102 people killed during the campaign, yet another sign of the country’s unraveling security.

His family is politically powerful. His brother, David, is governor-elect of Zacatecas. Another brother, Ricardo, leads the Morena party in the Senate and has said he intends to run for president in 2024. But not even the family’s political prominence has managed to rescue the city or the state.

central to the drug trade, a crossroads between the Pacific, where narcotics and drugmaking products are shipped in, and northern states along the United States border. Fresnillo, which sits in the center of important roads and highways, is strategically vital.

But for much of its recent history, residents say they were largely left alone. That began changing around 2007 and 2008 as the government’s assault on the cartels led them to splinter, evolve and spread.

In the last few years, the region has become embroiled in a battle between two of the country’s most powerful organized crime groups: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Caught in the middle of the fighting are residents like Guadalupe. She can remember sitting on the stoop with neighbors until midnight as a young girl. Now, the city lies desolate after dark.

Guadalupe does not let her children play outside unsupervised, but even that couldn’t stop the violence from tearing her family apart. On the night her son was killed, in mid-July, four armed men stormed into her home, dragging out her son, Henry, and two friends who were sleeping over. There was a burst of gunfire, and then the assailants were gone.

It was Guadalupe who found the teenagers’ bodies.

Now she and her family live in terror. Too scared to stay in the same house, they moved in with Guadalupe’s parents in a different part of town. But the fear remained. Her 10-year-old daughter can barely sleep, she said, and Guadalupe keeps dreaming of her son’s killing. The motive, and the identity of the killers, remain unknown.

Guadalupe has thought about leaving town or even taking her own life. But for now, she sits in her parents’ small, cinder-block house, the curtains drawn, the shadows broken by the candles of a little altar to Henry and his fallen friends.

“There’s nothing here,” she said. “The fear has overwhelmed us.”

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How Local Guerrilla Fighters Routed Ethiopia’s Powerful Army

A scrappy force of local Tigrayan recruits scored a cascade of battlefield victories against the Ethiopian military, one of Africa’s strongest. Times journalists witnessed the decisive week in an eight-month civil war.


SAMRE, Ethiopia — The Tigrayan fighters whooped, whistled and pointed excitedly to a puff of smoke in the sky, where an Ethiopian military cargo plane trundling over the village minutes earlier had been struck by a missile.

Smoke turned to flames as the stricken aircraft broke in two and hurtled toward the ground. Later, in a stony field strewn with smoking wreckage, villagers picked through twisted metal and body parts. For the Tigrayan fighters, it was a sign.

“Soon we’re going to win,” said Azeb Desalgne, a 20-year-old with an AK-47 over her shoulder.

The downing of the plane on June 22 offered bracing evidence that the conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia was about to take a seismic turn. A Tigrayan guerrilla army had been fighting to drive out the Ethiopian military for eight months in a civil war marked by atrocities and starvation. Now the fight seemed to be turning in their favor.

The war erupted in November, when a simmering feud between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigrayan leaders, members of a small ethnic minority who had dominated Ethiopia for much of the three previous decades, exploded into violence.

airstrike had struck a crowded village market that day, killing dozens. We watched as the first casualties arrived at Mekelle’s largest hospital.

Days later, three aid workers from Doctors Without Borders were brutally murdered by unknown assailants.

In the countryside, the war was moving at a furious pace. Ethiopian military positions fell like dominoes. Hours after the Tigrayans shot down the military cargo plane, we reached a camp holding several thousand newly captured Ethiopian soldiers, about 30 miles south of Mekelle.

Clustered behind a barbed wire fence, the prisoners erupted into applause when we stepped from our vehicle — hoping, they later explained, that we were Red Cross workers.

Some were wounded, others barefoot — Tigrayans confiscated their boots as well as their guns, they said — and many pleaded for help. “We have badly wounded soldiers here,” said Meseret Asratu, 29, a platoon commander.

Further along the road was the battlefield where others had died. The bodies of Ethiopian soldiers were scattered across a rocky field, untouched since a fight four days earlier, now swelling in the afternoon sun.

Personal items cast aside nearby, amid empty ammunition boxes and abandoned uniforms, hinted at young lives interrupted: dog-eared photos of loved ones, but also university certificates, chemistry textbooks and sanitary pads — a reminder that women fight on both sides of the conflict.

Stragglers were still being rounded up. The next day, Tigrayan fighters marched five just-captured prisoners up a hill, where they slumped to the ground, exhausted.

Dawit Toba, a glum 20-year-old from the Oromia region of Ethiopia, said he had surrendered without firing a shot. War in Tigray was not like he had imagined it. “We were told there would be fighting,” he said. “But when we got here it was looting, robbery, attacks on women.”

“This war was not necessary,” he added. “Mistakes have been made.”

Driving off, we came across a figure sprawled on the roadside — an Ethiopian, stripped of his uniform, with several bullet wounds to his leg. He groaned softly.

The wounded soldier appeared to have been dumped there, although it wasn’t clear by whom. We drove him back to the prisoner camp, where Ethiopian medics did some basic treatment on the ground outside a school. Nobody was sure if he would survive.

Artillery boomed in the distance. The Tigrayan offensive was continuing to the north, using captured heavy guns against the Ethiopian troops who had brought them in. A platoon of fighters walked through, bearing a wounded man on a stretcher. Teklay Tsegay, 20, watched them pass.

