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A combined Chinese and Russian naval convoy, including a guided missile cruiser and a destroyer have been spotted close to an Alaskan island by the US Coastguard.

Two other Chinese naval ships and three Russian naval vessels were sighted in the Bering Sea in a single formation 86 miles (138 km) from Kiska Island by the US Coast Guard cutter, Kimball.

The Honolulu-based vessel monitored the ships before they broke formation and dispersed.

A C-130 Hercules provided air support from the Coast Guard station in Kodiak.

“While the formation has operated in accordance with international rules and norms, we will meet presence with presence to ensure there are no disruptions to US interests in the maritime environment around Alaska,” Rear Admiral Nathan Moore, Seventeenth Coast Guard District commander, said.

The Coast Guard said Operation Frontier Sentinel guidelines call for meeting “presence with presence” when strategic competitors operate in and around US waters.

The incident came a month after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned about China’s interest in the Arctic and Russia’s growing military build up there.

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He said Russia had set up a new Arctic Command and has opened hundreds of new and former Soviet-era Arctic military sites, including deep-water ports and airfields.

China has declared itself a “near Arctic” state, he added, and plans to build the world’s largest icebreaker.

“Beijing and Moscow have also pledged to intensify practical cooperation in the Arctic. This forms part of a deepening strategic partnership that challenges our values and interests,” Mr Stoltenberg said in a visit to Canada’s north.

It is not the first time Chinese naval ships have sailed close to Alaskan waters.

In September 2021 Coast Guard cutters in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean encountered Chinese ships around 50 miles (80km) off the Aleutian Islands.

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Donald Trump rival Nikki Haley becomes first woman in history to win Republican primary after Washington DC victory

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Donald Trump rival Nikki Haley becomes first woman in history to win Republican primary after Washington DC victory

Donald Trump’s rival Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in Washington DC – securing the first victory of her campaign to become the party’s presidential nomination.

Ms Haley’s victory on Sunday has at least temporarily halted Mr Trump’s sweep of the Republican primary contest – although the former president is likely to pick up several hundred more delegates in this week’s Super Tuesday races.

Her success in Washington DC also marks the first time in history a woman has won a Republican primary.

Despite her early losses in states such as South Carolina and New Hampshire, Ms Haley has said she would continue her fight to be the party’s pick for the race for the White House.

However, she declined to name any primary she felt confident she would win.

Following her loss in her home state of South Carolina in February, Ms Haley had said she was adamant that voters in the remaining places deserved an alternative to Mr Trump despite his dominance in the race.

Ms Haley, a former US ambassador to the UN, won all 19 delegates at stake in the Washington DC primary.

“It’s not surprising that Republicans closest to Washington dysfunction are rejecting Donald Trump and all his chaos,” Ms Haley’s spokesperson Olivia Perez-Cubas said in a statement.

Washington DC is one of the most heavily Democratic jurisdictions in the nation, with only about 23,000 registered Republicans in the city.

Democrat Joe Biden won the district in the 2020 general election with 92% of the vote.

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Ms Haley joked with more than 100 supporters inside a hotel ballroom after her primary victory: “Who says there’s no Republicans in DC? Come on… We’re trying to make sure that we touch every hand that we can and speak to every person.”

As she gave her standard campaign speech, criticising Mr Trump for increasing the federal deficit, one rallygoer bellowed: “He cannot win a general election. It’s madness.”

That prompted agreement from Ms Haley, who argues that she can deny Mr Biden a second term, but Mr Trump can’t.

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From 25 February: Trump tells Biden ‘You’re fired!’

Mr Trump’s campaign issued a statement shortly after Ms Haley’s victory sarcastically congratulating her on being named “Queen of the Swamp by the lobbyists and DC insiders that want to protect the failed status quo”.

Ms Haley held a rally in the Washington DC on Friday before heading back to North Carolina and a series of states holding Super Tuesday primaries.

Super Tuesday is the day when the largest number of states hold their presidential primaries and caucuses – with Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas among the 16 states and one US territory who will be voting on Tuesday 5 March.

While campaigning as an avowed conservative, Ms Haley has tended to perform better among more moderate and independent-leaning voters.

Four in 10 Haley supporters in South Carolina’s Republican primary were self-described moderates, compared with 15% for Trump, according to Associated Press polling data.

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US vice president Kamala Harris demands ‘immediate ceasefire’ in Gaza, calling for Hamas to accept terms – as Israel ‘boycotts’ talks

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US vice president Kamala Harris demands 'immediate ceasefire' in Gaza, calling for Hamas to accept terms - as Israel 'boycotts' talks

US vice president Kamala Harris has said there must be an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza as she called on the Israeli government to do more to increase the flow of aid, with “no excuses”.

Ms Harris said a six-week ceasefire would get Israeli hostages out and get a significant amount of aid into the war-ravaged Palestinian territory.

She said people were “starving” and Israel needed to increase the flow of life-saving assistance to ease what she described as “inhumane” conditions and a “humanitarian catastrophe”. Her comments are among the strongest by a senior US official over the crisis.

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The vice president also said there is a “deal on the table” and Hamas “needs to agree to that”.

“Let’s get a ceasefire. Let’s reunite the hostages with their families. And let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza,” she said.

Although a Hamas delegation is in Egypt for the latest truce talks, Israel has reportedly boycotted them.

Israeli media says it is because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not got an answer from Hamas on two questions – a list of hostages who are alive in Gaza and the number of Palestinian prisoners Hamas wants released in exchange for each hostage.

Ms Harris is due on Monday to meet top Israeli politician Benny Gantz, who will also have talks in Washington with US secretary of state Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Although Mr Gantz is in Mr Netanyahu’s war cabinet, he is also a centrist political rival and is thought to have been rebuked by the Israeli prime minister for those planned discussions in America.

