With the enemy close and tensions high, some vigilantism emerged. Residents beat an apparently intoxicated man who had started a fire with a cigarette.

The deputy mayor, Oleksandr Marchenko, said in an interview that Russians were closing in from three sides about six miles outside town, pointing to smoke from burning villages nearby. An outdoor market was reduced to a tangle of twisted sheet metal from obliterated stalls. In one backyard, a body lay under a sheet beside a fresh shell crater.

The fighting in the countryside between the Donbas towns, in contrast, has been a war of small steps that Ukrainian forces say are mostly in their favor. Soldiers are still dying every day, but Russia’s once-punishing artillery barrages targeting front lines have petered out, compared to their earlier furious pace.

On a recent, sweltering summer morning, Sgt. Serhiy Tyshchenko walked a warren of trenches dug into a tree line, tracing his troops’ slow advance on a southern rim of the eastern front line.

The focal point of the war has moved elsewhere, he said. “Our position is not a priority for us or for them,” he said.

He advanced by sending troops crawling on their stomachs at night among the roots and leaves of acacia trees, along three parallel tree lines beside wheat fields. Each time, they dug new trenches, gradually pushing back the Russians.

When he reached the former Russian line, a panorama of garbage emerged: Water bottles, empty cans of fish, plastic bags and discarded ammunition boxes lay everywhere. Flies buzzed about.

“They don’t care” said Sergeant Tyshchenko, “because it’s not their country.”

Yurii Shyvala contributed reporting from Sloviansk and Bakhmut, Ukraine, Maria Varenikova from Kyiv, Ukraine, Emma Bubola from London, Anastasia Kuznietsova from Mantua, Italy, and Alan Yuhas from New York.

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Israel and Militants in Gaza Agree to Cease-Fire

Credit…Yousef Masoud/Associated Press

Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza agreed to a cease-fire, the two parties announced late Sunday night, a move that was expected to end a three-day conflict that killed dozens of Palestinians, including children as well as key militant commanders; destroyed several residential buildings and militant bases in Gaza; and paralyzed parts of southern Israel.

The conflict, which began on Friday afternoon, when Israel launched airstrikes to foil what it said was an imminent attack from Gaza, has left the status quo in Israel and the occupied territories almost unchanged. A 15-year blockade of Gaza remains in place, and there is no prospect of peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The cease-fire officially took effect at 11:30 p.m. local time, 4:40 p.m. Eastern, but did not appear to have immediately been observed by either side, as rocket fire and airstrikes continued until in the minutes after the deadline.

Israeli officials declined to reveal further details about the agreement, but Islamic Jihad said it had received assurances from Egyptian officials who mediated the negotiations that Egypt would lobby Israel to release two leading members of the group currently detained in Israeli jails, Bassem Saadi and Khalil Awawdeh.

If the truce holds, the fighting will end with a death toll of at least 44 in Gaza, including 15 children, according to the health ministry there. Some 311 people were injured, the health ministry there said. Scores of Israelis were lightly injured while running for cover from Palestinian rockets, and an unexploded rocket fell in a residential area of the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, officials and medics said.

The fighting has badly damaged Islamic Jihad, Gaza’s second-largest militia. Two of its key leaders are now dead and many of its bases and weapons factories have been destroyed.

The eruption of violence also has driven a wedge between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the largest militia in Gaza, which opted to remain on the sidelines of the conflict.

And it has highlighted both the limits and strengths of Israel’s strategy of offering small economic concessions to ordinary Gazans — notably 14,000 work permits that help boost the Palestinian economy.

That approach failed to prevent the recent days of fighting, which was yet another conflagration involving Gaza, which has experienced at least six major bursts of violence since Hamas seized control there in 2007. But by helping to convince Hamas to stay out of this round of rockets and strikes, the strategy likely helped shorten the length of the fighting, which in the past has often run for weeks, rather than days.

Within Israel, the conflict also initially appeared to help burnish the credentials of Yair Lapid, Israel’s interim prime minister, who was long been accused by critics in Israel of lacking the experience necessary to lead the country in times of war.

Before the cease-fire was announced, Israeli analysts largely portrayed the episode as a victory and even a warning to Israel’s other enemies in the region — particularly Hezbollah, the Islamist militia in Lebanon — of the fate that awaits them should they also enter into full-scale combat with Israel in the near future.

By contrast, with no change to life or prospects in Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinians had little to celebrate and many families were left grieving over the loss of life.

Ghassan Abu Ramadan, 65, a retired civil engineer who has injured during an Israeli strike on Friday, was recovering in the hospital on Sunday as the cease-fire was being negotiated.