Before the war, Mr. Teklay was a mechanic in Adigrat, 70 miles north. Then, last February, Eritrean soldiers fired into his aunt’s house, killing her 5-year-old daughter, he said. The following day, Mr. Teklay slipped out of Adigrat to join the resistance.

“I never thought I would be a soldier,” he said. “But here I am.”

As Tigrayans quietly mustered a guerrilla army this year, they drew on their experience of fighting a brutal Marxist dictatorship in Ethiopia in the 1970s and 1980s, under the flag of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Then, Tigrayan intellectuals used Marxist ideology to bind peasant fighters to their cause, much like the Viet Cong or rebels in Angola and Mozambique.

But this time, the Tigrayan fighters are largely educated and hail from the towns and cities. And it is anger at atrocities, not Marxism, that drew them to the cause.

At the recruitment camp, instructors standing under trees gave speeches about Tigrayan culture and identity, and taught new recruits to fire an AK-47.

The wave of recruits has included doctors, university professors, white-collar professionals and diaspora Tigrayans from the United States and Europe, colleagues and friends said. Even in government-held Mekelle, recruitment grew increasingly brazen.

Two weeks ago, a T.D.F. poster appeared on a wall beside St. Gabriel’s, the city’s largest church. “Those who fail to join are as good as the walking dead,” it read. Hours later, Ethiopian soldiers arrived and tore it down.

Mulugeta Gebrehiwot Berhe, 61, a senior fellow at the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in Massachusetts, was visiting Mekelle when war erupted in November. I found him near the town of Samre, a leather-holstered pistol on his hip.

“I joined the resistance,” said the academic, who once helped broker a peace deal for the United Nations in Darfur. “I felt I had no other option.”

Even some Ethiopian commanders felt alienated by Mr. Abiy’s approach to the conflict.

Until late June, Col. Hussein Mohamed, a tall man with a gold-tooth smile, commanded the 11th Infantry Division in Tigray. Now he was a prisoner, held with other Ethiopian officers in a closely guarded farmhouse.

Of the 3,700 troops under his command, at least half were probably dead, said Colonel Hussein, confirming that he was speaking voluntarily. “The course of this war is political madness, to my mind,” he said.

He always had serious reservations about Mr. Abiy’s military alliance with Eritrea, Ethiopia’s old foe, he said: “They ransack properties, they rape women, they commit atrocities. The whole army is unhappy about this marriage.”

Still, Ethiopian soldiers have been accused of much the same crimes. I met Colonel Hussein in a stone-walled room, with a tin roof, as rain splattered outside. When the room’s owner, Tsehaye Berhe, arrived with a tray of coffee cups, her face clouded over.

“Take it!” she snapped at the Ethiopian officer. “I’m not serving you.”

Moments later Ms. Tsehaye returned to apologize. “I’m sorry for being emotional,” she said. “But your soldiers burned my house and stole my crops.”

Colonel Hussein nodded quietly.

Even before Ethiopian forces abandoned Mekelle on June 28, there were hints that something was afoot. The internet went down, and at the regional headquarters where Mr. Abiy had installed an interim government, I found deserted corridors and locked offices. Outside, federal police officers were slinging backpacks into a bus.

Smoke rose from the Ethiopian National Defense Forces’ headquarters in Mekelle — a pyre of burning documents, it turned out, piled high by detainees accused of supporting the T.D.F.

Weeks earlier, Ethiopian intelligence officers had tortured one of them, Yohannes Haftom, with a cattle prod. “We will burn you,” Mr. Yohannes recalled them saying. “We will bury you alive.”

But after he followed their orders to cart their confidential documents to the burn pit on June 28, the Ethiopians set Mr. Yohannes free. Hours later, the first T.D.F. fighters entered Mekelle, setting off days of raucous celebration.

Residents filled streets where young fighters paraded on vehicles like beauty queens, or leaned from speeding tuktuks spraying gunfire into the air. Nightclubs and cafes filled up, and an older woman prostrated herself at the feet of a just-arrived fighter, shouting thanks to God.

On the fourth day, fighters paraded thousands of Ethiopian prisoners through the city center, in a show of triumphalism that was a pointed rebuke to the leader of Ethiopia. “Abiy is a thief!” people chanted as dejected soldiers marched past.

The celebrations eventually reached the house where Mr. Getachew, the Tigrayan leader and T.D.F. spokesman, now descended from his mountain base, was staying.

As the whiskey flowed, Mr. Getachew juggled calls on his satellite phone while a generator rattled in the background. Mr. Abiy had once been his political ally, even his friend, he said. Now the Ethiopian leader had cut the power and phone lines to Mekelle and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Buoyed by victory, the guests excitedly discussed the next phase of their war in Tigray. One produced a cake with the Tigrayan flag that Mr. Getachew, sharing a knife with a senior commander, cut to loud cheers.

For much of his career, he had been a staunch defender of the Ethiopian state. But the war made that position untenable, he said. Now he was planning a referendum on Tigrayan independence.

“Nothing can save the Ethiopian state as we know it, except a miracle,” he said. “And I don’t usually believe in them.”

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As Secular Peace Effort Stutters in Israel, Religious Mediators Hope to Step In

JERUSALEM — The rabbi stood before the grave of the imam, weeping as he gave his eulogy. In life, Rabbi Michael Melchior said, Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish had promised him that he would never leave his side. In death, the sheikh had left him feeling as bereft as an orphan.

