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German and Israeli authorities have expressed strong condemnation for statements made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a recent speech concerning Jews and the Holocaust.

Abbas suggested that Adolf Hitler’s mass murder of Jews was driven by their perceived “social role” as moneylenders, rather than rooted in anti-Semitism.

Israel’s UN ambassador characterized Abbas’s remarks as “clear-cut antisemitism,” while Germany’s Ramallah mission emphasized the historical reality of the Holocaust, asserting that millions of lives were annihilated and that this fact cannot be downplayed.

Steffen Seibert, Germany’s ambassador to Israel, stressed the importance of Palestinians hearing the historical truth from their leader rather than such distortions.

Abbas’s speech, delivered last month to the Fatah Revolutionary Council and later broadcast on Palestine TV, has drawn widespread criticism. In his speech, Abbas asserted that Hitler’s actions were not based on religious animosity but were due to the Jews’ role in “usury, money, and so on.”

Additionally, Abbas revived a long-discredited theory that European Ashkenazi Jews are not descended from ancient Israelites but from 8th Century Khazar converts to Judaism.

The president’s comments are consistent with his past controversial statements, aimed at disputing the connection between the Jewish people and modern-day Israel, a topic central to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Israeli foreign ministry shared the contents of Abbas’s speech on social media, with Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, asserting that it reveals the true nature of Palestinian leadership, blaming Jews for various issues in the Middle East.

The European Union also criticized Abbas’s speech, describing it as “false and grossly misleading.” They stressed that such historical distortions are inflammatory and offensive, fuel antisemitism, and trivialize the Holocaust.

This isn’t the first time Abbas has sparked international outrage with his statements. In the past, he likened Israel to Nazi Germany and accused Israel of carrying out “50 massacres; 50 holocausts,” drawing strong condemnation from various quarters.

Following previous controversies, Abbas issued a statement through the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, acknowledging the Holocaust as “the most heinous crime in modern human history” but stopped short of a direct apology.

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Wildfires in Greece have tragically led to the loss of 20 lives and are still raging out of control near Athens and the Evros region close to the Turkish border. Among those killed, 18 are believed to be refugees and migrants who had recently crossed the border and sought refuge in forests north of Alexandroupolis. Greece has expressed deep condolences for the deaths occurring in the Dadia forest near the Turkish border. The fires have been ongoing for five days and have extended along the coast and near the city. Efforts to contain the fires are being hampered by strong winds and scorching temperatures of up to 40°C (104°F).

The victims’ bodies were discovered near a shack close to the village of Avantas, north of Alexandroupolis, by the fire service. The fire service and local authorities had issued evacuation warnings through emergency services. The victims are believed to have recently crossed the border from Turkey along the River Evros, which is a common route for migrants and refugees attempting to enter the European Union. The risk of wildfires adds to the many dangers migrants and refugees face in their journey, including violence, arrest, and drowning in the Mediterranean.

The victims are predominantly male, with two of them being minors. The bodies were found within a relatively small radius, and their identification is expected to be challenging, necessitating the involvement of their relatives. Some individuals had been attempting to follow a well-established path through the forest to avoid detection.

Tensions have arisen in the local communities as some residents blame migrants for causing the fires. However, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that migrants were responsible for starting the Dadia forest fire. A video showing a man “arresting” migrants and refugees and accusing them of arson provoked outrage in Greece, leading to the arrest of the man behind the video and others involved.

In response to the tragic events, the Supreme Court Prosecutor initiated inquiries into both the causes of the fires in the Evros region and incidents of alleged racist violence against migrants following the deaths in the Dadia forest.

As the fires continue to spread, evacuations have been conducted in various areas, including villages near Alexandroupolis and parts of the capital city, Athens. The situation remains challenging for firefighters, compounded by the evacuation of nursing homes and the destruction of homes in some areas.

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Arkady Volozh, a co-founder of Yandex and a prominent figure in Russia’s tech industry, has criticized Moscow’s complete military intervention in Ukraine, referring to it as “savage.”

