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Israel-Gaza Fighting Flares for a Second Day

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The most violent conflict in more than a year between Israel and Gaza militants extended into a second day on Saturday, with airstrikes that destroyed residential buildings and killed five people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials.

The Israeli military said it had hit two Gaza residences belonging to operatives of the militant group Islamic Jihad that it described as weapons stores. Military officials said that prior warnings were given, and that the residential buildings were evacuated before the strikes.

Islamic Jihad and other smaller Palestinian militant groups in Gaza fired rockets mostly at Israeli towns closest to the edge of the territory.

The renewed tensions highlighted the challenge of preventing flare-ups in Israel and the occupied territories when both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships are divided and politically weak, international attention is elsewhere and there is little hope of ending the 15-year blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt.

“There is no end in sight for this cycle, and no actor seems to wish to construct any more stable alternative,” said Prof. Nathan J. Brown, an expert on the Middle East at George Washington University.

This round of fighting, which began on Friday with Israeli airstrikes, has mainly pitted Israel against Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza. Hamas, the dominant militia in Gaza, has so far stayed away from direct involvement, raising hopes that the conflict would not escalate into a larger war. Yet, no cease-fire appeared imminent, despite early mediation efforts by foreign diplomats and the United Nations.

The five Palestinians killed on Saturday brought the death toll over two days to 15, according to health officials in Gaza. One of those killed on Friday was a 5-year-old girl.

The only power plant in Gaza halted operations because of a freeze on fuel deliveries from Israel, further reducing power across large parts of the territory.

The battles began on Friday when Israel preemptively launched airstrikes to foil what it said was an imminent attack from Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Earlier in the week, Israel had arrested a senior Islamic Jihad figure in the West Bank, leading to threats of reprisals from the group. Israel said its airstrikes aimed to stop the group from following through on those threats.

One airstrike on Friday killed a senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza, and prompted the group to return fire with several rocket and mortar barrages that sent thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters overnight Friday.

Since an 11-day war in May last year, Israel has persuaded militias in Gaza to avoid violence by offering 14,000 work permits to Palestinian laborers in the territory — the highest since Hamas seized control of the strip in 2007.

Roughly two million people live in Gaza and most receive no direct benefit from the new permits. But the permits nevertheless provide a crucial financial lifeline to thousands of families in the enclave, where nearly one in two are unemployed and only one in 10 have direct access to clean water, according to UNICEF. Complex medical treatment is often unavailable.

Wary of losing that concession, particularly while it is still rebuilding military infrastructure damaged during the last war, Hamas has avoided a major escalation all year in Gaza while still encouraging unrest and violence in Israel and the West Bank.

But Islamic Jihad, which, unlike Hamas, does not govern Gaza, is less motivated by small economic concessions.

Rockets and other projectiles fired from Gaza hit at least two Israeli towns on Saturday, wounding at least two soldiers and a civilian, according to Israeli officials and news reports. But the majority of Palestinian rockets either fell on open areas or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, according to the Israeli military.

The escalation is at least the sixth surge in violence in the strip since Hamas took control in 2007, prompting Israel and Egypt to begin their blockade. Israel is not prepared to end the blockade while Hamas is in power, and Hamas does not recognize Israel and refuses to end its armed activities.

In the absence of a formal peace process to end the conflict, the repeated rounds of violence in Gaza, as well as intermittent bursts of back channel diplomacy, are considered alternative ways to renegotiate the terms of the Gaza blockade.

“Absent anything more lasting, both sides resort to violence not to defeat the other side — much less eliminate it — but just to adjust the terms, and also to play to home audiences,” said Mr. Brown, the Middle East expert.

This escalation in Gaza can be linked back to a recent spike in violence across Israel and the West Bank several months ago.

Rising Palestinian attacks on civilians in Israel in April and May led to an increase in Israeli raids on the West Bank, particularly in areas where Israeli officials said the attackers and their abettors came from.

