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Ireland, Norway and Spain to recognize Palestinian state



Ireland, Norway and Spain each announced Wednesday the recognition of a Palestinian state, citing the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and a need to achieve a two-state solution for lasting peace in the region.

“The ongoing war in Gaza has made it abundantly clear that achieving peace and stability must be predicated on resolving the Palestinian question,” Norway Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said. “The war is the lowest point in the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The situation in the Middle East has not been this grave for many years.”

Israel quickly denounced the diplomatic declarations by the three countries, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declaring that Hamas had won a “prize for terrorism.”

He said a Palestinian nation “would be a terrorist state. It would try to carry out the October 7 massacre again and again – and that, we shall not agree to.”

Norway said there is broad international consensus about the need for a two-state solution, including an overwhelming vote at the U.N. General Assembly this month to recognize the Palestinians as qualified to join the world body.

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said the decision was based on “peace, justice and coherence.”

“Time has come to move from words into action,” Sánchez said.

The three countries said their recognition of a Palestinian state will take effect May 28.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, called it “a wonderful moment…. This European wave, hopefully, will be followed by other waves.”

In Washington, the White House National Security Council said President Joe Biden “is a strong supporter of a two-state solution and has been throughout his career.”

However, it said Biden “believes a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations between the parties, not through unilateral recognition.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz immediately announced the recall of Israel’s ambassadors from all three countries that recognized a Palestinian state.

“History will remember that Spain, Norway, and Ireland decided to award a gold medal to Hamas murderers and rapists,” Katz said.

Katz said recognizing a Palestinian state is a reward to Hamas and Iran, and an “injustice to the memory” of those killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 250 hostages.

Israel’s subsequent seven-month counter-offensive in Gaza has killed more than 35,000 civilians and combatants, although the Gaza Health Ministry says most of the dead are women and children.

“Israel will not remain silent in the face of those undermining its sovereignty and endangering its security,” Katz said.

Ireland’s prime minister, Simon Harris, said Ireland unequivocally recognizes Israel and its right to exist “securely and in peace with its neighbors.” Harris called for all the hostages currently being held by Hamas in Gaza to be released.

Harris pointed to Ireland’s own history and the importance of getting recognition from other nations.

The vision for a Palestinian state put forward by Norway is not one led by the Hamas militants who have ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, but one derived from the Palestinian Authority in charge of parts of the West Bank.

Norway’s Støre said the situation in the Middle East “has not been this grave for many years,” and that recognizing a Palestinian state is a way of “supporting the moderate forces which have been losing ground in this protracted and brutal conflict.”

“In the midst of a war, with tens of thousands killed and injured, we must keep alive the only alternative that offers a political solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike: Two states, living side by side, in peace and security,” Støre said.

Aid suspension

The United Nations has suspended food distribution in Rafah on Gaza’s southern border due to depleted supplies and insecurity.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Tuesday the distribution centers of the World Food Program and UNRWA, the agency for Palestinian refugees, are inaccessible because of the ongoing Israeli military operation in Rafah.

About 1.1 million people face high levels of hunger, the U.N. said. The Rafah crossing into Egypt, once the main entrance for aid, has been closed since May 6, and no aid trucks have crossed the U.S.-built floating pier in two days, the U.N. said.

A WFP spokesperson said the “humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse.” Abeer Etefa warned that if food and other supplies don’t resume entering Gaza in “massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread.”

In addition, UNRWA said its health centers have not received any medical supplies in 10 days, but its health care staff still conducts medical consultations at its centers that remain open.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.

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Guinea Junta Strikes Back: Media Regulators Jailed Amid Bribery Controversy



In a stunning development that underscores the ongoing struggle for media freedom in Guinea, two prominent media regulators were sentenced to eight months in prison on Thursday. Djene Diaby and Tawel Camara, commissioners of the High Authority for Communication, were convicted after alleging that the heads of major media outlets had been bribed by the ruling military junta. This verdict is the latest chapter in a tumultuous saga marked by severe crackdowns on press freedom and opposition voices.

