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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jem Bartholomew

First Thing: UN secretary general urges Middle East to step back from brink of full-scale war

Members of the UN security council gather for an emergency meeting in New York on 14 April.
Members of the UN security council gather for an emergency meeting in New York on Sunday. Photograph: Stephani Spindel/EPA

Good morning,

The UN secretary general has urged members to de-escalate tensions to avoid a full-scale war in the Middle East. “It’s time to step back from the brink,” António Guterres said on Sunday. “Neither the region nor the world can afford more war.”

It came after Iran’s assault on Israel on Saturday night, the country’s first ever direct attack on the Israeli state, which included more than 300 drones and missiles. This was in response to an Israeli attack on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria, that killed several people, including senior generals.

During a tense meeting of the UN security council on Sunday, Israel called for further sanctions on Iran, as the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, weighed the country’s response. Iran said its actions were proportionate and warned it would strike harder if Israel retaliated.

Guterres was joined by a chorus of world leaders calling for restraint and caution as the Middle East stood on the brink of all-out conflict.

  • What will Israel do next? It is unclear. Analysts suggest a wider war could suit Netanyahu by keeping allies onside, after Israel came under pressure over the scale of civilian casualties in Gaza. Benny Gantz, a member of Israel’s wartime unity government, said Israel would build a regional coalition and retaliate against Iran “in the fashion and timing that is right for us”.

  • How is the Biden administration acting? Iran’s attack has forced the US to reiterate its commitment to Israeli security while simultaneously distancing itself from a full-scale conflict. A senior administration official told reporters on Sunday the US was “committed to defending Israel” but “would not be a part of any response they do”, adding that the goal was to de-escalate regional tensions.

  • This is a fast-moving story. Netanyahu is scheduled to speak at 9am ET. Follow the Guardian’s live coverage here.

Donald Trump’s criminal trial over hush money to begin in Manhattan

Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money trial involving the adult movie actor Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal is scheduled to start this morning, with jury selection in Manhattan supreme court.

The proceedings mark a momentous day in American history, as Trump is the first US president to face a criminal trial. They also play out against a presidential race in which Trump is the almost certain Republican nominee, who regularly beats Biden in head-to-head polls.

The criminal case against Trump stems from an alleged effort to cover up purported liaisons with Daniels and McDougal before the 2016 election in a “catch-and-kill” scheme.

  • What are the details of the case? Trump faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records in connection to a $130,000 payment he made in 2016 to Daniels. The trial will last six weeks. Each charge carries a maximum of four years’ incarceration.

  • What did Trump say in the run-up to the trial? He is pleading not guilty to all 34 counts. Trump called the proceedings a “communist show trial” during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, and attacked the judge, prosecutor and legal system as corrupt on Truth Social – part of his continued attacks on American democratic institutions.

Iran attack puts pressure on House speaker to pass aid bill for Israel and Ukraine

The US House speaker, Mike Johnson, has said he will aim to advance a bill for wartime aid to Israel this week after Iran’s attack at the weekend but did not clarify whether Ukraine funding would be part of the package.

US assistance for both countries has languished amid political bickering in Congress, with Johnson – a Trump ally – blocking $95bn in aid sought by Biden for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, which had passed the Senate.

“The House Republicans and the Republican party understand the necessity of standing with Israel,” Johnson told Fox News. “We’re going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now.”

  • What are the details of the package on the table? The White House and top Democrats and Republicans in the Senate called on Johnson to approve the $95bn bipartisan package, which had already passed the Senate and would provide $14.1bn in aid to Israel and $60bn to Ukraine. But Johnson may propose a new package.

  • How urgently does Ukraine need further aid? Ukraine is experiencing a shortage of ammunition in its war against Russia. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy warned on Sunday that Russia may be preparing to launch a large offensive in late spring or summer. “The situation at the front during such a hot war is always difficult. But these days – and especially on the Donetsk front – it is getting harder,” Zelenskiy said.

In other news …

  • Russia and Kazakhstan have told more than 100,000 people to evacuate their homes, after rapidly melting snow caused rivers to overflow during the worst local flooding for at least seven decades.

  • Hundreds of displaced Sudanese people living in a refugee camp across the border in Chad have been unable to access vital medical care, often causing long term disabilities after injuries sustained during ethnic violence.

  • New York City’s the Vessel will reopen this year with steel-mesh safety measures, after multiple suicides on the Thomas Heatherwick sculpture in Hudson Yards.

  • Russian attacks on Ukraine were used as the model for Iran’s barrage of drones and missiles against Israel, the Institute for the Study of War has said.

  • The last 43 of 174 people stranded in cable cars high above a mountain in southern Turkey have been brought to safety, nearly 23 hours after one pod hit a pole and burst open, killing one person and injuring 10 when they plummeted to the rocks below.

Don’t miss this: 17th-century paintings saved from Notre Dame fire back on view

In the weeks after the 2019 Notre Dame inferno, as the fire, smoke and water damage was assessed, a unique collection of 17th-century religious paintings was removed from the cathedral, damp but mostly undamaged. The 13 “Mays” – part of a series of 76 large oil works painted by the best artists in France between 1630 and 1707 – had hung in the side chapels. They will go on public display from 24 April, having been restored by experts from Mobilier National, before being returned to Notre Dame in advance of its reopening in December.

Climate check: Study finds demand for predatory loans driven by climate crisis

Guillermina Molina, a 60-year-old retired housekeeper in Los Angeles, visits the same Speedy Cash each month to get a $225 payday loan. Molina is an example of a trend recently outlined by a Bank of Canada study: heatwaves and cold snaps are leading to a sharp increase in demand for US payday loans. Fees are typically $15-$20 per $100 loan, which works out as a 400-600% annual percentage rate (APR), according to the analysis. At Speedy Cash, where Molina borrows, it can reach 460%.

Last Thing: Nostalgic millennials reunited with Neopets

Since 2023, Neopets has been consciously courting its former fans from the early 2000s internet with promises of reuniting them with old digital companions that have remained largely unchanged. The number of monthly users had almost tripled to 300,000 in the past six months, the owner, NetDragon, said. Olivia Packenham, 32, who logged back on after a 15-year hiatus, said: “It was like walking into a museum of the early 2000s internet.”

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