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US charges four Russian agents with hacking energy infrastructure around world

Unclear if Israel among 135 countries targeted; fighting rages near several cities; minister backtracks after joking about own flub at terror victim’s funeral

  • Displaced people fleeing the suburbs have their IDs checked in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on March 24, 2022. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)
    Displaced people fleeing the suburbs have their IDs checked in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on March 24, 2022. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)
  • People attend a farewell ceremony for Sergei Sokolov, a 21 year-old Russian serviceman who was killed during Russian military action in Ukraine, in the settlement of Zubkovo in Novosibirsk region on March 24, 2022. ( Rostislav NETISOV / AFP)
    People attend a farewell ceremony for Sergei Sokolov, a 21 year-old Russian serviceman who was killed during Russian military action in Ukraine, in the settlement of Zubkovo in Novosibirsk region on March 24, 2022. ( Rostislav NETISOV / AFP)
  • US President Joe Biden, (foreground, right) shakes hands with France's President Emmanuel Macron, next to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (back left) and Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi (second left in back) at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (JOHN THYS / AFP)
    US President Joe Biden, (foreground, right) shakes hands with France's President Emmanuel Macron, next to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (back left) and Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi (second left in back) at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (JOHN THYS / AFP)
  • Refugees with children wait for a transport after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland, on March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
    Refugees with children wait for a transport after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland, on March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
  • Smoke rises after shelling near a seaport in Berdyansk, Ukraine, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo)
    Smoke rises after shelling near a seaport in Berdyansk, Ukraine, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo)
  • A view of the damage to a residential building after Russian strikes in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP/Felipe Dana)
    A view of the damage to a residential building after Russian strikes in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP/Felipe Dana)
  • A child walks in front of a damaged school in the city of Zhytomyr, northern Ukraine, on March 23, 2022. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)
    A child walks in front of a damaged school in the city of Zhytomyr, northern Ukraine, on March 23, 2022. (FADEL SENNA / AFP)
  • Ukrainians check rifles in a gun shop in Lviv, western Ukraine, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
    Ukrainians check rifles in a gun shop in Lviv, western Ukraine, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
  • Refugees with children wait for a transport after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland, on March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
    Refugees with children wait for a transport after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland, on March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

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

Zelensky says he spoke again with Bennett

A composite photo shows Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, on Sunday, March 6, 2022; and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 12, 2022. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP; Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
A composite photo shows Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Jerusalem, on Sunday, March 6, 2022; and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 12, 2022. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool via AP; Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that he spoke again with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

There is no immediate confirmation from Israel or details of the conversation that comes a day after Bennett spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bennett has been trying to mediate an end of hostilities.

In a late-night address, Zelensly says he spoke with several world leaders.

“All the conversations and speeches are so that Russia will understand one thing: We need to reach peace, Russia should also want peace,” he says.

UN atomic watchdog expresses alarm over shelling of Chernobyl staff town

In this April 27, 2021 photo, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi in front of a shelter construction which covers the exploded reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
In this April 27, 2021 photo, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi in front of a shelter construction which covers the exploded reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The International Atomic Energy Agency expresses “concern” after Ukraine warned of bombardment by Russia of the town where staff working at the Chernobyl nuclear site live.

“Ukraine informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today that Russian forces were shelling Ukrainian checkpoints in the city of Slavutych where many people working at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant live, putting them at risk,” the Vienna-based UN agency says in a statement.

Its director-general Rafael Grossi says the incident came “just a few days after technical staff at the Chornobyl (plant) were finally able to rotate and go to their homes in Slavutych and rest after working for nearly four weeks without a change of shift”.

Russian forces took control of the plant — the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history in 1986 — on February 24.

About 100 Ukrainian technicians then continued to run the daily operations at the radioactive site for nearly four weeks without being rotated.

Italy humiliated by North Macedonia and miss second successive soccer World Cup

Italy's Domenico Berardi on his knees after missing a scoring chance during the World Cup qualifying play-off soccer match between Italy and North Macedonia, at Renzo Barbera stadium, in Palermo, Italy, Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)
Italy's Domenico Berardi on his knees after missing a scoring chance during the World Cup qualifying play-off soccer match between Italy and North Macedonia, at Renzo Barbera stadium, in Palermo, Italy, Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

PALERMO, Italy — Italy will miss their second World Cup in a row after slumping to a shock 1-0 play-off semi-final defeat to North Macedonia.

Aleksandar Trajkovski’s low drive in the second minute of stoppage time stuns the European champions in Palermo and sets up a qualifying final with Portugal in Porto on Tuesday for a chance to be in Qatar in November.

Roberto Mancini’s side are loudly booed off after a defeat which means Italy will have to wait until at least 2026 to see its national team at a World Cup.

By then it will have been 12 years since the Azzurri’s last participation in the world’s biggest football tournament after they failed to qualify for the 2018 edition, also crashing out in the play-offs on that occasion.

After signing anti-BDS bill, governor announces Georgia-Israel Legislative Caucus

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks at the launch of the Georgia-Israel Legislative Caucus at the Georgia State Capitol on March 24, 2022. (Israeli Consulate General to the US Southeast)
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp speaks at the launch of the Georgia-Israel Legislative Caucus at the Georgia State Capitol on March 24, 2022. (Israeli Consulate General to the US Southeast)

Lawmakers in the Georgia State Assembly have launched the Georgia-Israel Legislative Caucus, a bicameral and bipartisan caucus that will work to expand bilateral ties between the southeastern state and Israel.

“Israel has maintained a consular presence in Georgia since 1956, and the State of Georgia has had representation in Israel since 1994. The launch of this new caucus is going to be a great addition to our longtime partnership,” Governor Brian Kemp says in a statement released by Israel’s Consul General to the Southeastern United States.

“As we soon approach our 74th Independence Day celebrations, I am especially pleased that we can also celebrate this unique enhancement to the relations between Israel and Georgia. I look forward to the Georgia-Israel Legislative Caucus providing an additional platform for mutual engagement and collaboration, contributing to the further strengthening of our mutually beneficial relations in the political, economic, cultural, academic and social realms,” says Israeli Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon.

The Georgia-Israel Legislative Caucus will be co-chaired by Sen. John Albers, Rep. John Carson and Rep. Micah Gravely from the Republican side and Sen. Tonya Anderson, Rep. Debra Bazemore and Rep. Mike Wilensky from the Democratic side.

Over 100 Georgia companies currently due business in Israel and 90 Israeli firms have established offices in Georgia. Israel’s total trade with Georgia totaled $931.93 million in 2021, growing over 100% in the past ten years. Georgia is Israel’s 7th largest importer of goods in the United States, according to the Israeli consulate

The announcement comes a month after Kemp signed into law legislation that bars the state from entering into large contracts with companies that boycott Israel. An earlier version of the legislation included the phrase “Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories” in an apparent effort to include West Bank settlements as part of the areas that companies working with Georgia would not be allowed to boycott. However, the phrase “Israeli-controlled territories” was removed before Kemp signed HB 383 into law.

Kyivans advised to stay inside as fires from battles rage

Kyiv’s city council is asking residents to keep their windows closed and not to venture outside due to heavy smoke enveloping part of the city from heavy fighting in the area.

It says the smoke is coming from large fires in the Svyatoshinsky and Holosiyivsʹkyy districts, to the west and south of the city.

“The city authorities urge the citizens to keep the windows closed, especially at night and in the evening. Also, if possible, don’t stay in the open air. The air conditioning and air purification systems should be switched on if available,” it says in a statement on Telegram.

