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COVID-19 flareups in China, Japan, US; 1-year anniversary of Ukrainian jet tragedy; National security concerns after US Capitol siege

COVID-19 flareups in China, Japan, US; 1-year anniversary of Ukrainian jet tragedy; National security concerns after US Capitol siege

New coronavirus cases have surged in the US with more than 4,000 deaths in a single day on Jan. 7, making it the nation’s deadliest day for the pandemic. China locks down Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million, after cases spike, and Japan issues a state of emergency for Tokyo.

By
The World staff

A station passageway is crowded with commuters wearing face mask during a rush hour Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Tokyo. 

Credit:

Eugene Hoshiko/AP

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Top of The World — our morning news roundup written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

Amid chaos at the US Capitol this week, new coronavirus cases have surged in the US with more than 4,000 deaths in a single day on Jan. 7, making it the nation’s deadliest day for the pandemic. The US continues to lead the world in COVID-19 deaths and infections. And in China, just a year after the city of Wuhan shut down to control the spread of the coronavirus, 11 million residents of Shijiazhuang, in northern Hebei province, southwest of the capital Beijing, will undergo a complete lockdown after a major COVID-19 flareup. The city reported 120 new, local cases, making it China’s biggest rise in virus cases in months.

Japan is also struggling to contain the virus, declaring a one-month state of emergency for Tokyo. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga warned that restrictions may need to expand to other parts of the country, which could push Japan into another recession just as it was starting an economic recovery.

🎧 Listen: Today on The World

WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that the “world has entered a new phase of the pandemic, where solidarity is needed like never before. That we are in a race to save lives right now.”

Today on The World, host Carol Hills speaks with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said we’ve been in this phase all along. “Whenever you have a global pandemic you have to have solidarity between countries. Because what affects one country, in one part of the world — when you’re dealing with a communicable disease that has a high degree of efficiency and transmitting from person-to-person — you have to have interconnectedness with regard to cooperation, collaboration and solidarity,” Fauci said.

Listen to our interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci on today’s show.

What the world is following

One year after Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing all 176 passengers, more questions than answers remain. Ukraine and several other countries have called on Iran to compensate victims’ families and come forward with more details about what exactly happened when the jet was shot down on the same night that Iran also launched a ballistic missile strike against US bases in Iraq. Iran claims “human error” for the deadly crash and has approved payments of $150,000 to each of the victims families. But some victims’ families say they’ve experienced alleged harassment from Iranian authorities whose investigation into the crash lacks transparency and accountability.

And, national security questions persist after a deadly siege on the US Capitol on Wednesday that claimed the lives of at least five people, including US Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick, who died of injuries sustained during the riots. In the aftermath of the rampage, there are growing calls from both sides of the political aisle to impeach President Donald Trump or invoke the 25th Amendment to oust him for inciting the violence, with just 12 days remaining in his presidency.

From The World ‘I fear for our democracy,’ says Rep. Mondaire Jones in calling for Trump’s removal

Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the West wall of the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.

Credit:

Jose Luis Magana/AP

Newly elected Congressman Mondaire Jones of New York was in the US Capitol on Wednesday when pro-Trump extremists breached the building. He is among a group of congressmembers who unveiled a resolution Thursday to impeach Trump.

“We need to remove this president. He’s shown himself to be a danger even in the final weeks of his presidency,” Jones said.

How cartoonist view the attack on the US Capitol

Trump committed political suicide at the last minute!#Republicans #AFG #25th Amendment #WorldPeace #afghanistan_peace_process pic.twitter.com/3izGLUVxlJ

— atiq shahid (@atiqshahid2) January 8, 2021

Afghan cartoonist Shahid Atiq draws his take on the motives of Donald Trump after the president’s supporters stormed the halls of Congress this week.

Listen to The World on Friday as we explore the satirical opportunity this tragic event provided to people from countries usually considered unstable in an interview with Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro who blogs and tweets under the monicker Karl reMarks.

In case you missed it Listen: A lens on the US after violence on Capitol Hill

Trump supporters are shown breaking through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021.

Credit:

Julio Cortez/AP

 

The US has presented itself as a beacon of democracy around the world. How have the events of this week impacted the US’ image? And, among those who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday were supporters of QAnon, a dangerous conspiracy theory that has grown internationally. Also, host Carol Hills speaks with Sri Lankan writer Indi Samarajiva who shares his experience living through the recent coup in his country and the violent events that followed.

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.

A year on, questions haunt Iran’s downing of Ukrainian plane

A year on, questions haunt Iran's downing of Ukrainian plane

People gather for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine plane crash, at the gate of Amri Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 11, 2020.

Credit:

Ebrahim Noroozi/AP/File photo

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Gulf Arab leaders sign declaration with Qatar to ease rift

Gulf Arab leaders sign declaration with Qatar to ease rift

Saudi journalists watch a large display screen in a media center, showing Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, center, at the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting, in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021.

