International roundup: More than 700 dead so far in the bombing of Eastern Ghouta
In and around the Middle East: Despite international efforts, the bombing of Eastern Ghouta continues
Despite the UN Security Council’s resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire, and despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plan to implement daily five-hour truces to allow besieged and injured civilians to escape, the airstrikes on Eastern Ghouta have continued.
The death tally stands at more than 700 as of Monday, according to Médecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), with more than 3,700 people wounded. As the organization points out, this is likely an underestimate.
Women and children, according to that same report, account for nearly half the fatalities, and at least 13 medical facilities have been hit by bombs or shells. “Our medical point was bombed,” one medical assistant said, “[so] we relocated to another place. That place also got bombed…we had around 100 people wounded and no working facility.”
These are the rebel groups in Eastern Ghouta the government is so intent on wiping out.
There are nearly 400,000 civilians still inside Eastern Ghouta – or what the UN Secretary General calls “hell on earth” – but the international outcry has gone largely unheeded as the situation has spiraled out of control. As Syrian government forces, bolstered by their Russian and Iranian allies, have kept up an almost continuous barrage of airstrikes and artillery attacks, rebel groups have responded with mortar attacks on Damascus, which sits just west of the area. Syrian ground forces have also laid siege to the area, although they haven’t “been able to take any inch of territory,” according to al-Jazeera reporter Zeina Khodr.
There have also been reports of gas attacks by government forces, with the Syria Civil Defense, or White Helmets, reporting via Twitter that one child was killed by chlorine gas (note: content is graphic).
Elsewhere in and around the Middle East:
A 17-year old ISIS member, Linda W., was sentenced to six years in prison in an Iraqi juvenile court last Sunday.
- Linda W. had previously left Germany to join the Islamic State and was arrested among other ISIS fighters in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Her light sentence is almost certainly the result of her young age and possibly her German ethnicity.
- Last week 11 other ISIS-affiliated women were sentenced to life in prison, all of them either Turkish or Azeri (from Azerbaijan), and one was condemned to death.
Women in Saudi Arabia are continuing to receive new rights as new decrees are made and old ones removed.
- Saudi Arabia cancelled the “house of obedience” article in their marriage laws which gave a husband the right to force his wife to return home, even against her will. Under the new amendment, a wife can now instead seek to leave her husband through divorce or legal separation.
- Women will also soon be allowed to serve in military positions in several Saudi governorates.
- Saudi Arabia recently had its first-ever Jazz Festival, allowing men and women to attend (though they were still segregated by gender).
- In an announcement on Monday, Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah was appointed deputy labor minister, “a rare high-level job for a woman,” as Reuters observes.
Things are heating up for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a new corruption investigation resulted in the arrest of several of his former associates. The new developments come after Israeli police formally called for Netanyahu to be charged in two unrelated bribery cases.
- “Case 4000” is investigating members of the prime minister’s inner circle who are suspected of helping Israeli communications giant, the Bezeq Group, with financial and regulatory benefits in exchange for favorable media coverage of the Netanyahu family.
- Seven Israelis have been arrested so far. These include Netanyahu’s former communications director, Nir Hefetz, as well as another confidant, Schlomo Filber, who served as director general of Israel’s Communications Ministry.
- Last Wednesday, Filber turned state’s witness and agreed to testify against Netanyahu.
- Hefetz, meanwhile, has been accused of offering a judge the post of Israel’s attorney general in exchange for dismissing an indictment against Netanyahu’s wife Sara. Israeli police also allege the judge in question immediately confided in her friend, who is now the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court.
Africa: Cape Town’s Day Zero pushed back nearly two months as federal government takes control
As drought-stricken Cape Town continues to count down to Day Zero, the day the city will run out of water, the South African government declared the drought to be a national disaster. Now the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will take responsibility for water relief efforts.
- Thanks to water conservation measures and some much-needed rain, Day Zero was pushed back from April 12th to June 4th.
- Cape Town, a city with nearly four million residents, has limited individual water consumption to less than 50 liters a day, an amount that only allows for a short shower and one toilet flush per day. Once Day Zero is reached, the people of Cape Town will have to start lining up every day for bottled water.
Elsewhere in Africa:
Speaking of South Africa, newly-installed President Cyril Ramaphosa has indicated that the government will move forward with expropriating land without compensation.
- Per Ramaphosa, the land expropriation policy should be carried out in a way that “increases agricultural production, improves food security.” He also wants to make sure expropriated land is “returned to those from whom it was taken under colonialism and apartheid.”
- Few details have been given about how the land expropriation policies will be implemented, and they have been increasingly criticized by the agricultural sector and investors.
- Some context: Zimbabwe also attempted land expropriation without compensation, a policy that worked out so poorly they are now trying to incentivize the farmers whose land was expropriated to return and help fix the country’s dismal agriculture sector.
