Your Thursday Briefing

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The Taliban met their first protests with violence

Afghanistan’s new rulers fired into the crowd in the northeastern city of Jalalabad and beat protesters and journalists. Demonstrators opposed to Taliban rule also took to the streets in Khost, in the southeast. Here are the latest updates.

Al Jazeera reported that at least two people were killed and a dozen injured during the protests in Jalalabad, which was seized by the Taliban four days ago without much of a fight. Hundreds marched through a main shopping street, carrying flags of the Afghan Republic.

In Kabul, the Taliban moved to form a government as President Ashraf Ghani surfaced in the United Arab Emirates, saying he had fled Afghanistan to avoid a lynching by the Taliban and vowed to return.

Scramble to leave: Chaos erupted outside the airport in Kabul as more people tried to flee. A Taliban commander told crowds that the gate to the airport was closed except for foreigners and for people with documents. Inside, 5,000 U.S. troops were stationed to evacuate people. Afghan women who worked with the U.S. or international groups are frantically erasing any trace of those links for fear that they will be targeted by the Taliban.

Israel vs. Hamas

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The latest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians had its own specific sparks. But just as important as those sparks is a larger reality: Both sides in the conflict are led by people who are relatively uninterested in compromise.

Many Israeli and Palestinian leaders have given up on the idea of lasting peace, such as a two-state solution in which Israel and a sovereign Palestine would coexist. They are instead pursuing versions of total victory. For Hamas, the militant group that rivals Fatah as the dominant Palestinian political party, that means the destruction of Israel. For Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, it means a two-class society in which Palestinians are crowded into shrinking geographic areas and lack many basic rights.

The result is the worst fighting since 2014.

“It would seem as if the current round of violence emerged out of a complex series of events in Jerusalem,” Vox’s Zack Beauchamp wrote. “But in reality, these events were merely triggers for escalations made almost inevitable by the way the major parties have chosen to approach the conflict.”

I recognize that some readers are deeply versed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with strong views about it. And they may bristle at the above description as false equivalence. But I also know that most readers of this newsletter do not follow every turn in the Mideast and often find it bewildering. Today’s newsletter is mostly for them. It will lay out the basic arguments that the two sides are making. When you strip both down to their essence, they help to explain the situation.

Biden’s First Day

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Near the end of his inaugural address yesterday, President Biden named six crises that the U.S. faces: the virus, climate change, growing inequality, racism, America’s global standing and an attack on truth and democracy.

“Any one of these will be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once,” Biden said. “We will be judged — you and I — by how we resolve these cascading crises of our era.”

To get started, Biden announced a longer list of Day 1 executive actions — 17, in all — than any previous modern president, as The Times’s Michael Shear points out. The Biden administration is also asking for legislation by Congress. But here’s our explanation of how the new president is trying to make immediate progress: