Israel and Hamas agreed Thursday to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, bringing a halt to Israel’s 11-day shelling and bombing campaign that devastated the Gaza Strip, killing 243 Palestinians, including 66 children. Rockets fired by Hamas killed 12 people in Israel, including two children. Residents of Gaza and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem broke out in celebrations early Friday morning as the ceasefire took hold.
Bodies are still being pulled from the rubble. Al Jazeera reports at least nine bodies have been found today, including one of a 3-year-old girl. Those who survived the assault — especially children — will carry psychological scars for years. This is 31-year-old Gaza father Mohammad al-Masharawi.
Mohammad al-Masharawi: “My children are having nightmares at night. They’re not making any sense because of the fear. They are suffering from hysteria. My little one takes medicine to be able to sleep, because she is always tired from the bombing and the strange sounds that we hear. It is crazy. We can’t stand it anymore.”
Israel’s 11-day bombardment has devastated Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, with strikes hitting electricity, water, sewage and telecommunications lines. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the ceasefire and urged Israel to allow rapid and unhindered aid access to the Palestinian territories.
Secretary-General António Guterres: “The fighting has left thousands of Palestinians homeless and forced over 50,000 people to leave their homes and seek shelter in UNRWA schools, mosques and other places with little access to water, food, hygiene or health services. I was horrified by reports that nine members of one family were killed in al-Shati refugee camp. If there is a hell on Earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today.”
President Biden, whose administration has repeatedly blocked U.N. Security Council statements and resolutions calling for a ceasefire, spoke on Thursday night and commended Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to visit the region soon.
Argentina has ordered a new coronavirus lockdown, after reporting over 35,000 new infections for the third straight day.
India reported another 260,000 cases and 4,200 deaths on Friday — though both numbers are likely a significant undercount. This week, the Serum Institute of India — the world’s largest vaccine producer — said it would not ship any vaccine doses beyond India this year, dealing another blow to the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative to vaccinate poorer nations. COVAX is already 140 million doses behind schedule.
In Brussels, the head of the World Trade Organization met with top European Union officials on Thursday, urging them to reverse their opposition to waiving patent rights for COVID vaccines. Over 100 nations, led by South Africa and India, say the move is desperately needed to increase the availability of vaccines in the Global South. WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala pointed to idle factories in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Senegal, South Africa and Thailand. She called vaccine inequity an “unacceptable problem” and urged European officials to act quickly to save lives.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: “I think we should focus, and I want us to go fast, because this is about lives. I don’t want us to take years again to negotiate this issue.”
Meanwhile, the People’s Vaccine Alliance reports profits from COVID vaccines have helped at least nine people become billionaires during the pandemic — with a combined wealth of over $19 billion — more than enough to cover the cost of fully vaccinating all people in low-income countries.
Here in the U.S., at least half the adult population is fully vaccinated in 19 states, as local officials search for new ways to increase the lagging rate of vaccinations. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced residents who got vaccinated at a state-run clinic can receive a lottery ticket with prize money worth up to $5 million. Top White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said this week vaccinated people would likely need a COVID-19 booster shot “within a year or so.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is meeting today with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House. It’s only the second time Biden has hosted a world leader in person, after a meeting with Japan’s prime minister in April. The South Korean leader is seeking U.S. help in securing vaccines; in exchange, Biden is reportedly seeking South Korean investment in U.S. semiconductor plants as the world faces a shortage of microchips. The two are also expected to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The Department of Homeland Security says it will stop incarcerating immigrants at a pair of county jails under federal investigation for abuses — in Bristol County, Massachusetts, and Irwin County, Georgia. Immigrants jailed at the Bristol jail say officers attacked them with pepper spray and sicced dogs on them as they held a protest last year demanding COVID-19 protections. Meanwhile, dozens of immigrant women jailed at the Irwin County Detention Center say they were subjected to nonconsensual and invasive gynecological procedures — including hysterectomies — that were later found to be unnecessary.
Immigrant rights advocates are celebrating news that Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be terminating contracts with the jails. Silky Shah, executive director of Detention Watch Network, said, “We know that this must be the first step of many, including ensuring that people are released and not transferred to other detention facilities when contracts are cut. … Everyone should be able to navigate their immigration case at home and in community — not behind bars in immigration detention.”
In El Salvador, officials say up to 40 bodies, mostly women, could be buried at the house of a former detective. Hugo Ernesto Osorio Chávez was arrested earlier this month for killing a woman and her daughter, which prompted the search of his home and led to the grim discovery. Nine other people have been implicated in the crimes so far, including former police officers and former soldiers. El Salvador recorded 70 femicides last year.
Amnesty International is calling on the Biden administration to stop selling U.S.-made weapons and other equipment to Colombia, where police have been violently cracking down on popular protests. Earlier this month, Colombia’s human rights watchdog said at least 42 people have been killed in the ongoing protests, which are demanding an end to inequality, violence and militarized policing, and for the right-wing government of President Iván Duque to enact a number of social reforms. This is Indigenous leader Ati Quigua speaking from a rally in Bogotá.
Ati Quigua: “We would like to invite the government to stop the murders of social leaders. In Colombia, there is a murder every three days. In Colombia, they are murdering Indigenous leaders. And we want respect for our lands, so that they don’t continue to be granted for extraction activities.”
The FBI has released more footage of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by a violent mob incited by then-President Trump. One video shows a rioter trying to rip off a police officer’s gas mask, then picking up a baton and hitting officers with it. Another video shows a rioter punching officers while wearing gloves with metal knuckles.
In Pennsylvania, federal agents have arrested Pauline Bauer, who, according to an FBI affidavit, broke into the Capitol on January 6 shouting, “Bring Nancy Pelosi out here now. We want to hang that f—ing b—!”
On Thursday, the House narrowly passed an emergency funding bill providing an additional $1.9 billion to fortify security at the Capitol. Republicans were unanimously opposed. Meanwhile, several progressive Democrats refused to support the measure. African American Congressmembers Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley said in a joint statement, “A bill that pours $1.9 billion into increased police surveillance and force without addressing the underlying threats of organized and violent white supremacy, radicalization, and disinformation that led to this attack will not prevent it from happening again.”
Arizona’s secretary of state is advising Maricopa County officials to replace all voting machines that were turned over to a private company hired by Republicans to conduct a fourth audit of the 2020 election. The recount is being overseen by Cyber Ninjas, a company with no record of working in election security — and whose CEO has promoted conspiracy theories claiming the election was stolen. Secretary of State Katie Hobbs cited “grave concerns regarding the security and integrity” of hundreds of voting machines that were in Cyber Ninja custody with no election official or observer present.
President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act into law Thursday, which was introduced to address the skyrocketing rates of crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic. Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Asian American to hold the job, spoke ahead of the signing.
Vice President Kamala Harris: “This bill brings us one step closer to stopping hate, not only for Asian Americans, but for all Americans. It will expedite the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes, every type of hate crime. It will designate an official at the department to oversee the effort. And it will expand efforts to make the reporting of hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels.”
Backlash is growing after the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill denied tenure to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. Hannah-Jones is best known for producing The 1619 Project with The New York Times, an interactive project which reexamines the legacy of slavery. Last year, the Trump administration threatened to pull federal funding from schools that use The 1619 Project in their curriculum. On Thursday, faculty members and others attended a board of trustees meeting at UNC, protesting the decision to deny Hannah-Jones tenure. They held signs reading, among other things, “Black Professors Matter,” as some sang “We Shall Overcome.”