“We have a complicated life here in Gaza,” Mr. Abu Ramadan said, lying on a bed in the intensive care unit of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. “We don’t know what will happen, what our future will be.”

“How long will this continue?” Mr. Abu Ramadan added.

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Live Updates: U.S. Seeks African Support in Ukraine War

Credit…Pool photo by Alexander Zemlianichenko

WASHINGTON — Immediately after a Moscow judge handed down Brittney Griner’s nine-year prison sentence on Thursday, calls grew louder for President Biden to find a way to bring her home, even as critics fumed that offering to swap prisoners with Moscow rewarded Russian hostage-taking.

The result is a painful quandary for the Biden administration as it tries to maintain a hard line against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over the war in Ukraine.

“There’s nothing good here,” said Andrea Schneider, an expert on international conflict resolution at Cardozo School of Law. “No matter what Biden does, he’s going to be criticized — either that we’re giving too much or we’re not working hard enough.”

Kremlin officials had said talks on an exchange could not proceed before her trial was complete, but even with an official verdict and sentence, a deal may not happen anytime soon.

“I think the fact that Putin has not said yes right away means that he’s looked at the U.S. offer and said, ‘Well, that’s their first offer. I can get more than that,’” said Jared Genser, a human rights lawyer who represents Americans held by foreign governments.

The Biden administration proposed to trade Ms. Griner and Paul N. Whelan, a former Marine convicted in Moscow of espionage in 2020, for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who is midway through a 25-year federal prison sentence for offering to sell arms to a Colombian rebel group that the United States then considered a terrorist organization.

Mr. Biden finds himself squeezed from two sides.

On one side are Ms. Griner’s supporters. Her wife, Cherelle Griner, has made public pleas for Mr. Biden to cut a deal with Mr. Putin as soon as possible. Those pleas have been echoed by the Rev. Al Sharpton, Democratic activist groups, television pundits, pro athletes and celebrities on social media.

But there has also been criticism from Mr. Biden’s other flank — and charges that Mr. Biden has been bending to extortion by Mr. Putin, a man he has called a war criminal.

“This is why dictatorships — like Venezuela, Iran, China, Russia — take Americans hostage, because they know they’ll get something for it,” Rep. Mike Waltz, Republican of Florida, told Newsmax last week. “They know eventually some administration will pay. And this just puts a target on the back of every American out there.”

Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state, echoed the criticism in a Fox News interview last week, saying that to free Mr. Bout would “likely lead to more” Americans being arrested abroad.

And former President Donald J. Trump, who is likely to run again in 2024, slammed the proposed deal in crude terms. He said Mr. Bout was “absolutely one of the worst in the world, and he’s going to be given his freedom because a potentially spoiled person goes into Russia loaded up with drugs.” (Russian officials who detained Ms. Griner at a Moscow-area airport in mid-February found less than one gram of cannabis vape oil in her bags.)

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Turkey says ship carrying first Ukrainian grain on track for safe arrival

  • Ukraine consults U.S. in using HIMARS launchers, official says
  • Comment prompts Kremlin to accuse U.S. of direct involvement
  • First wartime Ukraine grain export ship reaches Bosphorus Strait
  • U.S. sanctions target ex-Olympic gymnast seen as close to Putin

ISTANBUL/LONDON, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday accused the United States of direct involvement in the Ukraine war while the first ship carrying Ukrainian grain to world markets since Moscow’s invasion anchored safely off Turkey’s coast after a problem-free journey.

Russia said it was responding to comments by Vadym Skibitsky, Ukraine’s deputy head of military intelligence, about the way Kyiv had used U.S.-made and supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers based on what he called excellent satellite imagery and real-time information.

Skibitsky told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper there was consultation between U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence officials before strikes and that Washington had an effective veto on intended targets, though he said U.S. officials were not providing direct targeting information.

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Russia’s defence ministry, headed by a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, said the interview showed that Washington was entangled in the conflict despite repeated assertions that it was limiting its role to arms supplies because it did not want a direct confrontation with Moscow. read more

“All this undeniably proves that Washington, contrary to White House and Pentagon claims, is directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine,” the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

“It is the Biden administration that is directly responsible for all Kyiv-approved rocket attacks on residential areas and civilian infrastructure in populated areas of Donbas and other regions, which have resulted in mass deaths of civilians.”

There was no immediate reaction from the White House or Pentagon to the ministry’s assertions.

