Your Thursday Briefing

We’re covering the explosive flareup in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and looking at why China’s loosening of family planning rules hasn’t boosted births.

On the second day of rocket fire and airstrikes, Israel assassinated several commanders of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and hinted at a possible ground invasion of Gaza. The militants responded with a new barrage of more than 1,000 rockets fired at cities across southern Israel.

Here are the latest updates.

An Israeli military official said three infantry brigades were “preparing for a worst-case scenario,” confirming that a ground invasion could follow the bombardment from the air. Israel’s latest operation targeted the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas and one of several Palestinian militant factions active in Gaza.

Two days of Israeli strikes have killed at least 53 Palestinians, including 14 children, and wounded more than 300 people, according to Palestinian health officials. At least seven people were killed and 100 were injured in the rocket attacks, according to Israeli health officials. One Israeli was killed by an anti-tank missile near the Gaza perimeter.

International response: A senior U.S. diplomat is headed to the Middle East to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to urge de-escalation. Tor Wennesland, the United Nations envoy for the Middle East, said that the situation was “escalating towards a full-scale war.”

The Seychelles won acclaim for becoming the world’s most vaccinated nation, relying heavily on China’s Sinopharm vaccine in its push to vaccinate more than 60 percent of its population.

But now, a surge in coronavirus cases, including among the fully vaccinated, is making some question the choice of vaccine. Scientists are warning that developing nations that choose to use the Chinese vaccines may end up lagging behind countries using vaccines with stronger efficacy numbers. Health officials said that while people were becoming infected, they were not getting very sick. Still, residents said the government had failed to give enough information about the vaccines.

The situation in the Indian Ocean island stands in contrast with that of Israel, which has the world’s second-highest vaccination rate and where infections have plummeted with use of the Pfizer vaccine.

Quotable: “You really need to use high-efficacy vaccines to get that economic benefit because otherwise they’re going to be living with the disease long-term,” said Raina MacIntyre, biosecurity expert at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

Details: Among the population that has had two doses, 57 percent were given Sinopharm, while 43 percent were given AstraZeneca. Thirty-seven percent of new active cases are people who are fully vaccinated, according to the health ministry, which did not say how many people among them had the Sinopharm shot.

Here are the latest updates and maps of the pandemic.

In other developments:


Slowly, the ruling Communist Party is loosening its long-held restrictions over childbirth. Some local governments have tacitly allowed couples to have more than two children, and a growing number of voices have urged the government to abolish the rules.

A population census released this week showed a significant decline in birthrates, heightening the urgency for these changes. But the party is wary of giving up its control, our reporter writes, and has taken a piecemeal approach with exemptions in some cases.

Context: China’s one-child policy was in force from 1980 until 2016, when couples were allowed to have two children. Before they were unwound, family planning agencies corralled women to be fitted with intrauterine devices or coerced them into having abortions. They also collected billions in fines annually from rule breakers.

A case in point: The parents of Chen Huayun, 33, hid her or sent her to stay with her grandparents during school holidays because she was their second child. As civil servants, her parents would have been fired had she been found out. “It was only when they retired that their colleagues knew that I existed,” she said.

Colombia’s police spent decades fighting left-wing guerrillas and paramilitaries. It was a force built for war, and now it has found a new one — on the streets of Colombia’s cities, where the police stand accused of treating civilian protesters as battlefield enemies.

Achieving daily goals can be hard. About a decade ago, Amitava Kumar assigned a class of college seniors to write something every day — in part to motivate himself to write.

To succeed, Kumar tried a simple trick: After completing each day’s task, he would put the date and a check mark on the notebook’s final page. Somehow, it worked — by the end of the year, he had completed a short book.

Today, check marks serve a larger purpose for Kumar. They remind him that he is a writer. “It is the visible symbol of my realization that who I am is defined by what I do,” he writes in The Times Magazine’s letter-of-recommendation feature. And he explains why you might like them, too. “The check mark is more important than whatever comes of the daily work whose completion you’re marking,” he argues. “The first represents actual living; the second, merely a life.”

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