The warning comes amid increasingly strident warnings over alleged Russian plans to use chemical weapons.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian interior ministry reports that a high-rise apartment building in the Vyshgorod region north of Kyiv was hit by a missile. There are no reported fatalities.

North Koreas Kim ordered launch of ‘new’ kind of ICBM — Pyongyang

A man walks past a street TV showing a news program on North Korea's missile launch, on Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Tokyo. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)
A man walks past a street TV showing a news program on North Korea's missile launch, on Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Tokyo. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un personally ordered the test-firing of the country’s “new type” of intercontinental ballistic missile, state media reports.

“The test-launch of a new type inter-continental ballistic missile Hwasongpho-17 of the DPRK strategic forces was conducted on March 24… under the direct guidance of Kim Jong Un,” KCNA says.

“The missile, launched at Pyongyang International Airport, traveled up to a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 km and flew a distance of 1,090 km for 4,052s before accurately hitting the pre-set area in open waters of the East Sea of Korea,” which is what Pyongyang calls the Sea of Japan, KCNA says.

US indicts 4 Russian agents for hacking energy firms

Four Russian agents have been indicted in the United States for hacking attacks targeting the energy sector around the world, including a US nuclear power operator, the Justice Department says.

The Russian hackers targeted thousands of computers at hundreds of companies in 135 countries between 2012 and 2018, the department says. It is not immediately clear if Israel is among the countries targeted.

The Justice Department says the targets included a nuclear power facility in the US state of Kansas.

A Saudi petrochemical plant was also attacked in 2017 using the type of malware attributed to the Russian hackers.

According to the Justice Department, the Russians were employed by a Russian Ministry of Defense research institute and Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

The unsealing of the indictments comes three days after US President Joe Biden warned of a growing Russian cyber threat against US businesses in response to Western sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Public security minister sparks anger over joke about deadly terror attack

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends the funeral of 49-year-old Doris Yahbas, who was killed in a terror attack in Beersheba, at a cemetery in Moshav Gilat, on March 23, 2022. (Flash90)
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev attends the funeral of 49-year-old Doris Yahbas, who was killed in a terror attack in Beersheba, at a cemetery in Moshav Gilat, on March 23, 2022. (Flash90)

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev has apparently doubled down on a joke about him flubbing a speech at a funeral for a terror victim, winkingly referencing it in a Twitter post on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Barlev, who oversees the police, sparked anger when he vowed at the funeral of Doris Yahbas to not rest until her killer was found and brought to justice, despite the fact that the alleged terrorist, who stabbed her to death and killed three others, died at the scene after being shot by passersby.

The screw-up poured salt in the wounds of Beersheba locals who had already complained that they were abandoned by police, who didn’t show up until after the eight-minute-long murder spree had concluded. Barlev’s spokesperson claimed he had not planned to speak and got confused.

Unwilling to let it end there, Barlev on Thursday decided to poke fun at himself over the faux pas. Tweeting about a large number of illegal guns that had been seized, he wrote, “We won’t rest until we haven’t brought the smugglers to jail and made them face justice,” followed by a winking face emoji.

Barlev has now deleted the tweet and replaced it with one that leaves out the quip. He does not offer an explanation or apology.

Heavy shelling reported in major Ukrainian cities

Reports indicate Russian shelling is persisting in several areas around Ukraine, with videos appearing to show explosions near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson, and elsewhere.

But, according to Kharkiv regional governor Oleg Synegubov, Russian forces near the city accidentally fired on their own troops. He says a large number of troops and equipment are “destroyed.”

Elsewhere, videos of American volunteer James Vasquez taking part in Ukrainian efforts to retake areas northwest of Kyiv are making the rounds on social media, and are even being shared by the official Ukrainian armed forces Twitter account.

Drone video shows some of the heavy fighting from there earlier in the day.

US protests Iranian presence at Doha defense expo

The US State Department condemns Qatar’s hosting of Iranian military officials at the Doha Defense Show in Qatar.

“We utterly reject their presence at the show and its maritime defense exhibit, as it is Iran that is the biggest threat to maritime stability in the Gulf region,” the State Department says in a statement.

“Transactions related to Iranian weapons are generally sanctionable under multiple US authorities, including sanctions related to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction,” the statement adds.

Outgoing top defense official who opposed action in 2012 says new nuke deal ‘crap’

Defense official Zohar Palti, center, presents Bahraini Minister of Defense Affairs Abdullah Bin Hassan Al Nuaimi with a memorandum of understanding that had just been signed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Bahraini defense headquarters, on February 3, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense official Zohar Palti, center, presents Bahraini Minister of Defense Affairs Abdullah Bin Hassan Al Nuaimi with a memorandum of understanding that had just been signed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Bahraini defense headquarters, on February 3, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Zohar Palti, a former senior Mossad official who wrapped up a stint as head of the military’s political-military bureau this week, is speaking to the media for the first time, opening up about his opposition to Israel attacking Iran a decade ago, and his current opposition to a new nuclear deal which may be nearing finalization.

Speaking to Haaretz, he says he led opposition to Israel taking military action against Iran in 2012, when then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak were pushing for a strike.

“During the spring-summer of 2012, the operational preparations reached a peak. In my understanding, they [Netanyahu and Barak] were truly preparing to attack,” he tells Haaretz.

“I am not claiming to read the secrets of the heart. But when the IDF is instructed to deploy for ‘P+16’ [possible attack within 16 days], when air force aerial refueling planes are brought back from long-term servicing, it’s an emergency situation. The air force put all its planes into the air in order to prepare. Quite a few risks were taken in that period.”

“But what are you going to attack in Iran? An enrichment facility? I am in favor of attacking if there is an urgent need, if a sword is held to your throat, as [former Mossad head Meir] Dagan put it. But that was not the situation in 2012 or in the preceding years,” he adds.

Speaking to Channel 13, he claims Israel will be given free rein to act against Iran if it does build a bomb.

“If they go for the bomb, in my opinion there will be no limitations on us. If the Iranians build a bomb and continue on their current path, I don’t know a single democratic state on earth, and certainly none that is allied with us, that would stop us. To the contrary. They would greatly respect our right to make our own decisions, on the basis of our capabilities.”

Palti describes the new nuclear deal as “crap.”

“From the moment the agreement is signed, billions of dollars will flow into Iran. That money will not reach the civilian population, it will go first of all toward financing the terrorism of the Revolutionary Guards,” he tells Haaretz.

 

No plans to close airport, officials say, amid fear of renewed COVID spike

Israeli officials are clarifying that a high-level discussion held earlier in the day on closing Ben Gurion Airport in the case of a renewed virus outbreak does not mean that officials are actually planning on curbing flights in and out of the country anytime soon.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Niztan Horowitz met with the head of Israel’s Health Maintenance Organizations to discuss a new vaccine drive set to target Israel’s elderly, and to plan for the possibility of a more severe COVID variant hitting Israel in the future.

However, talk of closing the airport during the meeting, which coincided with rising Omicron infection rates and the discovery of a new subvariant in the country, led some to believe such a move could soon be in the offing.

“The prime minister wanted to make sure Israel is prepared in case of a very dangerous variant, in terms of equipment and regarding closing the skies. This is not the current situation, just a what if,” Sigal Regev Rosenberg, head of the Meuhedet HMO, tells Army Radio.

Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka tells Channel 13 that the BA.2 variant is swiftly spreading and the number of new daily infections could double to 30,000 within a week.

But he says there are no plans to impose rules that would keep families from spending Passover together next month.

