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Israel strikes at Gaza over ‘imminent’ retaliation threat

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Israeli forces launched air strikes against the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing 15 people, including a senior figure in the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The militant group responded by firing dozens of missiles into Israel, setting off warning sirens in the south and centre of the country, in the biggest flare-up in tensions since an 11-day war in Gaza in May last year.

Israeli air strikes and Islamic Jihad rocket fire continued on Saturday. Israel’s military said Israeli forces had arrested 19 members of Islamic Jihad in the occupied West Bank overnight.

Israeli officials said they had carried out Friday’s strikes in Gaza in reaction to an “imminent threat” and that Taysir al-Jabari, Islamic Jihad’s commander in northern Gaza, was among 15 militants killed.

Gaza’s health ministry said 15 people, including a five-year-old girl and a 23-year-old woman, had been killed, and that 125 had been injured.

The escalation comes after a week of mounting tension following the arrest on Monday in the West Bank of Bassam al-Saadi, another senior Islamic Jihad figure, which prompted fears of retaliation by the militant group.

Islamic Jihad said on Friday that it had launched more than 100 rockets in response to the Israeli air strikes. An Israeli military official said 74 missiles had been fired and 63 had reached Israel, but that, with the exception of one that hit a road, all had fallen on empty land or been intercepted.

Israeli prime minister Yair Lapid said in addition to al-Jabari, the Israeli strikes had targeted “a cell preparing to launch an anti-tank missile attack against Israel”.

“Anyone who tries to harm Israel should know: we will find you,” he said. “The security forces will act against Islamic Jihad terrorists to eliminate the threat they pose to the citizens of Israel.”

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, said Israel had “launched a new violent escalation . . . and committed a new crime against the Palestinian people”.

“The Palestinian resistance factions are united in this battle and will not keep silent,” he said.

The Israel Defense Forces said army reserves had been mobilised to deal with retaliation by Islamic Jihad or Hamas. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars in Gaza since 2007, including an 11-day conflict last year.

Israel has declared a “special situation” and limited civilian activity within an 80km radius of Gaza, a 365 sq km stretch of land hemmed in between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean that is home to more than 2mn impoverished Palestinians.

Some roads in southern Israel adjoining Gaza were closed earlier this week by Israeli authorities following the arrest of al-Saadi.

Shaul Shay, a former IDF intelligence official now a lecturer at Reichman University, said that whether the confrontation escalated more dramatically would depend on the stance of Hamas.

“The main question is how far [Hamas] are ready to go to control Islamic Jihad,” he said. “If they want, theoretically they can contain them. But I don’t see them going to an armed confrontation with Islamic Jihad on behalf of Israel. It will not work.”

Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran, shares Hamas’s opposition to Israel’s existence. But it is smaller and distinct from Hamas, even though the two groups often co-operate.

Reuven Berko, a former adviser on Arab affairs to Israel’s then civil administration in the Gaza Strip, said al-Jabari had been considered “a very senior commander” in Islamic Jihad, and that his assassination had struck “at the heart” of the group’s operations.

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U.S. could give Ukraine energy help as temperatures fall below freezing; rumors of imminent Russian mobilization in Kherson grow

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Russia could be about to mobilize men in occupied southern Ukraine

A destroyed van used by Russian forces, in Kherson, Ukraine, on Nov. 24, 2022.

Chris Mcgrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Speculation is mounting that Russia could try to mobilize men in the occupied part of Kherson, in southern Ukraine, in December.

The Center of National Resistance, a part of Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces to support Ukrainian resistance efforts, said on its website that “Russians are bringing riot police to carry out the mobilization of men in the southern temporarily occupied territories.”

It said riot police units from Dagestan had arrived on the left bank of the Dnipro river of the Kherson region, together with employees of the military commissariats from the pro-Russian, so-called “people’s republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, to conduct the mobilization.

“The newly arrived occupiers do not hide that in December the personnel will be involved in the illegal conscription of residents of the region with Russian passports. However, it is not exclusive that all men will fall under the ‘mobilization’, and not only the holders of enemy passports.”

Russian forces withdrew from the western bank of the Dnipro river to the eastern (or “left”) bank earlier in November. They have built up defensive lines and fortifications on that side of the river. Russia has already attempted to “Russify” occupied areas by handing out Russian passports and promoting Russian language and culture while suppressing that of Ukraine.

The Center of National Resistance called on the residents in the “TOT,” or “temporarily occupied territory,” to leave the region “and not become a resource for the enemy.”

— Holly Ellyatt

Blinken could announce help for Ukraine’s power transmission

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Henri Coanda airport, in Bucarest, on November 29, 2022, ahead of a NATO meeting.

Daniel Mihailescu | Afp | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday will announce new assistance to help restore Ukraine’s power transmission ability in the face of Russian attacks targeting the country’s energy grid, a senior State Department official said.

