US-built pier will be put back in Gaza for several days to move aid, then permanently removed

WASHINGTON — The pier built by the U.S. military to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza will be reinstalled Wednesday to be used for several days, but then the plan is to pull it out permanently, several U.S. officials said. It would deal the final blow to a project long plagued by bad weather, security uncertainties and difficulties getting food into the hands of starving Palestinians.

The officials said the goal is to clear whatever aid has piled up in Cyprus and on the floating dock offshore and get it to the secure area on the beach in Gaza. Once that has been done, the Army will dismantle the pier and depart. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because final details are still being worked out.

Officials had hoped the pier would provide a critical flow of aid to starving residents in Gaza as the nine-month-long war drags on. But while more than 8.6 million kilograms of food has gotten into Gaza via the pier, the project has been hampered by persistent heavy seas and stalled deliveries due to ongoing security threats as Israeli troops continue their offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

The decision comes as Israeli troops make another push deeper into Gaza City, which Hamas says could threaten long-running negotiations over a cease-fire and hostage release, after the two sides had appeared to have narrowed the gaps in recent days.

U.S. troops removed the pier on June 28 because of bad weather and moved it to the port of Ashdod in Israel. But distribution of the aid had already stopped due to security concerns.

The United Nations suspended deliveries from the pier on June 9, a day after the Israeli military used the area around it for airlifts after a hostage rescue that killed more than 270 Palestinians. U.S. and Israeli officials said no part of the pier itself was used in the raid, but U.N. officials said any perception in Gaza that the project was used may endanger their aid work.

As a result, aid brought through the pier into the secure area on the beach piled up for days while talks continued between the U.N. and Israel. More recently, the World Food Program hired a contractor to move the aid from the beach to prevent the food and other supplies from spoiling.

The Pentagon said all along that the pier was only a temporary project, designed to prod Israel into opening and allowing aid to flow better through land routes — which are far more productive than the U.S.-led sea route.

And the weather now is projected only to get worse.

The pier was damaged by high winds and heavy seas on May 25, just a bit more than a week after it began operating, and was removed for repairs. It was reconnected on June 7, but removed again due to bad weather on June 14. It was put back days later, but heavy seas again forced its removal on June 28.

Biden launches NATO summit with sober warning about global threats

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday welcomed NATO leaders and heralded the alliance’s 75th anniversary while making the case for peace through strength amid the largest challenge to peace Europe has faced in decades. Other administration officials made similar arguments for bolstering defense to fight global threats. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from Washington

Biden: Ukraine to get 5 more air defense systems

Pentagon — Ukraine is receiving five additional air defense systems to protect its sovereign territory, including three additional Patriot batteries from the United States, Germany and Romania.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced the five systems as NATO members commemorated the 75th anniversary of the alliance during a summit in Washington.

Allies marked the anniversary at Mellon Auditorium, the site of the original signing of the North Atlantic treaty that established the defensive bloc in 1949.

Topping the summit agenda is support for Ukraine’s battle against Russia’s illegal invasion.

The Netherlands and other partners are donating Patriot components to build a fourth Patriot battery, while Italy is donating an additional SAMP-T system, according to a joint statement Tuesday by the leaders of the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania and Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told NATO members in April that Ukraine needed a minimum of seven Patriot or other high-end air defense systems to counter Russian air strikes.

NATO allies say they are coordinating closely with Kyiv to make these systems available as soon as possible. They also said they are working to make another announcement about additional strategic air defense systems for Ukraine later this year.

“Not even our support for Ukraine has been a given,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday. “The reality is there are no cost-free options with an aggressive Russia as a neighbor. There are no risk-free options in a war, and remember, the biggest cost and the greatest risk will be if Russia wins in Ukraine.”

Since the U.S. Congress approved new aid for Ukraine following months of delays, the United States has provided Ukraine with hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment pulled from U.S. stockpiles, including the additional Patriot battery announced Tuesday and multiple rounds of long-range missiles known as ATACMS, two U.S. officials told VOA.

