The World Today for March 06, 2018

NEED TO KNOW

SINAI

Secrets and Lies

In early February, the New York Times reported that a secret alliance between Egypt and Israel was underway to eradicate Islamic militants from their stronghold in Egypt’s loosely governed North Sinai region.

But as Egypt steps up its assaults against the militants with the blessing of Israel, it’s also being accused of using extreme tactics.

The mountainous desert terrain of North Sinai, long an area of contention between these Middle Eastern nations, became a refuge for Islamic militants in the years before President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took power in 2013.

But violence escalated against Egyptian forces after el-Sisi’s ouster of Mohamed Morsi: The militants formally aligned themselves with the Islamic State in 2014, and they downed a Russian charter jet in 2015, killing 224 people on board, the Times wrote.

It was around that time that the alliance between Egypt and Israel took shape and the latter began a series of covert drone strikes in the region to weaken the militants, according to the news report, which cited American and British military officials.

Neither country has confirmed the collaboration, and the topic remains highly sensitive in Egypt. But Cairo’s stability in the region is crucial to Israel in the Gaza conflict and in guarding against terror attacks on its borders, and Egypt’s military might is greatly supplemented by Israel’s technological prowess, the Jerusalem Post wrote.

The operation has significantly weakened the militants, but hasn’t stopped the bloodshed: In November, an attack on a mosque in North Sinai left over 300 dead – the deadliest attack in Egypt’s modern history, the Guardian reported.

That prompted Egypt to launch a full-scale military operation in the Sinai in early February – with Jerusalem’s blessing, the Times of Israel reported. Over the past year, Cairo doubled its forces on the peninsula to 88 battalions with 42,000 soldiers.

But while the operation is being praised in Israel and Egypt – largely to the benefit of el-Sisi, who is seeking re-election this month – international rights groups are crying foul.

An analysis conducted by Amnesty International of a video of Egyptian operations “proves beyond doubt” that Cairo has been using internationally outlawed, American-made cluster bombs in its airstrikes in North Sinai, the group wrote in a March 1 statement.

If the accusation is true, Egypt would be in violation of a treaty signed by a majority of the world’s nations banning the use of cluster munitions – though Egypt itself is not a signatory – as well as American laws about which nations can receive military aid, the New York Times reported.

“This is like the smoking gun, because it’s very obvious that these munitions were dropped from a fighter jet,” Raed Jarrar, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, told the Times.

“The Egyptian government is so deep in its own lies and propaganda, they have lost track of their own lies,” he added.

WANT TO KNOW

BRAZIL

An Old Enemy

Brazil has been hit with the worst outbreak of yellow fever in decades, with the deadly disease now encircling Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

Yellow fever kills 3-8 percent of those who contract it, and the threat to the huge population centers represents the first potential urban epidemic for the country since 1942, the New York Times reported.

So far, there have been 237 deaths since the beginning of the hot season, but the fatality rate could spike if the disease hits the crowded slums – where standing water breeds mosquitoes and residents have little defense.

Yellow fever is transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which also spread dengue fever, chikungunya, Zika fever and other diseases. Brazil is now scrambling to vaccinate some 23 million people against it. But the disease is spreading at a pace of a mile a day in what has become a deadly race.

The vaccine is nearly 100 percent effective, according to the World Health Organization. But public health efforts have been impeded by dangerous rumors about fatal side effects, which in fact affect only one in a million.

INDONESIA

When Animals Attack

Human-animal conflict has spurred a wave of killings of near-extinct species in Indonesia.

In the latest incident, locals killed a critically endangered Sumatran tiger they believed to have attacked and injured a person near Mandailing Natal village in North Sumatra, Reuters reported. In recent months, Indonesian authorities have found a number of killed animals, including endangered Borneo orangutans, after conflicts with farmers or plantation workers, the agency said.

“We explained to the villagers that the tiger is an endangered animal…but they didn’t like our way of handling this situation,” a conservation official told the agency, adding that the authorities had attempted to capture the tiger. Some body parts typically used in traditional medicines and sold as artifacts were missing from the carcass.

There are only some 400 Sumatran tigers remaining in the wild. Around 100,000 orangutans still survive, but their numbers have fallen by two-thirds or more over the past 60 years.

CHINA

Slow and Steady

It’s slow and steady, but it’s not a race – at least that’s how China has characterized its largest increase in defense spending in three years.

Beijing defended an 8.1 percent boost in budgeted defense spending on Tuesday as proportionate and low, denying that it had been goaded into an arms race by the recent, more bellicose rhetoric of the US president, Reuters reported.

“China’s defense budget is neither the largest in size – it accounts for just one-fourth of the military spending of the United States – nor does it have the fastest growth rate,” the English-language, state-run China Daily said.

The paper also pointed out that in per capita terms, China’s defense spending lags behind many other countries. However, many foreign experts say China underreports its military spending.

Earlier, President Donald Trump proposed the largest military budget since 2011 to shore up America’s nuclear defenses and counter the growing strength of China and Russia.

DISCOVERIES

Send In the Clones

Superstar Barbara Streisand has left her mark on the entertainment world during her stellar five-decade career.

But the acclaimed actress and singer recently set off into the world of science by cloning her beloved dog, Samantha, Variety magazine reported.

In a rare sit-down interview, Streisand revealed that her two Coton de Tulear pups, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, were cloned from mouth and stomach cells taken from 14-year-old Samantha, who died last year.

“They have different personalities,” Streisand said of her pooches. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her [Samantha’s] brown eyes and seriousness.”

The dog’s names are derived from their sweaters, which Streisand uses to tell them apart.

A third companion, Miss Fanny, a legitimate cousin of the departed, whom the actress bought while waiting for the clones, is named after Streisand’s Oscar-winning performance as Fanny Brice in the 1968 movie Funny Girl, which launched her film career.

Looking to clone your own cherished pet? USA Today reported that the procedure can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 dollars.

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