The charges against Diaby and Camara stemmed from their explosive claims that media heads received payments from the junta in exchange for favorable coverage. Despite these alleged bribes, the accused media organizations continued to criticize the junta, leading to their shutdown by authorities in May. This paradoxical situation highlights the complex dynamics between the media and the current military rulers.

The trial, held in Conakry, saw prosecutor Mohamed Bangoura push for a one-year sentence, labeling the actions of the commissioners as “very serious.” However, the defense sought leniency, emphasizing that Diaby and Camara were first-time offenders. Ultimately, the court handed down an eight-month sentence and a fine of 1 million Guinean francs ($116) each. Their lawyer, Kemoko Malick Diakite, announced plans to appeal the decision.

During the trial, both Diaby and Camara issued public apologies, admitting they had no concrete proof to support their bribery claims. This admission came after their earlier contentious remarks, in which Diaby expressed disdain for the media bosses, accusing them of taking money from the presidency. These statements, widely circulated on social media, painted a picture of a media landscape deeply entwined with political machinations.

The fallout from these allegations was swift and severe. The High Authority for Communication suspended Diaby and Camara for “gross misconduct,” and the media organizations implicated in their claims—Hadafo Medias, Djoma Media, and Frequence Medias—lodged formal complaints against the two regulators. These outlets were among those whose licenses were revoked on May 22, reflecting the junta’s tightening grip on media operations.

This incident is not an isolated case but part of a broader pattern of media suppression since the military coup in 2021, which ousted elected President Alpha Conde. The junta’s tactics have included banning private radio and television stations and silencing opposition voices. The sentencing of Diaby and Camara serves as a stark reminder of the precarious state of free speech in Guinea under military rule.

The jailing of Diaby and Camara represents a significant blow to media freedom in Guinea. As the junta continues its campaign against dissenting voices, the international community watches with concern. The ongoing battle for free speech and transparency in Guinea is far from over, and the recent events signal a troubling trend towards increased authoritarianism and suppression of independent journalism.

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Taiwan Crisis: US-China Nuclear Talks Reveal Tense Showdown and Hidden Threats



In a dramatic turn of events, the United States and China resumed informal nuclear arms talks in March after a five-year hiatus. This unprecedented dialogue in a Shanghai hotel room is the first of its kind since 2019, and its focus is nothing short of explosive: Taiwan.

The U.S. delegates, wary of China’s growing military might, voiced concerns about the potential use of nuclear weapons if China faced defeat in a conflict over Taiwan. Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a breakaway province, offered reassurances. Chinese representatives claimed they could secure a victory over Taiwan using conventional forces alone, without resorting to nuclear threats. But can these assurances be trusted, or are they merely a façade?

These Track Two talks, involving former officials and scholars, are distinct from official government-to-government negotiations, known as Track One. While informal, these discussions often reflect the underlying positions and strategies of both nations. Despite their informal nature, the stakes could not be higher, as both powers are locked in a geopolitical rivalry with Taiwan as a potential flashpoint.

The Pentagon estimates a significant increase in China’s nuclear arsenal, from 2021 to 2023, heightening U.S. fears. China’s aggressive military activity around Taiwan over the past four years has only exacerbated these concerns. The U.S. and China briefly resumed official nuclear talks in November, but these have since stalled. Frustrations are palpable, with U.S. officials publicly expressing dissatisfaction with China’s lack of responsiveness.

David Santoro, the U.S. organizer of the Track Two talks, highlighted China’s claim of adhering to its longstanding “no-first-use” nuclear policy. Yet, the U.S. side remains skeptical. With China’s rapid modernization of its nuclear forces, including next-generation ballistic missile submarines and hypersonic glide vehicles, doubts linger. Is China’s policy of minimal deterrence still valid, or has it evolved into a more aggressive stance?

