Israel-Gaza border falls quiet after botched Israeli operation

Palestinians inspect the remains of a vehicle that was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israel-Gaza border fell quiet on Monday after a botched Israeli undercover operation in the Gaza Strip led to fighting that killed a Hamas commander, six other Palestinian militants and an Israeli colonel.

Palestinians fired 17 rockets into southern Israel late on Sunday in response to the incursion and air strikes, which Hamas, the dominant armed group in Gaza, said were intended to cover the retreat of a car used by the Israeli troops.

There were no reports of injuries or damage in Israel, but the military said a lieutenant-colonel, identified only as “M”, had been killed in the raid and another officer wounded.

Hamas said the Israeli actions dealt a blow to Egyptian, Qatari, and U.N. efforts to broker a long-term ceasefire between the Palestinian group and Israel and ease an Israeli blockade that has deepened economic hardship in Gaza.

But neither side appeared eager to pursue broader conflict.

Hamas received $15 million in Qatari-donated cash via Israel on Friday to pay for civil servants’ salaries and fuel to address Gaza’s energy crisis.

No new rocket launches were reported on Monday morning.

Violence has flared regularly along the Israel-Gaza border since Palestinians began protests there on March 30 to demand rights to land lost to Israel in the 1948 war of its creation.

Israeli gunfire has killed more than 220 Palestinians since the start of the demonstrations, which have included breaches of Israel’s border fence.

Hamas said that during Sunday’s fighting, assailants in a passing vehicle opened fire on a group of its armed men, killing one of its local commanders, Nour Baraka.

A Palestinian man sits on the remains of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Sal

A Palestinian man sits on the remains of a building that was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

A pursuit ensued and witnesses said Israeli aircraft fired more than 40 missiles into the area. Palestinian officials said that in addition to Baraka, five other Hamas men and a member of the Popular Resistance Committees were killed.

In an apparent attempt to defuse tensions, Israel’s chief military spokesman said the special forces had not been dispatched to assassinate Hamas commanders, a tactic that led to wider conflict in the past and which has largely been abandoned.

The spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, told Army Radio that covert missions were mounted frequently, comments that suggested the Israeli force may have been gathering intelligence.

“During the operation, it found itself in a very complex situation, faced by enemy forces. The (Israeli) force, including Lieutenant-Colonel M., kept its cool, returned fire and evacuated itself together with the (help of the) air force back into Israel,” Manelis said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a visit to Paris, where he attended World War One commemorations with other world leaders. He returned home early on Monday.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Venezuelan migrant exodus hits 3 million: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: Colombian migration officers check the identity documents of people trying to enter Colombia from Venezuela, at the Simon Bolivar International bridge in Villa del Rosario, Colombia August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – Three million Venezuelans have fled economic and political crisis in their homeland, most since 2015, the United Nations said on Thursday.

The exodus, driven by violence, hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines, amounts to around one in 12 of the population.

It has accelerated in the past six months, said William Spindler of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which appealed for greater international efforts to ease the strain on the country’s neighbors.

U.N. data in September showed 2.6 million had fled.

“The main increases continue to be reported in Colombia and Peru,” Spindler said.

Colombia is sheltering 1 million Venezuelans. Some 3,000 more arrive each day, and the Bogota government says 4 million could be living there by 2021, costing it nearly $9 billion.

Oil-rich Venezuela has sunk into crisis under Socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has damaged the economy through state interventions while clamping down on political opponents.

He has dismissed the migration figures as “fake news” meant to justify foreign intervention in Venezuela’s affairs.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR said the exodus was straining several neighboring countries, notably Colombia.

“Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have largely maintained a commendable open-door policy,” said Eduardo Stein, UNHCR-IOM Joint Special Representative for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela.

“…However, their reception capacity is severely strained, requiring a more robust and immediate response from the international community.”

Regional government officials are to meet in Quito, Ecuador from Nov 22-23 to coordinate humanitarian efforts.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by John Stonestreet)

A ‘never-ending nightmare’ for Yemenis one year since blockade

A woman holds a malnourished boy in a malnutrition treatment centre at the al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC17865BEC40

By Heba Kanso

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – One year after a Saudi coalition imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports temporarily halting life-saving supplies, Yemenis are still living a “never-ending nightmare,” low on food and fuel, a senior aid official said on Tuesday.

Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries, is locked in a nearly four-year-old war that pits Iran-aligned Houthi rebels against the government backed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the West.