The Pentagon did deny, however, Moscow’s claims that Russia had destroyed six U.S.-made HIMARS since the war in Ukraine began on Feb. 24. Russia regularly claims it has hit HIMARS but has yet to show proof. read more

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of carrying out devastating missile attacks on civilian targets on an almost daily basis. Both sides deny deliberately targeting civilians.

The accuracy and long range of missile systems provided by the West were intended to reduce Russia’s artillery advantage, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday night said that despite those supplies, his country’s forces could not yet overcome Russian advantages in heavy guns and manpower.

“This is very much felt in combat, especially in the Donbas. … It is just hell there. Words cannot describe it,” he said.

A Russian diplomat said at the United Nations that the conflict in Ukraine does not warrant Russia’s use of nuclear weapons, but Moscow could decide to use its nuclear arsenal in response to “direct aggression” by NATO countries over the invasion. read more

At a nuclear non-proliferation conference, diplomat Alexander Trofimov said Moscow would only use nuclear weapons in response to weapons of mass destruction or a conventional weapons attack that threatened the existence of the Russian state.

“None of these two hypothetical scenarios is relevant to the situation in Ukraine,” Trofimov, a senior diplomat in the non-proliferation and arms control department of Russia’s foreign ministry, told the U.N. conference to review the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

SAFE PASSAGE

Meanwhile, a July 22 U.N.-brokered deal to unblock the export of Ukrainian grain had an initial success. Turkey said that the first loaded ship since Russia’s invasion more than five months ago was safely anchored off the Turkish coast. read more

The vessel, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni was at the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea to world markets, around 1800 GMT on Tuesday, some 36 hours after leaving the Ukrainian port of Odesa.

A delegation from the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in Istanbul, where Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. personnel work, is expected to inspect the ship at 0700 GMT on Wednesday, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said.

It was loaded with 26,527 tonnes of corn.

“We hope that there will be some more outbound movement tomorrow,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

Dujarric said there were about 27 ships in the three Ukrainian ports covered by the export deal that were ready to go.

The exports from one of the world’s top grain producers are intended to help ease a global food crisis.

“Our goal now is to have an orderly schedule so when one ship leaves port there should be other vessels – both those loading and those approaching the port,” Zelenskiy said.

For the safe passage deal to stick, there are other hurdles to overcome, including clearing sea mines and creating a framework for vessels to safely enter the war zone and pick up cargoes. read more

Known as Europe’s breadbasket, Ukraine hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain held in silos and 40 million tonnes from the harvest now under way, initially from Odesa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk.

Russia has called the Razoni’s departure “very positive” news. It has denied responsibility for the food crisis, saying Western sanctions have slowed its exports.

Adding to those sanctions, the United States on Tuesday targeted Alina Kabaeva, a former Olympic gymnast the Treasury Department described as having a close relationship with Putin. Putin has denied they are romantically linked.

The department said in a statement Kabaeva heads the National Media Group, a pro-Kremlin group of television, radio and print organizations.

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Reporting by Reuters bureaux; writing by Andrew Osborn. Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell; editing by Nick Macfie, Grant McCool, Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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From subway stations to shopping malls, Taiwan prepares its air-raid shelters

TAIPEI, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Taiwan is preparing its air-raid shelters as rising tension with China and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raise new fears about the possibility of a Chinese attack on the democratic island.

China considers Taiwan its territory and has increased military activity in the air and seas around it. Taiwan vows to defend itself and has made strengthening its defences a priority, with regular military and civil defence drills. read more

The preparations include designating shelters where people can take cover if Chinese missiles start flying in, not in purpose-built bunkers but in underground spaces like basement car parks, the subway system and subterranean shopping centres.

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The capital of Taipei has more than 4,600 such shelters that can accommodate some 12 million people, more than four times its population.

Harmony Wu, 18, was surprised to learn that an underground shopping concourse where she and other youngsters were recently rehearsing some dance moves would be turned into an air-raid shelter in the event of war.

But she said she could understand why.

“Having shelter is very necessary. We don’t know when a war might come and they are to keep us safe,” Wu said at the venue near a Taipei subway station.

“War is brutal. We’ve never experienced it so we aren’t prepared,” she said.

Taipei officials have been updating their database of designated shelters, putting their whereabouts on a smartphone app and launching a social media and poster campaign to make sure people know how to find their closest one.

Shelter entrances are marked with a yellow label, about the size of an A4 piece of paper, with the maximum number of people it can take.

A senior official in the city office in charge of the shelters said events in Europe had brought a renewed sense of urgency.