The Israeli campaign resulted in almost nightly arrests across the West Bank over the past several months, and culminated in the arrest this week of Bassem Saadi, a senior Islamic Jihad figure.

The escalation was also a reminder of the long shadow of Iran over Israeli and Palestinian affairs. While Tehran’s nuclear program is seen by Israel as the biggest threat, it also exerts regional influence by providing financial and logistical help to militant proxies across the Middle East like Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza.

Providing support to Palestinian militant groups allows Tehran to destabilize Gaza, the West Bank and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank, analysts said. This can distract Israel from acting on other fronts, including against Iranian-affiliated targets in Syria or in Iran itself.

Israel’s opening strikes in Gaza occurred while Islamic Jihad’s leader, Ziad al-Nakhala, was visiting Tehran to meet the group’s Iranian patrons — a factor that may have contributed to the group’s refusal to walk back its threat to avenge Israel’s arrest campaign in the West Bank.

“Due to their full dependency on the Iranians, they have to do what the Iranians are telling them to do,” said Kobi Michael, a national security expert at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

The crisis has provided a first major test for Yair Lapid, Israel’s caretaker prime minister who took office last month after his predecessor’s government collapsed.

The military operation is a risky gambit for Mr. Lapid, a centrist often derided for lacking security experience by his main rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, who now leads the opposition.

The escalation gives Mr. Lapid the chance to prove his security credentials to the Israeli electorate, but it also leaves him open to accusations that he is endangering both Israeli and Palestinian lives.

In Gaza, mourners were already counting the costs of the escalation and grieving the loss of human life.

Relatives of Alaa Qadoum, the 5-year-old girl killed in an airstrike on Friday, wrapped her body in a white shroud and Palestinian flags, images showed, leaving her face uncovered to allow mourners to kiss her before her burial on Friday. A bright pink bow tied most of her hair back.

Israel has in the past blamed militants for civilian deaths, saying they often station their rocket launchers and bases close to civilian homes and infrastructure.

In a briefing for international reporters at a military base near the Gaza border in late July, senior Israeli military officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity under army rules, presented maps showing the routes of what they said were parts of a militant tunnel network, including sections running beneath roads around a major university in Gaza.

The length and scope of the fighting will partly depend on Hamas’s involvement.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the political bureau of Hamas, said on Friday that the group was “open to all directions.” On Saturday, he said he had spoken to mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations.

But on Saturday, an Israeli military spokesman, Ran Kochav, told Israeli public radio that the fighting would last for at least a week.

Raja Abdulrahim, Carol Sutherland and Fady Hanona contributed reporting.

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US woman killed when ‘rogue wave’ strikes Antarctic cruise ship

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An American woman died and four other passengers were injured when a “rogue wave” hit a Viking cruise ship sailing near the southernmost tip of South America on an Antarctic cruise, the company said Thursday. 

The unidentified 62-year-old woman was hit by broken glass when the wave broke cabin windows on the Viking Polaris ship late Tuesday during a storm, Argentine authorities said. The ship suffered limited damage and arrived in Ushuaia, 1,926 miles south of Buenos Aires, the next day.

“It is with great sadness that we confirmed a guest passed away following the incident,” Viking said in a statement. “We have notified the guest’s family and shared our deepest sympathies.”

The four passengers injured were treated onboard the ship by a doctor and medical staff for non-life-threatening injuries, the company said. 

The ship itself sustained “limited damage,” Viking said. 

“We are investigating the facts surrounding this incident and will offer our support to the relevant authorities,” the company said. “Our focus remains on the safety and wellbeing of our guests and crew, and we are working directly with them to arrange return travel.”

Damage is seen on the bottom windows of the Viking Polaris ship after a wave hit it on Thursday.
AFP via Getty Images

Rogue waves, also known as “extreme storm waves” by scientists, are greater than twice the size of surrounding waves and often come unexpectedly from directions other than prevailing wind and waves, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Suzie Gooding, who was on the ship when the incident happened, told WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, that it felt like the ship had struck an iceberg.

