Top Biden Administration Officials Argue Aid to Ukraine, Israel Can’t Be Unlinked

Top Biden administration officials told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that the White House request for $106 billion in emergency supplemental funding – including aid for Ukraine and Israel – is vital to U.S. national security. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified as the request faces significant opposition in the Republican-majority US House of Representatives. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more.

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Kenyan President Welcomes Britain’s King to Nairobi

Britain’s King Charles has begun a four-day visit to Kenya, his first trip to Africa since becoming king following the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, last year. Addressing aspects of Britain’s colonial past, issues related to the climate crisis, education and the importance of national security will top the monarch’s agenda.

The royal visit kicked off with a welcoming ceremony at the State House led by Kenyan President William Ruto and the country’s first lady.

It was followed by a visit to Uhuru Gardens National Monument and Museum — a new location dedicated to telling Kenya’s history through Kenyan voices — where the king laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

Right after, Charles and Queen Camilla went to the Eastlands local library, where young and old lined up inside to greet the couple.

Joel Aluoch grew up in the area and couldn’t believe the king was paying a visit to the library he’s known for so long.

“This is very phenomenal,” Aluoch said. “We are so elated to be in the group that’s going to meet the king, his majesty the king. It’s a lifetime experience. We are happy he chose to come to Eastlands where we were born and bred.”

VOA also spoke to a few other attendees, including Eva Aholi, Rahma Abdi and Lucy Vihenda, who were lucky to not only see the royal couple up close and personal, but even shook hands with them.

“I feel great. It’s a privilege to greet a king and a queen,” said Eva Aholi said. “I feel special.”

“I feel happy, and I told them, ‘Jambo’ and ‘Welcome to Kenya,'” Rahma Abdi said.

Lucy Vihenda echoed the others’ sentiments.

“It’s a privilege and an honor first of all to see the King and the Queen and to shake their hands,” she said. “We wish them well and tell them, ‘Karibu Sana Kenya.'”

“Karibu Sana Kenya” means “Big welcome to Kenya.”

This is the third foreign trip for the royal couple and their first to Africa since Charles became king last year.

Kenya holds symbolic significance for Charles’ family because of what it represented for his late mother, who was in Kenya when she learned her father had died and she had become queen.

The trip comes as the African nation celebrates 60 years of independence from Britain.

Javas Bigambo, a Kenyan lawyer and a governance specialist, recalled Kenya’s hard-fought struggle against British colonialism.

“There was a history of taking up the land of the locals when Kenya was a British protectorate from 1901 through the time of struggle through independence,” Bigambo said, “the Mau Mau struggle where a number of Kenyans suffered in the hands of the British.”

Ten years ago, Britain apologized and agreed to pay compensation to thousands of veterans of the Mau Mau nationalist uprising in Kenya, which was brutally suppressed by the British colonial government in the 1950s.

In Kenya, Mau Mau veterans and campaigners welcomed the apology at the time but said the compensation of about $3,500 per victim was not enough for the pain, suffering and long-term effects the community endured.

Other groups have also been asking for an apology and reparations. On Monday, the Kenya Human Rights Commission sent a 10-page document to the U.K. High Commission in Nairobi with its demands. Davis Malombe is the group’s executive director.

“We are raising a number of concerns with respect to the unresolved injustices by the colonial government when they were in the country between 1895 and 1963,” said Davis Malombe, the rights group’s executive director, “and also the other atrocities, which have been committed by the British multinational corporations and other actors from that time to date.”

VOA reached out to the embassy for comment but did not hear back.

King Charles and Queen Camilla will spend two days in Nairobi and then two days in the coastal city of Mombasa, where they plan to meet with environmental activists, conservationists, artists, entrepreneurs, veterans and young people.

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Former Obama Official Confirmed as US Ambassador to Israel

The Senate has confirmed Jacob Lew as ambassador to Israel, filling the key diplomatic post as the country fights a war with Hamas. 

Lew, a Treasury secretary under President Barack Obama, was confirmed 53-43. 

Lew has promised to stand side by side with Israel’s leaders as they respond to the militant group’s October 7 attack, telling senators in his confirmation hearing in mid-October that “at this moment, there is no greater mission than to be asked to strengthen the ties between the United States and the state of Israel.” 

President Joe Biden nominated Lew, who goes by Jack, last month to fill the post left vacant when Tom Nides left as ambassador in July. Democrats say Lew’s wealth of government experience — he also was chief of staff to Obama and White House budget director under Obama and President Bill Clinton — makes him the right person to fill the post at a a critical moment in the two countries’ relationship. 

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said after Lew’s confirmation that the administration is eager for him “to get on the ground and start leading our efforts to support Israel and their fight against Hamas, but also to help us integrate and continue to lead the effort to get humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza.” 

Republicans criticized Lew for his role in the Obama White House when it negotiated the Iran nuclear agreement in 2015, among other foreign policy moves. The deal with Iran — the chief sponsor of Hamas — was later scuttled by former President Donald Trump. 

“This is the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong place,” Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said just before the vote. “The last thing we need is somebody who is very contrary to our view about how Iran should be handled.” 

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin said Lew has won praise from Israeli leaders and has the gravitas to “stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel” as the United States partners with the country. 

“There’s to me no question about his qualifications, no question about his presence being welcomed by our Israeli friends, no question about his knowledge and commitment to these issues,” Cardin said. “We could not have a more qualified individual to represent America as our ambassador to Israel.” 

At the hearing, Lew defended his work in the Obama White House and called Iran an “evil, malign government.” 

“I want to be clear — Iran is a threat to regional stability and to Israel’s existence,” Lew said. 

He also expressed sympathy for the civilians on both sides who have been injured or killed in the fighting. It must end, Lew said, “but it has to end with Israel’s security being guaranteed.” 

