Ukraine said Sunday that its forces were pushing back Russia’s military from strategic holdouts in the east of the country after Moscow announced a retreat from Kyiv’s sweeping counter-offensive.
Ukraine’s nuclear energy agency said the final reactor at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power station and a focal point of the conflict, was shut off as a safety measure.
The speed of Ukraine’s fightback against Russia’s invasion has apparently caught Moscow’s military off-guard, bringing swathes of territory Russia had controlled for months back into Ukraine’s fold.
Crates of dumped munitions and abandoned military hardware were seen scattered in territory left by the Russian forces, images posted by the Ukrainian military showed.
“The liberation of settlements in the Kupiansk and Izyum districts of the Kharkiv region is ongoing,” the Ukrainian military said in a general battlefield update Sunday, 200 days into Russia’s invasion.
These are key supply and logistics hubs that Russia depends on to restock its frontline positions in the east.
Military observers have said their capture by Ukraine would be a serious blow to Moscow’s military ambitions in Kharkiv.
‘Weapons, weapons, weapons’
The head of the Ukrainian military announced early Sunday that as much as 3,000 square kilometres (1,158 square miles) had been wrested from Russia since the offensive began at the beginning of this month.
That figure is already around one-third larger than the total area announced by President Volodymyr Zelensky late Saturday. On Sunday, he announced that Ukraine forces had taken a village of around 4,000 people between Kharkiv and Izyum.
“The great Ukrainian flag has been returned to Chkalovske. And it will be like that everywhere. We will cast out the occupiers from every Ukrainian town and village,” he said in a video online.
Ukrainian officials this weekend hailed the “astonishing” pace of the counter-offensive and on Sunday, the country’s foreign minister used the momentum to appeal to Western allies for more stockpiles of sophisticated weapons.
“Weapons, weapons, weapons have been on our agenda since spring. I am grateful to partners who have answered our call: Ukraine’s battlefield successes are our shared ones,” Dmytro Kuleba said.
“Prompt supplies bring victory and peace closer,” his statement on social media read.
The reaction in Moscow to the Ukrainian gains so far has been muted, but on Sunday an official in the border region of Belgorod said “thousands” of people had fled the Kharkiv region over the border and into Russia.
More than 1,000 people were being housed in temporary shelters, the official, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said.
The Russian military meanwhile made the surprise announcement Saturday that it was “regrouping” its forces from Kharkiv to the Donetsk region just south to focus its military efforts there.
But the announcement came shortly after Moscow also said it was actually sending reinforcements towards Kharkiv.
Around Balakliya, one of the first towns to be recaptured by Ukrainian troops, AFP journalists saw evidence of fierce battles, with buildings destroyed or damaged and streets mainly deserted.
‘It was scary’
Iryna Stepanenko, 52, who was outside cycling for the first time in months, said she had hidden in her basement for three months.
“There was a lot of fear, shelling. It was scary,” she recounted of the Russian takeover and Ukraine’s bid to recapture the town, where some 27,000 people lived before the invasion.
She said she was relieved to see Kyiv’s forces retake the town but was still worried about the future.
“I’m worried the Russians could return. I’m worried the shelling could start again.”
Despite the reported Ukrainian gains, Russian forces have continued bombardments across the frontline, and in the Donetsk region, officials said shelling killed 10 people and wounded another 19.
An uptick in fighting in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant meanwhile has sharpened fears of another nuclear incident comparable to the Chernobyl disaster in northern Ukraine in 1986.
Ukraine’s state nuclear agency on Sunday said that the sixth and final reactor at the plant had been shut off and instead transferred to a cold shut down.
Energoatom said that the sixth reactor had been generating energy for the plant itself for three days and that the decision to halt its operations came when external power had been restored to the facility.
It cautioned again, however, that in its view the only way to ensure the safety of the facility would be to create a demilitarised zone around it.
Palestinian Gunman Kills Seven In Jerusalem Synagogue Attack
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside an east Jerusalem synagogue during the Jewish Sabbath on Friday, in one of the deadliest attacks targeting Israelis in years that risked sparking widespread violence.
The shooting came a day after a major escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including an army raid in the occupied West Bank that killed nine people, rocket fire from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli strikes.
Israel’s police chief Kobi Shabtai called the shooting in the Neve Yaakov area “one of the worst attacks we have encountered in recent years.” It also fell on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Police said that “at around 8:15 pm (1815 GMT) a terrorist arrived at a synagogue in the Neve Yaakov boulevard in Jerusalem and proceeded to shoot at a number of people in the area.”
“As a result of the terror attack, seven civilians were pronounced dead and three additional civilians were injured,” police said.
They said the gunman fled the scene in a car but was quickly tracked down and killed in an “exchange of fire” with police.
Police have identified the gunman as a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War.
The surging violence comes a month after a new government, led by veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, took power.
Netanyahu and his extreme-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir visited the scene on Friday, as crowds chanted “death to Arabs,” AFP journalists at the scene said.