The ATACMS have a range of up to 300 kilometers (about 185 miles) and nearly double the striking distance of Ukraine’s missiles.

In addition, the U.S. has provided billions of dollars of funding for Kyiv’s long-term defense needs, including last week’s $2.2 billion Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package that is being used to purchase interceptors for NASAMS (medium-range ground-based air defense system) and Patriot air defense systems for Ukraine. 

Federal Reserve’s Powell says US making ‘modest’ progress on inflation

Washington — The U.S. Federal Reserve is making “modest” progress in its inflation fight, the head of the U.S. central bank told lawmakers Tuesday, on the first of two days of testimony in Congress.

When prices surged in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fed responded by hiking interest rates to a two-decade high as it attempts to cool down the U.S. economy and return inflation to its long-term target of two percent.

Inflation has eased significantly since it peaked in 2022, but progress stalled in the first quarter of this year, effectively putting the Fed’s fight on pause.

The data in the second quarter has been more encouraging, prompting some cautious optimism from some policymakers in recent weeks.

Speaking in Washington on Tuesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell told lawmakers on the Senate Banking Committee that the most recent readings “have shown some modest further progress” since the first quarter of the year.

“More good data would strengthen our confidence that inflation is moving sustainably toward two percent,” he added, according to prepared remarks.

The Fed is widely expected to hold interest rates again when it meets to set interest rates later this month, but could begin cutting rates in September.

Futures traders have assigned a probability of more than 75% that the Fed will make its first rate cut by September.

Ukrainian boxer sacrificed Olympic dreams and life to fight against Russia

Romny, Ukraine — Maksym Halinichev won silver at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in a match described at the time as “two of the best young fighters going for glory.” He considered the bout a loss – it wasn’t gold, after all – but it gave him a map for the future.

So Halinichev made plans: He would defeat that boxer the next time around. He would teach his daughter the basics of his sport so she could defend herself. And he would win a medal for Ukraine at the Paris Olympics.

Halinchev outlined those ambitions as an athlete in an interview for the Ukraine Boxing Federation website in December 2021, as Russian troops were already massing at Ukraine’s borders.

Asked if he was afraid before a fight, he described his thinking.

“Fear can influence people in various ways. Some people are paralyzed by it. Some react by becoming more liberated,” he said then. “If you can control yourself and your body and if you can set yourself the right way, then the fear will retreat.”

He’ll not get to prove that philosophy in the Olympic ring in Paris.

Halinichev signed up as a soldier and was killed at the front in March 2023 at age 22, one of more than 400 athletes killed since the outbreak of the war. His body has yet to be recovered.

As one of Ukraine’s most promising boxing prospects, Halinichev could have been shielded from the war. Ukraine has sent many of its Olympic hopefuls to train abroad ahead of the Summer Games. But not everyone wants to be saved. Some choose to defend their country’s honor on the battlefield instead of the sports arena.

Halinichev’s attitude toward fear remained intact after the full-scale Russian invasion, but his priorities changed.

It happened during a drive in April 2022 from his home region of Sumy to Kyiv, where he had planned to train for the next European championship. Russia had just retreated from the region, and all along the highway, he saw towns and villages ripped apart by Russian troops during their brief occupation, said his coach Bohdan Dmytrenko.

“I have a little child. I don’t want her to live in occupation among the aggressor, among the Russians,” Halinichev told another of his coaches, Volodymyr Vinnikov.

“I said, Maksym, please listen to me, you are still a representative of Ukrainian boxing, you also defend the honor of Ukraine. The flag, the anthem — it’s also very important,” Vinnikov recounted.

“You won’t convince me. I’ve made this decision. I will learn to shoot,” Halinichev told him.