In an official statement, Volozh expressed his distress over the daily bombing of Ukrainian homes and conveyed his opposition to the conflict. Although he resides in Israel and had been criticized for his silence on the matter, he acknowledged his responsibility for his home country’s actions.

Volozh stepped down as Yandex’s CEO in 2022, a move that coincided with personal sanctions imposed by the European Union. The EU cited his role in supporting actions undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty. Yandex, often likened to “Russia’s Google,” is the largest Russian-language internet search engine. Volozh’s condemnation of the invasion stands out among Russia-linked business figures who have openly criticized President Vladimir Putin’s decision to initiate the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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Fiona Scott Morton, a highly qualified American economist, has decided not to take up the position of Chief Competition Economist in the European Commission following widespread criticism of her appointment. The strongest objections came from France, with President Emmanuel Macron expressing doubts and questioning whether there were no qualified European candidates for the role. Scott Morton, a Yale University economics professor, has an impressive background, including working in the US justice department’s antitrust department during the Obama presidency. However, she has also worked as a consultant for major tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon, which raised concerns given that her job would involve regulating these digital giants.

EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager defended the appointment, highlighting Scott Morton’s corporate experience as an asset. Nevertheless, Scott Morton made the decision not to take up the post due to the political controversy surrounding her appointment and the importance of having the full support of the EU’s competition directorate. Opposition to her appointment came from various quarters, including President Macron and several Commission colleagues, as well as the four largest political blocs in the European Parliament. However, after discussions with Scott Morton, some concerns were addressed, and Philippe Lamberts of the Greens expressed support for her.

Critics argued that the criticism of Scott Morton’s appointment was unjustified since her role would primarily involve overseeing economic evidence in competition enforcement rather than favoring specific competitors. Nobel Prize-winning economist Jean Tirole praised her qualifications and stated that the European Commission was fortunate to have attracted someone of her caliber. Margrethe Vestager emphasized that the suggestion of bias based on nationality was questionable and clarified that Scott Morton would only need to recuse herself from a few cases.

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In a small room near the Alps in northern Italy, millions of crickets are being processed to become food despite initial resistance. The crickets are frozen, boiled, dried, and pulverized to create a light brown flour used in various food products such as pasta, bread, energy bars, and even sports drinks. Italy, known for its culinary traditions, has traditionally resisted the idea of eating insects, with the government even taking steps to ban their use in pizza and pasta production. However, several Italian producers have been experimenting with cricket-based pasta, pizza, and snacks.

The shift towards insect consumption in Italy is driven by sustainability concerns. Insect farming requires significantly less water and land compared to traditional livestock farming, making it a more environmentally friendly option. Insects are also rich in vitamins, fiber, minerals, and amino acids, making them a nutritious superfood. However, the main challenge to widespread adoption of insect-based food is the price, as it remains more expensive than traditional alternatives.

In addition to cost, social acceptance plays a role in the resistance to insect food in Italy. The country prides itself on its Mediterranean diet, and some view insect products as a threat to Italian culinary traditions. Concerns about the potential health effects of consuming insects and the fear of deviating from established eating habits contribute to the opposition.

Italy is not the only country divided on the issue of insect food. Poland and other European countries have seen debates and political disputes surrounding the topic. However, countries like Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands have shown more openness to insect consumption.

As the global population continues to grow, finding sustainable food sources becomes crucial. Insect consumption is seen as a potential solution to meet the rising demand while minimizing the environmental impact. With the recent approval of insect consumption by the EU, the insect food sector is expected to grow, leading to potential price reductions and increased availability.

Producers like Ivan Albano, who runs the Italian Cricket Farm, see insect farming as an environmentally friendly and sustainable practice that could play a role in addressing global food challenges. Despite initial resistance, more people are showing curiosity and ordering cricket-based products, indicating a shifting mindset towards insect consumption. The hope is that as awareness and acceptance increase, insect food will become a viable option to feed the growing population while minimizing ecological impact.