Sheikh Abdullah died in 2017, four years before the Islamist party he helped found, Raam, became the first independent Arab faction to join an Israeli government coalition. But the sheikh’s funeral and his unlikely friendship with Rabbi Melchior, as well as their below-the-radar attempts at religious-based peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians, were all part of an unexpected, decades-long back story of an effort by some Islamists to find a place within Israeli politics.

For Mansour Abbas, a politician standing in tears to the rabbi’s right that day, the sheikh’s death was one of several pivotal way stations in his journey to lead Raam into Israel’s government.

“At Sheikh Abdullah’s funeral and Rabbi Melchior’s speech, it hit me — that I need to be committed to Sheikh Abdullah and Rabbi Melchior’s joint approach,” said Mr. Abbas, who became Raam’s leader in 2018 and entered Parliament two years ago. The speech and the funeral “made me go from being a supporter and minor contributor to it to someone wishing to strengthen it and push it forward,” he said.

violent clashes in May. And Israel had just ended a brief war with Hamas, the militant group that holds sway in the Gaza Strip.

Both Raam and Hamas have roots in the same Islamist movement. And Raam’s leading influence, Sheikh Abdullah, was convicted and imprisoned in the 1980s for links to a militant Islamist group.

To those in and around Raam, its new role makes more sense in the context of Sheikh Abdullah’s spiritual journey since he left jail, when he had an ideological about-face and sought to use Islamic teachings to justify a more peaceful approach.

helped legitimize the idea of Arab participation in government by pursuing Raam’s support.

are fighting to restore momentum to a formal peace process that petered out in 2014. To them, Mr. Abbas’s political maneuver was a natural outgrowth of a long-term project of religious-based peace building begun by Sheikh Abdullah.

“My sheikh went through several stations in his life,” said Sheikh Raed, citing Sheikh Abdullah’s break with militance after leaving prison in the 1980s.

“The whole religious dialogue,” Sheikh Raed said, “started from that point.”

Born in 1948 in an Arab town in what became Israel, Sheikh Abdullah flirted briefly with Communism as a young man before turning more seriously to Islam.

In the 1970s, he founded the Islamic Movement, a group based in Israel that aimed to encourage the Muslim minority to deepen its faith and, ultimately, to create a society governed by Islamic law. The group also had a militant wing that carried out arson attacks on Israeli property.

But in the 1980s, he surprised his followers by pushing to establish better relations between Arabs and Israelis, within both Israel and the occupied territories.

participation of the Islamic Movement’s political wing, later known as Raam, in Israeli parliamentary elections. That caused a split in the movement, with some members forming a now banned splinter group that rejected participation in the Israeli parliamentary process.

But Sheikh Abdullah continued on a path of moderation, writing a book that rejected any religious justification for suicide attacks. He also began to work on several peace-building projects with Rabbi Melchior, then a deputy foreign minister in the Israeli government.

communal violence in the city of Acre, in northern Israel.

In 2014, they coordinated to avoid religious violence in mixed Arab-Jewish cities when the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur, fell on the same day as the Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha, and tried to taper conflict during a low-level intifada the next year.

Mr. Abbas became involved in the initiatives and later developed a close relationship with Rabbi Melchior, speaking with him several times a month.

To the rabbi, these religious-based peace initiatives offered a way to move on from the secular-led diplomatic efforts of the 1990s and 2000s, which he said failed in part because they did not sufficiently include religious elements from the two populations.

“The traditional and religious population felt that the peace was part of the uprooting of what they felt was their sense of belonging, of their DNA, of their identity, of their narrative,” Rabbi Melchior said.

After Sheikh Abdullah’s death, Sheikh Raed took up his mantle. He worked with Rabbi Melchior to defuse another crisis in 2017, when the installation of metal detectors at the entrance to the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem almost set off another uprising.

In 2020, Sheikh Raed released a lengthy religious tract that provided a theological justification for Raam’s joining an Israeli government. Several months later, Mr. Abbas joined the current governing coalition.

During the coalition negotiations, Mr. Abbas gave a televised speech in Hebrew, largely pitched at Israeli Jews, in which he called for coexistence and presented himself as a citizen of Israel. Analysts later said it played a pivotal role in positioning him as an acceptable partner for Jewish-led parties. The speech was his own, but he spoke beforehand with Rabbi Melchior about its content, both men said.

To some Palestinian citizens of Israel, Mr. Abbas is a sellout for helping put right-wing Jewish politicians in power in exchange for what critics perceive as only token victories.

Ayman Odeh, the leader of the left-wing party Hadash, said Mr. Abbas’s approach was transactional, positioning Palestinian citizens of Israel as servants and subjects instead of as true citizens with collective rights.

“I don’t want to work as a politician under a Jewish supremacy,” said Mr. Odeh, whose party includes a mix of Arabs and Jews. “I fight for deep equality on both a civil and national level between the two peoples.”

But to advocates like Sheikh Raed and Rabbi Melchior, Mr. Abbas’s decision was a hopeful byproduct of a long process of religious peace-building that seeks to place Palestinians and Israelis on a more equal footing, and which political leaders would do well to amplify.

“If the religious element is not inside the peace camp, and not included fully, it just won’t happen,” Rabbi Melchior said. “I, for one, do not want to exclude the secular — not from our society and not from the peacemaking,” he added. “I just want to expand that sense of peace.”

