International roundup: “A slap in the face for the entire Muslim world.”
Middle East: Arab nations are rallying to the Palestinian cause
Fallout from Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem intensified this week:
- More than 150 Palestinians were injured, and four were killed, during demonstrations on the Gaza Strip. Among the fatalities was one 29-year-old disabled man who had previously lost his legs in a 2008 Israeli missile strike. The young man was killed by sniper fire.
- The Israeli military claimed it fired “selectively towards main instigators.”
- More than a dozen missiles have been fired toward Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip since the US embassy move was announced, with Israel's Iron Dome defense system intercepting several of them.
- The 15-member UN Security Council drafted a resolution calling for President Trump to change his decision and refrain from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem. While the US did veto the resolution – with Ambassador Nikki Haley calling it “an insult” – the Security Council’s 14 other members agreed to it, further isolating Trump from the diplomatic community.
- The largest organization of Islamic nations, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), held a summit in Istanbul on Wednesday where they recognized East Jerusalem as the capital of occupied Palestine while condemning the US embassy move.
- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian people would no longer accept any American role in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan echoed Abbas in declaring the US role in the peace process to be over, and called Israel a “state of terror.”
- On Sunday, Erdogan announced his plans to open an embassy in East Jerusalem in support of Palestinian claims to the city.
- Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the small peninsular nation was ready to send troops to Jerusalem to aid the Palestinians. Per Hussein, the US decision to move its embassy was “a slap in the face for the entire Muslim world.”
- China voiced its support for an independent Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders including the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital.
- In an effort to increase its international profile, China will host representatives from Israel and Palestine this week for peace talks.
- Vice President Pence postponed this week’s trip to the Middle East, in part to be in Washington DC to potentially cast the tiebreaking vote for the Republicans’ massive tax overhaul, but with Palestinian protesters setting fire to pictures of him, security concerns are likely another major reason the trip was delayed.
- According to the Washington Post, a senior White House official said the protests were not a factor in the decision.
Elsewhere in the Middle East:
Saudi Arabia confirmed that women will be allowed to drive cars, trucks and motorcycles once the ban on women drivers is lifted next June.
- It’s also going to allow commercial cinemas to operate in the country for the first time since the early 80s, with the caveat that every movie will be edited to make sure it aligns with the strict Sharia laws that govern the country.
A Saudi airstrike in Yemen killed 10 women returning home from a wedding on Saturday.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is withdrawing most of his country’s soldiers from Syria after helping his Syrian allies defeat ISIS and regain control of most of the country.
- Russia will maintain permanent control of its main air base in Latakia Province as well as its naval base at Tartous.
- Tartous is set to get a major upgrade by the Russians in their attempt to establish a major naval base in the Mediterranean, which would reduce the risk of Turkey denying them Mediterranean access from the Black Sea. If you know Russian history, then you know: it’s all about those warm-water ports.
Two suicide bombers attacked a Christian church in Quetta, Pakistan on Sunday, killing at least nine people and wounding 56 more.
- One of the attackers was killed by police guarding the church before he could detonate his explosives, which forced the second attacker to prematurely detonate just outside the prayer hall, preventing many more of the 400 Christians inside from becoming casualties as well.
Asia: Victim’s stories are emerging in horrific ethnic cleansing of Rohingya
Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya Muslim population has continued, and the Associated Press recently documented the use of systemic rape by the Myanmar military as a “calculated tool of terror.”
- The Associated Press separately interviewed 29 women and girls, ranging between ages 13 and 35, who fled to Bangladesh as refugees. Foreign journalists have been banned from Myanmar’s Rakhine State, where most Rohingya live, making it difficult for AP reporters to independently verify each report. However, the AP noted a “sickening sameness” to the women’s stories, including the uniforms worn by their rapists and the details of their sexual assaults.
- The AP’s report recounts the stories of several survivors in graphic detail, including the experience of 13-year-old “R,” who was raped by 10 men. R had spent her days before the attack learning Arabic and caring for her chicken and its hatchlings, and her two younger brothers.