British soldiers will soon be deployed to the African country of Malawi to help in the fight against poachers. Following a successful test program in one of Malawi’s national parks last year, the soldiers will mentor park rangers in two of the country’s national parks. Lions, elephants, and rhinos have all been under threat of poaching for decades.
Asia: Burmese authorities are bulldozing empty Rohingya villages
Satellite imagery has shown that dozens of empty Rohingya villages in Myanmar have been bulldozed over and leveled by the government in the last few weeks.
- From the AP: “Satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe indicates at least 28 villages or hamlets were leveled by bulldozers…a similar analysis by Human Rights Watch on Friday said at least 55 villages have been affected so far.”
- Myanmar’s government appears to be trying to erase evidence of the atrocities it has committed against the Rohingya Muslims, even as it continues its campaign of ethnic cleansing against them. The bulldozing of villages also serves to prevent the previous inhabitants from ever reclaiming their land.
- The US has called on the UN Security Council to hold Myanmar responsible for the killings and mass displacement.
- In that same session, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley also called for the release of the two Reuters journalists “arrested for reporting on the massacre of Rohingya Muslims.”
Elsewhere in Asia:
The New York Times reports on an as-yet-unreleased UN study that found that North Korea has been sending equipment to Syria that could be used to manufacture chemical weapons.
- Curious timing (from the BBC): “The allegations come after fresh reports of chlorine gas being used by Syrian forces, which the regime denies.”
China’s parliament is set next month to remove presidential and vice-presidential term limits, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to stay on as president past 2023.
- Jinping was re-elected as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in October, essentially guaranteeing he will be given a second term as president during Parliament’s annual session in March.
- The ruling Communist Party seems concerned about long-term stability, which could be drastically affected by a major economic crisis.
In response to US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s tariff recommendations, which included suggestions on imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, China has warned that it may retaliate with tariffs on US imports into its country. Chinese steel currently accounts for just 1% of US steel imports.
Axios reported last week that a member of the US Secret Service tackled a Chinese security official when a Chinese security detail tried to stop a military aide who was carrying the “nuclear football” from entering a room behind Donald Trump. The incident took place during Trump’s visit to China last November.
Europe: This is how a global trade war begins
As the US mulls imposing high tariffs on certain goods imported into the country, the European Union has begun to prepare possible retaliatory measures.
- Following last week’s recommendations by US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to impose high tariffs on imports, the Trump administration is determining which tariffs to introduce and what countries will be affected by them. In response, the EU is coming up with its own plan, should the US decide to impose tariffs on the EU.
- Possible responses include a tariff on agricultural produce as well as tariffs on Harley-Davidson motorcycles and bourbon.
Elsewhere in Europe:
A stone-age burial site was discovered in a shallow lake in Sweden that included the bodies of at least 10 people, along with their weapons and the remains of various animals.
- Interestingly, two of the heads recovered had been put on spikes. At the moment, archaeologists believe the heads had not been put on spikes as a warning to their enemies but as part of a burial rite.
A man threw a hand grenade into the US Embassy compound in Montenegro and then blew himself up. No buildings were damaged and no injuries were reported (aside from the death of the attacker).
- The suicide bomber, Dalibor Jaukovic, left a suicide note, although no motive has been revealed. Montenegro is a small country in the Balkans on the Adriatic coast, sharing a maritime border with Croatia and Albania.
South and Central America: Venezuela’s economic crisis is taking a major toll on its citizens
Venezuelans lost an average of 24 pounds in 2017, according to a new university report on the impact of the country’s “devastating economic crisis.”
- Another disturbing find: Nearly 90 percent of the country’s residents are living in poverty.
- Rising hyperinflation (as evidenced by metrics such as Bloomberg’s Café Con Leche Index) has reduced the purchasing power of Venezuelans while currency controls have restricted food imports, causing many people to line up for hours to buy a few small portions of basic necessities, a la the Great Depression.
- Prices have risen more than 4,000 percent in the past year, according to multiple estimates.
- Thousands of oil workers walked off the job to find food as their meager salaries prevent them from buying enough food to sustain them in the labor-intensive oil industry.
- Oil is the country’s primary export, accounting for roughly 95 percent of its export revenues.
Elsewhere in South and Central America:
Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori was ordered to stand trial over the killings of six farmers in 1992, less than a month after being released from prison.
- Fujimori was president of Peru from 1990 to 2000, where he faced down two violent insurgencies that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 69,000 people.
- Due to poor health, he was released from prison in January. He had been serving a 25-year sentence for various human rights abuses committed by death squads aligned with his government.
Colombia is facing an infestation of hippos in one of its rivers, another “gift” from infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar to the country.
In Honduras, US-trained special police forces have been arresting opposition protestors and terrorizing their families in illegal nighttime and predawn raids.