Lew, who is Jewish, said at the hearing that he cannot remember a time in his life “when Israel’s struggle for security was not at the forefront of my mind.” 

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Anti-War Protest at US Congress Hearing As Biden Officials Ask for Israel, Ukraine Aid

Two of President Joe Biden’s top advisers asked U.S. lawmakers to provide billions more dollars to Israel on Tuesday at a congressional hearing interrupted repeatedly by protesters accusing American officials of backing “genocide” against Palestinians in Gaza.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Biden’s request for $106 billion to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. border security.

Arguing that supporting U.S. partners is vital to national security, Biden requested $61.4 billion for Ukraine, about half of which would be spent in the United States to replenish weapons stocks drained by previous support for Kyiv.

Biden also asked for $14.3 billion for Israel, $9 billion for humanitarian relief — including for Israel and Gaza — $13.6 billion for U.S. border security, $4 billion in military assistance and government financing to counter China’s regional efforts in Asia.

As the hearing began, a line of protesters raised red-stained hands in the air as an anti-war protest. Capitol police later removed them from the hearing room after they shouted protests including, “Ceasefire now!” and “Protect the children of Gaza!”

Blinken said U.S. support for Ukraine has made Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a strategic debacle” and stressed the importance of both security assistance for Israel and humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

“Without swift and sustained humanitarian relief, the conflict is much more likely to spread, suffering will grow, and Hamas and its sponsors will benefit by fashioning themselves as the saviors of the very desperation they created,” Blinken said.

Congress has already approved $113 billion for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, but Biden’s $24 billion request for more funds in August never moved ahead. The White House has said it has less than $5.5 billion in funds to continue transferring weapons from U.S. stockpiles to Ukrainian forces fighting Russia.

Republicans divided

The path forward for Biden’s latest funding plan looks uncertain. Democrats solidly back Biden’s strategy of combining Ukraine aid with support for Israel, as do many Republicans in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

“We need to address all of these priorities as part of one package – because the reality is these issues are all connected, and they are all urgent,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson Patty Murray said.

Senator Susan Collins, the committee’s top Republican said she would judge the funding request on whether it makes the United States more secure.

But Republicans who lead the House of Representatives object to combining the two issues, joined by a smaller number of party members in the Senate. Opinion polls show public support for Ukraine aid declining and many Republicans, particularly those most closely aligned with former President Donald Trump, have come out against it.

With federal spending fueled by $31.4 trillion in debt, they question whether Washington should be funding Ukraine’s war with Russia, rather than backing Israel or boosting efforts to push back against a rising China.

Newly elected House Speaker Mike Johnson has voted in the past against assistance for Kyiv. On Monday, he introduced a bill to provide $14.3 billion in aid to Israel by cutting funding for the Internal Revenue Service, setting up a showdown with Senate Democrats.

Johnson became speaker after a three-week stalemate in the House after former Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted partly because he worked with Democrats to pass a government funding bill.

Biden’s support for Israel, which already receives $3.8 billion in annual U.S. military assistance, has drawn criticism amid international appeals for Gaza civilians to be protected.

Palestinian authorities say that Israel’s “total siege” of Gaza since that rampage has killed more than 8,300 people, more than 3,400 of them minors, and left a dire need for fuel, food and clean water.

Israel this week launched a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip as it strikes back at Islamist Hamas militants who killed 1,400 people and took at least 240 hostages in a rampage on Oct. 7.

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Water Harvesting and Recycling Technology to Help Kenya Cut Shortages

As Kenya prepares for heavy rains forecasted to occur in November and December, water-harvesting and recycling technology developed by a Kenyan entrepreneur could help reduce water shortages during drier times of the year. Juma Majanga reports from Isinya, Kenya. Videographer: Amos Wangwa

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Russia Will Succeed in Ukraine Unless US Support Continues, Pentagon Chief Says

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday that Russia would be successful in Ukraine unless the United States kept up its support for Kyiv.

Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified to the Senate Appropriations Committee on President Joe Biden’s request for $106 billion to fund ambitious plans for Ukraine, Israel and U.S. border security.

“I can guarantee that without our support [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be successful,” Austin said during the hearing.

“If we pull the rug out from under them now, Putin will only get stronger and he will be successful in doing what he wants to do.”

Arguing that supporting U.S. partners is vital to national security, Biden requested $61.4 billion for Ukraine, about half of which would be spent in the United States to replenish weapons stocks drained by previous support.

Congress has already approved $113 billion for Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022. The White House has said it has less than $5.5 billion in funds to continue transferring weapons from U.S. stockpiles to Ukrainian forces fighting Russia.

The path forward for Biden’s latest funding plan looks uncertain. Democrats solidly back Biden’s strategy of combining Ukraine aid with support for Israel, as do many Republicans in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

But Republicans who lead the House of Representatives object to combining the two issues, joined by some party members in the Senate.

Austin said the Biden administration wanted Ukraine to continue operations through the winter, but Kyiv could not do that if they were forced to pause because of a lack of U.S. support.

Kyiv military officials said on Monday that Russia has bulked up its forces around the devastated city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine and has switched its troops from defense to offense, but Ukraine has been preparing to repel the attacks.

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China: Tree-Planting at Home, Logging Abroad?

A new report accuses a Chinese company of illegal deforestation in Congo, but there’s debate over which country is responsible.  

Over a six-month period last year, Congo King Baisheng Forestry Development exported $5 million – or about 30 million kilograms — in illegally logged hardwood to timber conglomerate Wan Peng through Zhangjigang Port, the environmental watchdog Global Witness found in its report.

The DRC’s Environment Ministry did not respond to questions about the findings, while the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., stressed that China places “great importance on protecting the environment.” The embassy declined to comment on the specific case in question.