“There’s no reason to mark the holiday on Zoom, we’re not there anymore. We’ll celebrate together, without it ending with illnesses,” Zarka tells Kan.

Injured teen who gave Zelensky TikTok props moved to German hospital

A Ukrainian teenager who was injured in a shelling attack and later rose to virtual fame when she told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a hospital visit in Kyiv that he was a TikTok star has been flown to Germany to undergo treatment there.

Berlin’s Charite hospital confirmed Thursday night that teenager Katya Vlasenko was admitted to the hospital. The hospital did not release any further details.

Vlasenko and her family came under fire from Russian forces earlier this month, and she reportedly covered her younger brother with her body as they attempted to flee.

When Zelensky visited Vlasenko a week ago in the hospital, he brought her a big bouquet of flowers and told her that “it’s not easy for us all. But we are doing everything right.”

The girl, who was moved to tears by the president’s visit, responded by telling him that, “everyone on TikTok supports us.”

Blinken to discuss moribund Jerusalem consulate reopening in Israel

A flag of the United States flies outside the then-US consulate building in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
A flag of the United States flies outside the then-US consulate building in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will raise the issue of the US Consulate in Jerusalem during his meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders next week, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Yael Lempert tells reporters.

Blinken had announced that the US would reopen the consulate during his last visit to the region in May. The mission had served as the de facto mission to the Palestinians before it was shuttered by former US president Donald Trump in 2019.

Since Blinken’s announcement though, no progress has been made on the matter, and several sources familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel in December that the plan had effectively been shelved due to Israeli opposition.

Lempert tells reporters during a briefing that the issue will be raised, but does not specify whether the US is still hoping to advance the matter, which had been a campaign promise of US President Joe Biden.

Bennett and Gantz in diplomatic spat over India visits — report

Hebrew language media is reporting on a diplomatic dispute between Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz over their upcoming trips to India.

According to Haaretz and other outlets, Bennett’s office was surprised to learn Thursday that Gantz would be flying to India on Tuesday next week, just a few days before Bennett’s visit on April 2.

The premier’s people accuse Gantz of trying to one-up Bennett, by flying before him, but note that he won’t be meeting Indian leader Narendra Modi.

According to their version of events, Gantz was the first to book a trip, for April 5, after which Bennett got an invite for April 2. Gantz’s response was to move his visit ahead of Bennett’s.

Both are going to India to mark 30 years of bilateral ties.

The tiff is reminiscent of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unsuccessful attempts to race to Arab states forging ties with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords ahead of Gantz and former foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Israel gets three more F-35 fighter jets

Three more F-35 fighter jets have landed in Israel’s Nevatim Air Base from the United States, the military says, bringing the country’s fleet to 33.

By 2024, an additional 17 F-35 planes are due to arrive in Israel, to bring the total number of aircraft to 50.

An F-35 fighter jet, seen in an undated handout photo. (Israel Defense Forces)

Pig’s head, antisemitic phrase left at door of Russian opposition figure

Alexei Venediktov, the former editor of leading Russian opposition radio station Echo of Moscow, says he was subjected to an antisemitic attack at his home.

Venediktov, who has Jewish heritage, says a severed pig’s head was left in front of his door. A picture of a Ukrainian coat of arms with the word “judensau” across its front was attached to the door.

“Judensau,” or Jewish pig, is an antisemitic trope used in Medieval Europe to mock Jews as swine.

Venediktov says the act is an attempt to intimidate him.

 

Biden says chemical attack on Ukraine would spur ‘response in kind’

US President Joe Biden says a chemical weapon attack on Ukraine would “trigger a response in kind” by NATO, but does not offer details.

Speaking to journalists at a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, he says a decision on what that response would look like would not be made until such an attack occurs, if it does.

“You’re asking if NATO would cross… we’ll make that decision at the time,” he says.

He says NATO has “never been more united” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, though Putin was banking on a divided alliance.

 

Jewish groups praise US decision to take in refugees, seek more info

Jewish groups are welcoming the Biden administration’s decision to accept up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, with many seeking more information regarding how to help absorb those fleeing Russia’s invasion.

“As someone who came to the United States as a Ukrainian refugee myself, I can attest to how important and life-changing refugee support can be for both those fleeing a crisis and those welcoming them in,” says Elana Broitman, who heads up public affairs for the Jewish Federations of North America.

Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, says he applauds Biden’s move. “As with the Kosovars evacuated from Macedonia in 1999, we urge that they be brought in with all the protections and benefits of refugee status, and be assisted with voluntarily returning home to Ukraine when it is safe to do so,” he says.

Refugees with children wait for transport after fleeing the war from neighboring Ukraine at a railway station in Przemysl, Poland, on March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

But the group and others also raise questions regarding who will be accepted, how they will be received, and what will happen to others seeking refuge.

“Will vulnerable people, like asylum seekers from African countries who have not received the same warm welcome as others fleeing Ukraine, be included? How will the refugees who have been waiting to be resettled in the US be affected?” asks HIAS global public affairs chief Melanie Nezer.

Liberal rabbinical group T’ruah praises the move, but also urges that other refugees not be forgotten.

Over 400,000 Ukrainians forcibly taken to Russia, Kyiv charges

Ukraine says more than 400,000 of its citizens have been forcibly taken to Russia, after the Foreign Ministry said 6,000 residents of Mariupol had been forcibly moved.

Ukrainian Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova says at a briefing Thursday that the Ukrainians were taken to by Russian troops from Mariupol and other besieged Ukrainian cities. The number includes 84,000 children.

She says they are held in primitive conditions with little food and water.

Donetsk Region Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko also says Russians are taking Ukrainians’ passports and then taking people to filtration camps. There, Russian FSB counterintelligence agency officers conduct security checks before moving the Ukrainians to various distant areas in Russia.

Kyrylenko says that Mariupol’s residents had been long deprived of information and the Russians feed them false claims about Ukraine’s defeats to persuade them to move to Russia.

“Russian lies may influence those who have been under the siege,” he said.

Russian officials reported Wednesday that over 384,000 Ukrainians had voluntarily traveled to Russia where they were being offered accommodation and payments.

Germany accuses Russia of trying to destabilize Balkans

Germany’s foreign minister says Europe needs to beware of Russian efforts to destabilize the Western Balkans against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock tells reporters in Berlin that such moves preceded Russia’s military engagement in Ukraine, despite Moscow’s continued denial that it was preparing an attack.

Similar support by Russia for breakaway movements in Bosnia, for example, could endanger the integrity and sovereignty of Western Balkans nations, Baerbock says after a meeting with her Croatian counterpart, Gordan Grlić-Radman.

Baerbock says the European Union and its partners would do what they can to help countries now taking in large numbers of Ukrainians fleeing the war, particularly tiny Moldova, which has received the highest number of refugees per capita so far.

Germany has organized a first direct flight to bring refugees from Moldova to Frankfurt on Friday, with more to follow, she says.

Ukraine claims thousands of Mariupol residents being forced into Russian camps

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry says Russian forces have taken 6,000 Mariupol residents to camps against their will. Russian troops are confiscating identity documents from an additional 15,000 people in a section of Mariupol under Russian control, the ministry says.

Ukrainian military intelligence says Ukrainian civilians are being sent through a camp in Russian-controlled territory, then onward through southern regions of Russia to economically depressed parts of the country.

People carry wooden boards to cover the windows of a building damaged by a bombing the previous day in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Monday, March 21, 2022. (AP/Vadim Ghirda)

Some could be sent as far as the Pacific Ocean island of Sakhalin, Ukrainian intelligence says, and are being offered jobs on condition they don’t leave for two years.