Fresh truce could be highly significant

There is increasing hope that a new hostage deal can be agreed between Israel and Hamas in time for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a week from now, but time is running out and divisions remain between the sides.

Hamas has sent a delegation to Cairo to continue talks; Israel is yet to dispatch its own team and government sources have told Sky News that, among other things, they are still waiting for Hamas to provide information on the hostages they will release.

There are other points of difference, notably over which Palestinian prisoners Israel will agree to release in exchange and the status of Israeli forces inside Gaza, if a truce goes ahead.

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An official from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party said Mr Gantz’s visit was not authorised by the leader.

And the PM had a “tough talk” with Mr Gantz about the trip and told him the country has “just one prime minister”, according to the official.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and war cabinet minister Benny Gantz. File pic: Reuters
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(L-R) Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and war cabinet member Benny Gantz. File pic: Reuters

Mr Gantz had told the PM of his intention to travel to the US and to co-ordinate messaging with him, added an official.

US efforts in the region have increasingly been hampered by Mr Netanyahu’s hardline cabinet, which ultra-nationalists dominate. Mr Gantz’s more moderate National Unity party sometimes acts as a counterweight to the PM’s far-right allies.

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US carries out first aid airdrop in Gaza

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There are deep disagreements between Mr Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden over how to alleviate Palestinian suffering in Gaza and come up with a post-war vision for the enclave.

On Saturday, the US airdropped aid into Gaza after dozens of Palestinians rushing to grab food from trucks were killed last Thursday.

Speaking on Sunday in Selma, Alabama, Ms Harris said: “People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses.”

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A senior US official had said the path to a ceasefire was “straightforward and there’s a deal on the table”, with mediators returning to Egypt hoping to reach an agreement before Ramadan begins in a week.

The unidentified official spoke to the Reuters news agency ahead of the talks in Cairo, billed as the final hurdle to a six-week ceasefire.

Earlier on Sunday, the US said a deal had already been “more or less accepted” by Israel and was waiting for approval by Hamas militants.

But after the Hamas delegation arrived, a Palestinian official said the deal was “not yet there”. Hamas also reportedly wanted a permanent ceasefire to be part of any deal.

The war started after Hamas launched a cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October last year, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking more than 250 others hostage.

Israel retaliated with strikes and a military ground assault in Gaza which have so far killed more than 30,000 people, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Around 80% of the population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, and UN agencies say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.

More than 100 hostages in Gaza have been released.

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Israel-Hamas war: Why this week could be critical for Gaza as US vice president shifts tone

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Israel-Hamas war: Why this week could be critical for Gaza as US vice president shifts tone

Kamala Harris’s speech marked a shift in tone and maybe a subtle shift in language, but not much more than that. Yet the week ahead could still be critical.

The vice president spoke of the situation in Gaza as “devastating… a humanitarian catastrophe” and she had some pointed messaging for Israel – “it must increase flow of aid, restore basic services – no excuses”.

She echoed some of what President Joe Biden said on Friday when he called for “more routes to get more and more people the help they need. No excuses”.

There was a tonal shift, but beyond that her speech did not mark a policy change by the American administration.

The vice president was calling for a ceasefire, yes, but she was addressing Hamas, not Israel.

“Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire,” she said. “Well, there is a deal on the table. And as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal.”

The framework of a deal to allow for a six-week ceasefire has been in place for a few weeks now. Despite talks in Doha, Paris and Cairo, the two sides have failed to find the common ground that would allow them to close the deal.

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As we understand it, Israel has not sent a delegation to the latest round of talks this weekend in Cairo because Hamas has yet to respond to specific questions about the number of hostages still alive and about how many of the hostages it is willing to release in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

For context, there are thought to be 134 hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza. The precise number still alive is not clear and Hamas said last week that seven had been killed during an Israeli airstrike.

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Israel holds about 9,000 Palestinian prisoners, according to NGO groups, including 2,070 who have been sentenced for crimes (mostly in military courts), 2,656 remanded and a further 3,558 “administrative detainees” held without charge or trial on the grounds that they plan to break the law in the future.

There are currently more Palestinians held in administrative detention than at any other time in decades.

Hamas had demanded the release of thousands of Palestinians from Israeli prisons in exchange for hostages. This has been the main sticking point in the ceasefire negotiations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “delusional” and Biden called it “over the top”. The swap ratio is key and unresolved.

And so, despite Harris’s Sunday evening words, there is no obvious shift yet in the talks. With a framework in place, agreement could come fast or it could remain deadlocked.

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Biden’s ice cream parlour hope of a deal by the start of this week seems like wishful thinking. The start of Ramadan this coming weekend is a goal for negotiators.

Tension between Israelis and Palestinians is always high in Jerusalem during Ramadan. Quite apart from the relief for Gazans and Israeli hostage families, a ceasefire by Ramadan would help to lower tensions in Jerusalem.

Two things have changed that will have helped to mould Harris’s language. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is spiralling. The White House cannot ignore this. And domestic American politics is now sinking in.

Biden’s campaign team were unquestionably alarmed by the results of the Michigan Democratic primary where a staggering 100,000 people voted “uncommitted” in a coordinated protest of his handling of the Gaza crisis.

Michigan protest organisers in the key swing state where there is a large Muslim population had hoped to garner 10,000 “uncommitted” votes. They managed 10 times as many.

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Senior Israeli war cabinet minister and pre-war opposition leader Benny Gantz arrived last night in Washington for talks over the next few days.

He will meet the vice president and the secretary of state Antony Blinken. Ceasefire progress will be a focus, but possibly succession talks too.

With growing unease – within Israel and beyond – about the suitability of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Gantz is an obvious successor who leads the polls.

This coming week will be critical.

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