China’s expanded arsenal, encompassing anti-ship cruise missiles, bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and submarines, raises eyebrows. Critics argue that this arsenal exceeds the needs of a state committed to minimal deterrence and a no-first-use policy. Instead, it suggests a strategic shift aimed at ensuring survivability and deterring U.S. nuclear superiority.

China’s reliance on “risk and opacity” to balance U.S. nuclear superiority is a troubling strategy. It creates a dangerous ambiguity, leaving room for miscalculations and escalating tensions. The U.S. delegation underscored the importance of continued dialogue, even without clear expectations, to mitigate these risks.

While the March discussions highlighted frustrations, both sides agreed on the necessity of continued dialogue. Plans for further talks in 2025 indicate a willingness to keep communication channels open, despite the glacial pace of progress.

As the U.S. and China navigate this complex landscape, the future of Taiwan hangs in the balance. The informal talks in Shanghai may have provided some reassurances, but the underlying tensions and rapid nuclear developments suggest a more volatile scenario. The world watches closely, hoping that diplomacy prevails over the shadows of hidden threats.

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Somalia Urges Peacekeeper Withdrawal Delay Amidst Al Shabaab Resurgence Concerns



As Somalia grapples with the persistent threat of al Shabaab militants, the Somali government is urgently seeking to slow the withdrawal of African Union peacekeepers. This request, highlighted in documents reviewed by Reuters, underscores the fears of a potential security vacuum that could embolden the Islamist insurgency.

The African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) is set to complete its withdrawal by December 31, 2024. However, Somalia’s government has requested to delay the withdrawal of half of the 4,000 troops slated to leave by the end of June until September. This plea, contained in a letter to the acting chair of the African Union Peace and Security Council, reflects deep concerns over the readiness of Somali forces to fill the impending security gap.

A joint assessment by the Somali government and the AU in March, reviewed by Reuters, warned that a rapid drawdown of ATMIS personnel could lead to a dangerous security vacuum. “I’ve never been more concerned about the direction of my home country,” expressed Mursal Khalif, an independent member of Somalia’s defense committee.

The European Union and the United States, primary funders of the AU force, have been keen on reducing the peacekeeping mission due to sustainability and long-term financing issues. The complexities of negotiating a new force with a robust mandate acceptable to all parties, including Somalia, have proven challenging. Diplomatic sources indicate that a heated political dispute could lead Ethiopia, a key contributor of battle-hardened troops, to reconsider its involvement.

The call for a smaller force likely reflects the views of nationalists within Somalia who oppose a heavy foreign presence. “The AU and Somalia’s government have emphasized the importance of a conditions-based drawdown to prevent any security vacuum,” said Mohamed El-Amine Souef, AU special representative to Somalia and head of ATMIS.

Neighboring countries like Uganda and Kenya, which have contributed troops to the mission, share Somalia’s concerns. Henry Okello Oryem, Uganda’s state minister of foreign affairs, warned against a hasty withdrawal reminiscent of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, fearing a similar collapse. “We do not want to get into a situation where we are fleeing,” he said.

Recent military setbacks in Somalia have compounded these worries. In August, al Shabaab counter-attacked in the town of Cowsweyne, killing scores of soldiers and beheading civilians. This attack underscored the militants’ resilience and the Somali army’s vulnerabilities, despite previous territorial gains.

The potential withdrawal of peacekeepers poses significant risks. Somalia’s army, estimated at around 32,000 soldiers, faces a shortage of about 11,000 trained personnel. While the government claims its soldiers can confront al Shabaab with limited external support, ongoing external assistance remains crucial. The United States, for instance, maintains around 450 troops in Somalia for training and advisory roles, alongside conducting regular drone strikes.