The claims cannot be independently verified. Russia has said it is evacuating thousands of civilians of their own free will.

Virus czar says first case of BA.3 Omicron strain identified in Israel

Israel’s coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka says a case of Omicron subvariant BA.3 has been discovered in Israel for the first time.

Zarka tells Army Radio only one case of the variant has been confirmed thus far.

Little is known about the strain, which has joined Omicron subvariants BA.1 and BA.2. The WHO said earlier this month it was tracking BA.3, first identified in South Africa in January.

Israel has seen daily case numbers rise sharply in recent days, thought to be fueled by the BA.2 mutation.

The Health Ministry says it is launching a new drive to vaccinate citizens aged 60 and over who have not had a fourth dose. The ministry says 450,000 in the age group have had only three shots, 92,000 have had only two doses, and 120,000 have never been vaccinated.

UN passes resolution blaming Russia for Ukraine humanitarian crisis

The UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a resolution blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools, and hospitals critical to their survival.

The vote is 140-5 with only Belarus, Syria, North Korea, and Eritrea joining Russia in opposing the measure. There were 38 abstentions, including China. Israel votes in favor.

The vote follows on the heels of a March 2 resolution that similarly demanded Russia immediately cease its use of force.

The resolution deplores the “dire humanitarian consequences” of Russia’s aggression which it says is “on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in decades.” It deplores Russia’s shelling, airstrikes and “besiegement” of densely populated cities, including the southern city of Mariupol, and demands unhindered access for humanitarian aid.

Russia has denounced the resolution as “anti-Russian,” and accuses its supporters of not really being concerned about the humanitarian situation on the ground, saying they want to politicize aid.

The vote follows the Security Council’s overwhelming defeat on Wednesday of a Russian resolution that would have acknowledged Ukraine’s growing humanitarian needs — but without mentioning Russia’s invasion that has left millions of Ukrainians in desperate need of food, water, and shelter.

The assembly will also consider a rival South African resolution, which doesn’t mention Russia and is similar to the Russian resolution rejected by the Security Council.

Zelensky warns G7 of ‘real’ chemical weapons threat

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says there is a “real” threat that Moscow will use chemical weapons in Ukraine, accusing Russia of having already used phosphorus bombs against civilians in the country.

“The threat of full-scale use by Russia of chemical weapons on the territory of Ukraine is real,” Zelensky tells a G7 summit in Brussels via videolink, adding that Kyiv had information that Russian troops “used phosphorus bombs against peaceful people in Ukraine.”

‘We’re expecting much bigger support from Israel,’ Zelensky aide says

While praising Israel’s mediation efforts, Volodymr Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak also expresses disappointment with Israel’s refusal to provide military aid.

“We are expecting much bigger support from Israel in this area,” he emphasizes in a Zoom call with Israeli reporters. “We do hope that our expectations are not in vain, especially after the statement by President Zelensky in the Knesset.”

“We need the Iron Dome system, and other types of weapons,” he says.

Yermak refuses to confirm reports that Israel has rejected Ukrainian requests for the controversial Pegasus spyware for use against Russia, due to fears of angering Moscow.

“I know that we have not received that software, and we do need it,” he offers.

Yermak also takes aim at Israel’s new policies regarding Ukrainians trying to enter Israel.

“We are expecting the resolution of the question, which had a very negative response in Ukraine, when Israel made the decision to introduce visas for our refugees. We think that that step is not the right one. We know that the work is going on right now to abolish this decision,” he says.

Blinken confirms Israel trip next week for talks on Ukraine, Iran

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank next week as part of a broader tour of the region, the State Department announces.

The goals of the trip will be to coordinate with US allies on Russian’s invasion of Ukraine, “Iran’s destabilizing activities,” the Abraham Accords and Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be the first stops of Blinken’s tour, which will also take him to Morocco and Algeria. He is slated to take off on March 26 and return on March 30, the State Department says.

While here, Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and President Isaac Herzog in Israel. He will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas along with representatives from Palestinian civil society in Ramallah.

Ukraine says it swapped POWs with Russia, in first

Ukraine Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk says her country has carried out a first exchange of prisoners of war with Russia.

She says 10 captured Russian soldiers were swapped for 10 Ukrainian troops that had been taken prisoner.

She says as well that 19 Ukrainian merchant marines captured off of Snake Island, where sailors famously told the Russian Navy to fuck off, are being returned in exchange for 11 Russian merchant marines rescued from a ship that sunk off the coast of Odesa.

The moves were ordered by President Volodymyr Zelensky, she says.

IDF wraps up naval drill with Greece, France, Cyprus and US

The Israel Defense Forces announces the completion of a major international naval exercise in the Mediterranean.

Greece, France, Cyprus, and the United States participated in the exercise — dubbed “Noble Dina” — this week near the coast of Cyprus.

A Sa’ar 5 “Hanit” Class Corvette and a small Israeli Navy boat are seen during an international naval exercise in the Mediterranean, March 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli Navy simulated different scenarios alongside the foreign fleets including naval defense, anti-submarine procedures, search and rescue scenarios, and providing medical aid at sea, the IDF says in a statement.

The military says the exercise’s goal is “to strengthen cooperation between the navies involved, strengthen a common operational language, and deepen shared operational knowledge,” adding that it is ” is another significant pillar of operational cooperation in the Middle East with the United States and other foreign navies.”

Israel a ‘priority venue’ for Russia-Ukraine ceasefire talks, Zelensky aide says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff praises Israel’s mediation efforts, saying that Ukraine considers Jerusalem “one of the priority venues” for a meeting between Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Speaking to Israeli journalists by Zoom, Andriy Yermak says that Ukrainian officials “are impressed by how deeply aware of the situation Israeli officials and Prime Minister Bennett in particular are. And we think that he is really inclined and willing to do all it takes to bring peace to our land and to stop the war.”

“Since day one, and since our first conversation, we felt how seriously the intention of prime minister Bennett is,” says Yermak.

“It is Israel that can play a key role probably in the negotiations and suspension of hostilities and withdrawal of the Russian army from our own territory,” he continues.

The Kyiv-born adviser, whose father is Jewish, says that conversations about Jerusalem serving as a venue for talks between Ukraine and Russia date back to well before the invasion.

“This was started during the times of the previous prime minister, Netanyahu, and at that time we were also contemplating such a meeting in Jerusalem,” he says, speaking in Ukrainian through a translator. “Unfortunately, it didn’t happen back then.”

Yermak also notes Kyiv’s hope that Israel will be one of the nations signing guarantees of Ukrainian security in a negotiated solution to the war. The Ukrainians have proposed the five permanent UN Security Council member states plus Germany, Turkey, Canada, and Israel as guarantors, and are open to adding more countries.

Ukraine’s presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak speaks at a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 12, 2020. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

At the same time, Yermak seems to criticize Israel for being too even-handed in its mediation approach.

“A form of mediation that doesn’t take sides will not work, unfortunately,” he says.

Despite criticism leveled at his boss for taking Holocaust comparisons too far in an address to the Knesset, Yermak continues to draw parallels, saying that Russian troops are behaving in much the same way Nazis did during World War II.

“These things need to be said, they need to be very clearly understood, and I do hope that our Israeli friends have no problem with that,” he says.

Qatar says $360 million earmarked for aid to Gaza this year

Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip Mohammad al-Emadi says Doha has renewed its yearly aid to the coastal enclave.

Qatar will send $360 million in aid to the Gaza Strip, the same as last year, al-Emadi tells local Palestinian news site Sawa.