For several weeks at the end of 2017, the Saudi coalition imposed a blockade on Yemeni ports which it said was to prevent Houthis from importing weapons. This had a severe impact on Yemen, which traditionally imports 90 percent of its food.

Jan Egeland, a former U.N. aid chief who now heads the Norwegian Refugee Council said since the blockade, food and fuel imports remain low and prices have soared, leaving millions on the brink of starvation as violence continues.

“The past 12 months have been a never-ending nightmare for Yemeni civilians,” he said in a statement.

Here are some facts about what has been happening inside the war-torn country:

-The brutal war has caused the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations, with 22 million Yemenis dependent on aid out of a population of around 25 million.

-The U.N. aid coordinator warned that a further 10 million Yemenis could face starvation by the end of the year. More than 8 million are already severely short of food.

-Aid group Save the Children said a million more children in Yemen risked falling into famine, taking the total number to 5.2 million.

-Fighting flared this week in Yemen’s main Hodeidah port, where most food imports and relief supplies enter, leaving thousands trapped on the southern outskirts of the Red Sea port, according to the U.N.

-Western countries, like the United States and Britain, have called for a ceasefire to support efforts to end a war that has killed more than 10,000 people.

-After international pressure the Saudi-led coalition lifted the blockade but tightened ship inspections, slowing down imports.

-Soaring prices have put some basic commodities out of reach for many Yemenis and the central bank has struggled to pay public-sector salaries on which many depend as foreign exchange reserves dwindle.

Sources: Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Save the Children, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Reuters

(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Palestinian rocket attack on Israeli city draws Gaza air strikes

Israeli sappers work on a house that the Israeli military said was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Beersheba, southern Israel October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip hit a house in the largest city in southern Israel early on Wednesday, prompting Israeli air strikes that killed a militant in the Palestinian enclave.

Egypt, which sent a delegation to Gaza on Tuesday for the latest round of talks on a long-term ceasefire, postponed a visit there by its intelligence chief, Abbas Kamel, following Wednesday’s surge in violence, Palestinian officials said.

The rocket hit a two-story house in Beersheba before dawn, the Israeli military said. It gutted most of the home, blowing out concrete walls and its stone facade, showering its yard and an adjacent street with rubble.

The family living there managed to take shelter in a reinforced room after alert sirens sounded, said officials in the city about 40 km (25 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

Another rocket launched from Gaza and aimed at central Israel fell into the Mediterranean Sea, the military said.

After the attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held consultations with his defense minister and top generals at military headquarters near the Gaza border, which has seen more than six months of sometimes violent Palestinian protests.

Netanyahu said that in a statement that unless attacks from Gaza ceased, “Israel will act with great force” to stop them.

With a nod to the Egyptian talks, Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists and other major militant groups took the unusual step of denying responsibility for Wednesday’s launchings, saying they rejected “all irresponsible attempts to sabotage the Egyptian effort, including the firing of the rockets”.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from any of the other smaller groups that operate in Gaza, and by mid-afternoon the area was quiet.

Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel Radio there was evidence to back up the Hamas statement. But he said Israeli policy dictated an “immediate and forceful retaliation” against Hamas because the groups controls Gaza.

The European Union, in a statement from Brussels, said indiscriminate attacks against civilians were completely unacceptable and mortar and rocket fire by Palestinian militants must stop immediately.

EXPLOSIONS

Israel’s military said it struck armed training camps in Gaza and also targeted a squad about to launch a rocket.

Health officials in Gaza said a 25-year-old Palestinian man, identified by Al-Mujahedeen Brigades, a small militant faction, as one of its members, was killed. Five other Palestinians were wounded in separate attacks.

Many people in Gaza awoke to the sounds of explosions. Families crowded into a nearby hospital where the dead man’s mother collapsed over his body.

Pillars of smoke rose from the sites bombed by Israel, including a port Hamas is constructing in the southern Gaza Strip and a naval police position.

Cairo has been holding talks with Hamas on a truce with Israel and ways to end 11 years of division with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction in the occupied West Bank. A Palestinian source said Egyptian officials in Gaza have been in touch with Israel to try to avoid further escalation.

Palestinians have been protesting along the border since March 30, demanding an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the right to return to lands that Palestinians fled or were driven from upon Israel’s founding in 1948.