Credit:

Amr Nabil/AP

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Saudi Arabia marked a new page in relations with Qatar following the kingdom’s decision to end a 3 1/2-year embargo of small Gulf state, easing a rift that deeply divided regional US security allies and frayed social ties across the interconnected Arabian Peninsula.

The Saudi decision to open its airspace and borders to Qatar was the first major step toward ending the diplomatic crisis that began in 2017, just as the Trump administration was raising pressure on Iran. The Saudi move was announced Monday night, on the eve of the gathering of Gulf Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia’s ancient desert city of Al-Ula.

It was unclear what, if any, significant concessions Qatar had made before the summit. Still, an immediate shift in tone was palpable as one of Qatar’s Al Jazeera Arabic news Twitter accounts shared photos of the Riyadh and Abu Dhabi skylines on Tuesday following years of critical coverage.

The diplomatic breakthrough followed a final push by the outgoing Trump administration and Kuwait to mediate the dispute. It also came as Saudi Arabia seeks to unify Arab ranks ahead of the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, which is expected to take a firmer stand toward the kingdom and re-engage with Iran.

Dania Thafer, executive director of Gulf International Forum, said Saudi Arabia is concerned about whether Biden will draw down the US military presence in the Persian Gulf that had expanded under President Donald Trump and enter back into nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“If that is the case, then the (Arab) states need to respond with a regional solution to security. And I think resolving the Gulf crisis is one step forward towards that direction,” she said.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who embraced Qatar’s emir upon his arrival at the summit, said the region needed to unite and face challenges posed by Iran’s proxies and its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

He said the declaration signed by Gulf leaders and Egypt “emphasizes Arab and Gulf solidarity and stability, and reinforces the continuity of friendship and brotherhood between our countries.”

The four countries that jointly boycotted Qatar — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — were hoping their embargo and media blitz would pressure it to end its close relations with Turkey and Iran. Egypt and the UAE view the support by Qatar and Turkey of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood as a security threat. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are primarily concerned about Qatar’s ties with Iran.

The boycott failed to change Doha’s stance, however, instead buoying its young ruler domestically as patriotic fervor swept through Qatar in support of his resolve. It also pushed Qatar closer to Turkey and Iran, which rushed to support the ultra-wealthy Gulf state as it faced medical and food supply shortages in the first days of the embargo.

While the Saudi decision to end its embargo marks a milestone toward resolving the dispute, the path toward reconciliation is far from guaranteed. The rift between Abu Dhabi and Doha has been deepest, with the UAE and Qatar at sharp ideological odds.

The UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, tweeted late Monday that his country was keen to restore Gulf unity but cautioned: “We have more work to do.”

The conflict in Libya remains a contentious issue, with Egypt and the UAE supporting military commander Khalifa Hifter, who launched a 2019 assault on a Tripoli-based bloc backed by Turkey and Qatar.

Thafer said the issues that sparked the row haven’t been eliminated.

“The core tensions are still lingering, and that leaves a major question mark on how will they move forward,” she said. The summit and the declaration signed in Al-Ula to support Gulf unity “were confidence-building mechanisms more than they were a full reconciliation.”

The presence of Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the summit marked the first time he’s attended the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Saudi Arabia since the boycott began. He sent an envoy to the past two summits there.

This year, Egypt’s foreign minister also attended the meeting of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. The meeting was chaired by the Saudi crown prince rather than his father, King Salman.

Meanwhile, Qatar’s finance minister arrived to Cairo Tuesday for the opening of a luxury hotel on the Nile, developed by Qatar’s Diar. It is the first visit to Egypt by a senior Qatari official since the crisis began. Officials at Cairo’s airport said the Qatari minister flew directly from Doha through Saudi airspace.

This year’s GCC summit is the first since Washington brokered normalization deals between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in rapid succession, marking a major shift in regional alliances.

Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who spearheaded those deals, was at the summit for the signing of the Gulf declaration.

The dispute had pitted regional US allies against one another at a time when the Trump administration was working to pressure Iran. It also separated families who had intermarried with Qataris and ended years of visa-free travel for Qataris in parts of the Gulf.

Thafer said the dispute was seen as “low-hanging fruit” that the Trump administration felt it had the leverage to try to resolve quickly.

Saudi Arabia’s decision to end the embargo not only underscored the kingdom’s assertion of its heavyweight position among Arab states, but also its regional leadership, which has been challenged at times by the UAE’s unilateral and politically shrewd moves.

Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia, which it relied on for the import of dairy products, construction materials and other goods, has been mostly closed since June 2017.

The boycotting countries made a list of demands on Qatar that year, including that it shutter its flagship Al-Jazeera news network and terminate Turkish military presence in Qatar, which is also home to a major US military base.  Qatar rejected the demands and has denied support of extremists.