Blinken arrived in Romania on Monday evening ahead of a meetings with NATO allies and foreign ministers from the Group of Seven advanced economies.

Ukraine’s foreign minister told some NATO diplomats visiting Kyiv earlier in the day that transformers were the biggest element of the country’s power infrastructure that needed to be restored.

— Reuters

Kherson region shelled 258 times in the past week, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia continues to pound the southern region of Kherson, a part of which Russian forces withdrew from several weeks ago.

“This day, as well as every single day, the occupants again shelled Kherson and the communities of the region. In just one week, the enemy shelled 30 settlements of our Kherson region 258 times,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address Monday. Russian forces had also damaged a pumping station supplying water to Mykolaiv, he added.

“Ukraine will never be a place for destruction. Ukraine will never accept orders from these ‘comrades’ from Moscow. We will do everything to restore every object, every house, every enterprise destroyed by the occupiers,” Zelenskyy said.

Destroyed Russian vehicles and tanks in Mykhailivska Square on Nov. 19, 2022, in Kyiv, Ukraine. Millions of Ukrainians are facing severe power disruptions after recent waves of Russian missile and drone strikes reportedly left almost half of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure disabled and in need of repair, as temperatures plunge.

Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russia has targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure for weeks, causing widespread power blackouts and shortages of energy, water and heat, leaving millions of people in tough circumstances as temperatures plummet. Temperatures in the capital Kyiv are below freezing and are even colder in the countryside.

— Holly Ellyatt

U.S., Russia have used their military hotline once so far during Ukraine war

Aerial view of the United States military headquarters, the Pentagon.

Jason Reed | Reuters

A communications line created between the militaries of the United States and Russia at the start of Moscow’s war against Ukraine has been used only once so far, a U.S. official told Reuters.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the United States initiated a call through the “deconfliction” line to communicate its concerns about Russian military operations near critical infrastructure in Ukraine.

Reuters is the first to report on the use of the deconfliction line, beyond regular testing.

Few details are known surrounding the specific incident that led to the call on the line, which connects the U.S. military’s European Command and Russia’s National Defense Management Center.

The official declined to elaborate but said it was not used when an errant missile landed in NATO-member Poland on Nov. 15, killing two people. The blast was likely caused by a Ukrainian air defense missile but Russia was ultimately responsible because it started the war in late February, NATO said.

Although the U.S. official declined to specify which Russian activity raised the U.S. alarm, there have been publicly acknowledged incidents involving Russian fighting around critical Ukrainian infrastructure. These include Russian operations around Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s biggest, which is under Russian control.

— Reuters

Russia is using winter as a weapon of war against Ukraine, White House says

Russia is targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine in an effort to erode morale as its invasion stalls, John Kirby, spokesperson for the National Security Council, said Monday.

“This is a guy who’s used food as a weapon. He’s used fear as a weapon. Now he’s using the cold weather here to try to bring the Ukrainian people to their knees,” Kirby said.

Kirby said nearly all of the recent Russian military hits have been on civilian infrastructure like water and energy.

“It’s the kind of resources that people need as they get ready to brace for what will no doubt be a cold winter,” he said.

Kirby called the recent attacks despicable and said the U.S. and its allies are working to provide the Ukrainians with the training and tools they need to be successful militarily and to keep essential systems up and running.

“These targets are largely civilian and it’s designed to work for one reason and that’s to try to bring the Ukrainian people to their knees because he can’t bring the Ukrainian armed forces to its knees,” Kirby said.

Emma Kinery

Russia preventing staff from entering Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant unless they sign a contract with Russian nuclear company

Overview of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and fires, in Enerhodar in Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, August 24, 2022.

European Union, Copernicus Sentinel-2 Imagery | via Reuters

Russia is preventing staff from entering the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant unless they sign contracts with Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear energy company, claimed Ukraine’s General Staff in a Facebook post.

Russia occupied the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in March. However, it continues to be operated by Ukrainian staff.

In early October, Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed four Ukrainian regions, including the Zaporizhzhia region where the plant, Europe’s largest, resides. Along with the annexation, Putin transferred control and oversight of the Zaporizhzhia plant to Russia.

The plant remains at the frontlines of fighting between Russia and Ukraine, with damage from shelling causing it to go into blackout mode last week. The International Atomic Energy Agency has warned of instability in the plant’s leadership and its oversight under Russian military control. It’s also sounded alarms over potentially catastrophic consequences that could arise from continued shelling around the plant.

— Rocio Fabbro

Russia has launched over 16,000 missile attacks at Ukraine since the start of war, 97% at civilian targets

A militant of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic inspects the remains of a missile that landed on a street in the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine February 26, 2022.

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Russia has launched more than 16,000 missiles attacks on Ukraine since the start its invasion of the sovereign nation on Feb. 24, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said.

The majority of these strikes — 97% of them — were aimed at civilian targets, he said over Twitter.

“We are fighting against a terrorist state,” Reznikov said. “Ukraine will prevail and will bring the war criminals to justice.”