Boxing was still important to him, but he wanted more, said his life partner, Polina Ihrak. Sumy, a border region, was still under attack despite the Russian withdrawal. Kherson, where he trained, was under Russian occupation and reports of the suffering of Ukrainians there were trickling back.

“He couldn’t understand how his friends, coaches who were in Kherson, were left without the ability to live, let alone train, and he would go somewhere in Europe,” Ihrak said. “He couldn’t let himself do it. It mattered to him.”

In May 2022, at 21 years old, Halinichev joined the airborne assault troops, according to Ukraine’s Boxing Federation. He was wounded before the year ended near Bakhmut, with an injury to his foot and shrapnel embedded so deeply in his leg that doctors couldn’t remove it.

While recovering, Halinichev spent time with his coach but avoided discussing what he saw in the war. Everyone hoped he would quit the army, but Halinichev returned to the battlefield with his wounds unhealed.

“He believed he had to return to his brothers in arms because he was needed,” said Ihrak, the mother of their daughter, Vasilisa.

Halinichev and Ihrak last spoke by video call on March 9, 2023. Days without contact became weeks. She tried calling Halinichev and his commander. Neither answered.

She took to scrolling through Russian Telegram channels, looking for his face among battlefield photos of the dead and injured. One photo stood out, of a body in the forest.

“His mom recognized him immediately, but I didn’t because I guess I refused to acknowledge it,” Ihrak said. He was killed on March 10, 2023, in Luhansk, a region now almost entirely under Russian control.

At a recent commemoration for her father in the gym where he used to train, the 4-year-old Vasilisa bounced joyfully around the boxing ring, wearing oversized gloves that dwarfed her small hands.

It will not be her father who teaches her how to fight, but Ihrak couldn’t imagine Halinichev would do anything differently.

“People go there (to the front) not to regret but to change something,” Ihrak said. “He went back without any doubt.”

Among others who died fighting for Ukraine: pistol shooters Ivan Bidnyak, who won silver at the European Championships, and Yehor Kihitov, a member of Ukraine’s national team; Stanislav Hulenkov, a 22-year-old judoka whose body was identified 10 months after he was killed; and weightlifter Oleksandr Pielieshenko, who represented Ukraine at the Rio Olympics in 2016. A Russian missile strike on Dnipro killed acrobatics coach Anastasia Ihnatenko, her husband and their 18-month-old son.

Vinnikov, who coached Halinichev in 2017, has no doubt that the young man would be representing his country at the Paris Games that open July 26 had the invasion not derailed his plans. “He would have won a medal for his country,” the coach said emphatically.

He had huge potential: gold medal at the 2017 European Youth Championships, silver medal at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, silver medal at the 2021 European Under-22 Championships.

In his empty apartment in the town of Shostka, his parents have filled a room with proof of what he’d already achieved: trophies and medals from 2010 to 2021, neatly arranged on a shelf.

His photograph stands in the corner along with a candle, his childhood pictures, a religious icon and flowers. His boxing gloves rest nearby.

But Halinichev’s parents don’t live there anymore. Since the war, they’ve remade their lives in the Czech Republic. Ihrak is contemplating a move to Germany.

Dmytrenko, his coach, keeps his photos of Halinichev neatly arranged in folders and still has the archive of their messages to each other. He recalled a moment just before the war where he was praising Halinichev’s achievements.

Halinichev simply replied: “Everything is still ahead.”

French parties scramble for influence after inconclusive vote

Paris — French parties sought to project strength and gather allies on Tuesday, with the government adrift following an election in which no one political force claimed a clear majority.

Having defied expectations to top the polls, new MPs from the left-wing New Popular Front (NFP) alliance began showing up to visit their new workplaces in parliament ahead of a first session on July 18.

But the coalition of Greens, Socialists, Communists and the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) is still debating over who to put forward as a potential prime minister and whether it could be open to working in a broader coalition.

Combined, the left-leaning parties’ hold 193 of 577 seats in the National Assembly and are well short of the 289-seat threshold for a majority.

