facing cold and callous treatment, Channel 12 reports.

The network documents many arrivals from the war-torn country, some of them elderly, who are held up for long hours and repeatedly questioned with little food and water.

One relative of refugees says: “People are crying, there’s hysteria, panic. They’re saying ‘We’re ready to go back to Ukraine.'”

He says officials at the airport “say that if someone has Jewish roots to stand in one line and if not to stand in another line… That’s what’s going on here in Israel, with everything we know about how wars are.”

The Population and Immigration Authority says it is doing everything it can to handle the massive influx of refugees, and insists it is treating all arrivals with respect. It also says it hands out thousands of sandwiches and water bottles a day.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad condemn Turkey’s hosting Herzog: ‘Sidesteps blood of martyrs’

The Hamas terror group condemns Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s meeting with Israeli President Isaac Herzog — without naming names.

“We express our sorrow over these visits to our brothers in Arab and Islamic countries, which we consider the strategic depth of our Palestinian people and their just national cause,” the terror group says.

Ankara has long supported Hamas, playing host to Hamas officials and even reportedly granting them citizenship.

In late 2020, Erdogan met with a Hamas delegation that included Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri — who has a $5 million US bounty on his head for terrorism

The Islamic Jihad terror group — whose main regional patron is Iran — issues a more full-throated denunciation of Herzog’s Turkey trip.

“This trip sidesteps the blood of Turkish martyrs who died for Gaza,” says Islamic Jihad, a reference to the 10 Turkish citizens who died during the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident.

As part of rapprochement efforts, Israel has reportedly asked Turkey to expel Hamas officials.

President Isaac Herzog (left) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential complex in Ankara on March 9, 2022. (Screen capture/GPO)

Top Russia, Ukraine diplomats begin talks in Turkey — officials

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba have begun talks in Turkey in the first such high-level contact since Moscow invaded its neighbor, officials from both sides and their hosts say.

The ministers begin talks on the sidelines of a diplomatic forum in the southern Turkish resort of Antalya, joined by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, a Turkish official tells AFP in comments confirmed by the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministries.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on March 5, 2022. (PSERGEI ILNITSKY / POOL / AFP)

President Herzog greeted with shofar blasts at Istanbul synagogue

President Herzog is greeted joyfully with clapping and shofar blasts as he arrives at the Neve Shalom synagogue in the heart of Istanbul.

Speaking at the synagogue, Herzog asks those assembled to pray for “our Jewish brothers and sisters of the Jewish community in Ukraine.”

He says Turkish Jews “have had a huge role in writing the history of the Jewish people,” with “a long line of rabbis, poets, wise men, traders, entrepreneurs and leaders” coming from the country.

He says that during their meeting yesterday, Turkish President Erdogan told him he believes in “the need to strengthen that which binds us, all nations and religions.”

“Even more so in such days of war and terrible tragedy in Ukraine, we must walk in the path of the sons of Abraham, a legacy of respect, acceptance and friendship.”

Russia: America funding bio weapons research in Ukraine; US: Total nonsense

Russia accuses the United States of funding research into the development of biological weapons in Ukraine.

Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov says during a televised briefing that “the purpose of this — and other Pentagon-funded biological research in Ukraine — was to establish a mechanism for the stealthy spread of deadly pathogens.”

The US has denied such Russian claims, calling them “outright lies.”

“This Russian disinformation is total nonsense and not the first time Russia has invented such false claims against another country,” the State Department says.

“The United States does not own or operate any chemical or biological laboratories in Ukraine… Russia is inventing false pretexts in an attempt to justify its own horrific actions in Ukraine.”

OECD suspend Russia and Belarus from any cooperation

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has said it is suspending Russia and Belarus from any cooperation.

Russia and Belarus are not members, but the decision blocks any joint projects.

The economic alliance of developed countries adds: “OECD Members also tasked the Secretary-General to develop proposals to further strengthen support to the democratically elected government of Ukraine, including to support recovery and reconstruction.”

First Lady Michal Herzog visits Presidential Library in Ankara, gifts Hebrew books

In Turkey, First Lady Michal Herzog visited the Presidential Library in Ankara, accompanied by Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan.

Herzog gifted a number of Hebrew books to the institution, including works by S. Y. Agnon, Leah Goldberg, and David Grossman, as well as a Hebrew Bible and a Hebrew translation of the Quran.