“It is worth mentioning though, that the Chinese government always instructs the Chinese companies abroad to abide by local laws and regulations. That is our consistent position,” said an embassy spokesperson in an email to VOA.

But the Global Witness report made it clear that while there may be laws on paper preventing logging concessions in DRC, they were often ignored.  

Since 2002 there has been a government moratorium on new logging in the DRC due to the corruption in the sector, Global Witness said, but “despite this, vast swathes of forest have continued to be allocated to loggers in violation of the country’s own laws.”

A paradox

The report also pointed to the fact that in April 2022 the Congolese government suspended five concession agreements it had awarded to Congo King Baisheng Forestry Development or CKBFD, but logging continued in at least two of the concessions. After the suspension, between June and December, the company made $5 million in exported logs, it said.


When sent the evidence collected by Global Witness, Chinese Customs told the NGO that “as the logging has taken place in DRC and violated local laws, the DRC authority was responsible for enforcement.” The Chinese government could investigate evidence of Chinese companies or citizens being involved in illegal logging – if requested by the DRC government.  

This creates a paradox, analysts told VOA.  

“The Chinese government always preaches its companies to abide by the law, but in reality, the law is not always followed, especially in countries with weak governance…. In countries like DRC, laws are often negotiable with bribery,” Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, told VOA.  

“Beijing’s attitude is ‘we cannot be responsible for the law-making or law-enforcement of another country’, and ‘a few bad apples of Chinese companies do not equate the Chinese government,’” she added.

Christian Geraud Neema Byamungu, Africa Editor at the China Global South Project, himself Congolese, echoed this.  

“From China’s perspective, in this case, they’re not responsible, each country is responsible for what’s happening,” he said.

“Since they’re not backed by Beijing, there is absolutely no political reason for the DRC authorities not to implement and enforce regulations. But they’re not enforced because these Chinese individuals are backed or working for powerful Congolese authorities who can prevent and protect them from any legal action.”  

“So in that case, China’s answer would be ‘How am I responsible? The DRC is letting powerful individuals help Chinese individuals break their country’s rules,” wrote Byamungu to VOA.  

Planting forests

The spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy told VOA that China has been making major efforts in afforestation at home.  

“With four decades of afforestation, China has created the world’s largest planted forests, doubling its forest coverage rate from 12 percent in the early 1980s to 24.02 percent in 2022. Based on NASA satellites date [data] at least 25 percent of global foliage expansion since the early 2000s came from China,” the spokesperson said.

When asked about China’s tree planting efforts, Charlie Hammans, an investigator on the Global Witness report, acknowledged China, which is the world’s largest carbon emitter, had seen some successes at home.

“China has made significant strides in decarbonizing its economy in the last few years and has set a net zero goal by 2060. However, this report makes clear that the behavior of companies in forest-rich countries such as CKBFD undermines the efforts of the country at home,” he said.

But Global Witness said there’s a loophole in China’s forest law, as it is not clear if it applies to imported timber.

“A clear strategy to address this imbalance should be to bring in strong laws to ensure products linked to deforestation cannot be imported into China, and Chinese banks who finance forestry and agribusiness beyond their borders should be required to carry out extensive due diligence to ensure they are not bankrolling bad actors linked to deforestation,” Hammans said.

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Animal Welfare Group in Namibia Decries Consumption of Dog Meat

An animal welfare group in Namibia has come out against the theft of dogs in the country that end up on the plates of consumers who regard the domestic animal as a delicacy. Vitalio Angula has this story from Windhoek, Namibia. This report contains graphic images that some viewers might find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.

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UN Chief Urges Peace From Site Venerated as Buddha’s Birthplace

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made an impassioned plea for peace on Tuesday from a Nepalese site venerated as Buddha’s birthplace, against a backdrop of conflict, including in the Middle East, Ukraine and Sudan.

While on his visit to Nepal, Guterres has spoken of the urgent need for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas to end the “nightmare” of bloodshed.

“In the Middle East, Ukraine, the Sahel, Sudan and many other places around the world, conflict is raging,” Guterres said.

“Global rules and institutions are being undermined as human rights and international law are trampled.”

Guterres held prayers at Lumbini in the south of the Himalayan nation, a site he called a place of “spirituality, serenity, and peace”.

The Buddha — who renounced material wealth to embrace and preach a life of non-attachment —founded a religion that now counts more than 500 million adherents.

“This is a place to reflect on the teachings of Lord Buddha. And to consider what his message of peace, interdependence, and compassion, means in today’s troubled world,” Guterres said.

“In these troubled times, my message to the world from the tranquil gardens of Lumbini is simple: Humanity has a choice. The path to peace is ours to take.”

Guterres on Monday visited the Everest region, which is struggling from rapidly melting glaciers, and on Tuesday warned that the “impacts of the climate crisis are mounting.”

“Humanity is at war with nature and at war with itself,” he said.

The Buddha’s birthplace was lost and overgrown by jungle before its rediscovery in 1896, when the presence of a third-century BC pillar bearing inscriptions allowed historians to identify it as Lumbini.

Since then, it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site and is visited by millions of Buddhists every year.

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UAW: Strike ‘Won Things No One Thought Possible’ from Automakers

The United Auto Workers won at least partial victories on many of the key demands that led to the six-week strike against Ford, General Motors and Jeep maker Stellantis.

The union has given some details of the deals, including a detailed explanation of the agreement it reached with Ford. The agreement is expected to become the model for later settlements with GM and Stellantis. Rank-and-file UAW members must ratify each contract before it takes effect.

“We won things no one thought possible,” UAW President Shawn Fain said when he announced the tentative agreement last week.

The union represents 57,000 workers at the company, and about 16,600 of them were on strike. Here are the key terms of the agreements, as detailed by the union:


The tentative agreements call for 25% increases in pay by April 2028, raising top pay to about $42 an hour, according to the union. That starts with an 11% boost upon ratification, three annual raises of 3% each, and a final increase of 5%. The UAW said restoration of cost-of-living increases, which were suspended in 2009, could boost the total increases to more than 30%.