Speaking on television after visiting the scene, Netanyahu said his security cabinet would soon announce “immediate measures” in response and urged Israelis not to “take the law into their own hands.”
– ‘Horrific’ –
Shalom Borohov, a barber who lives near the synagogue, told AFP that after hearing gunshots he “went down to help people”.
“I saw the terrorist arriving with his car. He stopped in the middle of the junction, and shot from his car,” continuing to shoot as people came to the scene, he said.
Matanel Almalem, an 18-year-old student who lives nearby, told AFP that he ran down to the street after hearing the shooting and saw the gunman in a white Toyota Corolla.
“I heard a lot of shooting,” he said.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu to condemn what he called a “horrific terror attack”.
“The president made clear that this was an attack against the civilised world,” the White House said in a readout of the call, adding that Biden also “stressed the ironclad US commitment to Israel’s security”.
Just hours earlier, Washington had urged “de-escalation” over the West Bank violence and Gaza rocket fire.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the synagogue shooting as “abhorrent,” while France called it “appalling.”
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who was on a family visit to the US, has cut short his trip and is returning to Israel, his office told AFP.
“The attack against civilians this Friday evening was horrific,” Gallant said in a statement, vowing to “operate decisively and forcefully against terror” and “reach anyone involved in the attack”.
In Gaza and several locations across the West Bank, Palestinians celebrated the attack, including in Ramallah, where large crowds cheered and waved Palestinian flags.
– Jenin raid –
Nine people had been killed Thursday in what Israel described as a “counter-terrorism” operation in the Jenin refugee camp.
It was one of the deadliest Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, of 2000 to 2005.
Israel said Islamic Jihad operatives were the target.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas both vowed to retaliate, later firing several rockets at Israeli territory.
Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israeli air defences. The military responded with strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.
There were no injuries reported on either side, but Gaza’s armed groups vowed further action.
After the synagogue shooting, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the attack proved “the resistance knows how to find the appropriate response” to Israeli “crimes”.
Washington had announced Thursday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would travel next week to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he would push for an “end to the cycle of violence”.
A State Department spokesman confirmed on Friday that the visit would go ahead and said Blinken would discuss “steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions”.
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to an AFP tally from official sources.
Elon Musk Faces U.S. Fraud Trial Over Tesla Tweet
Elon Musk, the CEO of electric car giant Tesla, will face trial on Tuesday over allegedly manipulating the stock market with a tweet after a federal judge rejected his request to move the case out of California.
The case dates back to August 2018 when Musk tweeted that he had sufficient funding to take Tesla private, causing a whirlwind in the company’s share price.
Musk was swiftly sued by shareholders for allegedly costing them billions of dollars with the Twitter post that said funding was “secured” to buy out the company’s shareholders.
According to a spokesperson for the court, Judge Edward Chen on Friday refused to transfer the proceedings to Texas, the southern state where Musk moved Tesla’s headquarters and jury selection is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
Defense lawyers had argued that the multibillionaire would be denied a fair trial in San Francisco, where he bought Twitter in late October and has been widely criticized for his decisions since taking over the social media firm.
After taking over Twitter, Musk fired more than half of the 7,500 employees, most in San Francisco, and radically changed the site’s content moderation policies.
“For the last several months, the local media have saturated this district with biased and negative stories about Mr. Musk that have fostered… highly prejudicial biases in the jury pool,” the CEO’s lawyers argued in a filing.
“The local media, in a deviation from how they typically cover these stories, have blamed Mr. Musk personally for the reductions and even accused him of violating the law,” the lawyers said.
According to Bloomberg, Judge Chen expressed confidence at the hearing that impartial jurors could be chosen.
Musk’s short tweet in 2018 has already attracted the attention of authorities.
The US stock market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, ordered that Musk step down as chairman of the board of Tesla and pay a fine of $20 million.
Spain Court Investigates Sexual Assault Claims Against Dani Alves
A Spanish court has opened an investigation into allegations former Brazil defender Dani Alves sexually assaulted a woman at a Barcelona nightclub last month.
A Barcelona court opened a probe “into an alleged crime of sexual assault as a result of a complaint filed by a woman against a football player,” the Superior Court of Catalonia said in a statement.
While the statement did not name Alves, informed sources confirmed to AFP the former Barcelona and Juventus player was the subject of the investigation.
Catalan police said they had received a complaint on January 2 from a woman who said Alves had touched her inappropriately.
The alleged sexual assault took place at a popular Barcelona nightclub overnight December 30-31, according to Spanish media reports.
The player was accused of putting his hands down the woman’s pants, according to the reports.
Alves, 39, has confirmed he was at the night club at the time but has denied any wrongdoing, telling private Spanish television Antena 3 last week that he has “never seen” the woman before.
“I was there, at that place, with more people having fun. Everybody knows I love to dance. Having a good time but without invading the space of others,” he added.
Alves, who now plays for Mexican side Pumas UNAM, was in Barcelona on holiday following his participation at the World Cup with Brazil in Qatar.
He was the oldest player to represent Brazil at the men’s World Cup.