First Lady Michal Herzog (right) visits the Presidential Library in Ankara, accompanied by Turkish First Lady Emine Erdogan, March 9, 2022 (Courtesy)

Herzog: Erdogan open to true dialogue, tie-building advancing ‘under no illusions’

In Turkey, President Isaac Herzog says his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been “open to true dialogue on numerous and varied issues, and we got down to details on matters of importance for both sides.”

He says the process of rekindling ties with Ankara is being carried out “under no illusions, but reflects bilateral interests.”

Herzog says he hopes he has laid the groundwork for developing the nations’ ties.

Speaking anonymously, a source in the president’s entourage adds that issues such as Hamas’s activity in Turkey, relations with the Palestinians and other political matters were discussed in Herzog and Erdogan’s meeting.

The source adds that it is natural that there are “deliberations” in Israel on how to treat “the opportunity that has arisen,” adding that “the question is whether to turn our backs or to do our utmost and take advantage [of this opportunity] for both peoples.”

Top Iranian official: US doesn’t want nuke deal, is making ‘unacceptable proposals’

A top Iranian official says the US “has no will” to reach an acceptable nuclear agreement, as evidenced by its “unacceptable proposals” in Vienna.

Ali Shamkhani, the chair of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council, says on Twitter that the “US approach to Iran’s principled demands, coupled with its unreasonable offers and unjustified pressure to hastily reach an agreement, show that US isn’t interested in a strong deal that would satisfy both parties.

“Absent US political decision, the talks get knottier by the hour.”

World powers have said the ball is now in Iran’s court to make the decisions necessary to secure a deal, and have warned that time is running out to do so.

In this file photo taken on September 26, 2018, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, speaks during the first meeting of national security secretaries in the Iranian capital Tehran. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Turkey says aims for meeting between Putin, Zelensky

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says today’s meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in Turkey aims pave the way for a meeting between the leaders of the two countries.

“Our main goal is to bring the three leaders together,” Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper quotes Cavusoglu as saying, in reference to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

NATO-member Turkey, which has cultivated close ties with both Russia and Ukraine, is trying to balance relations with both nations. It has positioned itself as a neutral party, seeking to facilitate negotiations between the warring sides.

WHO says maternity hospital among 18 Ukraine medical centers hit in war

Yesterday’s airstrike on a maternity hospital in the port city of Mariupol wounded women waiting to give birth and buried children in the rubble as Russian forces intensified their siege of Ukrainian cities. Bombs also fell on two hospitals in another city west of Kyiv.

The World Health Organization says it has confirmed 18 attacks on medical facilities since the Russian invasion began two weeks ago.

US House of Representatives approves $1 billion in funds for Israel’s Iron Dome

After months of delay due to internal political disputes, the US House of Representatives has approved funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, at a sum of $1 billion.

The money will fund interceptor missiles for the system, many of which were used to defend the country during last year’s conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Senate will vote on the defense aid in the coming days.

The House also approved annual defense aid to Jerusalem of $3.8 billion.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz hails the approval, which he says will “allow us to better defend our citizens,” and particularly President Joe Biden “for his uncompromising support.”

Iron Dome in action, on May 13, 2021. (Avichai Socher/IDF)

US citizens seek to join foreign fighters in Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given the smaller nation’s embassy in Washington an unexpected role: recruitment center for Americans who want to join the fight.

Diplomats working out of the embassy, in a townhouse in the Georgetown section of the city, are fielding thousands of offers from volunteers seeking to fight for Ukraine, even as they work on the far more pressing matter of securing weapons to defend against an increasingly brutal Russian onslaught.

“They really feel that this war is unfair, unprovoked,” says Ukraine’s military attaché, Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi. “They feel that they have to go and help.”

US volunteers represent just a small subset of foreigners seeking to fight for Ukraine, who in turn comprise just a tiny fraction of the international assistance that has flowed into the country. Still, it is a reflection of the passion, supercharged in an era of social media, that the attack and the mounting civilian casualties have stirred.

“This is not mercenaries who are coming to earn money,” Kremenetskyi says. “This is people of goodwill who are coming to assist Ukraine to fight for freedom.”

The US government discourages Americans from going to fight in Ukraine, which raises legal and national security issues.