The union initially asked for 40% increases, but scaled that back to 36% before the strike started Sept. 15. Ford’s last offer before the strike was 9% more pay over four years. More recently, Ford, GM and Stellantis were all offering 23% total pay increases.

For historical comparison, the union said its workers saw pay increases of 23% for all the years from 2001 through 2022. 


The deals include $5,000 ratification bonuses. 

Temporary workers

The union said Ford’s temporary workers will get pay raises totaling 150% over the life of the deal, and workers at certain facilities will also get outsized raises. The temporary workers will also get the ratification bonuses and will get profit-sharing starting next year, officials said.


The companies did not agree to bring back traditional defined-benefit pension plans or retiree health care for workers hired since 2007. But they agreed to increase 401(k) contributions to about 9.5%.

Shorter work week

The UAW asked for a shorter work week — 40 hours of pay for 32 hours of work. It did not get that concession.

Worker tiers

The union said Ford and GM agreed to end most divisive wage tiers, a system under which new hires were put on a less attractive pay scale. Fain and union members had highlighted the issue, saying it was unfair for people doing the same work to be paid less than co-workers.

Climbing the ladder

The agreement shortens the time it will take workers to reach top scale, to three years. It took eight years under the contract that expired in September. 

Right to strike

The union said it won the right to strike against any of the three companies over plant closures. The automakers had rejected the proposal at the start of talks.

Union organizing

The agreements with Ford, GM and Stellantis could give the UAW a boost as it seeks to represent workers at nonunion plants in the U.S. that are operated by foreign carmakers and Tesla, as well as future plants that will make batteries for electric vehicles.

The union said Ford agreed to put workers at a future battery plant in Michigan under the UAW’s master contract, and GM agreed to do so with work at Ultium Cells, a joint venture between the company and LG Energy Solution of South Korea.

Fain vowed Sunday that the union will “organize like we’ve never organized before” at nonunion plants.

“When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with the Big Three but with the Big Five or the Big Six,” he said in an online message to union members. 

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Southern California Wildfire Prompts Evacuation Order for Thousands as Santa Ana Winds Fuel Flames

A wildfire fueled by gusty Santa Ana winds ripped through rural land southeast of Los Angeles on Monday, forcing about 4,000 people from their homes, fire authorities said.


The so-called Highland Fire erupted at about 12:45 p.m. in dry, brushy hills near the unincorporated Riverside County hamlet of Aguanga.

As of late Monday night, it had spread over about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers) of land, fire spokesman Jeff LaRusso said.

About 1,300 homes and 4,000 residents were under evacuation orders, he said.

The fire had destroyed three buildings and damaged six others but it wasn’t clear whether any were homes. The region is sparsely populated but there are horse ranches and a large mobile home site, LaRusso said.

No injuries were reported.

Winds of 20 to 25 miles per hour (32 to 40 kph) with some higher gusts drove the flames and embers through grass and brush that were dried out by recent winds and low humidity so that it was “almost like kindling” for the blaze, LaRusso said.

The winds were expected to ease somewhat overnight and fire crews would attempt to box in the blaze, LaRusso said.

But, he added: “Wind trumps everything. Hopefully the forecast holds.”

A large air tanker, bulldozers and other resources were called in to fight the fire, one of the few large and active blazes to have erupted so far in California’s year-round fire season, LaRusso said.

Southern California was seeing its first significant Santa Ana wind condition. The strong, hot, dry, dust-bearing winds typically descend to the Pacific Coast from inland desert regions during the fall. They have fueled some of the largest and most damaging fires in recent California history.

The National Weather Service said Riverside County could see winds of 15 to 25 mph (24 to 40 kph) through Tuesday with gusts as high as 40 miles per hour (64 kph). The weather service issued a red flag warning of extreme fire danger through Tuesday afternoon for parts of Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

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Thousands Brave Cold, Rain to Welcome World Champion Springboks 

Thousands of South Africans braved cold, wet weather to greet the Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks when they arrived in Johannesburg on Tuesday.   

Many wore green and gold, the colors of the national team, as they filled every available space at OR Tambo airport to greet the record four-time world champions.   

South Africa edged greatest rivals New Zealand 12-11 in a gripping final in Paris last Saturday to achieve back-to-back titles after also winning the 1995 and 2007 title deciders.   

Supporters cheered in unison as captain Siya Kolisi emerged into the public area, waved at the crowd while holding the Webb Ellis Cup, and took selfies with jubilant supporters.   

“Thank you to the people of South Africa. We have had a long and tough 20 weeks, but it was worth it,” said Kolisi, a loose forward and the first black Test captain of the Springboks.   

“This triumph has been six years in the planning. Winning the World Cup in 2019 was an unexpected bonus as the ultimate goal was always to be champions in 2023.”   

Many waved signs reading “Bokke [Springboks], a bunch of winners”, as loud music played in the background creating a party atmosphere. A band played the national anthem.   

The latest success brought joy to a country battling unemployment, electricity, water and crime crises.   

Rugby is one of the three most popular sports in South Africa, but the only one to regularly deliver trophies.   

The football team has not triumphed since winning the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations while the cricket side has yet to win a world title in any format.   

“We love them so much, they made us proud,” said Excellent George, 42, who was at the airport with her Springbok-flag-holding husband Rudy.   

“With our country having a lot of problems, sport, and especially rugby, bring us together,” she added.   

Susan, a 56-year-old accountant who preferred to give only her first name, said she took a day off work to see her heroes up close.   

Like many in the country she said she saw the team as a unifying force able to bridge racial and social divides in the country.   

“I just could not miss it,” she said wearing a green and gold fleece jacket and flanked by a friend sporting a similar outfit.   