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‘I Didn’t Expect to Make It Back Alive’: An Interview With Tigray’s Leader

GIJET, Ethiopia — The convoy sped down from the mountain, slipping and sliding on roads greasy from a recent shower of hailstones. As it descended toward the regional capital of Tigray, curling through rocky hills and remote hamlets, people clustered along the route in celebration.

Women stood ululating outside stone farmhouses, and fighters perched atop a ridge fired their weapons into the air as the vehicles curled around the detritus of battle: burned-out tanks, overturned trucks and a mucky field where on June 23 an Ethiopian military cargo plane, shot down by the Tigrayans, had smashed into the ground.

The leader of Tigray, Debretsion Gebremichael, was going home.

Two days earlier, his scrappy guerrilla force had retaken the regional capital, Mekelle, hours after Ethiopian troops suddenly abandoned the city. Now Mr. Debretsion, a former deputy prime minister of Ethiopia, was leaving the mountains where he had been ensconced for eight months leading a war to re-establish his rule over the region.

“I didn’t expect to make it back alive,” Mr. Debretsion said on Thursday night in an interview, his first since the fall of Mekelle. “But this isn’t personal. The most important thing is that my people are free — free from the invaders. They were living in hell, and now they can breathe again.”

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military operation there. The civil war has led to the displacement of nearly two million people, and to widespread hunger and reports that civilians were subjected to atrocities and sexual violence.

Mr. Debretsion, who is believed to be in his late 50s, claimed to have crippled Ethiopia’s powerful army, defeating seven of its 12 divisions and killing at least 18,000 soldiers. He also detailed plans to expand the war across Tigray, in defiance of international calls for a cease-fire, until his fighters have expelled from the region every outside force, including Eritrean soldiers and ethnic Amhara militias.

“They have taken the land by force,” Mr. Debretsion said. “So we will take it back by force.”

Tigray Defense Forces mounted a spectacle that seemed intended to humiliate Ethiopia’s leader. The fighters marched at least 6,000 Ethiopian prisoners of war through downtown Mekelle past residents chanting, “Abiy is a thief!” A woman holding a large photograph of Mr. Debretsion led the procession.

The Tigrayan leader fought his first war in the 1980s as the head of a guerrilla radio station for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a rebel group leading the resistance against a brutal Marxist dictatorship in Ethiopia.

The rebels swept to power in 1991, with the Tigrayan leadership at the head of a governing coalition that dominated Ethiopia for nearly three decades until Mr. Abiy became prime minister in 2018.

In power, the Tigrayan leadership stabilized Ethiopia and achieved soaring economic growth for nearly a decade. But progress came at the cost of basic civil rights. Critics were imprisoned or exiled, torture was commonplace in detention centers and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front won successive elections with a reported 100 percent of the vote.

By then, Mr. Debretsion had a reputation as a low-key technocrat. He served as communications minister and headed Ethiopia’s power utility, where he oversaw construction of a $4.5 million hydroelectric dam that, when completed, will be Africa’s largest.

But as popular protests against the Tigrayan leadership’s rule roiled Ethiopia from 2015, and as the police killed hundreds of protesters, Mr. Debretsion rose in prominence inside the party. Analysts say he was seen as a younger and more moderate figure than those steeped in Tigrayan nationalism who had dominated the party for decades.

The eruption of war changed everything.

Mr. Abiy said he had no choice but to launch military action, after months of escalating political tensions, when Tigrayan forces attacked a military base on Nov. 4.

Mr. Debretsion challenged that account, saying that Ethiopian troops had been massing on Tigray’s borders for days in preparation for an assault. He had advance knowledge of those plans, Mr. Debretsion said, because ethnic Tigrayans accounted for more than 40 percent of senior Ethiopian military officers, and many defected in the early days of the fight.

At first, Tigrayan forces were caught off guard by a barrage of drone strikes against artillery and supply lines that he said were conducted by the United Arab Emirates, an ally of both Mr. Abiy and the leader of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki.

An Emirates spokesman did not respond to questions about the alleged drone strikes. Mr. Debretsion said they had changed the course of the war.

“Without the drones,” he said, “the fight would have been different.”

The Tigrayans, buoyed by a huge influx of new recruits, mounted their dramatic comeback just before Ethiopia’s election on June 21.

With the vote canceled in Tigray, Ethiopian forces attacked the T.D.F. at its stronghold in the Tembien mountains, west of Mekelle. The Tigrayans struck back hard, and within days several Ethiopian bases had been overrun and thousands of Ethiopian soldiers were captured.

Mr. Debretsion said he would free most of the Ethiopian prisoners who were marched through Mekelle on Friday, but would continue to detain the Ethiopian officers.

He called on the international community to ensure accountability for the spree of atrocities reportedly committed in Tigray in recent months — massacres, rape, the use of starvation as a weapon of war. Some Tigrayans had also been accused of atrocities during the conflict. But Mr. Debretsion rejected a United Nations-led investigation that is being conducted alongside a rights body linked to the Ethiopian government.

“It’s very clear they are partial,” he said.

He warned that if Mr. Abiy tried to mass forces in regions bordering Tigray again, he would quickly send fighters to intercept them.

In recent days, some Tigrayan leaders have suggested that troops could march on Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, to oust Mr. Afwerki, who harbors a decades-old enmity with them.

Mr. Debretsion sounded a more cautious note. Tigrayan troops would fight to push Eritrean troops over the border, he said, but not necessarily go farther.