Major General Borys Kremenetskyi, Defense Attache with the Embassy of Ukraine, listens to Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova as she speaks during a news conference at the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, on Feb. 24, 2022 (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine in Turkey for talks this morning

The foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine are in Turkey for face-to-face talks set for this morning, officials say, in the first high-level contact between the two sides since Moscow invaded its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Officials from Kyiv and Moscow have held several rounds of discussions in Belarus, but the meeting in the southern city of Antalya represents the first time Russia has sent a minister for talks on the crisis.

Dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow has so far yielded several local ceasefires and humanitarian corridors to evacuate residents, but Russia has been accused of breaching those agreements.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said his expectations are “limited,” as Russia continues its bombing campaign and siege of major cities.

He says the success of the talks would depend on “what instructions and directives Lavrov is under” from the Kremlin.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba speaks in the general assembly hall on February 23, 2022, at United Nations Headquarters. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Ukraine crisis to dominate EU leaders’ Versailles summit

EU leaders will scramble today to find ways to urgently address the fallout of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that has imperiled the bloc’s economy and exposed a dire need for a stronger defense.

The meeting at the Versailles palace had been set to be the high point of France’s six-month EU presidency, but President Emmanuel Macron will instead spearhead a crisis summit to answer Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s brutal disruption to decades of stability in Europe.

“Russia’s war of aggression constitutes a tectonic shift in European history,” a draft of the two-day meeting’s final declaration says.

The leaders will grasp “how the EU can live up to its responsibilities in this new reality, protecting our citizens, values, democracies, and our European model.”

Heineken, Carlsberg and Universal Music join exodus from Russia

Dutch brewer Heineken, Danish beer-maker Carlsberg, and Universal Music Group are some of the latest Western firms to halt operations in Russia over Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Japanese gaming giants PlayStation and Nintendo also announce they will suspend shipments to Russia, joining the hundreds of multinationals who have taken action.

Heineken, the world’s second-biggest beer company, says it is stopping the production, advertising and sale of its namesake brand in Russia “in response to the continued escalation of the war.”

Heineken had already suspended new investments and exports to Russia last week.

“We are shocked and saddened to watch the tragedy in Ukraine unfold,” Heineken chief executive Dolf van den Brink says in a statement.

“The Russian government’s war against Ukraine is an unprovoked and completely unjustified attack,” he adds.

Heineken employs 1,800 people in Russia and says it is the third-biggest brewer in the country, where it makes the Zhigulevskoe and Oxota brands for the local market.

The brewer says it will take “immediate steps to ring-fence” its Russian business from the rest of its global operations “to stop the flow of monies, royalties and dividends out of Russia.”

“Heineken will no longer accept any net financial benefit derived from our Russian operations,” it says.

Heineken’s other famous brands include Amstel, Tiger and Strongbow cider.

Danish brewer Carlsberg, the world’s fourth biggest beer producer, says it too is halting production and sales in Russia.

It says Baltika Breweries, which it majority owns, would continue to operate as a separate business to sustain its 8,400 employees in Russia “who are not responsible for the actions of the government.”

The Danish group says that during the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, any profits generated by its business in Russia would be donated to relief organizations.

Sony Group, which owns PlayStation, says in a statement that its video game unit “joins the global community in calling for peace in Ukraine” as it announces it is suspending operations in Russia.

The tech and entertainment conglomerate also says it is donating $2 million to the UN refugee agency and Save the Children “to support the victims of this tragedy.”

A Nintendo spokesperson tells AFP it will suspend shipments to Russia “for the time being” for logistical reasons.

About 300 companies have announced their withdrawal from Russia since it invaded Ukraine, according to Yale University researchers.

McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Starbucks joined the crowd on Tuesday following public pressure to do so.

Also on Tuesday, Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest label, said it was suspending all operations and closing its offices in Russia effective immediately.

Italian luxury sports car manufacturer Ferrari said it too was suspending deliveries to Russia.

Ferrari, which has no factories in Russia and is represented there by two independent dealerships, sells less than 100 cars every year in Russia, out of more than 11,000 delivered worldwide last year.

Video shows Ukrainians defuse massive Russian bomb with only a water bottle

A video from the Ukrainian news outlet NEXTA TV shows Ukrainian bomb disposal personnel defusing a massive Russian ordnance with only a water bottle.