“We have players from all backgrounds, all races and watching those people on the field just brings us so much hope. It gives me goosebumps just to think about it,” she said. 


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UN Peacekeepers Leave Strategic Camp in Northern Mali 

U.N. soldiers Tuesday left a camp in the strategic town of Kidal in Mali’s volatile north, which has been wracked by jihadist and separatist violence, several sources in the peacekeeping mission told AFP.   

“We left Kidal this morning,” a source in the U.N. peacekeeping mission based in the town said.    

Following a coup in 2020, Mali’s new military rulers in June ordered the peacekeepers out, proclaiming the “failure” of their mission.   

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), whose strength has hovered around 15,000 soldiers and police officers, has seen 180 of its members killed.  

The original plan was for the peacekeeping force to have withdrawn from the West African nation by the end of the year, but the UN troops began withdrawing from their compounds as early as July.   

The U.N. peacekeeping force says it has had to destroy or decommission equipment such as vehicles, ammunition and generators that it was unable to take away, in accordance with UN rules.   

The MINUSMA withdrawal has exacerbated rivalries between armed groups present in the north of the country and the Malian state.   

These groups do not want the UN camps handed back to the Malian army, saying such a move would contravene ceasefire and peace deals struck with Bamako in 2014 and 2015.   

However the army is pushing to take back control of the evacuated camps.   

The predominantly Tuareg separatist groups who oppose the army have resumed hostilities against it.    

The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM) has also stepped up attacks against the military.   

That means that MINUSMA’s pull-out is all the more perilous, taking place against the background of this renewal of hostilities — and on what are perceived to be restrictions imposed by the authorities on its ability to maneuver. 


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Europe’s Inflation Eased to 2.9% in October, but Growth Vanished 

The inflation that has been wearing on European consumers fell sharply to 2.9% in October, its lowest in more than two years as fuel prices fell and rapid interest rate hikes from the European Central Bank took hold.

But that encouraging news was balanced by official figures showing economic output in the 20 countries that use the euro shrank by 0.1% in the July-September quarter.

Inflation fell from an annual 4.3% in September as fuel prices fell by 11.1% and painful food inflation slowed, to 7.5%.

The drop to under 3% is down from the peak of over 10% in October 2022 and puts the inflation figure at least within shouting distance of the European Central Bank’s target of 2% considered best for the economy.

But growth disappeared as output shrank after months of stagnation near zero.

Germany, the largest of the 20 countries that use the euro, saw its economy output fall by 0.1%, while No. 2 economy France only scraped out 0.1% growth, slowing from 0.6% in the previous quarter.

The lower inflation figure follows a rapid series of interest rate hikes by the European Central Bank. Higher central bank rates are the typical medicine against inflation that’s too high. They influence borrowing costs throughout the economy, raising the cost of credit for purchases such as homes or for expanding factories or offices. That reduces the demand for goods and thus restrains price increases.

But high rates can also slow growth. In recent months they have slammed credit-sensitive sectors like construction of new houses and business facilities. Meanwhile lingering inflation has still been high enough to hold back spending by consumers who had to set more money aside for necessaries like food and utility bills.

This burst of inflation was set off as the global economy rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to shortages of parts and raw materials. It got worse when Russian invaded Ukraine, sending energy prices soaring as Moscow cut off most natural gas to Europe.

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Ukrainian Family Murdered in Russian-Occupied Donetsk Region

Ukraine says a family of nine were shot and killed in their home in the Russian-occupied eastern town of Volnovakha.

Photographs of the home issued by authorities depict a gruesome crime scene, with the victims lying dead in their beds amid blood-splattered walls.

The Ukrainian-backed prosecutor’s office in Donetsk province, home to Volnovakha, says the murders occurred after the owner refused a demand by a group of men in military uniforms to vacate the house so Russians forces could stay there.  The office says the victims include two young children. 

Russian investigators say two soldiers from Russia’s Far East are being held in connection with the murders. The soldiers had signed contracts with Russia’s military to serve in Ukraine.  

Volnovakha has been occupied by Russian forces shortly after they launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  Pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk regions took over government buildings in 2014 and proclaimed the regions as independent “people’s republics.”

The move followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The murders come as Ukrainian and Russian troops are engaged in a fierce standoff in eastern Ukraine as the war stretches into its second year.

Russian forces have launched a new offensive campaign around the city of Bakhmut, especially near the strategic town of Avdiivka.

A Ukrainian counteroffensive begun in June has made slow progress, recapturing several hundred square kilometers of territory.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters. 


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UAW Reaches Deal With GM, Ending Strike Against Detroit Automakers

General Motors and the United Auto Workers (UAW) struck a tentative deal on Monday, ending the union’s unprecedented six-week campaign of coordinated strikes that won record pay increases for workers at the Detroit Three automakers.

The accord follows deals the union reached in recent days with Ford and Chrysler-owner Stellantis— significant victories for auto workers after years of stagnant wages and painful concessions following the 2008 financial crisis.

“We wholeheartedly believe our strike squeezed every last dime out of General Motors,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a video address. “They underestimated us. They underestimated you.”

The union officially suspended its strike against the Detroit Three. UAW local leaders will come to Detroit on Friday to consider the deal with GM, before taking terms to all union workers for ratification.

“We are looking forward to having everyone back to work across all of our operations,” said GM CEO Mary Barra.

The new contracts will significantly raise costs for the automakers. The companies and some analysts have said the deals will make it harder for the Detroit Three to compete with electric-vehicle leader Tesla and nonunion foreign brands such as Toyota Motor.

The UAW won from GM roughly the same package of wage increases agreed with the other two automakers. Pay for veteran workers will rise by 33% and GM will give $2,500 in five payments to retirees through 2028.