By Aya Batrawy and Amr Nabil/AP

Extradition of WikiLeak’s Assange blocked; Iran to enrich uranium up to 20%; UK approves Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

Extradition of WikiLeak's Assange blocked; Iran to enrich uranium up to 20%; UK approves Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

By
The World staff

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is taken from court in the UK, May 1, 2019.

Credit:

Matt Dunham/AP/File photo

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Hundreds missing after Afghanistan prison attack; Iran’s underreported coronavirus death toll; 90 minute COVID-19 test in Britain

Hundreds missing after Afghanistan prison attack; Iran's underreported coronavirus death toll; 90 minute COVID-19 test in Britain

By
The World staff

An Afghan security person stands guard near a prison after an attack in the city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020.

Credit:

Rahmat Gul/AP

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Iran-Israel cyberattacks threaten unofficial rules of engagement

Iran-Israel cyberattacks threaten unofficial rules of engagement

By
Ariel Oseran

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Commodities containers are seen at Shahid Rajaee harbor at Bandar Abbas port, Iran, Aug. 22, 2019.

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Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency/Reuters

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In late April, workers at a water pumping station in central Israel noticed a warning alert on their computer screens. Then, water pumps started to malfunction, turning off and on without control.  

It took a few hours to figure out what was wrong: The system that regulates the water at the facility had been hacked. According to reports, Iran was behind the attack and used American servers to carry it out.

As the eyes of the world are set on COVID-19 and global outrage over police brutality, in the shadows, Iran and Israel continue to fight — allegedly using cyberweapons.

Related: Israeli plans for annexation weigh heavily on Jordan Valley residents

The cyber breach at the water pumping station was apparently fixed before any real damage was done. Israeli officials have not gone on the record with what they know, and Iran denies it was responsible for the attack. 

But, according to a story in the Financial Times, the goal was to boost the chlorine levels in the water supplied to Israeli homes. That could have made hundreds, if not thousands of people sick. 

“What the Iranians did is, in a way, crossing international red lines,” said Ya’akov Amidror, a former Israeli national security adviser. He says that targeting critical civilian infrastructure, like a water station, was unprecedented for Iran.

“For them, civilian targets are legitimate,” said Amidror. “The Iranians did it in the past by proxies, using Hezbollah, Hamas. But here, it’s the state directly. In a way, you know, it’s terrorism run by a state.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has accused Iran of conducting failed cyberattacks in the past. “Iran attacks Israel on a daily basis,” Netanyahu said at a cybersecurity conference last year. “We monitor these attacks, we see these attacks and we thwart these attacks. All the time. We’re not oblivious to these threats, they don’t impress us. Because we know what our power is, both in defense and in offense,” he said. 

Related: A cyberattack could wreak destruction comparable to a nuclear weapon

Military experts consider cyberspace to be the fourth significant battleground after land, air and sea. But the line that distinguishes military and civilian targets is easily blurred.

Israel’s response to the water station attack came on May 9, when operations at the Iranian port of Shahid Rajaee were disrupted. According to news reports, Israel hacked the facility’s computer system. 

Traffic jams and hold-ups with shipping containers stalled activity at the port for days. This was a serious disruption for a country that is already suffering from crippling economic sanctions as well as the coronavirus pandemic. 

“The Iranians have downplayed the damage and some Iranian outlets have also said that there has been no such attack,” said Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East analyst based in Tel Aviv. He was born in Iran, but moved to Israel in 2004.

Javedanfar says this latest round of cyber tit-for-tat between the two regional rivals has been escalating for over a decade. “Especially starting over the Iranian nuclear program, where allegedly Israel and the United States attacked Iran’s nuclear installation in [the Iranian city of] Natanz with the ‘Stuxnet’ virus,” Javedanfar explained.

Stuxnet is a malicious computer worm discovered in 2010, considered to be one of the world’s first sophisticated cyberweapons ever to be used between countries. 

Related: The history of US-Iran relations: A timeline

Adam Meyers, senior vice president of intelligence at cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, said the discovery of Stuxnet was a watershed moment for Iran. “This is something that awoke the Iranian thinking around cyber and the capabilities of what you could do with a cyber operation.”

Meyers says Iran has recently stepped up cyberattacks against the West, beyond Israel. He notes that in 2013, authorities in Rye, New York, detected an attempt by Iranian hackers to take control over a dam. That attack failed because the dam was under repair and offline.

“We don’t always know what their intention is if it gets stopped, right?” said Meyers. “So the Rye [dam], in New York, example, they had conducted some targeting of this dam, and that may have been opportunistic, it may have been very targeted. It’s hard to say for certain, but because it was stopped, we don’t know necessarily what the outcome would have been.”

Amidror says moves to target civilian infrastructure is dangerous for the future of cyberwarfare.

“The decision to cross the line was a big mistake by the Iranians,” he said. “From now on it’s an open question how Israel will retaliate.”

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