Nevertheless, members plan to name a potential prime minister “by the end of the week,” leading LFI figure Mathilde Panot said.

In the French system, the president nominates the prime minister, who must be able to survive a confidence vote in parliament — a tricky proposition with three closely-balanced political forces in play.

Any left-leaning government would need “broader support in the National Assembly,” influential Socialist MP Boris Vallaud acknowledged in an interview with broadcaster France Inter.

Macron’s camp came second in Sunday’s vote, taking 164 seats after voters came together to block the far-right National Rally (RN) from power.

This left the anti-immigration, anti-Brussels outfit in third place with 143 MPs.

The president has kept Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s government in place for now, hoping horse-trading in the coming days and weeks could leave an opening for him to reclaim the initiative.

However, “there has been an institutional shift. Everyone thinks it’s up to the newly-elected National Assembly to bring forth a solution, which (Macron) would simply have to accept,” wrote commentator Guillaume Tabard in conservative daily Le Figaro.

‘None can govern alone’

In a sign that some divisions remain, the left parties’ MPs planned to enter the parliament at different times throughout the day.

The Socialists are still hoping to glean a few more members for their group to outweigh LFI and have a greater say over the alliance’s direction.

Meanwhile, members of Macron’s camp were eyeing both the centre-left Socialists and conservative Republicans as possible allies of convenience for a new centrist-dominated coalition.

“None of the three leading blocs can govern alone,” Stephane Sejourne, head of Macron’s Renaissance party, wrote in daily Le Monde.

“The centrist bloc is ready to talk to all the members of the republican spectrum,” he added — while naming red lines including that coalition members must support the EU and Ukraine and maintain business-friendly policies.

These requirements, he warned, “necessarily exclude LFI” and its caustic founder Jean-Luc Melenchon.

Markets are paying close attention to the EU’s second-largest economy.

Ratings agency Moody’s warned it could downgrade its credit score for France’s more than three-trillion-euro debt pile if a future government reverses Macron’s widely-loathed 2023 pension reform, echoing a Monday warning from S&P on the deficit.

What next?

Even as politicians struggle to define the immediate path ahead, eyes are also already turning to the next time French voters will be called to the polls.

Macron’s term expires in 2027 and he cannot run a third time — potentially leaving the way open for his twice-defeated opponent, RN figurehead Marine Le Pen, to finally capture the presidency.

The far-right outfit has been digesting a disappointing result after polls suggested it could take an absolute majority in parliament.

On Tuesday, party sources told AFP its director-general Gilles Penelle had resigned.

Penelle, elected last month to the European Parliament, was the architect of a “push-button” plan supposed to prepare the RN for snap elections, which ultimately failed to produce a full roster of credible candidates.

The far right outfit’s progress is undeniable, having advanced from just eight MPs soon after Macron’s first presidential win in 2017 to 143 today.

Greens and LFI leaders nevertheless called Tuesday for the RN to be shut out of key parliamentary posts.

“Every time we give them jobs, we increase their competence. It’s important not to give them jobs with responsibilities,” leading LFI lawmaker Mathilde Panot said.

“Today we represent 10 million French people with 143 MPs,” retorted RN representative Thomas Menage, calling the appeal “anti-democratic”.

As for Macron, he has sought to stay above the fray, planning for a trip to Washington for a NATO summit starting on Wednesday where allies may be in need of reassurance of France’s stability.

NATO alliance meets under cloud over President Biden’s future

President Joe Biden welcomes members of the newly enlarged NATO alliance this week for a summit aimed at planning for Ukraine’s future defense — and, some observers say, “Trump-proofing” it if Biden loses the November poll amid growing doubts over his future. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from the White House.

Largest refugee team to compete at Paris Paralympics

PARIS — The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on Tuesday unveiled a nine-member refugee team for the upcoming Games in Paris.