“Everything was fine until the rogue wave hit, and it was just sudden. Shocking,” she said. “We didn’t know if we should get our gear ready for abandoning ship.”

Viking said it has canceled the ship’s next scheduled departure, the Antarctic Explorer, slated to sail from Dec. 5-17. The Viking Polaris, a vessel that has luxury facilities and was built in 2022, has a capacity for 378 passengers and 256 crew members.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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With Mauna Loa’s Eruption, a Rare Glimpse Into the Earth

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In 1963, a geophysicist named John Tuzo Wilson proposed that the islands, which are covered with layers of volcanic stone, sit above a magma plume, which forms when rock from the deep mantle bubbles up and pools below the crust. This “hot spot” continually pushes toward the surface, sometimes bursting through the tectonic plate, melting and deforming the surrounding rock as it goes. The plate shifts over millions of years while the magma plume stays relatively still, creating new volcanoes atop the plate and leaving inactive ones in their wake. The results are archipelagoes like the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain and parts of the Iceland Plateau.

The hot spot theory gained broad consensus in the subsequent decades. “There is no other theory that is able to reconcile so many observations,” said Helge Gonnermann, a volcanologist at Rice University.

Some confirming observations came relatively recently, in the 2000s, after scientists began placing seismometers, which measure terrestrial energy waves, on the ocean floor. John Orcutt, a geophysicist at the University of California, San Diego, who helped lead that research, said that the seismometers had provided an X-ray of the magma plume rising beneath Hawaii. The instruments were able to accurately read the direction and speed of the magma’s flow; the results pointed resoundingly toward the presence of a hot spot.

This hot spot has probably been fomenting volcanic activity for tens of millions of years, although it arrived in its current position under Mauna Loa only about 600,000 years ago. And as long as it remains there, Dr. Orcutt said, it will reliably produce volcanic activity. “Few things on Earth are so predictable,” he added.

Closer to the surface, predicting when, where and how intense these eruptions will be becomes more difficult, despite the profusion of seismometers and satellite sensors. “The deeper you go, the more smooth the behavior gets,” Dr. Orcutt said. “By the time you get this interface between rock and molten rock and the ocean, the magma tends to come out sporadically.”

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Pentagon debuts its new stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider

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America’s newest nuclear stealth bomber made its debut Friday after years of secret development and as part of the Pentagon’s answer to rising concerns over a future conflict with China.

The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years. Almost every aspect of the program is classified.

As evening fell over the Air Force’s Plant 42 in Palmdale, the public got its first glimpse of the Raider in a tightly controlled ceremony. It started with a flyover of the three bombers still in service: the B-52 Stratofortress, the B-1 Lancer and the B-2 Spirit. Then the hangar doors slowly opened and the B-21 was towed partially out of the building.

“This isn’t just another airplane,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. “It’s the embodiment of America’s determination to defend the republic that we all love.”

The B-21 is part of the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize all three legs of its nuclear triad, which includes silo-launched nuclear ballistic missiles and submarine-launched warheads, as it shifts from the counterterrorism campaigns of recent decades to meet China’s rapid military modernization.

Aerospace and defense company Northrop Grumman corp is building the bomber.
AP

China is on track to have 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035, and its gains in hypersonics, cyber warfare and space capabilities present “the most consequential and systemic challenge to U.S. national security and the free and open international system,” the Pentagon said this week in its annual China report.

”We needed a new bomber for the 21st Century that would allow us to take on much more complicated threats, like the threats that we fear we would one day face from China, Russia, ” said Deborah Lee James, the Air Force secretary when the Raider contract was announced in 2015.

While the Raider may resemble the B-2, once you get inside, the similarities stop, said Kathy Warden, chief executive of Northrop Grumman Corp., which is building the bomber.

