U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem today as a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas holds for a fifth day. Blinken is expected to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. He will then head to Egypt and Jordan. Blinken is not planning to meet with anyone connected to Hamas or visit Gaza, which was devastated during the 11-day Israeli bombardment. The Israeli assault killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children. During a joint appearance with Netanyahu, Blinken reaffirmed Israel’s right to self-defense and repeated President Biden’s vow to help rebuild Gaza.
Israel’s Health Ministry says it will end all COVID-19 restrictions in June, after its mass vaccination program nearly succeeded in halting community spread of coronavirus. Daily infections across Israel are down to double digits, with an average of just one to two COVID deaths per day. Meanwhile, health officials in Gaza are warning tens of thousands of Palestinians who crowded into shelters during Israel’s 11-day bombardment are at high risk of COVID-19. Just 2% of Gazans are fully vaccinated, and Israel has refused to distribute vaccines in the Palestinian territories it occupies. During Israel’s assault on Gaza, an Israeli airstrike killed a prominent Palestinian doctor who was overseeing COVID cases at Gaza’s largest hospital. Another Israeli airstrike damaged Gaza’s only COVID testing lab.
In Geneva, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Monday set new targets for vaccinating the world’s poorest nations, while scolding rich countries for vaccinating low-risk groups ahead of health workers and high-risk groups in other countries.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “The ongoing vaccine crisis is a scandalous inequity that’s perpetuating the pandemic. More than 75% of all vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries. There is no diplomatic way to say it: A small group of countries that make and buy the majority of the world’s vaccines control the fate of the rest of the world.”
The U.S. State Department has issued a Level 4 travel advisory for Japan — its highest cautionary level — due to a spike in COVID-19 cases. The U.S. advisory adds to pressure both inside and outside of Japan to cancel the Summer Olympics, which are due to open on July 23.
The Los Angeles Unified School District said Monday it will fully reopen classrooms in the fall, with a remote option for some families. The news followed New York City’s announcement that schools will open in full in September with no remote option. Officials in both cities cited rising COVID vaccination rates and plummeting case rates for the planned return to in-person learning. The United States is reporting its lowest rate of coronavirus infections in nearly a year — with just over 25,000 new cases reported Monday.
In Mexico City, hundreds of teachers, students and parents marched Monday to protest against plans to reopen schools as early as next month. Most of Mexico’s schools have been closed since March of 2020, and while many teachers have been vaccinated, protesters are demanding vaccines for students and their family members before a return to classes.
Juventino Navarrete: “At this time not even 20% of the population is vaccinated. And given the terrible conditions of the schools we attend, it’s very hard to return to classes.”
Dulce Feliz Hernandez: “As a mother, I will obviously be uneasy. My daughter can get infected. So we are demanding more time for virtual classes, until the situation is stabilized. And I repeat that there are vaccines.”
A study by University of Washington researchers found COVID-19 has killed over 600,000 people in Mexico, nearly three times the official count.
The European Union announced sanctions against Belarus Monday, one day after it diverted a commercial flight to Minsk in order to arrest a journalist critical of Belarus’s authoritarian president. On Sunday, Belarus scrambled a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair flight after falsely reporting a bomb threat. The interception sparked panic among passengers. After landing in Minsk, police arrested 26-year-old Roman Protasevich, a journalist who covered recent demonstrations calling for an end to the 27-year rule of Alexander Lukashenko.
Protasevich appeared in a video posted online Monday, saying he was being held in a Minsk detention center, and confessing to having “organized mass unrest in the city of Minsk.” The video shows Protasevich with a mark on his forehead, raising questions about whether he had been beaten.
European leaders have described Protasevich’s arrest as a state-sponsored hijacking and kidnapping, and on Monday called on airlines not to fly over Belarus, while barring Belarusian airlines from EU airspace and airports. This is European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Ursula von der Leyen: “This is an attack on freedom of expression, and this is an attack on European sovereignty. And this outrageous behavior needs a strong answer.”
President Joe Biden applauded EU sanctions and said he ordered his administration to hold Belarus accountable.
The downing of the Ryanair flight by Belarus is drawing comparisons to the U.S.–backed downing of a flight by European officials in 2013 carrying Bolivia’s then-President Evo Morales. Morales’s plane was forced to land in Vienna after taking off from Moscow, amid rumors that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was aboard. Ed Snowden tweeted Monday, “Downing aircraft to pursue the arrest of dissidents has always been outrageous. It is the modern expression of Bush-era 'extraordinary rendition' (international kidnapping by state agents), and should be opposed no matter the flag under which it occurs.”
A top-secret study leaked to The New York Times by famed Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg reveals the U.S. military pressed then-President Dwight Eisenhower to prepare a nuclear first strike against mainland China during the Taiwan Strait crisis of 1958. The document shows U.S. military planners were ready to accept the risk that the Soviet Union would launch its own nuclear retaliation on behalf of its ally China and that millions of people would die. Daniel Ellsberg told the Times he decided to disclose the document now due to rising tensions between the United States and China over Taiwan.
Senate Democrats have introduced a bill that would trim $73 billion from the U.S. nuclear arsenal over the next decade. The Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures — or SANE — Act was co-sponsored by Oregon Congressmember Earl Blumenauer and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. They introduced their bill Monday as the Congressional Budget Office released a report projecting the cost of maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile through 2030 at $634 billion.
Mali is facing a new political crisis after soldiers detained Mali’s president and prime minister in what appears to be the country’s second military coup in less than a year. The African Union and United Nations issued a joint statement calling for the “immediate and unconditional release” of the two leaders — President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane — who are reportedly being held at a military base outside of Bamako. The two leaders both came to power in September as part of a transitional government following a military coup.
Burmese authorities have detained and jailed a U.S. journalist who has been reporting on the Burmese military coup. Danny Fenster was detained Monday at the airport in Rangoon as he was preparing to board a flight to Malaysia. Fenster is the managing editor of the publication Frontier Myanmar. The Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded his immediate release, calling his arrest the “latest grave threat to press freedom in Myanmar.”
A prominent Black Lives Matter activist in Britain is in critical condition after being shot in the head at a party on Sunday in South London. Police say they do not believe the activist, Sasha Johnson, was the victim of a targeted attack, but some fellow activists say she has received death threats in the past.
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of a Missouri death row prisoner who is seeking to be shot by a firing squad rather than die by lethal injection. Ernest Johnson suffers from epilepsy and says Missouri’s plans to inject him with the drug pentobarbital will trigger excruciating seizures that amount to cruel and unusual punishment. After the court’s six conservatives declined to hear Johnson’s case without explanation, Justice Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion signed by Justices Breyer and Kagan, “Missouri is now free to execute Johnson in a manner that, at this stage of the litigation, we must assume will be akin to torture given his unique medical condition.”
A federal court has struck down a Georgia law banning the state from doing business with anyone who supports the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by independent journalist Abby Martin, who was barred from speaking at Georgia Southern University in 2019 because she refused to sign a pledge against the BDS movement. Under Georgia law, any recipient of a government contract larger than $1,000 must sign such a pledge. Martin filed the lawsuit last year.
Abby Martin: “My right to speak at a conference on media at a public university was conditioned on my pledge to never participate in my constitutional right to engage in peaceful political action. It is not just this particular conference, but my right to speak at any public university or similar event in the entire state has been taken away because I will not forfeit my constitutional rights by signing this pledge.”