The majority is disbursed to poor Gazan families in monthly stipends of $100 through a mechanism supervised by Israel and the United Nations to prevent the funds from going to Hamas.

A Palestinian man receives financial aid at a supermarket in Gaza City on September 15, 2021 as part of the UN’s Humanitarian Cash Assistance program, supported by the state of Qatar. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Al-Emadi also says Israel has told the Qatari side that the number of permits for Gazans to work in Israel will gradually rise to 30,000.

Poverty is rampant in Gaza, which is tightly blockaded by both Israel and Egypt in an attempt to contain Hamas.

Six civilians reported killed in Russian strike near Kharkiv aid station

Russian strikes on the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv killed at least six civilians and wounded more than a dozen, the regional governor said Thursday, one month into Russia’s invasion.

“The Russians fired long-range weapons at a Nova Poshta office, near where Kharkiv residents were receiving aid,” regional governor Oleg Synegubov writes on social media referring to a local postal delivery service.

“Preliminary information suggests six civilians were killed and 15 others were injured and hospitalized,” he adds.

A view of the damage to a residential building after Russian strikes in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP/Felipe Dana)

NATO ups chemical, nuclear defenses for troops in Eastern Europe

NATO is stepping up chemical and nuclear defenses for its forces in Eastern Europe in the face of fears over Russia’s war on Ukraine, alliance head Jens Stoltenberg says.

“Our top military commander General Wolters has activated NATO’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense elements, and allies are deploying additional chemical and biological and nuclear defenses to reinforce our existing and new battle groups,” Stoltenberg tells journalists after a NATO summit in Brussels.

US says it will take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees

A White House official says the US is trying to help its Eastern European allies by taking in up to 100,000 of the 3.5 million Ukrainians refugees who have fled Russia’s invasion of their country.

Among the first Ukrainians refugee coming to the US will be those who have family already in the United States, senior Biden administration officials say in a conference call with reporters.

US refugee efforts will also focus on helping refugees who are considered particularly vulnerable following the Russian invasion, groups that include LGBTQ people, those with medical needs as well as journalists and dissidents, the officials say, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the efforts ahead of their formal release.

The officials say further details of the refugee effort will be released later but they don’t expect to raise the overall cap of 125,000 refugees, from around the world, for budget year 2022 that the administration set last year in consultation with Congress.

That’s because the 100,000 Ukrainians can come in through other admission programs such as humanitarian parole, which was used to bring in thousands of Afghans following the US withdrawal in August.

Biden huddles with G7 leaders, backs air defense systems for Ukraine

US President Joe Biden is gathering with Group of 7 leaders in Brussels for an emergency summit on the sidelines of a NATO meeting on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The meeting of the world’s leading Western powers is likely intended to send a signal to Russia regarding the West’s unity and commitment to defending Europe.

US President Joe Biden (foreground, right) shakes hands with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, next to Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (back left) and Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi (second left in back) at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (JOHN THYS / AFP)

In a White House statement, Biden says the US and allies are “committed to identifying additional equipment, including air defense systems, to help Ukraine.”

Kyiv has pleaded for air defense batteries to fend off Russian missile attacks.

He says NATO “will continue to support [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] and his government with significant, and increasing, amounts of security assistance to fight Russian aggression and uphold their right to self-defense.”

And he says NATO’s deployment of more forces sends a “strong signal” to Russia, noting that by June, the defensive alliance will develop plans for additional measures and a new strategy “to meet any challenge in the new and more dangerous security environment.”

US sanctions Russian lawmakers, defense firms

The United States is announcing a fresh wave of sanctions against Russian lawmakers, oligarchs and defense companies in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The measures, which involve freezing US-held assets, single out 328 members of Russia’s lower house State Duma, and 48 defense companies “that fuel (President Vladimir) Putin’s war machine,” says a White House statement released as US President Joe Biden attended summits in Brussels focused on the war.

After Beersheba attack, applications for firearm licenses triple — report

Illustrative. An Israeli man fires a pistol at a shooting range in Jerusalem on March 8, 2007. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative. An Israeli man fires a pistol at a shooting range in Jerusalem on March 8, 2007. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Since Tuesday’s deadly terror attack in Beersheba, there has been a near-threefold jump in applications for a firearms license, Channel 12 news reports, citing Public Security Ministry data.

The network says on the day of the attack, 244 applications for a license were registered, compared to some 60 applications ordinarily.

A ministry source tells the network that the increase was expected, and happens often after terror attacks, with the numbers stabilizing after a day.

Other officials say the last time such an increase was observed was during last year’s 11-day war with terror groups in the Gaza Strip and related sectarian violence in Israel.

Police seize 61 guns in largest-ever weapons smuggling from Lebanon; 3 arrested

Weapons seized by Israeli security forces after an alleged gun-smuggling from Lebanon, on March 23, 2022. (Israel Police)
Weapons seized by Israeli security forces after an alleged gun-smuggling from Lebanon, on March 23, 2022. (Israel Police)

Police say they have seized 61 firearms from Arab Israeli gun smugglers, in what is the largest-ever bust of weapons smuggled in from Lebanon.

Three suspects, residents of Tuba-Zangariyye, are detained near the Hamovil Interchange in northern Israel, after a chase from the border.

In their vehicle, police say found 58 handguns, 3 assault rifles, and half a kilogram of an unnamed drug.

Law enforcement officials estimate the weapons and drugs are worth NIS 3.5 million ($1 million).

Officials have warned that the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group is attempting to arm Arab Israelis in order for them to commit terror attacks in the event of another surge in violence between Jews and Arabs.

Russia accuses Poland of ‘dangerous escalation’ in the region

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint press conference with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President following their talks in Moscow on March 24, 2022. (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint press conference with International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President following their talks in Moscow on March 24, 2022. (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP)

MOSCOW — Russia’s foreign ministry accuses NATO member Poland, which neighbors Ukraine, of escalating the situation in Eastern Europe after it expelled 45 Russian diplomats over alleged espionage.

“Warsaw has embarked on a dangerous escalation in the region, proceeding not from national interests, but within the framework of NATO guidelines, which are based on outright Russophobia elevated to the rank of official policy,” the ministry says in a statement.

US, allies discuss providing anti-ship missiles to Ukraine

BRUSSELS — The United States and its NATO allies are discussing sending anti-ship missiles to Ukraine, a senior US official says, after Russian vessels attacked Kyiv’s Black Sea ports.

“We have started consulting with allies on providing anti-ship missiles to Ukraine,” the official tells reporters as a NATO summit got underway in Brussels.

“There may be some technical challenges with making that happen, but that is something that we are consulting with allies and starting to work on,” the official adds.

Suspected ‘price tag’ vandalism, attempted arson of mosque in West Bank town

Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jamma’in woke up this morning to discover their town had been targeted in an apparent hate crime, including an alleged attempt to set fire to a mosque.

A slogan reading: “Jews will not be silent when we are murdered” along with a Star of David, is graffitied on a nearby wall, according to images from the scene.

There is slight damage to the mosque in the arson attempt.

The Israel Police says forces are preparing to enter the town to collect evidence.

Incidents of vandalism against Palestinians and Israeli security forces are commonly referred to as “price tag” attacks, with perpetrators claiming that they are retaliation for Palestinian violence or government policies seen as hostile to the settler movement.

The suspected vandalism and attempted arson comes two days after four Israelis were killed in a terror attack in Beersheba, by an Arab Israeli man from the Bedouin town of Hura.

Jamma’in is located in the northern West Bank, near the settlement of Ariel.