“We have to be realistic,” Mr. Debretsion said. “Yes, we would like to remove Isaias. But at the end of the day, Eritreans have to remove him.”

The euphoric mood that gripped Mekelle this past week, with some fighters rushing to be with families and others celebrating in the city’s restaurants and nightclubs, is also a challenge for Mr. Debretsion.

The mood might be deflated in the coming weeks, as shortages of food and fuel hit Mekelle, now isolated on all sides.

Aid groups say that more vulnerable Tigrayans may starve if Mr. Abiy’s government does not allow vital aid deliveries.

Even if the conflict ends soon, Mr. Debretsion said, Tigray’s future as part of Ethiopia is in doubt. “The trust has broken completely,” he said. “If they don’t want us, why should we stay?”

Still, he added, nothing has been decided: “It depends on the politics at the center.”

Simon Marks contributed reporting from Brussels.

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Famine Looms in Ethiopia’s War-Ravaged Tigray Region, U.N. Says

Famine is now knocking on the door of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where a civil war that erupted last year has drastically cut the food supply and prevented relief workers from helping the hungry, the top U.N. humanitarian official has warned.

In a confidential note to the United Nations Security Council, the official, Mark Lowcock, the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said sections of Tigray, a region of more than 5 million people, are now one step from famine — in part because the government has obstructed aid shipments.

The note, seen by The New York Times, was submitted Tuesday under a Security Council resolution requiring such notification when conflicts cause famine and widespread food insecurity.

“These circumstances now arise in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia,” Mr. Lowcock said in the note. While below-average rain, locusts and the Covid-19 pandemic have all contributed to food scarcity, he said, “the scale of the food crisis Tigray faces today is a clear result of the conflict and the behavior of the parties.”

since last November. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and neighboring Eritrea ordered their military forces into the region to crush Mr. Abiy’s political rivals and strengthen his control.

What Mr. Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, predicted would be a short operation has instead become a quagmire that threatens to destabilize the Horn of Africa. Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have been accused of ethnic cleansing, massacres and others atrocities in Tigray that amount to war crimes.

While the United Nations and international relief organizations have achieved some cooperation from the Ethiopian authorities in gaining access to deprived areas of Tigray, Mr. Lowcock said in his note, such cooperation has deteriorated in recent months. “Humanitarian operations are being attacked, obstructed or delayed in delivering lifesaving assistance,” he wrote, and at least eight aid workers have been killed.

“As a result of impediments and the effect of restrictions, not nearly enough support is being provided,” he wrote. He urged Security Council members “to take any steps possible to prevent a famine from occurring.”

His warning was echoed by Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, the main U.S. government provider of humanitarian assistance to needy countries. Ms. Power, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement that one of the aid workers killed had worked for the agency she now runs.

took the unusual step of penalizing Ethiopia over growing American exasperation with Mr. Abiy’s actions in Tigray. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken announced visa restrictions on officials linked to the conflict, preventing their travel to the United States.

Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry reacted angrily, calling the restrictions “extremely regrettable” and suggesting they would “seriously undermine this longstanding and important bilateral relationship.”

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Militants Attacked a Key Town in Mozambique. Where Was the Government?