Sources have said pension benefits were a sticking point in the UAW’s negotiations with GM, which has more retirees than Ford or Stellantis.

Fain said the union’s move on Saturday to strike a key GM engine factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee, “landed the knockout blow” that got the deal.

The contract reverses years of efforts by GM to create lower-paid groups of UAW workers at units such as component plants, parts warehouses and electric vehicle battery operations. It puts workers at GM’s battery joint-venture with South Korea’s LG Energy under the national agreement.

Fain said some workers at GM’s component operations will get pay increases of as much as 89%.

The contract also restricts use of lower paid temporary workers. “We have slammed the door on having a permanent underclass of temporary workers at GM,” Fain said.

The UAW also gained more sway over the companies’ investment decisions by securing the right to strike over future plant closures.

All three companies have said they do not plan to close existing factories as they shift to EVs. Yet the contract could force them to keep unprofitable plants open during a recession or period of slow sales for new models.

Higher costs

A series of walkouts began on Sept. 15, and nearly 50,000 workers out of nearly 150,000 UAW members at the Detroit automakers eventually joined. The strategy of escalating strikes cost the Detroit Three and suppliers billions of dollars.

UAW leaders called their contract fight part of a larger movement to reverse decades of economic setbacks for working-class Americans. Some analysts agreed.

“This is more than an auto industry story; it is a signal to the entire country that unionized workers can demand and get big wage increases,” said Patrick Anderson of the Anderson Economic Group.

The new contract will cost GM $7 billion over 4.5 years in higher labor costs, two sources told Reuters. Ford said last week it would add $850 to $900 per vehicle in labor costs.

“Consumers will bear some of the cost burden over time … automakers will not have an easy time passing along all of the costs … and will have to seek efficiencies in other ways, or further limit production to more expensive vehicles that can absorb higher labor costs,” Cox Automotive’s chief economist, Jonathan Smoke, said.

Praise from Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden and politicians from both parties weighed in to support the UAW as the union’s fight gained popularity with voters. Michigan will again be a crucial swing state in the 2024 presidential election, and Fain made support for the union’s fight a condition of winning his endorsement. The UAW still has not formally endorsed Biden’s re-election.

“This historic contract is a testament to the power of unions and collective bargaining to build strong middle-class jobs while helping our most iconic American companies thrive,” Biden said in a statement. His aides had worried that a prolonged strike would damage the U.S. economy and the Democratic president’s chances of re-election in 2024.

The UAW has said it is committed to organizing workforces at other carmakers, making negotiations in 2028 between the union and the “Big Five or Big Six.”

Momentum toward deals accelerated over the past two weeks after UAW workers walked out at three of the most profitable factories in the world. The UAW eventually struck against nine plants.

“We have shown the companies, the American public and the whole world that the working class is not done fighting” Fain said. “In fact, we’re just getting started.”


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White House Welcomes Restoration of Telecoms, Some Aid, into Gaza

The White House welcomed the limited flow of humanitarian aid and the restoration of telecommunications in Gaza as Israel continued its ground offensive on Gaza in response to militant group Hamas’ October 7 attack. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from the White House.

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Spanish Soccer Official Who Kissed Unwilling Star Player Is Banned for Three Years

The Spanish soccer official who provoked a players’ rebellion and reckoning on gender when he kissed an unwilling star player on the lips at the Women’s World Cup final trophy ceremony was banned for three years on Monday by the sport’s global governing body.

Luis Rubiales’ conduct at the Aug. 20 final in Australia — and his defiant refusal to resign as Spanish soccer federation president for three weeks — distracted many people from the women’s career-defining title win.

Rubiales is now barred from working in soccer until after the men’s 2026 World Cup. His ban will expire before the next women’s tournament in 2027.

Spanish authorities have launched a criminal investigation against Rubiales for kissing Jenni Hermoso on the lips after the team’s 1-0 victory over England in Sydney, and his conduct in the fallout from the scandal.

Spanish prosecutors have formally accused Rubiales of sexual assault and coercion. Hermoso said that Rubiales pressured her to speak out in his defense amid the global furor.

Rubiales denied wrongdoing to a judge in Madrid who imposed a restraining order for him not to contact Hermoso, the record goal scorer for the Spain women’s team.

FIFA has said it was investigating whether Rubiales violated “basic rules of decent conduct” and “behaving in a way that brings the sport of football and/or FIFA into disrepute.”

In another incident, at the final whistle in Sydney Rubiales grabbed his crotch as a victory gesture while he was in an exclusive section of seats and Queen Letizia of Spain and 16-year-old Princess Sofía were standing nearby.

A third incident FIFA judges cited to remove Rubiales from office during their investigation — “carrying the Spanish player Athenea del Castillo over his shoulder during the post-match celebrations” — was detailed in a ruling to explain why he was provisionally suspended.

Women’s soccer has seen allegations of sexual misconduct by male soccer presidents and coaches against female players on national teams.

Two of the 32 World Cup teams, Haiti and Zambia, had to deal with such issues while qualifying for the tournament co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

Even before the Women’s World Cup, Rubiales — a former professional player and union leader — had been the target of unproven allegations of a sexual nature about his managerial culture, including at the national federation he led since 2018.

The Spanish players’ preparation for the Women’s World Cup also was in turmoil in the year ahead of the tournament because of their dissatisfaction with the leadership of their male coach, Jorge Vilda.

Vilda was supported by Rubiales to stay in the job despite 15 players asking last year not to be called up again because of the emotional pain it meant to play for the team. Three continued their self-imposed exile and refused to be selected for the World Cup.

As the Rubiales scandal continued into September, with lawmakers supporting the players, Vilda was fired by the federation’s interim management.

Rubiales resigned from his jobs in soccer on Sept. 10 after three weeks of defiance that increased pressure on him from the Spanish government and national-team players.

