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How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza compounds global crisis of proliferating conflicts

Analysis How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza compounds global crisis of proliferating conflicts
Palestinians head to the southern part of the Gaza Strip, fleeing the fighting between Israel and Hamas. (AP)
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Updated 01 December 2023

How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza compounds global crisis of proliferating conflicts

How Israel-Hamas war in Gaza compounds global crisis of proliferating conflicts
  • Several worrying trends noted by a report that uses dozens of metrics to determine how peaceful a country is
  • Current year has witnessed a surge in violence and wars in Europe, Africa and Asia, according to the report

ATHENS: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Spanish-American philosopher’s George Santayana’s poignant quote is still relevant nearly a century after he wrote it as the list of full-blown and low-intensity conflicts worldwide grows longer every year.

The unprecedented violence seen in the continuing war between Israel and Hamas has claimed the lives of more than 15,000 civilians, destroyed nearly the entirety of Gaza’s north, and displaced 1.7 million Palestinians inside Gaza as well as half a million Israelis, mainly along the border with Lebanon.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child solemnly marked World Children’s Day on Nov. 20, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and reiterating that “thousands of children are dying in armed conflict in many parts of the world, including in Ukraine, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Myanmar, Haiti, Sudan, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.”

With new wars starting, older ones entering their 10th year or longer, and still others intensifying, the bloodshed in Gaza may be indicative of what some analysts and observers view as a period of increasing violence worldwide.




Soldiers of Tigray Defence Force (TDF) prepare to leave for another field at Tigray Martyr's Memorial Monument Center in Mekele. (AFP)

The 2023 Global Peace Index report, compiled by the think tank Institute for Economics and Peace, stated that “over the last 15 years the world has become less peaceful,” recording “deteriorations in peace” in 95 of the 163 countries covered.

The report, which uses dozens of metrics to determine how peaceful a country is, identified several worrying trends. The GPI recorded an uptick in violence in conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, particularly in Mali, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Ukraine, with conflicts characterized by the increasing use of drone attacks and delivery of weapons to armed groups by large- and mid-size powers.


Sudan, the Sahel and beyond

The conflict in Sudan has been the bloodiest African conflict on record this year, with fighting beginning in April when clashes between the Sudanese Armed Forces and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces culminated in an all-out war. The UN estimates that about 4.3 million people were internally displaced and more than 1.1 million have fled the country into neighboring Chad, Central African Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan since the fighting began.

In October, Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary-general, said that the violence had claimed 9,000 lives, with reports of sexual violence on the rise.

Fighting in Sudan may be the spark for the regional powder keg of instability, with Robert Wood, the US alternate representative for special political affairs, telling the UN Security Council in May that military forces and police from both Sudan and South Sudan have been deployed in the border region of Abyei, which is claimed by both sides.

Last week, gunmen attacked villages in the disputed region, killing at least 32 people. While regional officials told the Associated Press news agency that the clashes eventually ceased, simmering ethnic tensions in regional countries may also rear their heads.




In mid-November, the UN also stated that at least 10,000 civilians had been killed in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. (Shutterstock)

In February of this year, yet another African conflict led to deaths and waves of refugees when the Somaliland National Army and forces of the autonomous Khatumo State clashed in the Las Anod region. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported the killing of hundreds and the displacement of between 154,000 and 203,000 people, about 100,000 of whom fled into neighboring Ethiopia.

Ethiopia itself is already plagued by a litany of conflicts and unrest, including intense violence between the country’s many ethnic groups, which has led to an uncountable number of deaths and the internal displacement of about 4.38 million people, according to the International Organization for Migration.


Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine spilled over into 2023, with the UN reporting that more than 6.5 million Ukrainians have been displaced by the conflict, which began in February 2022. In mid-November, the UN also stated that at least 10,000 civilians had been killed in the conflict, and a month earlier published a statement adding that civilians in areas lost by Ukraine “face torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, and arbitrary detention.”

The year saw Ukrainian forces begin a counteroffensive against Russian troops, primarily in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. At the same time Israeli bombs pummeled Gaza, dozens of media reports from both Russian and Ukrainian outlets documented the use of cluster munitions as well as the killing of several civilians, including children, with missile strikes.


South Caucasus

The conflict over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which has waxed and waned since the late-1980s, intensified to an unprecedented level in late September. Azerbaijan claims Nagorno-Karabakh, an area located inside its territorial boundaries. The region was governed and inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians who created a breakaway state known as the Republic of Artsakh in 1991.