“The way it operates internally is extremely advanced compared to the B-2, because the technology has evolved so much in terms of the computing capability that we can now embed in the software of the B-21,” Warden said.

Other changes include advanced materials used in coatings to make the bomber harder to detect, Austin said.

“Fifty years of advances in low-observable technology have gone into this aircraft,” Austin said. “Even the most sophisticated air defense systems will struggle to detect a B-21 in the sky.”

It is unclear how much the B-21 cost to be made, but it is estimated to be around $753 million.
It is unclear how much the B-21 Raider cost to be made, but it is estimated to be around $753 million.
AP

Other advances likely include new ways to control electronic emissions, so the bomber could spoof adversary radars and disguise itself as another object, and use of new propulsion technologies, several defense analysts said.

“It is incredibly low observability,” Warden said. “You’ll hear it, but you really won’t see it.”

Six Raiders are in production. The Air Force plans to build 100 that can deploy either nuclear weapons or conventional bombs and can be used with or without a human crew. Both the Air Force and Northrop also point to the Raider’s relatively quick development: The bomber went from contract award to debut in seven years. Other new fighter and ship programs have taken decades.

The cost of the bombers is unknown. The Air Force previously put the price at an average cost of $550 million each in 2010 dollars — roughly $753 million today — but it’s unclear how much is actually being spent. The total will depend on how many bombers the Pentagon buys.

“We will soon fly this aircraft, test it, and then move it into production. And we will build the bomber force in numbers suited to the strategic environment ahead,” Austin said.

B-21
The B-21 Raider is not expected to make its first flight until 2023.
AFP via Getty Images

The undisclosed cost troubles government watchdogs.

“It might be a big challenge for us to do our normal analysis of a major program like this,” said Dan Grazier, a senior defense policy fellow at the Project on Government Oversight. “It’s easy to say that the B-21 is still on schedule before it actually flies. Because it’s only when one of these programs goes into the actual testing phase when real problems are discovered.” That, he said, is when schedules start to slip and costs rise.

The B-2 was also envisioned to be a fleet of more than 100 aircraft, but the Air Force built only 21, due to cost overruns and a changed security environment after the Soviet Union fell. Fewer than that are ready to fly on any given day due to the significant maintenance needs of the aging bomber.

The B-21 Raider, which takes its name from the 1942 Doolittle Raid over Tokyo, will be slightly smaller than the B-2 to increase its range, Warden said. It won’t make its first flight until 2023. However, Warden said Northrop Grumman has used advanced computing to test the bomber’s performance using a digital twin, a virtual replica of the one unveiled Friday.

B-2 Bomber.
The B-2 bomber that the US has used for the past 30 years.
Getty Images

Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota will house the bomber’s first training program and squadron, though the bombers are also expected to be stationed at bases in Texas and Missouri.

U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican of South Dakota, led the state’s bid to host the bomber program. In a statement, he called it “the most advanced weapon system ever developed by our country to defend ourselves and our allies.”

Northrop Grumman has also incorporated maintenance lessons learned from the B-2, Warden said.

In October 2001, B-2 pilots set a record when they flew 44 hours straight to drop the first bombs in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. The B-2 often does long round-trip missions because there are few hangars globally that can accommodate its wingspan, which limits where it can land for maintenance. The hangars also must be air-conditioned because the Spirit’s windows don’t open and hot climates can cook cockpit electronics.

The new Raider will also get new hangars to accommodate its size and complexity, Warden said.

However, with the Raider’s extended range, ’it won’t need to be based in-theater,” Austin said. “It won’t need logistical support to hold any target at risk.”

A final noticeable difference was in the debut itself. While both went public in Palmdale, the B-2 was rolled outdoors in 1988 amid much public fanfare. Given advances in surveillance satellites and cameras, the Raider was just partially exposed, keeping its sensitive propulsion systems and sensors under the hangar and protected from overhead eyes.

“The magic of the platform,” Warden said, “is what you don’t see.”

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