Last week, the European Parliament declared Russia a state sponsor of terrorism for its attacks on civilian sites.

Russia has increasingly turned to missile and drone strikes as its battlefield losses mount. The energy sector became a primary target for Russian strikes, which have left large swaths of the Ukrainian population without power. Fears of a harsh and deadly winter grow as Russia’s ongoing attacks continue to debilitate Ukraine’s already unstable energy infrastructure.

— Rocio Fabbro

Kremlin denies Russian forces are about to withdraw from nuclear power plant

This photo taken on Sept. 11, 2022, shows a security person standing in front of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar, Zaporizhzhia, amid the Ukraine war.

Stringer | Afp | Getty Images

The Kremlin denied a claim made by the head of Ukraine’s state nuclear energy company that Russian forces could be preparing to withdraw from the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant that they’ve occupied since March.

The head of Energoatom, Petr Kotin, said Sunday that he saw signs Russia could be preparing to leave the plant, Europe’s largest nuclear facility and the center of bitter missile attacks between Russia and Ukraine.

“In recent weeks we are effectively receiving information that signs have appeared that they are possibly preparing to leave the [plant],” Kotin said on national television, Reuters reported.

“Firstly, there are a very large number of reports in Russian media that it would be worth vacating the [plant] and maybe worth handing control [of it] to the [International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA],” he said, referring to the United Nations nuclear watchdog.

“One gets the impression they’re packing their bags and stealing everything they can.”

The Kremlin’s Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov denied the claim Monday, stating “there is no need to look for some signs where they are not and cannot be,” state news agency Tass reported.

—Holly Ellyatt

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Juventus shares fall after board resigns

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Italy’s Agnelli family has moved quickly to fill the gap at the top of Juventus, after the chair and entire board of the football club resigned late on Monday because of an accounting problem related to player salaries.

Exor, the holding company through which the family controls Juventus, said on Tuesday that it would nominate Gianluca Ferrero, a corporate adviser and auditor as chair, replacing Andrea Agnelli.

In a statement, Exor said that Ferrero had “the required technical competencies, as well as a genuine passion for the bianconero club”.

Shares in the club fell 6 per cent in early trading on Tuesday in Milan, stretching their decline for the year to nearly 24 per cent.

The Juventus board announced on Monday evening that it would resign because of “pending legal and technical/accounting matters”. After investigations by the public prosecutor’s office in Turin and the Italian market regulator, Consob, Juventus has had to change the way in which it has accounted for player bonuses for the financial years ending June 2020 and June 2021.

Juventus is one of Italy’s oldest and most successful football clubs, having won the league title a record 36 times, most recently in 2020.

Agnelli was one of the main movers behind the controversial idea of a European super league that would give guaranteed places to the continent’s leading clubs.

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BlockFi/FTX: further collapse suggests ecosystem is unsustainable

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Cryptocurrency has a bright future, the digital asset lender BlockFi implied on Monday. The problem was that the company said so in a filing with a US bankruptcy court.

BlockFi was one of the crypto businesses most exposed to Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX. It quickly halted withdrawals from its platform after FTX went under this month. In its own bankruptcy filing on Monday, BlockFi valiantly attempted to distance its move to seek protection from creditors from the same move at FTX.

BlockFi argued that it could simply reorganise in the following weeks and come out the other side revitalised.

The company may not have been spectacularly mismanaged as FTX was. But the sheer interconnectedness of the crypto industry suggests the ecosystem is now inherently unstable for all participants.

According to court papers, BlockFi has up to $10bn in liabilities which include customer accounts and settlement payments it owes the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Its complicated relationship with FTX, however, is the most interesting detail.

FTX rescued BlockFi during the first wave of crypto distress in the spring when the terra-luna stablecoin collapsed. BlockFi secured an emergency credit line of $400mn which also gave FTX a cheap option to buy BlockFi outright.

At the same time, the trading arm of FTX, Alameda Research, itself had borrowed nearly $700mn from BlockFi. BlockFi cryptocurrency is also currently stuck on the FTX platform. The Financial Times reported on Monday that BlockFi was suing Bankman-Fried to seize his shares of internet stockbroker Robinhood. BlockFi alleged he had pledged them to secure borrowings made by his FTX empire.

BlockFi’s sunny outlook seems unrealistic for two reasons. First, it requires that the FTX case, with which it is intertwined, be resolved quickly. Given the messiness of the case, that is unlikely. Second, it is not obvious that the cryptocurrency sector is stable and healthy enough for a reorganisation to succeed. BlockFi only survived the spring when the then mighty FTX arrived with a bailout.

A rough few months in crypto have felled the likes of Three Arrows Capital, Voyager Digital, Celsius Network, FTX and now BlockFi, with others likely teetering. There are tactical reasons for BlockFi and its lawyers to put on a brave face. But there is little reason to imagine that the crypto ecosystem can become stable or sustainable in its current form.

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