Armenian military soldier from Nagorno-Karabakh firing a conventional artillery piece towards Azeri positions. (AFP)

An offensive against Nagorno-Karabakh was launched on Sept. 19, and after only one day, the self-proclaimed republic dissolved itself. The decision led to a mass exodus from the region, with UN observers reporting in October that about 100,000 ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh had been displaced.

This followed UN reports from August that a blockade of the Lachin corridor, the only road connecting Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia proper, had led to acute shortages in food, medicine and other critical items, sparking a humanitarian crisis in the region.

FASTFACTS

• World has become less peaceful during past 15 years.

• “Deteriorations in peace” in at least 95 countries.

• Uptick in violence in sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

Source: 2023 Global Peace Index report


Syria

In Syria, while conflict in the country has been raging for more than a decade, the past four years have seen repeated attacks against the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration, the anti-Daesh Global Coalition-backed entity that governs the country’s north and east.

Just two days before the current war between Israel and Hamas erupted in Gaza, more than 43 aerial strikes targeted the north, according to the local war monitor Rojava Information Center.

This latest attack on civilian infrastructure is just the most recent tragedy in a series of invasions of the Syrian north, in Afrin in 2018 and Ras Al-Ain in 2019, with a Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party cited as the target of the onslaught.

The former operation displaced between 200,000 and 300,000 people — many of whom had already fled to the relative safety of Afrin at the start of the Syrian crisis — while the 2019 invasion displaced 160,000 more.




The UN estimates that about 4.3 million people were internally displaced in Sudan and more than 1.1 million have fled the country. (AFP)

The latest strikes, which claimed a total of 48 lives, targeted water, gas, oil and electricity facilities across the country’s north, leaving millions in the region without power, fuel or water for over a week, compounding crises caused by the region’s already-weakened infrastructure and a practical embargo from all sides.

The US has had some 900 troops stationed in the northeast alongside an unknown number of security contractors ever since the defeat of Daesh in 2019.


Myanmar

In Myanmar, a lesser-known conflict has been raging since 2021, when the country’s military carried out a coup d’etat and established a military junta. Last year, Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said that the military crackdown on protests had killed 2,000 and displaced more than 700,000.

The UN reported in November of this year that fighting between armed groups and Myanmar’s armed forces had spread into the country’s east and west, with urban fighting and aerial strikes growing in frequency and intensity.




Though media outlets have reported that both sides are willing to extend the truce in Gaza. (AP)

Intensified conflict has led to a new wave of displacement, with more than 200,000 forced to flee their homes between Oct. 27 and Nov. 17. The UN’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September, citing incidences of indiscriminate shelling and airstrikes, executions of prisoners of war and civilians alike, and the burning of civilian villages.


Gaza’s future

In Gaza, a ceasefire came into effect on Nov. 24, marking the entry of the first aid convoys into the war-ravaged enclave from Egypt. Israel began releasing Palestinian prisoners while Hamas started to release hostages, which included Israelis as well as foreign workers.

Though media outlets have reported that both sides are willing to extend the truce, there is concern that the humanitarian pause may indeed be just a pause.

On Wednesday, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, declared that Israel’s war against Hamas would resume once the release of Israeli hostages was secured, leaving the looming threat of more destruction hanging over the heads of millions in Gaza.

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Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels
Updated 10 sec ago

Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels

Rocket fire reported off Yemen in Red Sea in a new suspected attack by Houthi rebels
  • The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: A rocket exploded late Tuesday night off the side of a ship traveling through the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, authorities said, the latest suspected attack to be carried out by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
The attack comes as the Houthis continue a series of assaults at sea over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and as the US and its allies launch airstrikes trying to stop them.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations center, which oversees shipping in the Mideast, reported the attack happened about 110 kilometers (70 miles) off the coast of the Houthi-held port city of Hodeida. The rocket exploded several miles off the bow of the vessel, it said.
“The crew and vessel are reported to be safe and are proceeding to next port of call,” the UKMTO said.
The private security firm Ambrey reported that the vessel targeted appeared to be a Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned bulk carrier in the area at the time. Another ship, a Panama-flagged, Emirati-owned chemical tanker was nearby as well, Ambrey said.
The Associated Press could not immediately identify the vessels involved.
The Houthis typically take several hours to claim their assaults and have not yet done so for the assault late Tuesday.
Since November, the rebels have repeatedly targeted ships in the Red Sea and surrounding waters over the Israel-Hamas war. Those vessels have included at least one with cargo for Iran, the Houthis’ main benefactor, and an aid ship later bound for Houthi-controlled territory.
Despite over a month of US-led airstrikes, Houthi rebels remain capable of launching significant attacks. Last week, they severely damaged a ship in a crucial strait and downed an American drone worth tens of millions of dollars. The Houthis insist their attacks will continue until Israel stops its combat operations in the Gaza Strip, which have enraged the wider Arab world and seen the Houthis gain international recognition.