The team is made up of eight competitors and one guide runner. They will take part in taekwondo, athletics, triathlon, power lifting, table tennis and wheelchair fencing.

“The world has more than 120 million forcibly displaced people worldwide,” said Andrew Parsons, the IPC president.

“Many live in dire conditions. These athletes have persevered and shown incredible determination to get to Paris 2024 and give every refugee around the world hope.”

Ibrahim Al Hussein will be competing in a third Paralympics for the refugee team but is switching from swimming to triathlon, even though he faced the challenge of putting together “all the necessary equipment to compete in triathlon which can be expensive.”

Al Hussein arrived in Greece from Syria 10 years ago.

“Sport has helped me integrate into society,” he said.

Zakia Khudadadi, who represented Afghanistan at the COVID-delayed Tokyo Games in 2021 shortly after being evacuated from the country following the Taliban takeover, and Hadi Hassanzada will compete in parataekwondo.

Hassanzada was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Iran.

“Then I returned to Afghanistan thinking that the country had become peaceful. I was wrong.”

He fled.

“Living in the forests of Turkey with my friends in the cold of winter, there were times when I was close to death,” he said in interview with the IPC.

His journey to the Paralympics showed “refugees can succeed despite all the problems they face,” he said.

Guillaume Junior Atangana sprinted for Cameroon in Tokyo before leaving for Britain. He said his training for the 100m and 400m T11 events in Paris was hampered when his guide, and fellow refugee, Donard Ndim Nyamjua was injured.

“Many people wanted to be on the team. So, I have had to pull out all the stops to be the best,” Atanganga said.

Shot putter Salman Abbariki will compete in track and field at a second Paralympics.

Once Hadi Darvish, a refugee from Iran, found a gym that would take an athlete in a wheelchair and without a bank account, he thrived in power lifting, winning a German title in 2022 in a championship for able-bodied athletes. 

The team is completed by Sayed Amir Hossein Pour, who won Asian junior table tennis titles representing Iran, and wheelchair fencer Amelio Castro Grueso.

“No matter how difficult their circumstances, these athletes have found a way to compete at the very highest level of Paralympic sport,” said the team’s chef de mission Nyasha Mharakurwa, who represented Zimbabwe in wheelchair tennis at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

“They are not just representing the forcibly displaced people worldwide but the world’s 1.2 billion persons with disabilities.”

The Opening Ceremony for the Paralympics will be held on Aug. 28 along the Champs-Elysees and in the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

Italy tries new approach to deter migrants

Italy is trying a new development-focused approach to preventing migrants from trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa. For VOA, Henry Wilkins reports from the Italian island of Lampedusa, where residents are welcoming the measure after thousands arrived there in a single week last year.

Paramount, Skydance merge, ending Redstone family reign

NEW YORK — The entertainment giant Paramount will merge with Skydance, closing out a decades-long run by the Redstone family in Hollywood and injecting desperately needed cash into a legacy studio that has struggled to adapt to a shifting entertainment landscape. 

It also signals the rise of a new power player, David Ellison, the founder of Skydance and son of billionaire Larry Ellison, the founder of the software company Oracle. 

Shari Redstone’s National Amusements has owned more than three-quarters of Paramount’s Class A voting shares through the estate of her late father, Sumner Redstone. She had battled to maintain control of the company that owns CBS, which is behind blockbuster films such as “Top Gun” and “The Godfather.” 

Just weeks after turning down a similar agreement with Skydance, however, Redstone agreed to a deal on terms that had not changed much. 

“Given the changes in the industry, we want to fortify Paramount for the future while ensuring that content remains king,” said Redstone, who is chair of Paramount Global.

The new combined company is valued at around $28 billion. In connection with the proposed transaction, which is expected to close in September 2025 pending regulatory approval, a consortium led by the Ellison family and RedBird Capital will be investing $8 billion. 