ICRC chief, Russia discuss need to protect Ukraine civilians

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer shake hands at the end of a joint press conference following their talks in Moscow on March 24, 2022. (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer shake hands at the end of a joint press conference following their talks in Moscow on March 24, 2022. (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / POOL / AFP)

MOSCOW — The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross says he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the need to protect civilians during Moscow’s operations in Ukraine.

“We certainly also discussed the international humanitarian law and provisions of the Geneva Convention in regard to conduct of hostilities… that civilians must be protected,” Peter Maurer says at a joint press conference with Lavrov.

Zelensky says Russia using phosphorus bombs in Ukraine

Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky accuses Russia of deploying phosphorus weapons in his country.

“This morning, by the way, phosphorus bombs were used. Russian phosphorus bombs. Adults were killed again and children were killed again,” Zelensky says during a video address to NATO.

Zelensky is referring to the Russian bombardment near Luhansk overnight.

Zelensky calls for unlimited military support from NATO

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 21, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks from Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 21, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

BRUSSELS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urges NATO to provide Kyiv with unrestricted military aid, one month into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“To save people and our cities, Ukraine needs military assistance without restrictions. In the same way that Russia is using its full arsenal without restrictions against us,” the Ukrainian leader tells NATO representatives via videolink.

Abraham Accords takes to the soccer field in Dubai next week

Poster announcing the Abraham Accords soccer match between national teams players and international stars, released March 24, 2022 (courtesy UAE Embassy in Israel)
Poster announcing the Abraham Accords soccer match between national teams players and international stars, released March 24, 2022 (courtesy UAE Embassy in Israel)

The United Arab Emirates will be hosting a day-long Abraham Accords festival at the Expo 2020 Dubai next week, the Emirati and US ambassadors to Israel announce.

The event – meant to be the first in a series of events hosted by Morocco, Bahrain and Israel over the coming months – will feature a soccer game between a combined Israeli, Emirati, Bahraini and Moroccan team and a squad made up of international soccer stars.

Israel national team players Tal Ben Haim, Salim Tuama and Maor Buzaglo will play on the “Abraham Accords Classics Team.”

The players from the other Abraham Accords nations also play on their respective national squads.

The “World Legends Team” will feature Brazil’s Kaká and Julio Cesar, Spain’s Carles Puyol and Michel Salgado, Argentina’s Javier Saviola, Nigeria’s Jay Jay Okocha, France’s Robert Pires, Bacary Sanga and Claude Makélélé, and Holland’s Clarence Seedorf.

Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper will represent Israel’s government at the event. He will be joined by his counterparts from the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco, as well at US envoy to Israel Tom Nides and the UAE Minister of Entrepreneurship Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi.

Video shows Ukrainian anti-tank missile destroying Russian tank

The Ukrainian military publishes a video of an anti-tank missile strike on a Russian tank during the fighting in the country yesterday.

The dramatic drone footage follows another video of the incident yesterday, both of which show a massive fireball after the military vehicle is hit, reportedly by a Stugna-P ATGM.

The tank is completely destroyed, according to footage.

It is not immediately clear where the incident took place.

Culture minister hosting Ukrainian refugee family at home

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper says he has taken in a Ukrainian family to live in his home after they fled the war.

Mark, 9, a young tennis player, his mom, Lena, and their dog are now living with the Troppers.

Mark and his mother were part of a program that relocated 100 athletes from Ukraine to Israel. The boy’s father has remained behind in Ukraine, in a city between Kharkiv and the capital Kyiv, the minister writes in a Facebook post.

“They are charming, in much pain, endlessly worried, but also manage to smile and maintain optimism. My children vacated their rooms, offered them the beds, and tried, without words but with simple human language, to give them ‘a place in the world,'” he says, using the name of his book.

מארק בן התשע, אמו לנה והכלב גושה ברחו מאוקראינה. הם פליטי מלחמה ובתחילת השבוע הם עברו לגור בביתי. אנו משתדלים לתת להם…

Posted by ‎חילי טרופר | Chili Tropper‎ on Thursday, March 24, 2022

Israeli ports to prioritize cargo ships carrying grain, fodder amid shortage fears

File: The port of Haifa, June 11, 2015.(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
File: The port of Haifa, June 11, 2015.(Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Cargo ships carrying grain and fodder will be given priority in unloading at Israel’s ports for the coming month amid fears of shortages during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Transportation Ministry says.

Together, Ukraine and Russia produce around 25% of the world’s wheat. About half of Israel’s supply comes from Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch warned earlier this week that the war in Ukraine “risks deepening the world’s food crisis, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli instructs the Shipping and Ports Authority to prioritize the unloading of ships carrying grain and fodder for use in Israel’s agriculture and food sectors until April 24.

“We face challenges to our food security at the moment due to the worrying developments in Ukraine. The State of Israel must protect its food security by strengthening our domestic agriculture. Taking steps to get the grain and fodder that Israeli agriculture relies on into the country quickly will ensure that we maintain Israeli food security despite the changes around the world,” Michaeli says in a statement.

UK sanctions 59 more Russian firms, individuals

LONDON — Britain slaps sanctions on 59 more Russian individuals and entities, including the shadowy mercenary group Wagner, in a further retaliation to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The government says its latest asset freeze targets 33 individuals and 26 entities as well as six other entities linked to the Belarus regime.

UK’s Johnson says Putin crossed line ‘into barbarism’

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson disembarks a plane to attend a special meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2022. (Henry Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson disembarks a plane to attend a special meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2022. (Henry Nicholls/Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS — NATO leaders are refusing to rule out retaliation against Russia should it launch a chemical weapons attack on Ukraine — but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson thinks Moscow has already gone too far.

“The reality is that (President) Vladimir Putin has already crossed the red line into barbarism,” Johnson tells reporters as he arrived for the summit of NATO leaders.

Johnson says that “it’s now up to NATO to consider together the appalling crisis in Ukraine, the appalling suffering of the people of Ukraine, and to see what more we can do to help the people of Ukraine to protect themselves.”

As an organization, NATO is not providing weapons to Ukraine. The 30-nation alliance refuses to send troops to Ukraine, either for combat or peacekeeping, and has said it will not deploy aircraft to protect civilians or police any no-fly zone.

But member countries are providing weapons and other assistance, individually or in groups.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo describes Putin as “a Russian leader who has lost any sense of what is reasonable these days.”

De Croo warns that “if chemical weapons or anything else could be used, that would have definitely grave consequences.” No NATO leader has elaborated yet on what that might mean.

South Korea fires missile barrage at sea in response to North’s ICBM test launch

SEOUL — South Korea’s military says it has fired a barrage of missiles in response to North Korea’s earlier test of a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

“In response to North Korea’s ICBM launch, our military jointly fired missiles from ground, sea, air,” at 4:25 p.m. in the Sea of Japan, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Ukraine denies Russian troops have captured key east city Izyum

Ukraine denies Russian troops have taken control of the city of Izyum, situated on the Donets River in the Kharkiv Oblast of eastern Ukraine.

Speaking to CNN, Lyudmyla Dolhonovska, an adviser to the Ukrainian military chief, says that the battle for Izyum is “still going on.”

Earlier, the Russian military claimed to have taken control of the city, state news agency RIA-Novosti reported, citing the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Izyum has been cut off from nearly all communications since intense battles between Russian and Ukrainian forces broke out there last week, according to CNN.

Izyum is on a key route to the Donbas region that would potentially allow Russian forces in the northeast and southeast to link up.