 


Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood
Updated 28 February 2024

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood

Israelis vote for municipal councils in test of public mood
  • Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament

JERUSALEM: Israelis voted Tuesday in twice postponed municipal elections that could offer a gauge of the public mood nearly five months into the war against Hamas in Gaza.
Soldiers had already cast their ballots over the past week at special polling stations set up in army encampments in Gaza as fighting raged.
Polls opened at 7:00 am (0500 GMT) and closed at 10:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday, at which point turnout stood at around 49 percent, according to election authorities.
That was down from 59.5 percent in 2018.
Turnout in Jerusalem was 30.8 percent and in Tel Aviv it was 40 percent, the authorities said.
More than seven million people were eligible to vote in the elections for local councils across most of Israel, in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, in Jerusalem and in parts of the annexed Golan Heights.
No major incidents were reported.
The vote, first scheduled for October 31, has been pushed back to November 2024 in towns and villages bordering the besieged Gaza Strip or Lebanon, where Hamas ally Hezbollah has fired rockets at Israel almost daily since the start of the Gaza war.
Nearly 150,000 Israelis have been displaced by hostilities in those areas.
Amit Peretz, 32, a Jerusalem city council candidate, said Jerusalem’s diverse make-up demands that “all voices are heard in the city in order to make everything work, because it’s very complex.”
Gita Koppel, an 87-year-old resident of Jerusalem, said she turned out because voting was “the only way you can have your voice heard.”
“I hope the right people come in and do the right thing for Jerusalem,” she said.
The elections were delayed after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of at least 1,160 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, most of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Two candidates for council chief in Gaza border areas were killed in the October 7 attack: Ofir Libstein in Kfar Aza and Tamar Kedem Siman Tov, who was shot dead at her home in Nir Oz with her husband and three young children.
In Jerusalem and other major cities, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish candidates aligned with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political allies were running against government critics and more moderate candidates.
Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure over the fate of hostages still held in Gaza, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.
Tel Aviv’s mayor of 25 years, Ron Huldai, is seeking re-election in a race against former economy minister Orna Barbivai, who could become the first woman in the job.
Lawyer Amir Badran, an Arab candidate who had initially announced he would run for Tel Aviv mayor, quit the race before election day but was still vying for a city council seat.
In Jerusalem, another Arab candidate, Sondos Alhoot, was running at the head of a joint Jewish-Arab party. If elected, she would be the first Arab woman on the city council since 1967.
The elections for municipal and regional councils are largely seen as local affairs, though some races can become springboards for politicians with national ambitions.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who had a brief stint as prime minister before Netanyahu returned to power in late 2022, said Tuesday’s vote shows “there is no problem” holding elections even during the war.
In a post on social media platform X, Lapid called for a snap parliamentary election “as soon as possible” to replace Netanyahu.
Most Palestinians in east Jerusalem, seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, have the right to vote in municipal elections but not for parliament.
Palestinian residents make up around 40 percent of the city’s population, but many of them have boycotted past elections.
Second round run-offs will be held where necessary on March 10.


One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says
Updated 27 February 2024

One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says

One quarter of Gaza’s people one step away from famine, UN says
  • One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition
  • WFP “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau said

UNITED NATIONS: At least 576,000 people in the Gaza Strip — one quarter of the population — are one step away from famine, a senior UN aid official told the Security Council on Tuesday, warning that widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.
One in six children under 2 years of age in northern Gaza are suffering from acute malnutrition and wasting and practically all the 2.3 million people in the Palestinian enclave rely on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive, Ramesh Rajasingham, director of coordination for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the council.
The World Food Programme “is ready to swiftly expand and scale up our operations if there is a ceasefire agreement,” WFP Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told the 15-member council.
“But in the meantime, the risk of famine is being fueled by the inability to bring critical food supplies into Gaza in sufficient quantities, and the almost impossible operating conditions faced by our staff on the ground,” he said.
The war in Gaza began when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. Israel’s air and ground campaign in Gaza has since killed around 30,000 Palestinians, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say.