It’s late March in a coastal town in Mozambique, and a group of militants is on the attack. Thousands of civilians flee as their town is left burning behind them. This isn’t the first time scenes like this have played out here, but it’s the first time we’ve seen them captured in such detail. A crisis has been unfolding as local insurgents who’ve pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, execute the largest land grab by an ISIS-linked group in years. And this has created one of the world’s most severe humanitarian crises. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. And now, over the course of about a week, the insurgents are attacking Palma, a strategic port town with massive global investment. In one scene, hundreds shelter in a hotel while a battle rages outside. The question they’re asking … … is the Mozambique government going to save them? It isn’t. The government exaggerated its response in the days after the attack. But we found that government forces weren’t able to defend Palma, leaving its citizens to mostly fend for themselves against the insurgents. Evacuations that did happen had to be hastily organized by private companies. For years, the government has heavily censored media coverage of the conflict, obscuring much of what’s happening. But we can still discover clues about the situation by examining what is aired by local media … … like state-run broadcaster, TVM, and by Sky News, which went to Palma after the attack. Combining this footage with visual evidence from survivors, satellite analysis and ship-tracking data allows us to build a fuller picture of an attack which many felt was not a question of if it would happen, but when. The insurgency is known locally as Al-Shabaab, and it first emerged in the province of Cabo Delgado in 2017. Al-Shabaab’s recruitment is mostly local, and draws on grievances over extreme poverty and corruption. The group has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State … … but how close these ties really are is hotly debated. The government, however, tries to maintain the illusion of safety and calm for international investors. But insurgent activity and control have escalated over time, overwhelming Mozambique’s severely under-resourced government forces. Now in March 2021, those forces are tested again. The insurgents’ target, the town of Palma, lies here. Just South of Palma is the site of Africa’s largest foreign direct investment, a liquefied natural gas project where the primary investor is French oil and gas company Total. The project is hailed as a massive new revenue source that could transform the country, but it’s also controversial, in part, because its construction displaced many local villages. In the months before the attack, insurgents were getting closer to Palma, prompting Total to strike a deal with the Mozambican government for better security at the multibillion dollar gas site. We analyzed satellite imagery which shows at least nine recently constructed military outposts at key positions around the site. It’s clear that the natural gas project, and not the town, is the most secure place when insurgents move in. Now we come to March 24, the day Al-Shabaab advances on Palma. They quickly take control of parts of the coast and all key roads leading into the town — to the southwest, cutting off a key crossroads for military reinforcements. West on this road, and to the north on this road alongside the town’s airstrip. Video obtained and verified by The Times shows a plane trying to land there coming under fire. In it we get a rare glimpse of the insurgents. Multiple eyewitnesses told us that the government forces inside Palma retreated quickly after some pockets tried and failed to fight off the insurgents. We were also told that around 750 soldiers stationed at the gas site stay inside the facility instead of rushing to the city as backup. There’s little footage of the insurgents from during the attack. But Islamic State media did release this footage claiming to show the fighters preparing, along with claims that they targeted a good deal of the town’s infrastructure. The Times confirmed damage to two banks, government offices, the town’s business park, and military and police buildings. The roads are cut off, and the only ways help can now arrive are by sea and air. Three government helicopters are moved from at least 85 miles away to the airstrip of the natural gas site. But multiple eyewitnesses told us that the helicopters only attempt to fly into Palma once and quickly retreat under fire. Other helicopters do come to the rescue, but they’re not government helicopters. They belong to the Dyck Advisory Group, or DAG, a South African military contractor hired by Mozambique to help fight the insurgency. Their presence is controversial. Recently, Amnesty International accused them of war crimes, claims which they deny. DAG is one of the only actors capable of conducting rescues. Its executives told The Times that they intervened on their own without any clear instruction from the government. DAG heads here to the Amarula Hotel. Its guests are mostly foreign. Now they’re joined by over 100 others from around Palma trying to flee. “We’re going to Amarula, bro.” But who should be rescued first and why? With no government oversight, there’s no plan. It falls to people like the hotel’s manager to come up with one. He’s speaking publicly here for the first time. DAG ultimately makes four rescue flights, but their helicopters can’t hold much. And just a little over 20 people make it out. Those left wonder if the military will send in the larger helicopters we showed you before, one of which can carry upwards of 30 people. With no help coming, they developed their own evacuation plan using vehicles from the hotel’s parking lot to drive outside the town. Some take this route to a quarry, where they believe they’ll be rescued. As people are loading into the cars, the hotel’s owner arranges a last-ditch helicopter rescue. It carries members of her staff and her two dogs. She denies the dogs took up space that could have been used by people. The flight is made by a private company that the hotel often chartered for tourist excursions. As for the DAG helicopters, because they have weapons, they provide air cover for this final helicopter rescue. As the ground convoy prepares to make the risky escape over land, there’s still confusion over whether they will receive air support too. But the aerial resources are stretched too thin, and the cars won’t all make it. Photographs showed that several of the vehicles were ambushed and forced off the road. Only a few safely reached this quarry and spend the night hiding. DAG rescues them the next day and dozens more civilians from elsewhere. The government help never comes. With limited air evacuations, thousands of people throughout the area are forced to flee on their own. The man who shot this video told us what happened. Tens of thousands go on foot or by bus across the province toward other cities and towns. Many more people line up at the natural gas site run by Total, where at least some government security is present. Sources tell us that civilians were often denied entrance. As the crowd at the site grows, Total decides to organize a rescue, mostly for its own staff. It charters this ferry, seen here docked at the natural gas site. The Total employees appear to be protected by this ship, known as an Ocean Eagle 43, a patrol and surveillance vessel run by the Mozambican government. It’s one of the few signs of government intervention during the attack on Palma. Ship-tracking data shows they flee south alongside this convoy of mostly private boats. The ferry arrives in the provincial capital of Pemba with over 1,300 passengers, most of them employees. And it makes a second rescue out of Palma a few days later, this time with more locals on board. After the weeklong attack, repercussions were immediately felt — because of the violence, Total has suspended its natural gas operations indefinitely, raising serious concerns about Mozambique’s economic future and the people it left behind. Dozens of Total’s contractors and subcontractors still remain in Palma. Some told The Times that the company hasn’t checked on their safety. Total didn’t respond to our request for comment. Based on our tally of evacuations, only a small number of Palma’s population were rescued during the attack. Roughly 95 percent of the population was left behind. Mozambique’s defense ministry didn’t respond to our questions about their operations in Palma. But after the attack, the country’s president downplayed the severity of violence in the city. His forces have since re-entered the town, assuring people that it’s safe to return. It’s not. A month after the attack, this thermal image reveals large fires burning in Palma, and satellite imagery confirms at least 50 buildings, some of which are seen here, have burn damage. There are near-daily reports of gunfire here. Civilians hoping to escape this threat are forced to rely on a volunteer group working with private companies to organize flights and barges. The cycle of violence plaguing Mozambique for three years continues. Even now, residents must flee on their own, unable to trust in their government to save them.

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In Israel, Blinken Pushes U.S. Support for Rebuilding Gaza

JERUSALEM — Israel will launch a “very powerful” response to any new attacks by Hamas militants, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Tuesday, thanking the United States for bolstering his country’s air defenses during a visit by the top American diplomat that sought to promote peace.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, in his first trip to the Middle East during the Biden administration, was met by a country on edge following more than 10 days of war with Hamas that ended with a tenuous cease-fire late last week.