UK’s Johnson calls for action against Russian gold reserves

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the Conservative Party Spring Conference at Blackpool Winter Gardens in Blackpool, northwest England, on March 19, 2022. (Paul Ellis/AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during the Conservative Party Spring Conference at Blackpool Winter Gardens in Blackpool, northwest England, on March 19, 2022. (Paul Ellis/AFP)

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson calls for the world to prevent Russia from using its gold reserves, ahead of a NATO summit on Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We need to do more and so we need to do more economically,” Johnson tells LBC radio a month after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his devastating invasion of Ukraine.

“Can we do more to stop him using his gold reserves, for instance, in addition to his cash reserves? What can we do more to sanction SWIFT?” he says, referring to the international bank transfer system.

Johnson says that as well as increasing military support to Ukraine, “we’ve got to go further” economically.

“My message today in NATO will be that there are ways in which the world can continue to intensify the pressure on Putin,” he says.

“The more we do that now, the more pressure we apply now, particularly on things like gold… I believe the more we can shorten the war, shorten the slaughter in Ukraine,” he adds.

Over half of Ukraine’s children displaced after month of war, UN says

Refugees leaving to Romania after fleeing from Ukraine, walk at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova, March 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)
Refugees leaving to Romania after fleeing from Ukraine, walk at the border crossing in Palanca, Moldova, March 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

GENEVA — More than half of all children in Ukraine have been displaced from their homes since Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, the United Nations says.

“One month of war in Ukraine has led to the displacement of 4.3 million children – more than half of the country’s estimated 7.5 million child population,” the UN children’s agency Unicef says in a statement, adding that 1.8 million children had fled the country as refugees and 2.5 million were now displaced inside Ukraine.

At least four dead, six wounded in Russian bombardments near Luhansk

KYIV — At least four people were killed, including two children, and six wounded from overnight strikes in eastern Ukraine, the governor of the Luhansk region says.

Sergiy Gayday says “unfortunately, the number of victims could be considerably higher,” accusing Russian forces of using phosphorus bombs.

Other officials in the region have made similar claims in recent days, which AFP has been unable to immediately verify.

NATO chief says Russian chemical attack in Ukraine would have ‘severe consequences’

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses media representatives as he arrives ahead of an extraordinary NATO summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses media representatives as he arrives ahead of an extraordinary NATO summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

BRUSSELS — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says any chemical attack by Russia on Ukraine would change the course of the war but he is not saying whether NATO would take military action.

Asked whether a chemical weapons attack is a red line for NATO, Stoltenberg said, “I will not speculate beyond the fact that NATO is always ready to defend, to protect and to react to any type of attack on a NATO-allied country.”

Stoltenberg says “any use of chemical weapons would fundamentally change the nature of the conflict. It would be a blatant violation of international law, and it will have widespread and severe consequences.”

His remarks come as he arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels to chair a summit of the military organization’s 30 national leaders, including US President Joe Biden.

NATO allies are worried about Russian rhetoric and fears that Moscow might want to create a pretext to use chemical weapons in Ukraine. The leaders are likely to agree to send equipment to help Ukraine protect against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

They’re also set to endorse a move to set up four new multinational battlegroups in eastern Europe to deter Russia from attacking any NATO members.

Over 6,000 Ukrainians have immigrated to Israel since Russia’s invasion, doubling 2021 tally

Ukrainian immigrants to Israel who fled fighting in Ukraine arrive on a rescue flight at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Ukrainian immigrants to Israel who fled fighting in Ukraine arrive on a rescue flight at Ben Gurion Airport, on March 17, 2022. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

More than 6,000 Ukrainians have immigrated to Israel since Russia launched its invasion one month ago, roughly twice as many as in all of 2021, the Immigration and Absorption Ministry says.

According to the ministry, since the Russian offensive began, 8,238 people from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus have arrived in Israel, with more than 75 percent of them coming from Ukraine. (Seeing all of these immigrants as fleeing humanitarian crises — the war in Ukraine and repression in Russia and Belarus — the ministry has taken to lumping all of them in one group for the purposes of its statistics.)

More than 500 new immigrants arrived in Israel yesterday and another 400 were due to arrive today.

The Jewish Agency, a quasi-governmental organization that oversees immigration to Israel, has said it was significantly stepping up its immigration flights to tackle the growing refugee crisis on Ukraine’s borders.

Of the more than 8,000 new immigrants who have arrived in the past month, roughly a quarter have opted to spend their first few weeks in the country in hotel rooms rented by the government.

The rest have arranged their own housing, many with family who already live in Israel.

“More and more immigrants arrive every day, and our immigration forecasts are coming true. We expect many more immigrants and are preparing for that. In addition to giving immediate aid to immigrants, we are working now on developing big programs in the fields of welfare, education, employment, housing and other aspects, and I am glad to see cooperation with other members of the government,” Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata says in a statement.

Suspected North Korean missile lands in waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone

This photo provided by the North Korean government Sept. 16, 2021, shows a test missile is launched from a train on Sept. 15, 2021, in an undisclosed location of North Korea (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
This photo provided by the North Korean government Sept. 16, 2021, shows a test missile is launched from a train on Sept. 15, 2021, in an undisclosed location of North Korea (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

TOKYO — A suspected North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fired earlier today landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, west of the country’s north coast, the government says.

“Our current analysis indicates that the ballistic missile flew for 71 minutes and around 3:44 p.m, it landed in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan about 150 kilometers east of Hokkaido’s Oshima peninsula,” says Makoto Oniki, Japan’s state minister for defense.

“Given the ballistic missile this time around flew at an altitude of over 6,000 km, which was much higher than the Hwasong-15 ICBM that was launched in November 2017, the one today is believed to be a new ICBM,” he adds.

Putin made ‘big mistake’ invading Ukraine, NATO chief says

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses media representatives as he arrives ahead of an extraordinary NATO summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses media representatives as he arrives ahead of an extraordinary NATO summit at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on March 24, 2022. (Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

BRUSSELS — NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of making a “big mistake” by invading Ukraine, as leaders gather to discuss overhauling the alliance’s eastern defenses.

“President Putin has made a big mistake and that is to launch a war against an independent sovereign nation. He has underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian people, the bravery of the Ukrainian people and their armed forces,” Stoltenberg says ahead of the start of the summit in Brussels.

Stoltenberg says the leaders of the US-led military alliance would “address the need for a reset of our deterrence and defense in the longer term,” starting with agreeing on new deployments to eastern members Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

Russian stock market partially resumes trading after a month

People walk past a currency exchange office screen displaying the exchange rates of US Dollar and Euro to Russian Rubles in Moscow's downtown, February 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)
People walk past a currency exchange office screen displaying the exchange rates of US Dollar and Euro to Russian Rubles in Moscow's downtown, February 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

The Russian stock market resumes limited trading under heavy restrictions almost one month after prices plunged and the market was shut down following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Trading of a limited number of stocks including energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft took place under curbs that are meant to prevent a repeat of the massive selloff that took place February 24 in anticipation of Western economic sanctions. Foreigners cannot sell and traders are barred from short selling, or betting prices will fall.

The benchmark MOEX index gained 8% in the first minutes of trading.

The reopening of stock trading on the Moscow Exchange has little impact on investors outside Russia. Its market capitalization is a fraction of that of major Western or Asian markets.

Foreign investment managers lost one reason to buy Russian stocks after MSCI Inc. declared the market to be “uninvestable” following the Feb. 24 invasion and removed it from global indexes.

Ukrainian navy says large Russian landing ship destroyed at occupied port

The Ukrainian Navy says a large Russian landing ship docked at the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk has been destroyed.

Making the announcement in a Facebook post, the navy does not provide any further details.