About 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the border protests began, according to Palestinian Health Ministry figures. Palestinians have launched incendiary balloons and kites into Israel and on occasion breached an Israeli frontier fence.

More than 2 million Palestinians are packed into the coastal enclave. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

In addition to sporadic incidents, Israel and Hamas have fought three wars in the past 10 years. The internationally-mediated peace process aimed at finding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all but moribund.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in JerusalemWriting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

Honduran migrant group grows, heading for United States

Thousands of Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence move in a caravan toward the United States, in Santa Rosa de Copan, Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – A growing group of more than 1,500 Honduran migrants headed for the United States moved toward the Guatemalan border on Sunday, witnesses and organizers said.

The migrants, who included families of adults and children, and women carrying babies, began a march on Saturday from the violent northern city of San Pedro Sula, days after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence called on Central America to stop mass migration.

The U.S. Embassy in Honduras said it was deeply worried about the group and that people were being given “false promises” of being able to enter the United States. The embassy said the situation in Honduras was improving.

Children help each other get dressed, part of a group of Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence, during their journey in a caravan toward the United States in Ocotepeque, Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

Children help each other get dressed, part of a group of Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence, during their journey in a caravan toward the United States in Ocotepeque, Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

Honduras’ government echoed part of that language, saying it regretted the situation and that citizens were being “deceived.”

Mexico’s government issued a statement on Saturday reminding foreign nationals that visas should be requested in consulates, not at the border, and said migration rules were “always observed.”

March organizer Bartolo Fuentes told Reuters that participants were not being offered or promised anything but were fleeing poverty and violence back home.

Fuentes, a former Honduran lawmaker, said the group had grown on its journey to some 1,800 migrants from 1,300.

The so-called migrant caravan, in which people move in groups either on foot or by vehicle, grew in part because of social media.

The group began to arrive in Nueva Ocotepeque, near the Guatemalan border, on Sunday. The plan is to cross Guatemala and reach Tapachula in southern Mexico to apply for humanitarian visas that allow people to cross the country or get asylum, Fuentes said.

A man carries a baby as he walks with other Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence as they move in a caravan toward the United States, in the west side of Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

A man carries a baby as he walks with other Hondurans fleeing poverty and violence as they move in a caravan toward the United States, in the west side of Honduras October 14, 2018. REUTERS/ Jorge Cabrera

Honduras, where some 64 percent of households are in poverty, is afflicted by gangs that violently extort people and businesses.

Last week, Pence told Central American countries that the United States was willing to help with economic development and investment if they did more to tackle mass migration, corruption and gang violence.

(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Islamic State claims shooting attack on Libyan oil firm: group’s news agency

Smoke rises form the headquarters of Libyan state oil firm National Oil Corporation (NOC) after three masked persons attacked it in Tripoli, Libya September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Hani Amara

TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a shooting attack on the headquarters of Libyan state oil firm NOC in Tripoli, the jihadist group’s news agency said on Tuesday.

The attack on Monday killed two NOC staff and wounded 10, said officials, who had described the three shooters who were also killed as “Africans”.

The attack targeted the “economic interests of oppressing governments funding crusaders,” a statement carried on the militants’ Amaq news agency said.

It was the first attack of its kind against the leadership of Libya’s state oil industry.

The attack happened less than a week after a fragile truce halted fierce clashes between rival armed groups in Tripoli, the latest eruption of violence in Libya, which has been in turmoil since a 2011 uprising.

Armed groups regularly block oilfields to make demands but the NOC headquarters had so far been spared the violence engulfing the North African country.

(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Ulf LaessingWriting by Ulf Laessing, Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

Brazil presidential election thrown into chaos after front-runner stabbed

Flavio Bolsonaro, son of presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro leaves the Santa Casa hospital, where his father was hospitalized after being stabbed in Juiz de Fora, Brazil September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

By Brad Brooks and Gabriel Stargardter

SAO PAULO/JUIZ DE FORA, Brazil (Reuters) – Brazil’s presidential campaign was thrown into chaos on Friday as the far-right front-runner was in serious condition after he was stabbed at a rally, just a month before the vote, raising fears of increased violence in the wide-open race.

Congressman Bolsonaro has angered many Brazilians by saying he would encourage police to ramp up their killing of suspected drug gang members and armed criminals, but he has a devoted following among conservative voters.

FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro leaves an agribusiness fair in Esteio, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Diego Vara/File photo

FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro leaves an agribusiness fair in Esteio, Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil August 29, 2018. REUTERS/Diego Vara/File photo

He could need two months to fully recover from Thursday’s attack and will spend at least a week in the hospital, following the life-threatening injuries, doctors said.

Bolsonaro was flown from Juiz de Fora in Minas Gerais state Friday morning, and is now in the Sirio Libanes hospital in Sao Paulo, one of the nation’s elite institutions.

Dr. Luiz Henrique Borsato, who operated on the candidate, said the internal wounds were “grave” and “put the patient’s life at risk” but that he was stable early Friday. Doctors were worried about an infection since Bolsonaro’s intestines were perforated, he added.

The knife reached 12 cm (4.7 inches) inside his abdomen and the candidate lost 2 liters (4.2 pints) of blood, the family said.

Meanwhile, fears of a flare-up in violence following the stabbing cast a shadow over Brazil on Friday as the nation celebrated Independence Day with political rallies expected in hundreds of cities.

Bolsonaro leads polling scenarios for the first-round vote on Oct. 7, but loses to most rivals in simulated run-off votes, which would take place on Oct. 28 if no candidate wins a majority in the first balloting.

Some analysts forecast that Bolsonaro could get a boost from the attack, a gruesome example of the violence he rails against, especially as support for his leftists rivals is split among three candidates.

Others, however, question if a such a polemical politician will gain any sympathy from voters who do not already back him.

Speaking from his hospital bed in Juiz de Fora in an online video, the retired Army captain compared the pain at first to being hit by the ball in a soccer game.

People surround a man suspected of stabbing Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro (not pictured) as he was campaigning in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais state, Brazil September 6, 2018. Felipe Couri / Minas Tribune / via REUTERS

People surround a man suspected of stabbing Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro (not pictured) as he was campaigning in Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais state, Brazil September 6, 2018. Felipe Couri / Minas Tribune / via REUTERS

“It was intolerable and it seemed like maybe something worse was happening,” he said, talking in a weak, raspy voice with a tube in his nose and monitors beeping nearby. “I was preparing for this sort of thing. You run risks.”

The attack on Bolsonaro, 63, is a twist in what was already Brazil’s most unpredictable election since the country’s return to democracy three decades ago. Scores of businessmen and politicians have been jailed in corruption investigations in recent years and alienated voters.

Imprisoned former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would easily win the election, polls found, but he was barred from running because of his corruption conviction, scattering voter support among five main candidates.

Rival candidates called off campaign activities for Friday.

“YOU JUST ELECTED HIM PRESIDENT”

“I just want to send a message to the thugs who tried to ruin the life of a family man, a guy who is the hope for millions of Brazilians: You just elected him president. He will win in the first round,” Flavio Bolsonaro, Bolsonaro’s son, said on Friday.

His campaign could be hampered by not being able to hold street rallies. Under Brazil’s campaign laws, Bolsonaro’s tiny coalition has almost no campaign time on government-regulated candidate commercial blocs on television and radio. He must rely on social media and rallies around the country to drum up support.

Bolsonaro is running as the law-and-order candidate and has positioned himself as the anti-politician, though he has spent nearly three decades in Congress.

He has long espoused taking a radical stance on public security in Brazil, which has more homicides than any other country, according to United Nations statistics.

Bolsonaro, whose trademark pose at rallies is a “guns up” gesture holding both hands like pistols, has said he would encourage police to kill suspected drug gang members and other armed criminals with abandon.

He has openly praised Brazil’s military dictatorship and in the past said it should have killed more people.

Bolsonaro faces trial before the Supreme Court for speech that prosecutors said incited hate and rape. He has called the charges politically motivated.

His stabbing is the latest instance of political violence, which is particularly rampant at the local level. Earlier this year, Marielle Franco, a Rio city councilwoman who was an outspoken critic of police violence against slum residents, was assassinated.

Police video taken at a precinct and aired by TV Globo showed suspect Adelio Bispo de Oliveira telling police he had been ordered by God to carry out the attack.

One supporter camped outside Bolsonaro’s hospital room, Bruno Engler, 21, who is running for a Minas Gerais state congressional seat on Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party, said if he could, he would lynch the suspect.