International support for Somalia has been substantial. The U.S. has spent over $2.5 billion on counterterrorism assistance since 2007, while the EU has provided about $2.8 billion to ATMIS and its predecessor missions. However, resources are increasingly strained, with the EU shifting towards bilateral support and the U.S. grappling with competing priorities, including Ukraine and Gaza.

As Somalia navigates this precarious phase, the international community must balance the need for Somali self-reliance with the reality of al Shabaab’s persistent threat. Delaying the withdrawal of peacekeepers could provide the necessary time for Somali forces to strengthen and stabilize. However, the complexities of international funding and regional politics add layers of uncertainty to an already volatile situation.

The upcoming discussions at the Peace and Security Council will be pivotal in shaping the future of Somalia’s security landscape and its ongoing battle against terrorism.

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Middle East

Hezbollah Leader Warns of Escalation: ‘No Place Safe’ in Israel if War Erupts”



In a stark and provocative statement, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned that “no place would be safe” in Israel if the current sporadic skirmishes between the Lebanese militant group and Israel escalate into a full-blown war. This announcement has heightened already soaring tensions in the region, underscoring the volatile dynamics that could lead to widespread conflict.

Nasrallah’s televised address on Wednesday emphasized that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has a “bank of targets” within Israel that could be subjected to precision strikes. “There will be no place safe from our missiles and our drones,” Nasrallah declared, indicating a readiness to escalate military actions if necessary. This threat was punctuated by the release of drone footage by Hezbollah, purportedly showing sensitive sites deep within Israeli territory.

The Hezbollah leader’s assertion of possessing new, unspecified weapons adds a layer of unpredictability to the group’s capabilities. “The enemy knows well that we have prepared ourselves for the worst … and that no place … will be spared our rockets,” he added, underscoring the potential for widespread destruction.

In response to Nasrallah’s threats, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), conveyed confidence in Israel’s defensive and offensive capabilities. During a visit near the Lebanese border, Halevi stated, “The enemy only knows a small part of our capabilities and will see them at the needed time.” This remark suggests that Israel is prepared for a significant escalation and has undisclosed military assets that could counter Hezbollah’s threats.

Since the war in Gaza erupted in October, Israel and Hezbollah have engaged in intermittent exchanges of strikes, contributing to a death toll that includes over 400 people in Lebanon—mostly Hezbollah fighters and at least 80 civilians—and 16 soldiers and 11 civilians in Israel. This ongoing conflict has strained the already fragile stability in the region and raised concerns about a larger-scale war.

Nasrallah’s speech also contained a warning to Cyprus, accusing it of allowing Israeli forces to use Cypriot airports and bases for operations against Lebanon. “That move,” Nasrallah said, “means that the Cypriot government has become part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war.” This threat could potentially expand the conflict beyond the immediate borders of Lebanon and Israel, dragging in other nations and complicating international diplomacy.

The escalating rhetoric and military posturing between Hezbollah and Israel point to a highly volatile situation that could erupt into a broader conflict with devastating consequences. Nasrallah’s warning that “no place would be safe” in Israel and the potential involvement of other countries like Cyprus highlight the complex and dangerous nature of this standoff. As both sides prepare for possible escalation, the international community watches with growing concern, aware that the actions taken in the coming days and weeks could significantly impact regional and global stability.

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Kim Jong Un and Putin Forge New Alliance: North Korea Pledges Full Support for Russia in Ukraine Conflict



In a highly controversial move, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed “full support and solidarity” for Russia’s war in Ukraine during a historic meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Pyongyang. This unprecedented alliance between North Korea and Russia signals a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape, raising alarm bells in the West and potentially altering the course of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

President Putin’s visit to North Korea, his first in 24 years, underscores the deepening ties between Moscow and Pyongyang. As the two leaders met, they projected a united front against what they termed the “hegemonic and imperialist policy” of the United States and its allies. This rhetoric highlights their shared disdain for Western influence and their mutual desire to reshape the global order.