Earlier, large explosions and heavy smoke were seen in the area.

On Monday, Russia’s military said it had docked the large landing support ship, Orsk, at the dock.

The port city was occupied by Russian forces during the first days of the war last month.

Доброго ранку ми з України! 🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦У тимчасово захопленому рф порту Бердянськ знищено великий десантний корабель «Орск» чорноморського флоту окупантів.Слава Україні!#stoprussia

Posted by ВМС ЗС України on Wednesday, March 23, 2022

North Korea fires ‘unidentified projectile’ at East Sea, South’s military says

People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 5, 2022 (AP Photo /Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korea's missile launch during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 5, 2022 (AP Photo /Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL — North Korea fires an “unidentified projectile,” the South’s military said, the latest in a series of provocations by the nuclear-armed nation.

“North Korea fired an unidentified projectile eastwards,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff say in a statement.

Japan’s coastguard issued an emergency warning to vessels over a “potentially ballistic missile possibly launched from North Korea.”

UK says Russia looking to deploy more troops to replace ‘considerable losses’

Cars drive past a destroyed Russian tank as a convoy of vehicles evacuating civilians leaves Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (Vadim GhirdaAP)
Cars drive past a destroyed Russian tank as a convoy of vehicles evacuating civilians leaves Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 9, 2022. (Vadim GhirdaAP)

The United Kingdom’s Defense Ministry says Russia is looking to mobilize reservists, conscripts, and mercenaries to replace its “considerable losses” amid the month-long invasion of Ukraine.

“Russian forces have almost certainly suffered thousands of casualties during their invasion of Ukraine,” the ministry says in a new intelligence report.

“Russia is likely now looking to mobilise its reservist and conscript manpower, as well as private military companies and foreign mercenaries, to replace these considerable losses,” it says.

“It is unclear how these groups will integrate into the Russian ground forces in Ukraine and the impact this will have on combat effectiveness,” the report adds.

Ukraine says Russia failing to make progress on all fronts

Volunteers at a sand beach fill sandbags to defend their city, in Odesa, southern Ukraine, March 23, 2022. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)
Volunteers at a sand beach fill sandbags to defend their city, in Odesa, southern Ukraine, March 23, 2022. (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry says Russian troops continue to attack civilian and military infrastructure in Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Kharkiv, as Ukrainian forces continue “defense operations” in all areas.

The ministry says Russia isn’t making much progress against their defenses on the east, southeast, and northeast frontiers.

Fire reported at port in Ukrainian city occupied by Russian troops

Several explosions are reportedly heard, followed by a large fire at the port of Berdyansk in southern Ukraine.

The city was occupied by Russian forces during the first days of the war last month.

Footage posted to social media shows heavy smoke covering the area.

Instead of meeting with Bennett, Netanyahu is briefed by PM’s military secretary

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu (R) walks past Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during voting on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu (R) walks past Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during voting on the state budget, November 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Since Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took office last June he has not met with his predecessor, now opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu to give him a security briefing as is required by law.

The Times of Israel’s sister-site Zman Yisrael has learned Bennett has been sending his military secretary, Avi Gil, to brief the opposition leader instead.

Channel 12 news says Bennett has not invited Netanyahu for the required monthly briefing since the opposition leader will likely refuse to meet.

The last meeting between Netanyahu and Gil took place on March 7, and was related to the Iranian nuclear deal issue, the network says.

Then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett (L) speaks with IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi (R) and Brig. Gen. Avi Gil, head of Northern Command’s 36th Division, in the Golan Heights on December 18, 2019. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Russia to expel more American diplomats

The US Embassy with its national flag, seen behind a monument to the Workers of 1905 Revolution in Moscow, Russia, December 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
The US Embassy with its national flag, seen behind a monument to the Workers of 1905 Revolution in Moscow, Russia, December 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

WASHINGTON — The US State Department says Russia has begun the process of expelling several more diplomats from the US embassy in Moscow.

The department says it received a list of diplomats on Wednesday who have been declared “persona non grata” by the Russian foreign ministry. It didn’t say how many diplomats were affected by the order, which generally results in the expulsion of those targeted within 72 hours.

The Russian foreign ministry summoned U. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan on Monday to protest President Joe Biden’s description of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal” over the invasion of Ukraine. After that meeting, Russia warned that it was close to severing diplomatic relations with the United States, which would be an unprecedented move.

The State Department called Wednesday’s move “Russia’s latest unhelpful and unproductive step” in relations between the countries. It urged Russia “to end its unjustified expulsions of US diplomats and staff.”

Russia limits access to Google News

In this November 5, 2018 file photo, a woman walks past the logo for Google at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)
In this November 5, 2018 file photo, a woman walks past the logo for Google at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

Russia’s media regulator is restricting access to the Google News service, accusing it of providing access to “false” information about Russia’s offensive in Ukraine, Russian news agencies report.

The decision is taken at the request of the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office, according to a statement by the country’s media regulator Roskomnadzor cited by the agencies.

The online news service “provided access to numerous publications and materials that contain false information… about the course of the special military operation on Ukrainian territory,” the statement says.

Google “confirmed that some people are having difficulty accessing the Google News app and website in Russia and that this is not due to any technical issues on our end,” a company spokesperson says.

“We’ve worked hard to keep information services like News accessible to people in Russia for as long as possible,” the Google spokesperson adds.

Since the start of the Russian intervention in Ukraine on February 24, the Russian government has considerably tightened its control over information on the internet, one of the last resources for free expression in the country.

Zelensky calls for ‘unrestricted’ NATO military aid

Ukrainian air force Su-27 fighter jet is in the sky outside Slovyansk, 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Russian border, in eastern Ukraine, on, April 15, 2014. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a “desperate” plea to the United States to help Kyiv get more warplanes to fight Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Alexander Ermochenko, File)
Ukrainian air force Su-27 fighter jet is in the sky outside Slovyansk, 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Russian border, in eastern Ukraine, on, April 15, 2014. Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has made a “desperate” plea to the United States to help Kyiv get more warplanes to fight Russia's invasion. (AP Photo/Alexander Ermochenko, File)

LVIV, Ukraine — Speaking on the eve of the NATO summit, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky callson the alliance to provide “effective and unrestricted” support to Ukraine, including any weapons the country needs to fend off the Russian invasion.

“We ask that the alliance declare that it will fully assist Ukraine to win this war, clear our territory of the invaders and restore peace in Ukraine,” he says during his nightly video address to the nation.

Zelensky will speak to the NATO summit by video, the president’s office says.

He appeals to Western countries to stay united in the face what he says are Russia’s efforts to “lobby its interests” with “some partners” to bring them over to its side.

“We will see who is a friend, who is a partner and who has sold out and betrayed us,” he says in an emotional speech. “Together we should not allow Russia to break anyone in NATO, the EU or G-7, to break them and drag them to the side of war.”

Zelensky notes that Ukrainian skies are still not closed to Russian aircraft and missiles and that Ukraine hasn’t received the fighter jets or modern air-defense systems it requested. He says Ukraine also needs tanks and anti-ship systems.

“It has been a month of defending ourselves from attempts to destroy us, wipe us off the face of the earth,” he said. “We have lasted six times longer than the enemy had planned … but the Russian troops are destroying our cities, killing civilians indiscriminately, raping women, kidnapping children, shooting refugees, capturing aid columns and looting.”

Switching to Russian, Zelensky appealed to Russians “to leave Russia so as not to give your tax money to the war.” Tens of thousands of Russians already have fled Russia since the war began, fearing the intensifying crackdown at home.

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