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A government spokesperson in Japan has expressed the country’s welcome to the European Union (EU) potentially lifting restrictions on food imports that were imposed after the 2011 nuclear accident caused by an earthquake and tsunami. According to a report in the Nikkei newspaper, the EU is in the final stages of removing all restrictions on Japanese food, although the sources for this information were not disclosed.

The bans on food imports have been in effect since the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, resulting in multiple meltdowns. The spokesperson, Mr Hirokazu Matsuno, stated during a Tokyo press conference that the Japanese government appreciates the positive steps toward lifting the restrictions. It is hoped that easing the restrictions will contribute to the reconstruction efforts in the areas devastated by the nuclear disaster.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami tragically claimed the lives of nearly 20,000 people along Japan’s Pacific coast. The meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.

This news about the potential lifting of restrictions comes just before the visit of Rafael Mariano Grossi, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), to Japan. During his visit, Grossi will present the findings of the IAEA’s safety review regarding Japan’s plan to release water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean. The Japanese government intends to release 1.3 million metric tons of water that has been exposed to radiation inside the damaged power plant after removing most of its radioactive elements.

The water to be released contains traces of tritium, an isotope that is difficult to remove from water and has primarily been used to cool the damaged reactors. The IAEA plans to establish an office at the Fukushima plant during Grossi’s visit, indicating its ongoing involvement and oversight of the situation.

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For years, the European Union (EU) has faced criticism for lacking a single voice on the world stage. However, many in Brussels now see Ursula von der Leyen, the first female President of the European Commission, as someone who can fill that role. Von der Leyen has been involved in various high-profile meetings, such as visiting Kyiv and attending an EU summit with Ukraine’s president, meeting Joe Biden at the White House to address tensions over green subsidies, and joining French President Emmanuel Macron to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping amid deteriorating EU-China relations.

During her tenure as the head of the European Commission, which shapes and enforces policies for 450 million Europeans, von der Leyen has faced significant challenges. She took office in 2019 with a focus on addressing the climate emergency but soon had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine, which marked the largest war on European soil since World War II. Despite these crises, von der Leyen has been praised for her leadership, with one EU official noting that the EU now has a central command and a leader for crisis management.

Von der Leyen follows a disciplined routine, starting her day early and living in her office at the Berlaymont, the commission’s headquarters, to avoid traffic. Her living space is a modest room on the 13th floor, originally designed as a restroom, for which she pays €18,000 in rent deducted from her salary and housing allowance. Known for her work ethic, the 64-year-old former medical doctor spends much of her time at her desk and avoids social events. She leads a frugal lifestyle, abstaining from alcohol and maintaining a vegetarian diet.

Von der Leyen rarely gives interviews and prefers to deliver carefully scripted video messages in English, French, and German. She is known for her punctuality and efficiency, with meetings starting and ending on time. While her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, was known for his wit and spontaneity, von der Leyen prefers to stick to prepared remarks.

Overall, von der Leyen’s leadership has been marked by her ability to navigate crises and provide a more unified voice for the EU on the global stage.

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Poland and Hungary have implemented bans on Ukrainian grain imports to safeguard their domestic farming industries against low-priced imports. However, the European Commission has rejected these bans, stating that trade policy is not within the jurisdiction of individual member states. The ban covers various agricultural products including grains, dairy products, sugar, fruits, vegetables, and meats and will remain effective until the end of June.

The European Commission has not yet disclosed any actions it would take against Poland and Hungary for their bans on Ukrainian grain imports. The spokesperson emphasized the importance of aligning all decisions within the EU during challenging times.

Due to the disruption of export routes caused by Russia’s invasion last year, significant amounts of Ukrainian grain ended up in central Europe. A UN and Turkey-brokered deal with Russia allows Ukraine to continue exporting by sea, but it accuses Russia of causing delays with excessive inspections. Local farmers in Poland and Hungary complained of being undercut by cheaper Ukrainian grain flooding their markets, leading to the ban announced on Saturday. On Sunday, the Polish Economic Development and Technology Minister clarified that the ban would apply to goods in transit as well as those remaining in Poland.