Kim’s pledge of support for Russia’s military endeavors in Ukraine comes at a time when both countries are under intense scrutiny and heavy sanctions from the international community. North Korea has been accused of supplying weapons to Russia in exchange for technological expertise, a claim both nations have denied. However, the possibility of such an exchange raises significant concerns about the escalation of the conflict and the potential for increased military cooperation between the two pariah states.

The culmination of Putin’s visit was the signing of a comprehensive strategic partnership treaty, described by Putin as a “breakthrough” that will take bilateral relations to a “new level.” While the details of this agreement remain undisclosed, it reportedly includes a promise of “mutual assistance” in the event of an attack on either country. This defensive pact could signify a more formalized military alliance, potentially drawing North Korea deeper into Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.

The red carpet welcome for Putin in Pyongyang, complete with a grand ceremony in Kim Il Sung Square and streets adorned with Russian flags, was a clear message to the world: North Korea and Russia are forging a new path together, one that could have far-reaching implications for global security.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Putin’s visit to North Korea, highlighting it as a sign of Russia’s desperation. Blinken reiterated concerns about North Korea providing munitions and other weapons to Russia, emphasizing the threat this poses to Ukraine and the broader international community. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg echoed these sentiments, warning of the potential support Russia could provide to North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.

The alliance between North Korea and Russia also raises questions about the future of U.N. sanctions. Russia’s veto power has already hindered efforts to impose new sanctions on North Korea, and this partnership could further complicate international efforts to monitor and restrict North Korea’s weapons development.

The burgeoning alliance between North Korea and Russia has significant implications for regional stability in East Asia. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been escalating, with recent border incidents and increased military activities on both sides. South Korea, backed by the U.S., has expressed growing concern over North Korea’s military capabilities and its potential role in supporting Russia’s war efforts.

Moreover, the partnership between Kim and Putin could embolden other nations facing Western sanctions to seek similar alliances, further destabilizing global security dynamics. As Putin continues his diplomatic tour, with planned stops in countries like Vietnam, the world watches closely to see how these new alliances will reshape the geopolitical landscape.

Kim Jong Un’s pledge of support for Russia’s war in Ukraine marks a significant and controversial development in international relations. This burgeoning alliance not only challenges Western hegemony but also poses a direct threat to global security. As North Korea and Russia strengthen their ties, the international community must grapple with the potential consequences of this new axis of power. The future of the Ukraine conflict, and indeed global stability, may hinge on how the world responds to this provocative and potentially dangerous partnership.

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Gaza-Israel Conflict

Massive Protests Erupt in Jerusalem Against Netanyahu’s War Policies



Thousands of Israelis staged a massive demonstration in Jerusalem on Monday, voicing strong opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the ongoing war in Gaza. The protest, which began outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, eventually moved to Netanyahu’s personal residence, signaling widespread discontent.

The demonstrators demanded that the Israeli government negotiate with Hamas to secure the release of the remaining hostages taken by the Palestinian militant group during their deadly raid on southern Israel last October. Additionally, protesters called for early parliamentary elections, expressing frustration with the current leadership.

Tensions escalated as some protesters attempted to breach police barricades, prompting security forces to use water cannons to disperse the crowd. The unrest highlighted the deepening dissatisfaction with Netanyahu’s wartime strategies and the political instability plaguing the country.

The protests came shortly after Netanyahu disbanded his war cabinet, a move anticipated following the resignations of centrist ex-generals Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot. Both had stepped down last week due to disagreements over the war’s direction. Gantz, who had joined Netanyahu’s unity government at the war’s outset, had been instrumental in forming the war cabinet.

The disbandment has raised concerns about the effectiveness and unity of Israel’s government during a critical period. However, the White House described the dissolution as an internal matter, with the State Department reiterating that the U.S. will continue its interactions with Netanyahu’s administration.

In a related development, the Israeli military announced an 11-hour “tactical pause” in operations in parts of the southern Gaza Strip to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. This pause, which applies to about 12 kilometers of road in the Rafah area, is intended to allow aid trucks to safely reach the Kerem Shalom crossing and distribute essential supplies to other parts of Gaza.