One of the two bomb squad members slowly unscrews the top of the explosive, while the other drips liquid on it, as explosions are heard in the background.

The men do not appear to be wearing any protective equipment.

US lawmakers advance budget with $14 billion for Ukraine

US lawmakers sign off on almost $14 billion in aid for war-torn Ukraine as part of a giant blueprint to fund federal agencies and avoid a damaging government shutdown at home.

The House of Representatives green-lights around $1.5 trillion in spending through September, less than 48 hours before the Friday-Saturday midnight deadline, when government funding was due to dry up.

The 2,700-plus page package will need to be rubber-stamped by the Senate before the budget can pass into law.

“The brave, freedom-loving people of Ukraine and our allies in the region will receive urgently needed investments to fight Vladimir Putin and the Russians’ illegal and immoral invasion,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer say in a joint statement.

Lawmakers in the lower chamber also pass a four-day “continuing resolution” to keep federal agencies running until next Tuesday.

This gives the Senate some breathing room in case the procedural hurdles required to get the full package to US President Joe Biden’s desk cannot be completed by Friday night.

The rigid timetable was forced on lawmakers because Democrats were due to spend the rest of the working week at a retreat in Philadelphia.

Included in the deal is $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine and its Eastern European allies in response to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s invasion, which is entering its third week.

The funding, which has huge cross-party support, was one of the keys to passing the omnibus package, which has proved controversial in other areas.

“This bipartisan government funding agreement is the major step forward that our national security needs,” Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says in a statement. “This is a dangerous time for the United States and our partners.”

It provides $782 billion in defense funding — far more than Biden’s initial $715 billion request and an increase of 5.6 percent over last year.

The package includes $730 billion in non-defense cash, a 6.7% increase over 2021 and the largest hike in four years.

Lawmakers on the left of the Democratic Party had signaled they would be unhappy about defense spending hikes, but they back the increases in domestic spending and allowed the package to advance to the Senate.

There was a backlash from progressives however over a provision to provide $15.6 billion to fund the Biden administration’s COVID-19 strategy, forcing it to be stripped out of the omnibus package.

Republicans are refusing to back any new cash for the federal pandemic response, and Democrats had agreed to take the money from existing programs, including $7 billion allocated to state governments in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

But rank-and-file Democrats objected to the proposal, meaning leadership had to schedule a separate vote on Covid funding, likely to come next week.

Lawmakers are also expected to vote on a new sanctions bill that includes a ban on importing oil and other petroleum products from Russia.

Biden has already instituted the oil ban by executive order, but Democratic leaders in Congress want their members to be on the record supporting the measure.

The Senate is unlikely to follow suit in any case.

US estimates over 5,000 Russian fatalities in Ukraine

A US official says an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Russian troops have died in Ukraine, The New York Times reports.

Several days ago, that figure was around 3,000 fatalities.

Casualties are difficult to assess due to the fog of war, and estimates vary hugely.

Russia has confirmed very few casualties, while Ukraine claims to have killed over 10,000 Russian troops.

Thousands of Ukrainians, both civilians and soldiers, are estimated dead in the fighting.

Mariupol’s mayor said yesterday that his city alone had lost over 1,200 civilians killed.

Herzog set to meet Turkish Jewish leaders in Istanbul

President Isaac Herzog will meet with Jewish leaders in Istanbul today after an eventful day in Turkey yesterday which saw a historic meeting between Herzog and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Herzog, accompanied by wife his wife Michal Herzog, will meet representatives of the Turkish Jewish community at the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul.

There are around 31 synagogues in Turkey that are currently active and 16 Jewish cemeteries.

There are around 15,000 people in Turkey’s Jewish community, the vast majority of whom are in Istanbul.

The Neve Shalom Synagogue was founded in the late 1930s and later expanded to become Istanbul’s central and largest Sephardic synagogue.

Terrorists carried out deadly attacks against Neve Shalom three times.

On Saturday, September 6, 1986, during morning prayers, 22 worshipers were murdered in a terrorist attack by the Abu Nidal organization.

On Saturday, November 15, 2003, again during the morning prayer, two vehicles exploded simultaneously at the entrances to the Neve Shalom and Beit Yisrael synagogues. A total of 26 people, including worshipers, security personnel, and 11 passersby lost their lives and hundreds were injured.