The Polish Economic Development and Technology Minister, Waldemar Buda, has urged for negotiations with Ukraine to establish a system that guarantees exports pass through Poland and do not flood the local market. Ukraine claims that this action is in violation of bilateral trade agreements.

The country’s Agriculture Ministry stated that it has always been supportive of Poland’s agricultural sector and has responded quickly to various difficulties. The Ministry added that unilateral and extreme measures would not expedite a positive outcome. Ministers from both countries are scheduled to meet on Monday in Poland to discuss the matter.

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The foreign ministers of the European Union decided on a two billion euro plan on Monday to raid their own stockpiles and buy Ukraine the critical artillery ammunition it needs.
At a meeting in Brussels, the ministers supported a multifaceted plan that will be approved by EU leaders at a summit this week and intends to supply Ukraine with one million shells over the course of the following year while also restocking EU inventories. As Russia’s year-long invasion has devolved into a gruelling attrition war, Kiev has complained that its forces are being forced to limit weapons.

In order to help its soldiers fend off Moscow’s assault and enable them to launch new counteroffensives later in the year, Ukraine has informed the EU that it needs 350,000 shells every month.

Catherine Colonna, France’s foreign minister, stated, “We have to help Ukraine more, quicker, and now.”

The first component of the proposal pledges an additional one billion euros ($1.06 billion) in shared spending in an effort to persuade EU member states to use their already limited stockpiles of readily deployable ammunition.

In the second phase, the EU would spend an additional one billion euros to purchase 155 mm shells for Ukraine as part of a large joint procurement effort designed to encourage EU defence companies to increase output.

A significant new step for the EU, which has seen ongoing efforts to cooperate more cooperatively on defence advanced by Russia’s war, is purchasing weapons on this scale collectively.

The EU’s defence agency or the member states should negotiate the orders, and countries have been arguing over whether they should exclusively purchase from European suppliers.

According to diplomats, the plan aims to sign the joint contracts by the beginning of September and send the first billion euros’ worth of shells to Ukraine by the end of May.

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After weeks of escalating tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, the Serbian army claims it is at its “highest level of combat readiness.” Asserting that he will “take all measures to protect our people and preserve Serbia,” President Aleksandar Vucic.

The threat-making is more pronounced than ever and comes in response to reports in Serbian media that Pristina is getting ready to launch “an attack” on ethnic Serb districts of north Kosovo. Regarding the charges, the Pristina administration has remained silent.

However, it has already charged Mr. Vucic with playing “games” to cause a commotion. After a conflict in 1998–1999, Kosovo, which has a predominately ethnic Albanian population, seceded from Serbia. Both Serbia and the ethnic Serbs who reside there reject Kosovo’s claim to independence.

Belgrade charges Kosovo with preparing “terrorism against Serbs” in regions where 50,000 people of ethnic Serb descent reside.

Pristina claims Belgrade is responsible for the “paramilitary formations” that erected barricades on December 10 in the majority-Serb regions of north Kosovo.

The European Union has been making mediation efforts. The 27-member bloc is requesting “maximum restraint and urgent action” as well as “personal contributions to a political settlement” from the heads of Serbia and Kosovo. Following contradicting accounts about a gunfire incident that left no one harmed, Belgrade has recently strengthened its armed presence on the border. Ethnic Serbs allegedly came under attack, according to reports from Belgrade, but the assertion was denied by Kosovo authorities in Pristina.

Nevertheless, Serbia appeared to use the reports to justify intensifying its military presence on the border.

Harsh words have been the extent of hostilities so far, but Serbia put its troops on combat alert on Monday. Kosovo has threatened to take matters into its own hands if NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping force does not remove the barricades.

All parties have been urged to refrain from provocations by NATO, which has about 3,700 peacekeeping troops in Kosovo. Its KFOR troops have been essential in maintaining the calm for years. The European Union has warned that it will not put up with attacks on EU police or criminal activity in Kosovo where it has a rule-of-law mission.

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