- Stories like these, while horrific, are not new, the AP observes. Back in 2011, Myanmar’s civilian leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, condemned the military’s abuses, arguing that “rape is rife,” and “used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country.” These days, however, Suu Kyi’s government “has dismissed the accounts [of rape] as lies.”
- Doctors Without Borders conducted a field survey among Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, finding that at least 6,700 had been killed between August and September of this year by Myanmar’s government. The report also estimates at least 734 children under the age of 5 have been killed during the same period.
- In what appears to be an attempt by Myanmar, also known as Burma, to cover up the extent of its ethnic cleansing campaign, two Reuters reporters were arrested last Tuesday by police in Myanmar for “illegally acquiring information.” The US Embassy in Myanmar demanded an explanation for the arrests and access to the journalists, but Myanmar’s government has decided to move forward with prosecution.
Elsewhere in Asia:
Ever cautious, China is preparing for a potential resumption of the Korean War by building refugee camps to deal with the millions of North Vietnamese expected to cross into China should conflict break out there. Chinese government advisors and retired military officials warned the Chinese government of the threat of war breaking out in North Korea during a conference held in Beijing on Saturday.
Dennis Rodman may be returning to North Korea for his sixth visit this year, ostensibly to try and bring Kim and Trump together.
- As a friend of both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, Rodman is uniquely placed to open an unofficial backchannel between the two leaders.
North America: WHO provides some good news for marijuana proponents
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that marijuana no longer be scheduled and controlled at the international level, declaring it nontoxic and nonaddictive.
- The recommendations come a month after the WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence issued a report finding no evidence of health-related problems associated with pure cannabidiol (CBD), the main ingredient in medical marijuana.
- The report also found that CBD could be effective for treating certain medical conditions, including epilepsy.
- CBD is a different compound than THC, the part of the cannabis plant that produces a “high”. WHO clarified that it is not endorsing the use of CBD, but recommends it no longer be prohibited at an international level, allowing countries to produce and provide it for specific purposes like medical treatment and research.
- WHO’s stance is now at odds with the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has consistently fought to keep marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, a category that includes heroin. The DEA does not recognize any difference between CBD and other types of cannabis compounds, going so far as to create a new drug code for scheduling marijuana extracts, which include CBD.
- A fuller review that will include other active compounds in marijuana is set to be conducted by WHO next year.
In other marijuana news, Canadian cannabis companies have raised $2 billion in funding since the government announced plans for legalization.
- This amount dwarfs the $937.4 million raised by the entire global legalized cannabis industry, forcefully illustrating the massive economic impact generated when a large country legalizes marijuana.
The World Bank announced it will no longer finance oil and gas exploration projects.
- The announcement came at a climate conference in Paris last Tuesday, and the changes will not take place until 2019.
- By re-allocating money away from investments in the fossil fuels industry, the World Bank is hoping to support countries as they work to reduce carbon emissions to levels set at the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro consolidated his grip on power as he banned the country’s main opposition parties from taking part in next year’s presidential election.
- The move came after said parties boycotted last Sunday’s mayoral elections, as they believed the electoral system to be biased in favoring Maduro’s candidates and that their participation would only serve to legitimize the President’s increasingly authoritarian regime.
- The presidential election is currently set for December 2018.
Grace Mugabe, the wife of Robert Mugabe, the former president of Zimbabwe, attempted to smuggle 440 pounds of ivory (valued at more than $500,000) to Malaysia, only to be foiled at the airport by Zimbabwe’s Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.
Less than a week after reaching a deal with the European Union to move Brexit talks onto their next phase, British Prime Minister Theresa May lost a crucial vote in Parliament that will hamper her ability to do so.
- 11 members of her own party broke away and sided with the opposition parties to take control of Brexit negotiations. As it stands, Parliament will now have to approve any withdrawal deal with a new Act of Parliament.
On Friday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for his country’s immigrants to reject anti-Semitism after Israeli flags were burned during anti-Israel demonstrations protesting the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
- Steinmeier called his plea “non-negotiable, for everyone who lives here and wants to live here.”
- Germany has seen over a million refugees seeking asylum the last few years, many of whom are fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq.
header image: "2017.03.26 Anti-Israel Protest, Washington, DC USA 01929," ted eytan / flickr