He also gave up his vice presidency of European soccer body UEFA which paid him $265,000 a year. One day later UEFA thanked Rubiales for his service in a statement that offered no backing to the women players.

When Rubiales resigned, he said he did not want to be a distraction from Spain’s bid to host the men’s 2030 World Cup in a UEFA-backed project with Portugal and Morocco.

That bid has since been picked by FIFA as the only candidate to host the 2030 tournament in a plan that now also includes its former opponents Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The Morocco soccer federation that partnered with Spain on the men’s 2030 World Cup later hired Vilda to coach its women’s national team. The Morocco women were a standout story at their World Cup reaching the last-16 knockout round in their tournament debut.

The quick forgiveness of Vilda fueled the view that soccer administrators’ actions often do not meet their claims of zero-tolerance of misconduct.

Rubiales can choose to appeal his three-year ban, first to FIFA and subsequently at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

FIFA said Rubiales has 10 days to request the full written verdict in his case which it would then publish.

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Biden Signs Sweeping Executive Order on AI Oversight

President Joe Biden on Monday signed a wide-ranging executive order on artificial intelligence, covering topics as varied as national security, consumer privacy, civil rights and commercial competition. The administration heralded the order as taking “vital steps forward in the U.S.’s approach on safe, secure, and trustworthy AI.”

The order directs departments and agencies across the U.S. federal government to develop policies aimed at placing guardrails alongside an industry that is developing newer and more powerful systems at a pace rate that has many concerned it will outstrip effective regulation.

“To realize the promise of AI and avoid the risk, we need to govern this technology,” Biden said during a signing ceremony at the White House. The order, he added, is “the most significant action any government anywhere in the world has ever taken on AI safety, security and trust.” 

‘Red teaming’ for security 

One of the marquee requirements of the new order is that it will require companies developing advanced artificial intelligence systems to conduct rigorous testing of their products to ensure that bad actors cannot use them for nefarious purposes. The process, known as red teaming, will assess, among other things, “AI systems threats to critical infrastructure, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and cybersecurity risks.” 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology will set the standards for such testing, and AI companies will be required to report their results to the federal government prior to releasing new products to the public. The Departments of Homeland Security and Energy will be closely involved in the assessment of threats to vital infrastructure. 

To counter the threat that AI will enable the creation and dissemination of false and misleading information, including computer-generated images and “deep fake” videos, the Commerce Department will develop guidance for the creation of standards that will allow computer-generated content to be easily identified, a process commonly called “watermarking.” 

The order directs the White House chief of staff and the National Security Council to develop a set of guidelines for the responsible and ethical use of AI systems by the U.S. national defense and intelligence agencies.

Privacy and civil rights

The order proposes a number of steps meant to increase Americans’ privacy protections when AI systems access information about them. That includes supporting the development of privacy-protecting technologies such as cryptography and creating rules for how government agencies handle data containing citizens’ personally identifiable information.

However, the order also notes that the United States is currently in need of legislation that codifies the kinds of data privacy protections that Americans are entitled to. Currently, the U.S. lags far behind Europe in the development of such rules, and the order calls on Congress to “pass bipartisan data privacy legislation to protect all Americans, especially kids.”

The order recognizes that the algorithms that enable AI to process information and answer users’ questions can themselves be biased in ways that disadvantage members of minority groups and others often subject to discrimination. It therefore calls for the creation of rules and best practices addressing the use of AI in a variety of areas, including the criminal justice system, health care system and housing market.

The order covers several other areas, promising action on protecting Americans whose jobs may be affected by the adoption of AI technology; maintaining the United States’ market leadership in the creation of AI systems; and assuring that the federal government develops and follows rules for its own adoption of AI systems.

Open questions

Experts say that despite the broad sweep of the executive order, much remains unclear about how the Biden administration will approach the regulations of AI in practice.

Benjamin Boudreaux, a policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, told VOA that while it is clear the administration is “trying to really wrap their arms around the full suite of AI challenges and risks,” much work remains to be done.

“The devil is in the details here about what funding and resources go to executive branch agencies to actually enact many of these recommendations, and just what models a lot of the norms and recommendations suggested here will apply to,” Boudreaux said.

International leadership

Looking internationally, the order says the administration will work to take the lead in developing “an effort to establish robust international frameworks for harnessing AI’s benefits and managing its risks and ensuring safety.”

James A. Lewis, senior vice president and director of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA that the executive order does a good job of laying out where the U.S. stands on many important issues related to the global development of AI.

“It hits all the right issues,” Lewis said. “It’s not groundbreaking in a lot of places, but it puts down the marker for companies and other countries as to how the U.S. is going to approach AI.”

That’s important, Lewis said, because the U.S. is likely to play a leading role in the development of the international rules and norms that grow up around the technology.

“Like it or not — and certainly some countries don’t like it — we are the leaders in AI,” Lewis said. “There’s a benefit to being the place where the technology is made when it comes to making the rules, and the U.S. can take advantage of that.”

‘Fighting the last war’ 

Not all experts are certain the Biden administration’s focus is on the real threats that AI might present to consumers and citizens. 

Louis Rosenberg, a 30-year veteran of AI development and the CEO of American tech firm Unanimous AI, told VOA he is concerned the administration may be “fighting the last war.”

“I think it’s great that they’re making a bold statement that this is a very important issue,” Rosenberg said. “It definitely shows that the administration is taking it seriously and that they want to protect the public from AI.”

However, he said, when it comes to consumer protection, the administration seems focused on how AI might be used to advance existing threats to consumers, like fake images and videos and convincing misinformation — things that already exist today.

“When it comes to regulating technology, the government has a track record of underestimating what’s new about the technology,” he said.

Rosenberg said he is more concerned about the new ways in which AI might be used to influence people. For example, he noted that AI systems are being built to interact with people conversationally.

