good morning. We’re covering Vladimir Putin’s statements on Mariupol, a flurry of strikes between Israel and Gaza and a landmark ruling on gay sex in South Korea.
Putin steps back, but claims victory
President Vladimir Putin of Russia said it was “impractical” for Russian forces to attack the steel factory in Mariupol where Ukrainian forces and roughly 1,000 civilians are stuck in bunkers. Instead, Putin ordered a complete blockade.
In so doing, he claimed victory there, presenting his strategy in a meeting aired Thursday on state television. With news of heavy Russian casualties in Ukraine spreading on social media in Russia, the tightly choreographed meeting allowed Putin to present himself as a rational and cautious wartime leader.
But Ukrainians in the steel plant are a holding firm, despite dire conditions. “I’m alive and healthy for now, but the situation is very difficult,” a 25-year-old soldier told The Times from inside the plant. “We’re at the end of our food and water.” Here are live updates.
analysis: Putin’s statement may be an effort to quash growing domestic frustration. Families whose sons were listed as missing after the Russian flagship in the Black Sea sank a week ago are demanding answers, a liability for the Kremlin’s propaganda machine.
Rockets fly over Israel and Gaza
Gaza militants and Israeli forces exchanged fire on Wednesday night and into Thursday morning. It is the most intense fighting since the end of an 11-day war in May, though no deaths were reported.
The flare-up followed the deadliest wave of Arab attacks within Israel in more than a half decade. Arabs killed 14 people in Israel; Israel’s resulting crackdown in the occupied West Bank killed at least 15 Palestinians.
Early Thursday, tensions between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters also erupted at the Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount. The site is holy to both Jews and Muslims, and Passover and Ramadan are happening simultaneously.
Context: last week, confrontations also rocked the Jerusalem site. Since then, Israel has taken steps to minimize clashes between far-right Jews and Muslim residents of the Old City and plans to close the mosque to Jews and tourists during the last 10 days of Ramadan.
analysis: Israel and Hamas have both indicated that they want to avoid another mini-war. For Hamas, firing rockets without killing civilians allows militants to express anger without provoking a more violent reaction. Israel’s nonlethal retaliation avoids cornering the militants into escalation.
In the landmark ruling, the court struck down guilty verdicts for two male soldiers who were indicted on a charge of having consensual sex while off their base.
Until now, soldiers who engaged in “anal intercourse or other indecent acts” had been punished and faced up to two years in prison — regardless of whether there was mutual consent or where the conduct took place.
reaction: Rights groups have long condemned the law, saying it permitted a “witch hunt” against gay soldiers. On Thursday, they hailed the verdict, calling it “a major step forward” or “a huge victory” for LGBTQ people in South Korea.
background: Same-sex marriage is not recognized in South Korea. In recent years, powerful right-wing Christian groups have intensified a campaign against homosexuality, arguing that gay soldiers would spread AIDS and undermine the military’s readiness to fight North Korea.
THE LATEST NEWS
Scared, hungry kangaroos have been turning up in eastern India, confusing residents. The misplaced marsupials were most likely bred to be exotic pets and trafficked into the country. Legislative efforts to close loopholes in India’s roaring wildlife trade have intensified recently.
Lives Lived: Jimmy Wang Yu changed the nature of Asian martial arts movies, which had been relying on sword fighting and fantasy, by bringing hand-to-hand combat to the fore. He died at 79.
ARTS AND IDEAS
11 book shops for 100 people?
There is no butcher and no baker in the tiny Spanish town of Urueña—both recently retired. The local school has just nine students. Only about 100 people live there full-time.
But Urueña has become something of a literary hub: 11 of its shops sell books. Nine are dedicated bookstores. Tourists flock to the rural setting, even during the coronavirus pandemic, for cultural exploration.
That’s no accident.
Since 2007, provincial authorities have invested in turning the town into a rural literary magnet, like Montmorillon in France and Hay-on-Wye in Wales, an effort to bring visitors and stem the tide of depopulation. (Urueña, like villages across the Spanish countryside, has struggled with an aging and dwindling population, a phenomenon known as “España vacía,” or “empty Spain.”)
It comes as Spain is struggling to find a path forward for its 3,000 independent bookstores, about 40 percent of which are barely getting by. Novels are a far cry from the farms that once dotted the area – but the residents are adapting.
“Life is much easier now in the Spanish countryside than 50 years ago,” said a longtime resident, Joaquín Díaz, who is a Spanish folk singer and ethnographer. “Nobody could ever imagine that books could ever get sold and help save this village when I arrived here.”
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
To celebrate the end of Passover in style, make Melissa Clark’s chocolate-caramel matzo toffee. (I did last night, and it’s amazing.)
What to Read
Harini Nagendra’s new novel, “The Bangalore Detectives Club,” stars a bookish, Sherlock Holmes-loving young bride in 1920s India.
What to Watch
“Hit the Road,” Panah Panahi’s debut feature, follows a chaotic, witty, tender family traveling down an Iranian highway.
Now Time to Play
Play today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Japanese dog breed (five letters).
Here are today’s Wordle and Spelling Bee.
You can find all our puzzles here.
That’s it for today’s briefing. Tell us about your experience with the newsletter in this short survey here. thank you! — Amelia