The World Today for May 16, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

Loathe Thy Neighbor

In Iraq, military forces are opening new fronts against the Islamic State in Mosul, advancing efforts to free the city from the terrorist group.

Meanwhile, peace talks over the Syrian civil war might finally be gathering some steam again.

And Iranians are gearing up for a presidential election that could have huge consequences for the future course of the Islamic Republic in the wider Middle East.

By contrast, events in Israel are taking on a less historic sheen, at least where neighboring Palestine is concerned.

The perennial dispute over settlement housing – Israel now says it plans to construct an additional 15,000 settlement homes in East Jerusalem – looks routine compared to the battle against Islamic State, some observers say.

Things aren’t looking any more refined at the level of high politics, either.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for example, recently responded to a Hamas policy paper outlining the Palestinian Islamist group’s softening stance on Israel with a not-so-subtle symbolic gesture: He tossed it into the trash.

Netanyahu dismissed the paper as a “hateful document” that aimed to deceive the world into thinking that Hamas was becoming more moderate, reported Reuters.

Palestinians, meanwhile, are resorting to the crudest forms of protest – best symbolized with the wave of knife stabbings that have claimed more than 40 Israeli and other lives since 2015 – to express their frustrations with Israel’s treatment of them.

But Netanyahu’s grandstanding aside, these developments point to the ongoing intractability of the problems weighing down both sides.

Israel is constructing these settlements, for example, in the face of accusations that they violate international law.

Even American officials have had to remind Israelis that, technically, the Western Wall is arguably not on their territory.

And new construction only serves to heighten tensions already simmering in the region. An estimated 700,000 people already live on legally dubious settlements throughout the West Bank, East Jerusalem and other contested territories, wrote Deutsche Welle.

These animosities are unlikely to be resolved soon, it seems.

Earlier this week, a hunger strike by more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners against poor prison conditions escalated into a heated dispute over whether the strike’s leader broke his fast, reported the Guardian.

Some claim Israeli authorities tempted strike leader Marwan Barghouti with cookies to undermine the Palestinian protest, they added.

Israel, for its part, claims it has obtained footage of Baghouti eating in prison – and that it won’t give in to the prisoners’ extortion.

It’s all looking a little too “he said, she said,” especially considering that this hunger strike could pose big problems for Israel down the road, wrote Reuters – it could get in the way of a high-flying state visit when President Trump comes to the Middle East at the end of May.

WANT TO KNOW

Vlad Says Keep Cool

US President Donald Trump may be in hot water over claims he dangerously disclosed classified information to Russia’s foreign minister in a closed-door meeting last week, but Russian President Vladimir Putin is urging world leaders to keep cool.

Speaking in China, Putin called North Korea’s recent missile test dangerous, but warned world leaders against trying to intimidate dictator Kim Jong-un, CNN reported.

“I would like to confirm that we are categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear states, including through the Korean Peninsula,” Putin said.  However, he also said that “intimidating (North Korea) is unacceptable” in an apparent warning to President Trump.

The Washington Post notes that the warning comes as Moscow is making moves to supplant Beijing as Pyongyang’s chief diplomatic ally, continuing to provide fuel supplies in the face of international sanctions, for instance.

That allows Pyongyang to play the two allies against each other, as it did during the Cold War. But usurping China as the “Kim whisperer” can also push Moscow to greater prominence on the world stage.

Traffic Jam

The death toll of the anti-government protests in Venezuela rose to 39 people on Monday, as nationwide demonstrations demanding President Nicolas Maduro hold fresh elections claimed the life of 18-year-old Luis Alviarez.

Alviarez was killed during protests in the volatile western border state of Tachira, Reuters cited Venezuelan authorities as saying. No other details were available.

The protests – which have been underway since early April – showed no signs of abating on Monday. Thousands took to highways in Caracas and elsewhere in the early morning, chanting slogans, waving banners, playing cards in deck chairs, enjoying impromptu sports games and sharing food.

“I’m here for the full 12 hours. And I’ll be back every day there’s a protest, for as long as is necessary,” the agency quoted a demonstrator as saying.

Notably, the protesters still mainly comprise middle class Venezuelans, rather than the underclass voters who form the primary support base of Maduro’s Leftist political party. Meanwhile, the government has said media coverage of the demonstrations has played up the deaths and arrests of protesters and downplayed opposition violence.

An Outstretched Hand

France’s new centrist president appointed a right-leaning prime minister to campaign for a majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections in June and help push through reforms to the country’s tough labor laws.

President Emmanuel Macron appointed Édouard Philippe of Les Republicains to serve as his prime minister in a move observers see as calculated to win over rightwing politicians to Macron’s La République en Marche (La REM) movement, the Guardian reported. Macron has already attracted dozens of center-left politicians to the new configuration.

Officially, Les Republicains called Philippe’s move a purely personal decision. But about 20 party MPs issued a statement calling for the party to accept Macron’s “outstretched hand.”

Meanwhile, Macron met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday to firm up the two leaders’ commitment to work together to stave off threats to the European Union from Brexit and other populist movements across the alliance, the New York Times reported.

DISCOVERIES

Strong Drink

Tequila is a polarizing alcohol.

Some love to knock one back with a dash of lime and salt. Others avoid the stuff like the plague.

But some researchers now believe a regular shot of Tequila – or a dose of the plant it’s made from — could make for stronger bones.

The sugars naturally found in agave, the plant from which tequila is distilled, may help to boost your body’s ability to absorb calcium, along with other minerals and proteins, according to a study published in Science Daily.

To come to this conclusion, scientists removed the ovaries from female mice, inducing osteoporosis, a disease in which the body stops producing new bone, thus leaving the skeleton frail and brittle with age.

Scientists then fed half of the mice sugars from the agave plant and took bone samples eight weeks later to judge how their bodies were absorbing the minerals and proteins needed to make new bone.

As it turns out, the mice that ingested the agave sugars synthesized nearly 50 percent more calcium, magnesium and a protein called osteocalcin than those that didn’t.

The agave sugars help catch bone-producing molecules in the gut and transport them throughout the body, strengthening bones, the Daily Mail reports.

In the mood for a strong drink? Look no further.

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