Monday Briefing: U.S. to Push Israel to Scale Back

The site of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.Credit…Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Israel vows to fight on as the U.S. calls for restraint

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed to “fight to the end” in Gaza as anguish continued to spread over the killings of three hostages last week. The hostages were accidentally shot by the Israeli military as they were waving a white flag, and their deaths have raised new questions about how Netanyahu’s government is prosecuting the war.

Here’s the latest.

Netanyahu began a government meeting yesterday by reading from a letter that he said came from families of Israeli soldiers killed fighting in Gaza. “You have a mandate to fight; you do not have a mandate to stop in the middle,” Netanyahu read, according to a statement from his office.

The letter appears at odds with the message coming from relatives of hostages still held in Gaza, many of whom have taken to the streets to demand a cease-fire so that their loved ones can return home.

U.S. efforts: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is traveling in the Middle East this week, visiting Israel and three Persian Gulf nations, as Biden administration officials push Israel to end its large-scale ground and air campaign within weeks and transition to a more focused phase.

Austin is expected to discuss with Israel’s leaders the use of smaller groups of elite forces, which would conduct more precise missions to find and kill Hamas leaders, rescue hostages and destroy tunnels, according to U.S. officials.

International: Germany and Britain advocated for a “sustainable cease-fire,” in an apparent shift from their previous all-out support for Israel.

Gaza: The death toll given by Gaza’s Health Ministry is approaching 20,000, including more than 100 people in a single family.

A section of the Great Wall of China at Shuiguan, north of Beijing, on Friday.Credit…Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China braces as a cold snap descends

Temperatures across China plunged and parts of the country reeled after wintry conditions and heavy rains caused widespread disruptions, including a subway collision in Beijing that left more than 500 commuters hospitalized.

The average high temperature in the capital plummeted to about 15 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 9 degrees Celsius) on Saturday after hovering at around 50 degrees last week

Meteorologists issued low temperature and strong wind warnings on Saturday, saying that a “strong cold wave” was spreading icy winds nationwide, and that they were expected to continue this week. In some parts of China, temperatures could drop to historic lows, and colder-than-average conditions are expected in northern China until the end of the year.

Government-constituted defense forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo this month.Credit…Arlette Bashizi for The New York Times

A life at war in Congo

Six million have died and more than six million have been displaced after decades of fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Corruption is endemic, massacres and rape are common, and an upcoming presidential election is only adding to the chaos.

More than 100 armed groups and several armies are vying for supremacy. Foreign powers covet the country’s gold, oil and coltan, a mineral used to make cellphones and electric vehicles. Aid groups struggle to draw attention to the suffering — even when the number of those affected dwarfs those of other recent crises.

“Our children were born in war. We live in war,” Jean Bahati said as he and his wife fled artillery fire. “We’re so sick of it.”


Asia Pacific

The Māori Party organized protests across New Zealand.Credit…Lucy Craymer/Reuters
  • After a rightward shift, New Zealand’s government has weighed abandoning policies that benefit Māori and ordering public agencies to stop using their language.

  • The U.S. Army has been training troops in the Hawaiian jungle in preparation for a potential conflict with China.

Around the World

President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 14.Credit…Pool photo by Alexander Kazakov/Sputnik
  • Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, has turned the exits of major Western companies into a windfall for the country’s loyal elite and the state itself.

  • At least 61 migrants drowned off the coast of Libya, an international agency said.

  • The left forced Chile to scrap its constitution. A new one may move the country to the right.

Other Big Stories

  • Economists are warning that the systems used to handle the debt of developing countries are broken.

  • An arts journal allowed Jeff Koons to veto a historian’s essay about his work.

  • A small neighborhood on the border of Brooklyn and Queens has a colorful history but an uncertain future because of climate change.

A still image from a video of men singing and dancing in a small market in Rasht, Iran.Credit…NA

A Morning Read

It all started when a 70-year-old fish market stall owner in Rasht, Iran, nicknamed “Booghy” danced in public, an illegal act in the country. The Islamic regime cracked down on him and those who joined him. As news of the arrests spread like wildfire, so did the groove, going viral in a new, collective act of civil disobedience.

“It’s a way of protesting and demanding our freedom and happiness,” said Mohammad Aghapour, 32, a D.J.

Lives lived: Merle Goldman, a leading expert on China with a gift for communicating with nonacademic readers, died at 92.


Leena Chauhan, 38, doing a meditation exercise guided by a pregnancy app.Credit…Rebecca Conway for The New York Times

In India, an app to teach children (very) early

Want to raise a child with the business acumen of the industrial tycoon Ratan Tata or the concentration powers of the spiritual guru Swami Vivekananda?

For centuries, India’s mothers have practiced garbh sanskar, in which the nurturing of a child, and the creation of an environment conducive to instilling a Hindu value system, begins in the womb. Today, there’s an app for that. In fact, there are many. They combine traditional prenatal and postnatal guidance with scientific research, weaving in wellness practices, dietary plans, yoga, meditation, art, story reading and lullabies.


Credit…Christopher Testani for The New York Times

Cook: For many African Americans, seafood gumbo is an essential part of New Year’s celebrations.

Read: Readers shared their favorite books of the year.

Listen: Our pop music critic picked 10 songs that explain her year.

Game: These are the top five video games of 2023.

Play Spelling Bee, the Mini Crossword, Wordle and Sudoku. Find all our games here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you tomorrow. — Justin

P.S. Here are seven things we learned analyzing 515 million Wordles.

We welcome your feedback. Send us your suggestions at [email protected].

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