“They call us on the right the intolerant, the violent ones, but those who are intolerant and violent are them,” Engler said, referring to leftist voters.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Gabriel Stargardter and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Juiz de Fora; Writing by Brad Brooks and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Jeffrey Benkoe)

With inflation soaring, Venezuela prices shed five zeros

A 2.4 kg chicken is pictured next to 14,600,000 bolivars, its price and the equivalent of 2.22 USD, at a mini-market in Caracas, Venezuela. It was the going price at an informal market in the low-income neighborhood of Catia. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Tibisay Romero

VALENCIA, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuela on Monday slashed five zeros from prices as part of a broad economic plan that President Nicolas Maduro says will tame hyperinflation but critics call another raft of failed socialist policies that will push the chaotic country deeper into crisis.

Streets were quiet and shops were closed due to a national holiday that Maduro decreed for the first day of the new pricing plan for the stricken economy, which the International Monetary Fund has estimated will have 1 million percent inflation by year-end.

The price change comes with a 3,000 percent minimum wage hike and tax increases meant to shore up government revenue and a plan to peg salaries, prices and the country’s exchange rate tied to the petro, an elusive state-backed cryptocurrency.

Economists say the plan announced on Friday is likely to escalate the crisis facing the once-prosperous country that is now suffering from Soviet-style product shortages and a mass exodus of citizens fleeing for nearby South American countries.

Venezuelans are mostly baffled by the monetary overhaul and skeptical it will turn the country around.

“This is out of control, prices are sky high,” said Betzabeth Linares, 47, in a supermarket in the central city of Valencia. “What worries me is how we’ll eat, the truth is that the way things are going, I really don’t know.”

After a decade-long oil bonanza that spawned a consumption boom in the OPEC member, many poor citizens are now reduced to scouring through garbage to find food as monthly salaries currently amount to a few U.S. dollars a month.

The new measures spooked shopkeepers already struggling to stay afloat due to hyperinflation, government-set prices for goods ranging from flour to diapers, and strict currency controls that crimp imports.

Growing discontent with Maduro has also spread to the military as soldiers struggle to get enough food and many desert by leaving the country, along with hundreds and thousands of civilians who have emigrated by bus across South America.

Two high-ranking military officers were arrested this month for their alleged involvement in drone explosions during a speech by Maduro, who has described it as an assassination attempt.

The chaos has become an increasing concern for the region. In recent days, Ecuador and Peru have tightened visa requirements for Venezuelans, and violence drove hundreds of Venezuelan migrants back across the border with Brazil on Saturday.

Maduro, re-elected to a second term in May in a vote widely condemned as rigged, says his government is the victim of an “economic war” led by political adversaries with the help of Washington and accuses the United States of seeking to overthrow him.

The United States has denied the accusations. But it has described the former bus driver and union leader as a dictator and levied several rounds of financial sanctions against his government and top officials.

(Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Susan Thomas)

Charlottesville confronts identity one year after clashes

A U.S. flag flies from the back of a car, ahead the one-year anniversary of the fatal white-nationalist rally, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Joseph Ax

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – For many residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, last year’s white nationalist rally shattered the city’s carefully curated reputation as a progressive, idyllic place to live.

But for Nikuyah Walker, an activist who was elected mayor just three months later, the violent clashes only underscored deep racial and economic inequities that have long divided this picturesque college town. In her view, the rally has forced Charlottesville to confront its own complicated legacy.

“You can have three or four generations who are struggling, and that family has not been able to move out of poverty wages – that’s a significant portion of Charlottesville,” Walker, the city’s first black female mayor, told Reuters outside City Hall. “And then you have this very wealthy community that loves and raves about it.”

As Charlottesville prepares for the one-year anniversary this weekend, it is still agonizing over clashes last year in which one woman was killed when an Ohio man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Some residents have argued that the vast majority of the marchers last year were from out of town, but Walker said that narrative ignores the city’s broader problems.

She noted that the main instigators of the “Unite the Right” rally, Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” to describe the loose coalition of white nationalists, and Jason Kessler, a local blogger, graduated from the University of Virginia on the western side of town.

The rally was billed as a protest over the city council’s plan to remove two Confederate statues from downtown parks. Last year, a judge blocked the city from taking down the statues, which are encircled by orange plastic fencing and are off-limits to residents.

Several officials including the police chief, the city manager, and the city attorney left their positions after widespread criticism that Charlottesville had been ill-prepared to manage the hundreds of white nationalists who descended upon it, many armed with shields, clubs and other weapons.

“We recognize that we have to earn the community’s trust,” said Brian Wheeler, the city’s chief spokesman. “The way that we can best do that this year is learn from the mistakes.”