In brief but blunt comments after their private meeting, Mr. Netanyahu said he was grateful that the Biden administration consistently affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself after coming under rocket attack by militants in the Gaza Strip. He said he and Mr. Blinken had discussed how to curb Hamas, which controls Gaza, and how to help rebuild and otherwise improve the lives of the two million Palestinians who live there.

“If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful,” Mr. Netanyahu told reporters after the meeting, standing next to Mr. Blinken.

77,000 people who were forced from their homes during the hostilities and are sheltering in schools maintained by the United Nations.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been cut off from electricity and clean water, and pockets of Gaza have been reduced to piles of rubble after nearly two weeks of Israeli airstrikes.

rebuild our relationship” with the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority. He was to meet later Tuesday in Ramallah with President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh of the Palestinian Authority.

In seeking to prop up the authority, the Biden administration aims to sideline Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, which the United States considers a terrorist organization. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are bitter political rivals, and it is far from assured that the militants will cede any of their grip over Gaza.

In a series of discussions with Mr. Blinken throughout the afternoon, Mr. Netanyahu and other Israeli officials also homed in on what they described as another urgent threat to their stability: Iran.

With American and Iranian diplomats separately meeting with world powers in Vienna, officials have in recent days noted progress in negotiations to bring both sides back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.

the Trump administration jettisoned in 2018, in hopes of imposing stricter limits on Iran’s nuclear, missile and military programs.

Mr. Netanyahu said the original deal “paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

riots erupted at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

“We believe that Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely to enjoy equal measures of freedom opportunity, and democracy, to be treated with dignity,” Mr. Blinken said.

“Healing these wounds will take leadership at every level of society,” he said.

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Changing Tack, U.S. Sanctions Ethiopia Over Abuses in Tigray War

NAIROBI, Kenya — Growing American frustration over the war in the Tigray region of Ethiopia spilled over into an open confrontation on Monday when Ethiopian officials lashed out at Washington over new restrictions including aid cuts and a ban on some Ethiopians traveling to the United States.

The restrictions, announced by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Sunday, amount to an unusual step against a key African ally, and a pointed rebuke to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose troops and allies have been accused of ethnic cleansing, massacres and others atrocities that could amount to war crimes.

Despite “significant diplomatic engagement,” Mr. Blinken said in a statement, “the parties to the conflict in Tigray have taken no meaningful steps to end hostilities or pursue a peaceful resolution of the political crisis.”

American visa restrictions will apply to all actors in the Tigray conflict, Mr. Blinken said, including current and former Ethiopian and Eritrean officials, ethnic Amhara militias and Tigrayan rebels.

a statement on Monday, Ethiopia’s foreign affairs ministry reacted with an expression of regret and what appeared to be thinly veiled threats. It accused the United States of meddling in its internal affairs and trying to overshadow national elections scheduled for June 21.

And it said that Ethiopia could be “forced to reassess its relations with the United States, which might have implications beyond our bilateral relationship.”

gave $923 million, according to USAID, although the vast majority of that money was for humanitarian purposes — health care, food aid, education and democracy support — that will not be hit by the new measures.

The United States had already suspended $23 million in security aid to Ethiopia. Officials say the new measures will preclude any American arms sales to Ethiopia, although much of the country’s weapons come from Russia.

Still, there could be other impacts. Western diplomats say the United States could block international funding to Ethiopia from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund — integral to Mr. Abiy’s economic plans.

dispatched by President Biden in March, and Jeffrey Feltman, the recently appointed Horn of Africa envoy.

American officials worry that the growing chaos in Tigray could destabilize the entire Horn of Africa region, or jeopardize efforts to mediate a high-stakes dispute with Egypt over the massive hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Nile.

The growing humanitarian crisis, including the threat of a famine within months, is also driving the sense of urgency.

Those responsible for the Tigray crisis “should anticipate further actions from the United States and the international community,” Mr. Blinken said. “We call on other governments to join is taking these measures.”

Simon Marks contributed reporting from Brussels.

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Iran, a Longtime Backer of Hamas, Cheers Attacks on Israel

The leadership of Iran, engaged in a long shadow war with Israel on land, air and sea, did not try to conceal the pleasure it took in the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Over the 11 days of fighting this month, Tehran praised the damage being done to its enemy, and the state news media and conservative commentators highlighted Iran’s role in providing weaponry and military training to Palestinian militants in Gaza to hammer Israeli communities.

Iran has for decades supported Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza and whose own interests in battling Israel align with Iran’s. Experts say that over the years, Iran has provided Hamas with financial and political support, weapons and technology and training to build its own arsenal of advanced rockets that can reach deep into Israeli territory.

But in the assessment of Israeli intelligence, Hamas made its decisions independently of Iran in the latest conflict.

sabotaging of Iran’s nuclear facilities. While Iran’s leaders have made no secret of their desire to punish Israel for the wave of attacks, they have struggled to find an effective way to retaliate without risking an all-out war or derailing any chance for a revised nuclear accord with the United States and other world powers.

So the conservative factions in Iran that had been urging payback for the Israeli strikes seized on a chance to portray the thousands of rockets fired by the Gaza militants as revenge.

a devastating response from Israel’s vastly superior military, whose airstrikes killed scores of militants, destroyed 340 rocket launchers and caused the collapse of 60 miles of underground tunnels.

While the Israeli strikes may temporarily set back the military capability of Iran’s Gaza allies, Israel’s international standing does seem to be taking a beating with cracks in the once rock-solid support of Western allies.