US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning
Updated 27 February 2024

US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning

US calls for ‘diplomatic path’ on Lebanon after Israel warning
  • “We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters
  • “The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path”

WASHINGTON: The United States called Tuesday for a focus on diplomacy to resolve tensions over Lebanon, after Israel warned it would pursue Hezbollah even if it achieves a ceasefire in Gaza.
“We do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.
“The government of Israel has said publicly, and they have assured us privately, that they want to achieve a diplomatic path,” he said.
“That’s what we’re going to continue to pursue and, ultimately, that would make military action unnecessary.”
Miller added that Israel faced a “real security threat” with thousands of people who have fled their homes near Lebanon, calling it a “legitimate issue that needs to be addressed.”
Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement which is backed by Iran, have been exchanging fire since October 7, when Palestinian militant group Hamas carried out a major attack inside Israel.
In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless military operation in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Raising fears of all-out war, Israel this week struck Hezbollah positions deep into Lebanese territory.
On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in Israeli action against Hezbollah even if ongoing diplomacy succeeds in reaching a Gaza ceasefire and the release of hostages seized on October 7.
France, with US support, has been pushing a plan in which Hezbollah and allied fighters would withdraw to around 12 kilometers (eight miles) from the border and Israel would halt attacks.


Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers
Updated 27 February 2024

Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

AL-MEAIBDI, Iraq: Iraq enjoys tremendous oil wealth but many hard-scrabble farmers in the north say crude spills have contaminated their lands, piling on pressure as they already battle drought.

Amid the hills of Salaheddin province, puddles of the viscous black liquid pollute the otherwise fertile and green fields, rendering vast swaths of farmland barren.

“The oil has damaged all that the land can give,” said one farmer, Abdel Majid Said, 62, who owns six hectares (15 acres) in the village of Al-Meaibdi.

“Every planted seed is ruined. This land has become useless.”

Oil spills in Iraq — a country ravaged by decades of conflict, corruption and decaying infrastructure — have contaminated farmland in the northern province, especially during the winter rains.

Authorities blame the militants of the Daesh group who overran large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and were only defeated in Iraq three years later.

The group blew up oil pipelines and wells and also dug primitive oil storage pits, causing crude to seep into the ground, from where annual rains wash it out again.

But the local farmers also complain that the state has been too slow to clean up the mess.

In Al-Meaibdi and the nearby hills of Hamrin, authorities are struggling to find a sustainable solution to the problem, which adds to a litany of environmental challenges.

Iraq, also battered by blistering summer heat and severe drought, is ranked by the United Nations as one of the five countries most vulnerable to key impacts of climate change.

In Hamrin, layers of sludge pile up as excavators build up dirt barriers — a temporary measure to stem the flow of contaminated water onto farmland below.

The oil not only damages the soil and crops but can also pollute groundwater in the water-scarce country.

Said, the farmer, said “the soil is no longer fertile — we have not been able to cultivate it since 2016.”

Some other farmers had already abandoned their lands, he added.

He pointed to a green plot of land so far untouched by the spills and said: “Look how the crops have grown there — but not even a grain has sprouted here.”

Oil spills have contaminated 500 hectares of wheat and barley fields in Salaheddin, said Mohamed Hamad from the environment department in the province.

Hamad pointed to the reign of Daesh, which collected revenues from oil production and smuggling by building makeshift refineries and digging primitive oil storage pits.

He said the group blew up the pipelines and wells of the oil fields of Ajil and Alas, causing crude oil to flood and collect in the Hamrin hills’ natural caves.

Earlier this month, due to heavy rain, oil remnants again poured into agricultural lands, Hamad said, and “unfortunately, the leak damaged land and crops.”

Authorities have buried the group’s makeshift storage pits, Amer Al-Meheiri, the head of the oil department in Salaheddin province, told Iraq’s official news agency INA last year.

Yet during the heavy rains, the oil continues to seep out.

Iraq’s crude oil sales make up 90 percent of budget revenues as the country recovers from years of war and political upheaval, leaving it overly reliant on the sector.

The country boasts 145 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, amounting to 96 years’ worth of production at the current rate, according to the World Bank.

But for many farmers, oil has been a scourge.

Abbas Taha, an agriculture official in Salaheddin, said “oil spills have been occurring frequently since 2016.”

“Farmers suffer a great loss because they no longer benefit from the winter season to grow wheat,” he said.

Some farmers have filed complaints against the state demanding compensation, only to find themselves lost in Iraq’s labyrinthine judicial system, tossed from one court to another.

But Taha insists that authorities plan to compensate those affected in a country where agricultural lands are shrinking as farmers are abandoning unprofitable plots hit by drought.

Due to the severe water scarcity, authorities are drastically reducing farm activity to ensure sufficient drinking water for Iraq’s 43 million people.

Hamad said his department had contacted the relevant authorities to remove oil remnants that would eventually seep through the soil to contaminate groundwater and wells.

The soil also needs to be treated by removing the top layer and replacing it, he said.

“We urged the prime minister, the agriculture minister and the oil minister to compensate the farmers suffering from this environmental disaster,” said 53-year-old farmer Ahmed Shalash.