Local and state police have vowed to have zero tolerance for any violence this weekend, in stark contrast with last year when some officers did not intervene to break up fights. Virtually the entire downtown will be closed to vehicles.

Police have said that they are preparing for the worst, even though Kessler, who organized last year’s event, lost a bid to get a permit this year. Instead, he has received permission to rally outside the White House on Sunday and has said he will focus on Washington.

A boy passes tributes written at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A boy passes tributes written at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A CITY AT ODDS WITH ITSELF

The effects of last year’s violence are still felt every day in Charlottesville.

City council meetings have frequently devolved into shouting matches. At a recent community outreach meeting where police officials detailed security plans for this weekend, residents asked one after another how they were supposed to trust the police after 2017.

“Charlottesville has had a tendency to self-congratulation; it’s constantly in the magazines as the best place to live,” said Reverend Will Peyton, who oversees St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“The violence was perpetrated by outsiders, yes, but the response from the black community is like, ‘Really, this isn’t us? We don’t have a problem here?’ Because, of course, there’s entrenched inequality and entrenched structural racism,” Peyton said.

At the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in downtown Charlottesville, an exhibit documents the struggle of black residents who fought for equal access to public education.

“I don’t know that people understood that this narrative of progressive Charlottesville had flaws,” said Andrea Douglas, the center’s executive director. “Now those flaws have been exposed.”

When Mayor Walker, 38, announced her run for city council last spring after years of activism on behalf of low-income residents, she adopted the motto “Unmasking the Illusion,” aiming to dispel the notion that Charlottesville was a diverse, liberal utopia. She has focused her attention on issues like affordable housing and policing.

Last month, she joined residents on what they called a “civil rights pilgrimage” to the lynching museum in Montgomery, Alabama, bringing along soil from a site where a black Charlottesville man was lynched in 1898.

Reverend Tracy Howe Wispelwey, a local activist, said last year’s rally was eye-opening for many in Charlottesville.

“You have a lot of white liberals who have not grappled with our history and want to dismiss it,” she said. “That’s just not truth.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan hit record as suicide attacks surge

Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz

By James Mackenzie

KABUL (Reuters) – The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan reached a record in the first half of the year, despite last month’s ceasefire, with a surge in suicide attacks claimed by Islamic State, the United Nations said on Sunday.

Deaths rose 1 percent to 1,692, although injuries dropped 5 percent to 3,430, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in its latest civilian casualty report. Overall civilian casualties were down 3 percent.

Hopes that peace may one day be agreed in Afghanistan were raised last month by a three-day truce over the Eid al-Fitr holiday which saw unprecedented scenes of Taliban fighters mingling with security forces in Kabul and other cities.

“The brief ceasefire demonstrated that the fighting can be stopped and that Afghan civilians no longer need to bear the brunt of the war,” Tadamichi Yamamoto, the senior U.N. official in Afghanistan said in a statement.

But with heavy fighting seen across the country during the first half the year and repeated suicide attacks in Kabul and major provincial cities like Jalalabad, the report underlines the dire security situation facing Afghanistan.

It also pointed to increased activity by Islamic State, reflected in a doubling in casualties in Nangarhar, the eastern province whose capital is Jalalabad, where the militant group has conducted a series of attacks over recent months.

MINISTRY ATTACKED

The main causes of casualties were ground engagements between security forces and militants, roadside bombs, as well as suicide and other so-called complex attacks, which caused 22 percent more casualties than in the same period last year.

Hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks on targets as diverse as Shi’ite shrines, offices of government ministries and aid groups, sports events and voter registration stations.

On Sunday, the day the report was issued, at least seven people were killed and more than 15 wounded by a suicide attack as staff at a government ministry were going home.

The report said two thirds of civilian casualties were caused by anti-government forces, mainly the Taliban and Islamic State.

Fifty-two percent of the casualties from suicide and complex attacks were attributed to Islamic State, often known as Daesh, while 40 percent were attributed to the Taliban.

The Taliban, who say they take great care to avoid civilian casualties, issued a statement rejecting the report as “one sided” and accused UNAMA of working in close coordination with U.S. authorities to push propaganda against them.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for October, there is concern about more violence as polling day approaches.

The Taliban, fighting to restore their version of strict Islamic law, have rejected President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks, demanding that foreign forces leave Afghanistan.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, Robert Birsel and Keith Weir)