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Sudan’s truce falters, as Egypt repatriates army personnel

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Sudan’s truce falters, as Egypt repatriates army personnel

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan’s military ruled out negotiations with a rival paramilitary force on Thursday, saying it would only accept its surrender as the two sides continued to battle in central Khartoum and other parts of the country, threatening to wreck international attempts to broker a longer cease-fire.

A tenuous 24-hour cease-fire that began the previous day ran out Thursday evening with no word of an extension. The military’s statement raised the likelihood of a renewed surge in the nearly weeklong violence that has killed hundreds and pushed Sudan’s population to the breaking point. Alarm has grown that the country’s medical system was on the verge of collapse, with many hospitals forced to shut down and others running out of supplies.

The truce had failed to put a stop to fighting throughout the day and brought only marginal calm to some parts of the capital, Khartoum. But many residents took advantage to flee the homes where they have been trapped for days. “Massive numbers” of people, mostly women and children, were leaving in search of safer areas, said Atiya Abdulla Atiya, secretary of the Doctors’ Syndicate.

Thursday afternoon, the military said in a statement that it would not negotiate with its rival, the Rapid Support Forces, and would only discuss the terms of its surrender. “There would be no armed forces outside (of) the military system,” it said.

The demise of the truce, the second attempt this week, underscored the failure of the United States, U.N., European Union and regional powers to push Sudan’s top generals to halt their campaigns to seize control of the country. Instead, army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan and RSF commander Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo each appear determined to win outright military victory over the other.

In a sign they expect violence to escalate, the U.S. and other countries were making preparations to evacuate their citizens in Sudan — a difficult prospect since most major airports have become battlegrounds and movement out of Khartoum to safer areas is dangerous.

The U.S. military is moving assets to a base in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti for a possible evacuation of American Embassy personnel, administration officials said. Japan plans to send military planes to Djibouti, and the Netherlands has dispatched its own to Jordan.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres appealed for the combatants to commit to a three-day cease-fire to coincide with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, beginning Friday, marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. “We are living a very important moment in the Muslim calendar. I think this is the right moment for a cease-fire to hold,” he told reporters.

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But so far direct communications to the rival generals by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Turkish president and others over the past days have been unable to secure even 24 hours of calm, much less a longer truce or negotiations to resolve the crisis. Each side’s main regional allies, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have called in vain for talks.

At least 330 people have been killed and 3,300 wounded in the fighting since it began Saturday, the World Health Organization said, but the toll is likely higher because many bodies lie uncollected in the streets.

Through the day Thursday, gunfire could be heard constantly across Khartoum. Residents reported the heaviest fighting around the main military headquarters in central Khartoum. Military warplanes struck RSF positions at the airport and in the neighboring city of Omdurman, residents said. The military said its warplanes also struck a convoy of RSF vehicles heading to the capital, though the claim could not be independently confirmed.

Khartoum residents have been desperate for a respite after days of being trapped in their homes, with food and water running out.

Aid groups have been unable to deliver help to Sudan’s overwhelmed hospitals, Atiya said. Hospitals in Khartoum are running dangerously low on medical supplies, often operating without power and clean water. Around 70% of hospitals throughout the country are out of service because of the fighting, the Sudanese Doctors Syndicate said, adding that at least nine hospitals were bombed.

The two sides are battling elsewhere in the country as well, and there were reports of heavy fighting in the city of Obeid, some 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Khartoum.

The Doctors’ Syndicate said at least 26 civilians and 17 police were killed in Obeid, and that four hospitals and a church were damaged, some by airstrikes. Two markets were looted, and more than 3,300 people fled their homes, with many sheltering in a school and a sports facility, it said.

The fighting has been disastrous for a country where the United Nations says around a third of the population — some 16 million people — are in need of humanitarian aid. The U.N. children’s agency UNICEF warned that critical care has been disrupted for 50,000 severely acutely malnourished children, who need round-the-clock treatment.

Save the Children said power outages across the country have destroyed cold chain storage facilities for lifesaving vaccines, as well as the national stock of insulin and several antibiotics. Millions of children, the aid group said, are now at risk of disease and further health complications. It said 12% of the country’s 22 million children are suffering from malnutrition and are vulnerable to other diseases.

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The Egyptian and Sudanese militaries said that Egypt succeeded in repatriating dozens of its military personnel who had been detained by the RSF when it attacked Merowe airport, north of the capital, early in the fighting. Egypt said its personnel were there for training and joint exercises.

The conflict has once again derailed Sudan’s attempt to establish democratic rule after a popular uprising helped depose long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir four years ago. Burhan and Dagalo jointly carried out a coup purging civilians from a transitional government in 2021.

The explosion of violence came after weeks of growing tensions between the two generals over a new international push for a return to civilian government.

Both sides have a long history of human rights abuses. The RSF was born out of the Janjaweed militias, which were accused of widespread atrocities when the government deployed them to put down a rebellion in Sudan’s western Darfur region in the early 2000s.

The conflict has raised fears of a spillover from the strategically located nation to its African neighbors.

Sudan’s fighting has caused up to 20,000 Sudanese to seek refuge in eastern Chad, the U.N. said Thursday. At least 320 Sudanese soldiers fled to Chad, where they were disarmed, said Daoud Yaya Brahim, Chad’s defense minister. The troops were apparently fleeing from Darfur, where the RSF is the most powerful armed force.

“Chad is for the moment trying to remain neutral … (but) Chad will be forced to pick sides if Sudan continues its descent into civil war,” said Benjamin Hunger, Africa analyst for Verisk Maplecroft, a risk assessment firm. ___ Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press correspondent Fay Abuelgasim in Beirut contributed to this report.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

___

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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