“Very soon, we’re not going to be typing in requests into Google. We’re going to be talking to an interactive AI bot,” Rosenberg said. “AI systems are going to be really effective at persuading, manipulating, potentially even coercing people conversationally on behalf of whomever is directing that AI. This is the new and different threat that did not exist before AI.” 

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Ukraine Says It Is Ready to Repel Russia’s Offensive Actions in Bakhmut

Kyiv military officials said on Monday that Russia has bulked up its forces around the devastated city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine and has switched its troops from defense to offense, but Ukraine has been preparing to repel the attacks.

Russia captured Bakhmut, theater of some of the bloodiest fighting of the 20-month-old war, in May. Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in June aimed at retaking occupied land in the country’s south and east, including Bakhmut.

“In the Bakhmut area, the enemy has significantly strengthened its grouping and switched from defense to active actions,” General Oleksandr Syrskyi, Ukraine’s commander of ground forces, wrote on Telegram.

Volodymyr Fityo, head of communications for Ukraine’s ground forces command, said Russian forces had been preparing since early this month to retake positions around Bakhmut lost during the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

“We saw this, the intelligence reported everything. We had been preparing, strengthening our defensive positions, engineering fortifications and pulling up reserves,” Fityo told Reuters by telephone. “This does not come as a surprise for us.”

Both men said Russian forces were particularly active near the Ukrainian-held town of Kupiansk in the northeast, where Fityo said Russia had numerical superiority.

Reuters could not independently verify accounts on the battlefield.

In its nightly report, the Ukrainian General Staff said Kyiv’s forces remained on the offensive near Bakhmut.

“The enemy unsuccessfully tried to restore lost positions near Klishchiivka,” it said, referring to a village south of Bakhmut recaptured by Ukraine in September.

Russian troops also tried to advance in Synkivka, north of Kupiansk, but made no headway, it added.

Russia has also been concentrating much of its efforts in recent weeks on a bid to encircle and capture Avdiivka, a strategic town southwest of Bakhmut.

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Dutch Prime Minister: F-16s for Ukraine to Arrive in Romania Within Two Weeks

The first U.S.-made F-16 combat aircraft the Netherlands is donating to Ukraine will arrive in Romania’s training center within two weeks, outgoing Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Monday. 

“I expect the Patriot missiles to be delivered shortly, to aid Ukraine in the upcoming winter. And the same speed applies to the F-16s,” Rutte during a video conference with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy posted on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter. 

“The first ones will be shipped to the training center in Romania within the next two weeks so that day we will get ready for further training,” he added. 

Denmark, Norway and Belgium have also announced they will give F-16 jets to Ukraine. 

“What is happening now in Gaza and the terrorist attack on Israel and all the follow-up from that will not, shall not and cannot distract us from what is happening between you and Russia, the fact that you are fighting off the Russia aggression,” Rutte said. 

“We have to make sure that the world is able to focus both on Ukraine and of course is involved very much of what is happening now in the Middle East,” he added. 

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Israel Pulls Diplomats From Turkey as Erdogan Ramps Up Hamas Support

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is ramping up his support of Hamas, prompting Israel to withdraw its diplomats. In a move analysts say is aimed at mitigating criticism by Western allies, Erdogan has taken a step to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership. But experts warn Erdogan may have miscalculated. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul.

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Malian Artists Decry Suspension of French Cultural Exchange

Adiara Traore was due to travel to France with an international dance troupe before France suspended visa services in Mali, and the French Ministry of Culture asked the country’s artistic union to “suspend cooperation” with artists from Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. Amid tensions between France and Sahelian juntas, Malian artists and their supporters are asking the French government to allow artists to continue the cultural exchange that has flourished between Mali and France for years. Annie Risemberg reports.

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Illinois Man Pleads Not Guilty in Attack on Muslim Mother, Son

A man accused of murder, attempted murder and a hate crime in an attack on a Palestinian American woman and her young son pleaded not guilty Monday following his indictment by an Illinois grand jury. 

Joseph Czuba, 71, is charged in the fatal stabbing of six-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and the wounding of Hanaan Shahin on October 14. Authorities said the victims were targeted because of their Muslim faith and as a response to the war between Israel and Hamas. 

Shahin told police that Czuba, her landlord in Plainfield in Will County, was upset over the war and attacked them after she had urged him to “pray for peace.” 

Czuba appeared in court Monday wearing a red jail uniform, socks and yellow rubber slippers. 

His attorney George Lenard entered the not guilty plea after the judge read the 8-count indictment. Czuba did not speak, looking down at the podium with his hands folded behind his back as he stood before the judge in the court in Joliet, 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Chicago. 

Shahin, 32, is recovering from multiple stab wounds. Hundreds of people attended her son’s funeral on October 16 where he was remembered as an energetic boy who loved playing games. He had recently had a birthday. 

The boy’s father and other family members attended the hearing. They declined to speak to reporters. 

The murder charge in the indictment against Czuba describes the boy’s death as the result of “exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior.” The attack on the family — which renewed anti-Islamic fears in the Chicago area’s large and established Palestinian community — has drawn condemnation from the White House. 

Judge David Carlson ruled that Czuba will remain detained as he awaits a January 8 court hearing. 

In arguing to keep Czuba detained, Will County Assistant State’s Attorney Michael Fitzgerald said Czuba was a danger to Shahin and others. 

“We also believe he is a threat to the safety of the community,” he said. 

Czuba’s attorneys disagreed, citing Czuba’s age and the fact that he is a veteran without any criminal convictions. 

Lenard and Fitzgerald declined to comment to reporters after the hearing. 

Shahin asked the public to “pray for peace” and said her son was her best friend in a statement issued last week through the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 

The attack comes amid rising hostility against Muslim and Jewish communities in the U.S. since Hamas attacked Israel. 

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