The World Today for July 27, 2016


Taking Stock

Two years after the short yet brutal war between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, there are few signs of recovery in Gaza.

Known in Israel as “Operation Protective Edge,” the seven-week conflict in July and August 2014 killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, 66 Israeli soldiers and seven Israeli civilians.

Air strikes during the war devastated Gaza’s infrastructure. Currently, less than 10 percent of the homes destroyed in the conflict have been replaced, aggravating the territory’s ongoing housing shortage and displacing thousands in what is already one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Dozens of schools and hospitals were also wrecked, and have yet to be fully rebuilt as access to building materials is difficult.

Yet arguably the most long-lasting damage from the 2014 war has been the economic devastation caused by Israel’s ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel says it must maintain the lockdown to prevent the smuggling of arms and other dangerous items into the territory. But the blockade is making recovery all but impossible, according to international aid agencies.

“The blockade is making a dire situation worse,” said Oxfam Country Director Chris Eijkemans last month. “The economy has ground to a halt…”

Unemployment in Gaza is among the highest in the world, an estimated 43 percent, and nearly 80 percent of Gazans now rely on humanitarian aid to survive.

Oxfam and other aid groups have called for world leaders to push for the blockade to be loosened, arguing that easier travel in and out of Gaza and more trade opportunities could reverse the alarming trends.

For people living in Gaza, it’s urgent that conditions improve soon, aid groups say, echoing the United Nations’ warning in September that Gaza could become uninhabitable as early as 2020 if current economic and environmental trends continue.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are growing increasingly frustrated with their leaders’ inability to provide for its citizens, including the families of the victims of the 2014 war.

Hundreds of Palestinians have taken to the streets of Gaza City this month to protest the failure, for example, to compensate family members of the victims.

Paradoxically, a bright spot comes from Turkey, which is preoccupied with its own internal turmoil. The restoration of ties between Israel and Turkey has allowed Turkey to resume sending aid and sorely needed building materials to Gaza via an Israeli port.

The arrival of the first shipment of Turkish aid was greeted with fanfare in Gaza. But observers have been quick to point out that it won’t be nearly enough to address all of Gaza’s needs.


No End in Sight

The Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility for a grisly church attack in France Tuesday, in which knife-wielding assailants forced a priest to his knees and slit his throat.

Two young men held several other worshipers and at least one nun hostage for a brief period, before being gunned down by a special tactical police unit as they emerged from the building using three hostages as human shields. One of the men charged the police yelling “Allahu akbar” before he was killed, according to the BBC.

As in several other recent cases, IS claimed the attackers as two of its “soldiers,” though it’s not clear how much direct contact, if any, they had with the terror group. Both attackers were known to the authorities, and one of them had already been convicted of a terrorism-related offense. He was living with his parents and monitored with a tracking device as a condition of his release.

The Longest Fast

The world’s longest hunger strike is about to end.

Irom Sharmila, 44, has not allowed food or water to pass her lips for 16 years in an effort to compel the Indian government to repeal a hated law that gives the army broad powers to search, detain and even shoot civilians with impunity in the northeastern state of Manipur, where several separatist insurgencies have been simmering for decades.

In a move that came as a surprise to everyone, however, she told a local court Tuesday that she will end her fast on Aug. 9 and stand as an independent candidate in state elections early next year.

India’s Supreme Court recently criticized the indefinite implementation of martial law in Manipur, asking for details of 1,528 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings between May 1979 and May 2012 by the Manipur police and armed forces, reports Al Jazeera.

But nobody expects the hated law, known as the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, or AFSPA, to be repealed anytime soon – either in Manipur or in Kashmir, where it is also in force.

For her part, Sharmila also reportedly plans to marry her long-time boyfriend.

The Short Welcome Mat

As Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump plans to build an enormous wall along America’s southern border, lame duck President Barack Obama is rolling out the welcome mat.

On Tuesday, the Obama administration unveiled plans to expand America’s refugee program for Central American children who are fleeing violence in their home countries. So far, the scheme has only granted refugee status to 2,884 children out of 9,500 applicants. Meanwhile, just 267 of those kids have actually entered the US, according to the Washington Post.

Characterized as “more modest” than some of Obama’s other immigration reforms, the expansion will allow older relatives of such children and “caregivers” to apply for asylum as well, writes the LA Times. However, it will still require applicants to have a parent or relative who is already living in the US legally – potentially limiting its impact.


Got Roaches?

Cows and goats have nothing on cockroaches.

Researchers at the Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in India have found that the milk crystals in the guts of Pacific beetle cockroaches have three times more energy than the same amount of dairy milk.

In fact, the crystals are among the most nutritious and highly caloric substance per weight ever discovered, according to data published in the International Union of Crystallography Journal.

Scientists said the milk does not taste very good, the Washington Post noted.

But it could someday help reduce some of the environmental damage of dairy cows (think methane emissions) and almond milk (a process that uses oodles of water) by offering consumers new choices for their breakfast table.

Researchers suggested cockroach milk could be used in protein shakes and similar drinks.

They also said that since cockroaches can’t be milked easily, producers would likely use chemistry to produce artificial cockroach milk. That, of course, would overcome that pesky branding problem.

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