Iran watched in dismay last year as four Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — normalized ties with Israel and declared Iran the biggest threat to regional stability. In the months before the Gaza fighting, Tehran lobbied intensely to prevent other Arab countries from following suit.

outraged Arab public opinion, could dim the prospects of any more countries in the region normalizing relations with Israel anytime soon.

hit civilian neighborhoods.

They celebrated the violent clashes erupting across Israeli cities between Jewish and Arab residents. And they felt that the Israeli strikes on Iran, including the assassinations of a top nuclear scientist and a leader of Al Qaeda, had been at least partly avenged.

“It feels like we had rage stuck in our throats against Israel, especially after the assassinations. And with every rocket fired, we gave a collective, deep sigh of relief,” said Mehdi Nejati, 43, an industrial project manager in Tehran who moderated a daily Clubhouse chat on developments in Gaza.

There was also much boasting on social media about Iran’s role in enabling militants to amass more advanced rockets.

While Israel will have to continue to contend with Iran’s influence in Gaza going forward, Tehran’s support for the militants there is just one of the many factors standing in the way of a longer-term peace, said Mr. Javedanfar, the political analyst.

“Confronting Iran is only going to be part of the solution for Israel’s challenge in Gaza,” he said. “A bigger part of the challenge can be solved with smarter Israeli policies in Jerusalem.”

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Before Rage Flared, a Push to Make Israel’s Mixed Towns More Jewish

LOD, Israel — Years before the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Lod erupted in mob violence, a demographic shift had begun to take root: Hundreds of young Jews who support a religious, nationalist movement started to move into a mostly Arab neighborhood with the express aim of strengthening the Israeli city’s Jewish identity.

A similar change was playing out in other mixed Arab-Jewish cities inside Israel, such as nearby Ramla and Acre in the north — part of a loosely organized nationwide project known as Torah Nucleus. They say that their intention is to uplift poor and neglected areas on the margins of society, particularly in mixed cities, and to enrich Jewish life there. Its supporters have moved into dozens of Israeli cities and towns.

“Perhaps ours is a complex message,” said Avi Rokach, 43, chairman of the Torah Nucleus association in Lod. “Lod is a Jewish city. It is our agenda and our religious duty to look out for whoever lives here, be they Jewish, Muslim or Hindu.”

abruptly exposed.

In Lod, hundreds of the city’s Arab citizens took to the streets, throwing stones, burning cars and setting fire to properties, venting their rage against one primary target: The mostly young, Orthodox Jewish families who had arrived in recent years, saying they wanted to lift up the working-class city and make it more Jewish.

organized on social networks and sought out Arab victims in Lod and other cities, beating an Arab man almost to death in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam.

Lod, which traces its history to the days of Canaan and is known as Lydda in Arabic, has a particularly fraught history centered around the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Most of the original Palestinian residents of the city were expelled and never allowed to return.

Bedouins — the seminomadic Arabs from Israel’s Negev desert — arrived in the following decades as did families of Palestinians from the West Bank who had collaborated with Israel, seeking refuge.

to tone down the volume on the Muslim call to prayer from minarets in the city and his right-hand man is a founder of Lod’s Torah Nucleus.

Arab resentment is compounded by a lingering fear of displacement, house by house.

About eight years ago, Torah Nucleus built a pre-army academy and a religious boys’ elementary school next to the long-established school for Arab pupils on Exodus Street in the heart of Ramat Eshkol.

These Jewish institutions were the first to be set on fire on May 10. The trouble started after evening prayers, witnesses said. Arab youths raised a Palestinian flag in the square and demonstrated in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza. The police dispersed them with tear gas and stun grenades.

Angry Arab mobs then went on a rampage, burning synagogues, Jewish apartments and cars in Ramat Eshkol. One group approached another Torah Nucleus neighborhood, where a Jewish crowd had gathered.

There, the four Jewish suspects in the shooting claimed, they fired in the air in self-defense as Arab rioters began to rush at them, throwing stones and firebombs, according to court documents.

The funeral for the victim, Mr. Hassouna, the next day devolved into new clashes as the mourners, the building contractor Mr. Salama among them, insisted on passing through Exodus Street with the body in defiance of police instructions.

That night, gangs of Jewish extremists, some of them armed, came from out of town to attack Arabs and their property, according to witnesses. Mr. Salama said he was hit by a stone while sitting in his garden. Gunshots were heard on both sides.

One Jewish apartment in Ramat Eshkol was burned to cinders after Arab intruders broke open a hole in the wall. The family had already left. A neighbor, Nadav Klinger, said the charred flat would be preserved as a museum.

Elsewhere in Lod, some veteran Jewish and Arab neighbors said their good relations remained intact and agreed that the influx of religious Jewish professionals had lifted the city up.

Ayelet-Chen Wadler, 44, a physicist who grew up in a West Bank settlement, came to Lod with her family 15 years ago to join the Torah Nucleus community.

“I was raised to try to make an impact,” she said. “Just by living here, you make a difference.”

A week after the peak in the violence, about 30 of the 40 Jewish families who had evacuated their homes in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood had returned.

“I believe we can get back to where we were before, but it might take some time,” said Mr. Rokach, the chairman of the Torah nucleus in Lod, condemning the revenge attacks by Jews from outside.

“Nobody’s leaving. Quite the opposite. As we speak, I just got a WhatsApp message from a family looking for a home here. Nor are the Arabs leaving.”

Myra Noveck contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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