Despite the tactical pause, the broader conflict continues unabated. The limited halt aims to address the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are in desperate need of aid. The United Nations has welcomed the pause but stressed the need for more comprehensive measures to address the humanitarian crisis.

Internationally, there have been calls for a complete ceasefire, with proposals for a six-week halt in fighting to facilitate broader negotiations, including the release of more hostages by Hamas. However, no significant breakthroughs in ceasefire talks have been reported.

Domestically, Netanyahu’s government faces criticism from ultranationalists who oppose any cessation of military actions. The ongoing conflict, marked by high civilian casualties and widespread displacement, has further strained Israel’s internal political landscape.

The mass protests in Jerusalem underscore the growing public frustration with Netanyahu’s leadership and the ongoing war in Gaza. As the political and humanitarian crises deepen, the calls for change and negotiations grow louder, challenging the government’s current approach and pushing for a reevaluation of strategies to address the conflict and its repercussions.

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Global Nuclear Weapons Spending Reaches $91.4 Billion in 2023, ICAN Reports



ICAN Report Highlights Alarming Increase in Nuclear Arms Investments Amid Calls for Disarmament

In a startling revelation, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) reported that the world’s nine nuclear-armed countries collectively spent $91.4 billion on their arsenals in 2023. This equates to nearly $3,000 every second, reflecting a significant push towards modernizing and expanding nuclear capabilities.

Alicia Sanders-Zakre, co-author of the report, expressed her concern, stating, “This money is effectively being wasted given that the nuclear-armed states agree that a nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought.” The $91.4 billion spent annually could fund wind power for over 12 million homes or address 27% of the global funding gap to combat climate change, protect biodiversity, and reduce pollution.

The report highlights a $10.7 billion increase in nuclear weapons spending from 2022, with the United States leading the charge, accounting for 80% of the rise. The U.S. spent $51.5 billion, more than all other nuclear-armed countries combined. China followed with $11.8 billion, and Russia with $8.3 billion. The United Kingdom’s spending also saw a significant increase, up 17% to $8.1 billion.

The remaining nuclear powers, including France, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, collectively spent $11.6 billion. Companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons secured contracts worth nearly $7.9 billion in 2023. Over the past five years, nuclear-armed states have spent a total of $387 billion on their arsenals.

ICAN’s report emphasizes that this surge in spending does not enhance global security but instead increases the threat to people worldwide. Arms control experts warn of a new arms race, with nuclear powers expanding their arsenals contrary to the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Washington’s concerns about China’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal are significant. Pentagon estimates suggest China could have 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, up from around 200 in 2019. This rapid expansion has prompted calls for U.S. policymakers to reassess the size and composition of America’s nuclear forces.

International anxiety over nuclear threats was evident at the G7 summit in Italy and the Ukraine peace summit in Switzerland. G7 leaders condemned Russia’s threats of nuclear weapon use and called for de-escalation. The final declaration at the Ukrainian peace conference echoed this sentiment, despite notable holdouts from countries like India and South Africa.

Melissa Parke, ICAN’s Executive Director, highlighted the increased nuclear tensions between Russia and the West due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. The ICAN report profiles 20 countries involved in nuclear weapons development, noting that there are $335 billion in outstanding contracts related to nuclear weapons work.

Despite the increase in nuclear spending, there is also growing global resistance to these weapons. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has signatures from nearly 100 countries, and 111 investors representing about $5 trillion in assets support the treaty. They demand that more efforts be made to exclude the nuclear weapons industry from their business activities.

The ICAN report underscores the urgent need to shift away from nuclear weapons spending towards initiatives that promote global security and sustainability. The escalating investments in nuclear arsenals pose significant risks, making it imperative to pursue disarmament and reduce tensions.