Skydance, based in Santa Monica, California, has helped produce some major  

Paramount hits in recent years, including Tom Cruise films like “Top Gun: Maverick” and installments of the “Mission Impossible” series. 

Skydance was founded in 2010 by David Ellison and it quickly formed a production partnership with Paramount that same year. If the deal is approved, Ellison will become chairman and chief executive officer of what’s being called New Paramount. 

Ellison outlined the vision for New Paramount on a conference call about the transaction Monday. In addition to doubling down on core competencies, notably with a “creative first” approach, he stressed that the company needs to transition into a “tech hybrid” to stay competitive in today’s evolving media landscape. 

“You’ve watched some incredibly powerful technology companies move into the … media space and do so very successfully,” Ellison said. He added that it was “essential” for New Paramount to chart a similar course going forward. 

That includes plans to “rebuild” the Paramount+ streaming service, Ellison noted — pointing to wider goals to expand direct-to-consumer business, such as increasing engagement time on the platform and reducing user churn. He also said that the company aims to transition to more cloud-based production and continue the use of generative artificial intelligence to boost efficiency. 

Executives also outlined further restructuring plans for New Paramount on Monday’s conference call, with chairman of RedBird Sports and Media Jeff Shell noting that they had identified some $2 billion in cost efficiencies and synergies that they’ll “attempt to deliver pretty rapidly.” 

Shell and others addressed the declining growth of linear TV. Flagship linear brands will continue to represent a big chunk of the company’s operations, but learning how to run this portion of business differently will be key, he said. 

Paramount’s struggles

The on-again, off-again merger arrives at a tumultuous time for Paramount, which has struggled to find its footing for years and its cable business has been hemorrhaging. In an annual shareholder meeting in early June, the company also laid out a restructuring plan that included major cost cuts. 

Leadership at Paramount was also volatile earlier this year after its CEO Bob Bakish, following several disputes with Redstone, was replaced with an “office of the C.E.O,” run by three executives. Four company directors were also replaced. 

Paramount is one of Hollywood’s oldest studios, dating back its founding in 1914 as a  distributor. Throughout its rich history, Paramount has had a hand in releasing films — from “Sunset Boulevard” and “The Godfather,” to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Titanic.” 

The studio also distributed several early Marvel Cinematic Universe films, including “Iron Man” and “Thor,” before the Disney acquisition. In addition to “Mission: Impossible” and “Top Gun,” Paramount’s current franchises include “Transformers,” “Star Trek” and “Jackass.” 

While Paramount has not topped the annual domestic box office charts for over a decade, the wild box office success of “Top Gun: Maverick” in 2022 (nearly $1.5 billion worldwide) was an important boon to both movie theaters and the industry’s pandemic recovery. 

Still, its theatrical output has declined somewhat in recent years. Last year it released only eight new movies and came in fifth place for overall box office at around $2 billion — behind Universal (24 films), Disney (17 films), Warner Bros. and Sony. 

Movie plans

This year the release calendar is similarly modest, especially with the absence of “Mission: Impossible 8,” which was pushed to 2025 amid the strikes. The studio has had some successes, with “Bob Marley: One Love” and “A Quiet Place: Day One,” and still to come is Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” sequel. 

The National Association of Theatre Owners, a trade organization that represents over 35,000 screens in the U.S., said in a statement Monday that it plans to look closely at the details of the merger with an eye toward whether it will produce more or less theatrical releases. 

“We are encouraged by the commitment that David Ellison and the Skydance Media team have shown to theatrical exhibition in the past,” said Michael O’Leary, president and CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “A merger that results in fewer movies being produced will not only hurt consumers and result in less revenue, but negatively impact people who work in all sectors of this great industry — creative, distribution and exhibition.” 

US voters mixed on Biden staying in race 

U.S. President Joe Biden says he is staying in the race for reelection against former President Donald Trump after Biden struggled in their first debate. VOA correspondent Scott Stearns looks at what U.S. voters think about the president’s continuing candidacy.