“Look at the war in Ukraine,” Abercrombie Yang, a director of the Building Administration Office, told Reuters.

“There’s no guarantee that the innocent public won’t get hit,” he said, adding that that was why the public had to be informed.

“All citizens should have crisis awareness … We need the shelters in the event of an attack by the Chinese communists.”

‘NOT STRESSED’

Last month, Taiwan held a comprehensive air-raid exercise across the island for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted regular drills.

Among the instructions citizens got in case of incoming missiles was to get down in their basement parking lots with their hands covering their eyes and ears while keeping their mouths open – to minimise the impact of blast waves.

Some civil defence advocates say more needs to be done.

Authorities are required by law to keep the shelters clean and open but they don’t have to be stocked with supplies like food and water.

Researchers in parliament called in June for shelters to be provided with emergency supplies.

Wu Enoch of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party says the public must prepare survival kits to take with them when they seek shelter.

“What’s important is what you bring with you, for people to stay there for a long period of time,” Wu said, citing medical supplies and even tools to build a makeshift toilet.

After decade of sabre-rattling across the Taiwan Strait separating the democratic island from China, many Taiwan people appear resigned to living with the threat of a Chinese invasion.

“I’m not stressed. I carry on with my life as usual. When it happens, it happens,” said Teresa Chang, 17, who was also going through her paces at the underground dance practice.

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Reporting by Yimou Lee, Fabian Hamacher and Ann Wang; Editing by Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Al Qaeda’s Zawahiri survived harsh mountains, killed in posh Kabul locality

A photo of Al Qaeda’s new leader, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, is seen in this still image taken from a video released on September 12, 2011. SITE Monitoring Service/Handout via REUTERS TV/

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Aug 2 (Reuters) – Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had a $25 million U.S. bounty on his head, survived years in Afghanistan’s rugged mountains but his last months were spent in an upscale Kabul neighbourhood where top officials from the Taliban also live.

U.S. officials said Hellfire missiles from a U.S. drone killed the 71-year-old when he came out on the balcony of a safe house in Kabul on Sunday morning. U.S. President Joe Biden said no civilians were killed. read more

The Taliban confirmed an air strike on a residential house in the Sherpoor area of Kabul but said there were no casualties.

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Zawahiri moved to a “very safe place” in Kabul a few months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August last year, a senior leader of the radical group told Reuters on Tuesday on the condition of anonymity.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid condemned the drone strike and called it a violation of “international principles”. Two Taliban spokesmen did not respond to Reuters request seeking details about Zawahiri’s death.

Unverified pictures on social media of what was described as the target of the attack showed shattered windows of a pink building, its fences topped with rolls of barbed wires. The house appeared two to three stories tall and ringed by trees.

Sherpoor is a quiet, leafy part of Kabul with large houses, where former Afghan general and ethnic Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum had lived, among other local dignitaries. Some houses have swimming pools in their attached gardens.

U.S. and NATO embassies are within a few km (miles) of the area.

A woman who lives in the neighbourhood and spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said she and her family of nine moved to the safe-room of their house when she heard an explosion at the weekend. When she later went to the rooftop, she saw no commotion or chaos and assumed it was some rocket or bomb attack – which are not uncommon in Kabul.

The senior Taliban leader said Zawahiri spent most of his time in the mountains of Helmand province’s Musa Qala district after the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001 when the United States sent troops to the country.

He said Zawahiri kept a low profile there but went in and out of Pakistan’s border regions several times.

Pakistan’s foreign office did not respond to questions about Zawahiri’s reported movements in and out of Pakistan.

In January, 2006, CIA-operated Predator drones fired missiles at a house in Damadola, a village in the Pakistani tribal region of Bajaur, in the belief that Zawahiri was visiting. He was not but at least 18 villagers were killed.

TOP SECURITY

Other Taliban sources said the group gave the “highest-level security” to Zawahiri in Kabul but he was largely inactive operationally and needed the Taliban’s permission to move.

A Kabul police official described Sherpoor as Kabul’s “most safe and secure neighbourhood” and that the drone strike there was a “great shock”.

He said influential people from the former governments of Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani had built spacious houses in Sherpoor. Senior Taliban leaders and their families now lived there, the official said.

Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, helped coordinate the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.

A U.S. official said U.S. officials identified that Zawahiri’s family – his wife, his daughter and her children – had relocated to a house in Kabul and subsequently identified Zawahiri at the same location.

Officials were not aware of him leaving it and on multiple times they identified him on its balcony – where he was ultimately struck. read more

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Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Rupam Jain in Mumbai and Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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