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Millions Embark on Hajj Amid Israel-Gaza Conflict, Praying for Peace in Troubled Regions



Over two million pilgrims are expected to perform Hajj in Mecca this year, praying for peace in Gaza, Yemen, and Sudan. The pilgrimage takes place against the backdrop of ongoing conflicts, including Israel’s war on Gaza.

Millions of Muslim pilgrims have converged on Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which began this year under the shadow of Israel’s ongoing assault on the Gaza Strip. This significant religious event, one of the largest in the world, is expected to attract over two million worshippers, all united in their devotion and prayer for peace in several war-torn regions, including Gaza, Yemen, and Sudan.

The pilgrimage commenced on Friday, with throngs of robed believers performing the tawaf, a ritual of circling the Kaaba, the sacred cubic structure at Mecca’s Grand Mosque. This year, the emotional weight of the pilgrimage is intensified by the backdrop of continued conflict in Gaza, now into its eighth month.

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has particularly affected Palestinian pilgrims. Due to the closure of the Rafah border crossing in May, when Israel extended its ground offensive into Rafah, Gazans were unable to travel to Mecca. However, 4,200 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank managed to reach the holy city. An additional 1,000 pilgrims from families of those killed or wounded in the conflict, who were already outside Gaza before the closure, were invited by Saudi King Salman.

“Our brothers are dying, and we can see it with our own eyes,” lamented 75-year-old Zahra Benizahra from Morocco, reflecting the somber mood among many pilgrims.

This year’s Hajj has also seen a significant shift for Syrian pilgrims, who for the first time in over a decade, traveled directly from Damascus to Mecca. This change is part of the broader reconciliation efforts between Saudi Arabia and Syria, which have been at odds since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war.

In previous years, Syrians from rebel-held territories had to undertake arduous journeys, crossing into Turkey to reach Saudi Arabia. The renewed direct access symbolizes a thaw in relations and a return to normalcy for many Syrian Muslims.

Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a compulsory act of faith that all Muslims who are physically and financially able must undertake at least once in their lives. This spiritual journey not only absolves sins and strengthens the bond with God but also unites over two billion Muslims worldwide in a profound display of faith and solidarity.

Nonaartina Hajipaoli, a 50-year-old pilgrim from Brunei, expressed her deep sense of privilege and gratitude, “I’m speechless, I can’t describe what I feel.”

After the initial rites at the Grand Mosque, pilgrims will proceed to Mina, a valley surrounded by mountains, where they will spend the night in air-conditioned tents. The pilgrimage will peak with daylong prayers on Mount Arafat on Saturday, commemorating the Prophet Mohammed’s final sermon.

As Hajj unfolds, many pilgrims are particularly focused on praying for peace in regions beset by conflict. Yemen and Sudan, in addition to Gaza, are central to these prayers. Yemen continues to suffer from a protracted war that has devastated the nation, while Sudan grapples with a brutal power struggle that has led to widespread displacement and humanitarian crises.

The pilgrimage is taking place amid the harsh Saudi summer, with temperatures expected to soar to 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit). In response, Saudi authorities have implemented measures to mitigate heat-related health risks, including misting systems and heat-reflective road coverings. A text alert sent to pilgrims advised them to drink at least two liters of water daily and carry umbrellas to fend off the intense heat.

In a bid to maintain the sanctity of the pilgrimage, Saudi Arabia’s minister of Hajj, Tawfiq al-Rabiah, has warned against any political activities during the event. This directive underscores the delicate balance Saudi authorities must strike in managing such a large and diverse gathering of worshippers.


In conclusion, this year’s Hajj, deeply marked by the ongoing conflict in Gaza and other global tensions, is a poignant reminder of the enduring power of faith and the collective hope for peace among the world’s Muslims. As pilgrims complete their sacred rites, their prayers for an end to violence and suffering resonate far beyond the borders of Mecca, echoing a universal yearning for peace and unity.

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