Friday Briefing

Smoke rising from northern Gaza in October after an Israeli airstrike.Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

The U.S. urges Israel to scale down its war in Gaza

Biden administration officials want Israel to end its large-scale campaign in the Gaza Strip within weeks and to transition to a more targeted phase in its war against Hamas, American officials said.

The new phase would involve smaller groups of elite forces that would move in and out of population centers in Gaza, carrying out more precise missions to find and kill Hamas leaders, rescue hostages and destroy tunnels.

It comes as conditions in Gaza grow ever more catastrophic. Desperate Gazans driven by acute hunger after two months of siege are stopping U.N. trucks, taking food off them and devouring it on the spot, a top U.N. official said. For more on the situation there, we spoke with Raja Abdulrahim, a Middle East correspondent for The Times. Read the full interview here.

What are you hearing from Gaza right now?

Life is terrible for Palestinians in Gaza. As journalists, when we talk to them, it’s so hard for us to even know what to say anymore. But what people are telling me these days is that they’re just clinging to life. Some people have told me that they would rather just have a nuclear bomb come and take them all out because the situation has gotten so desperate, and they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. So it’s just an incredibly grim place.

They also feel like the entire world has abandoned them. Even people who seemed to have had hope and were very strong early on — it’s just worn them down because people have been displaced time and time again, and nowhere is safe. And that just keeps being more true.

How are Gazans thinking about the future?

There’s huge fear of a permanent displacement. Particularly because the vast majority of Gazans either fled their homes in 1948 when the state of Israel was established, or are the descendants of those who fled their homes and haven’t been allowed to go back.

And this fear is twofold. Gazans are afraid that they will be permanently displaced inside Gaza, as they are being corralled into a smaller, smaller area. And there have been things said by Israeli leaders, military commanders and former leaders that they do plan to essentially shrink Gaza — in other words, take over some land. So that fear of not being allowed home is definitely a real one.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in Kyiv last month.Credit…Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA, via Shutterstock

Hungary blocks E.U. aid to Ukraine

Hungary prevented the E.U. from approving a financial aid package for Ukraine, hours after E.U. leaders agreed to officially open negotiations for Ukraine to join the bloc. Such talks normally take a decade or longer and involve major reforms to bring the country into alignment with E.U. rules and standards.

For Ukraine, a more immediate hurdle will be to secure 50 billion euros — about $52 billion — in proposed aid. Hungary’s objection thwarted an agreement on that package, despite talks that continued until early this morning. E.U. leaders will reconvene next year to try to secure unanimity, which is required for this decision, an official said.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has just returned from a bruising visit to the U.S., where he pleaded for desperately needed aid — also being held up by political divisions (within Congress, in this case).

Vladimir Putin: In a four-hour news conference, the Russian leader appeared determined to outlast Ukraine and the West. He reiterated that he was open to peace talks but offered no hint of a willingness to compromise. And he boasted that Ukraine’s Western support was running dry.

Judges and lawyers in the Berlin courtroom where the trial is taking place.Credit…Pool photo by Odd Andersen

German spy official goes on trial

A manager at Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has been accused of selling highly classified material to Russia’s secret service, with a globe-trotting diamond dealer as a go-between. Both men face charges of high treason, carrying potential sentences of life imprisonment.

Their trial began this week in Berlin’s highest criminal court. The case, scheduled to last into the summer, caps one of the gravest espionage scandals in recent German history.

We want to hear from you!

Ahead of our Christmas special edition later this month, we’re asking readers to send in favorite holiday memories — moments that always make you smile to look back on or that may hold special significance. Let us know at this link.


Around the World

Credit…Remko de Waal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • TikTok is awash with videos of towering waves in the North Sea, though experts say the waters aren’t as scary as they seem.

  • Brazil’s Congress approved a law that threatens Indigenous people’s rights to most of the land they inhabit or claim, potentially opening vast territories to deforestation, farming and mining.

  • A British boy who disappeared at age 11 while on vacation six years ago in Spain has turned up in France.

  • Federal law bars anyone under 18 from working in roofing, a dangerous industry. But across the U.S., migrant children do it anyway.

Other Big Stories

Credit…Kent Nishimura for The New York Times
  • The Supreme Court is now entangled in the federal criminal case accusing Donald Trump of plotting to overturn the 2020 election — with potential implications for the trial’s timing.

  • Scientists have identified hydrogen cyanide emanating from a small moon of Saturn, adding to existing intrigue about the possibility of life there.

  • An Australian appeals court overturned the convictions of a woman who had spent 20 years in prison for killing her four children, after an inquiry found that they had probably died of natural causes.

  • A bipartisan majority in the U.S. House passed an $886 billion defense funding bill. It includes a directive to collect documents relating to U.F.O.s and to make the records public after 25 years.

What Else Is Happening

  • Greta Gerwig will lead the jury at next year’s Cannes Film Festival.

  • California is re-examining claims to its water that have gone unchallenged for generations.

  • Commuters in New Jersey were confronted by a surprising delay: a bull — one with long horns, no less — on the tracks.

A Morning Read

Credit…Julia Saimo

Giorgia Lupi first got Covid in March 2020. Her case was mild, and she experienced what felt like a bad flu. But a few weeks later, strange symptoms emerged that persist years later: extreme fatigue, frequent low-grade fevers, general temperature dysregulation, chills, heart palpitations and more.

“Every morning, I wake up in my Brooklyn apartment, and for two seconds, I can remember the old me,” she writes, for our Opinion section. “The me without pain, the me with energy, the me who could do whatever she wanted.”


Micah Hamilton: From ball boy to Champions League goal scorer.

‘Sunderland ’Til I Die’: Revisiting the Netflix series, five years later.

Exploiting a loophole: The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani contract seems to follow Chelsea’s blueprint.

Golf: The PGA Tour is just weeks from a deadline to complete a contentious deal with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.


Provocative sex returns to the movies

The matter of onscreen sex has been a continuing source of anxiety for audiences, critics and filmmakers lately. Some feel that desire has been shunted offscreen in a puritanical shift, while others feel the portrayal of sex has been complicated by the #MeToo movement — or are simply happier not seeing it at all.

But a wave of new movies and television shows aims to bring back sex as sex — gratifying, provocative and, at base, erotic. That includes raucous throwbacks to raunchy comedies like “Bottoms” and “No Hard Feelings” and sexual bildungsromans like “Poor Things” and HBO’s lurid “The Idol.” These films want to depict sex in a broadly appealing way while retaining an awareness of recent shifts in the cultural conversation.


Credit…Christopher Simpson for The New York Times

Cook: Mapo tofu is surprisingly doable at home.

Read: Memoirs by the superrich who wrote like they had nothing to lose.

Wed: Couples are swapping out traditional receptions for raves and all-night dance parties.

Gift: Shop the best Lego sets for kids.

Arise: Are you a morning person? You might have Neanderthal genes to thank.

Play the Spelling Bee. And here are today’s Mini Crossword and Wordle. You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a great weekend. — Natasha

You can reach Natasha and the team at [email protected].

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