Another terror attack on Neve Shalom in 1992 ended without any casualties.

At the same time as Herzog’s visit to the synagogue, in the southern Turkish city of Antalya, the Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers will hold face-to-face talks in their first contact since Russia invaded its neighbor two weeks ago.

Russia’s Lavrov and Ukraine’s Kuleba will be joined Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Late yesterday, Cavusoglu told Israeli and Turkish reporters that he will visit Israel as early as April 3rd. His announcement came minutes after President Erdogan and President Herzog finalized their long-awaited mutual statements on the renewal of relations between the countries.

However, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, said no date has been set for Cavusoglu’s visit, a reaction that embarrassed the Israeli delegation in Ankara.

Before getting on the plane en route Istanbul, Herzog spoke to Israeli reporters and said that Cavusoglu will be invited to Jerusalem with a formal invitation.

At least 35,000 civilians evacuated from Ukrainian cities in past day

At least 35,000 civilians were evacuated from besieged Ukrainian cities yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says.

In a video address, the Ukrainian leader says three humanitarian corridors had allowed residents to leave the cities of Sumy, Enerhodar and areas around Kyiv.

He says he hoped the evacuations would continue tomorrow with three more routes set to open out of the cities of Mariupol, Volnovakha in the southeast and Izium in eastern Ukraine.

The evacuations came after Moscow and Kyiv agreed today to open more corridors, offering a glimmer of hope for terrified civilians trapped in bombarded cities.

More than 5,000 people were evacuated yesterday from Sumy, a city of 250,000 that lies close to the Russian border and has been the scene of heavy fighting.

Ukrainians cross an improvised path under a destroyed bridge while fleeing Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

But attempted evacuations from the port town of Mariupol, which has been besieged by Russia for days, have failed on several occasions, with both Kyiv and Moscow blaming each other.

On Wednesday, a Russian strike destroyed a children’s hospital in the city, triggering renewed global outrage two weeks into Moscow’s invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor.

Mariupol’s mayor said more than 1,200 civilians have been killed in the siege, which has lasted more than a week.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR has estimated the total number of refugees at 2.1 to 2.2 million.

Nuclear fears continue over Ukrainian plants captured by Russia

Power has been cut to the Chernobyl nuclear plant, Ukraine says, but the UN’s atomic watchdog says there is “no critical impact on safety.”

The news from the site of the world’s worst-ever nuclear disaster comes as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says data transmission was also lost at the Zaporizhzhia atomic plant, Europe’s largest.

Russian forces shelled and captured the Zaporizhzhia plant on March 4, causing a fire that raised alarm in Europe of a possible nuclear catastrophe.

Earlier, on the day Russia invaded Ukraine, its troops seized the defunct Chernobyl plant, site of a 1986 disaster that killed hundreds and spread radioactive contamination west across Europe.

Kyiv’s energy operator Ukrenergo says on Facebook the Chernobyl station “was fully disconnected from the power grid.”

The IAEA says in a tweet that while the development “violates [a] key safety pillar,” in this case it saw “no critical impact on safety.”

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at a press conference about the situation at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine in Vienna, Austria, March 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

On Tuesday it had voiced concern for staff working under Russian guard at the site.

The situation for the staff at Chernobyl “was worsening,” it said, citing the Ukrainian nuclear regulator.

The plant sits inside an exclusion zone that houses decommissioned reactors as well as radioactive waste facilities.

More than 2,000 staff still work at the plant as it requires constant management to prevent another nuclear disaster.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweets that “reserve diesel generators have a 48-hour capacity to power” the plant but added that “after that, cooling systems of the storage facility for spent nuclear fuel will stop.”

Ukrenergo says military operations mean “there is no possibility to restore the lines” at Chernobyl and there is also no power to the site’s security systems.

The reason for the transmission loss at Zaporizhzhia is not clear and the interruption of data flows at both sites was concerning, the IAEA says.

Chernobyl had similarly lost transmission to the IAEA, the agency reported Tuesday.

“The remote transmission of data from IAEA safeguards equipment located at nuclear sites around the world is an important component of our safeguards implementation, in Ukraine and globally,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi says.

“Such systems… enable us to monitor nuclear material and activities at these sites when our inspectors are not present.”

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