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NEED TO KNOW

GAZA

Unpredictable Democracy

Fatah, the Palestinian faction that controls the West Bank, split with Hamas, the faction that controls Gaza, in 2007.

Since then, Hamas has clashed with Israeli forces in three major conflicts that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and scores of Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Hamas has launched rockets from Gaza into Israel, arguably precipitating retaliatory Israeli airstrikes.

In May, however, when unarmed Gazans protested against Israel’s economic blockade of the impoverished strip and US President Donald Trump’s relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a move roundly criticized internationally – Israeli forces shot 55 Palestinians and injured almost 2,300, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Fatah, meanwhile, cooperates with Israeli authorities to maintain security in the West Bank, reported Reuters, including hunting down and killing Hamas terrorists. That said, Fatah is also dismayed over the embassy move, casting that cooperation in doubt and prompting the US to sharply cut aid to the Palestinians.

Now the situation might be changing.

In late December, wrote Xinhua, Fatah chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for parliamentary elections by the summer. The move sets the stage for a definitive confrontation between Fatah and Hamas.

Perhaps Abbas hopes to show his people that working with the Israelis and Americans would yield more than fighting them. “It would be a mistake to burn all bridges with Trump,” an unidentified Palestinian official told the Jerusalem Post.

Abbas is also moving while Hamas has become increasingly isolated in the Arab world and its relations with its traditional ally, Iran, have been rocky, wrote an op-ed contributor to the Daily Sabah, a Turkish publication. Al-Monitor warned that Israeli elections in April could lead Israeli politicians to crack down on Hamas at the same time the Palestinian campaigning would start.

But Hamas is welcoming a vote. “If the elections are fair and free, Abbas will suffer a stunning defeat,” senior Hamas official Mohammed Nazzal said in the Jerusalem Post.

Nazzal is probably right.

Hamas won a parliamentary majority in the last election, held in 2006, then assumed control in Gaza. Abbas’s term in office expired in 2009. The parliament’s mandate ended a year later. Since then, the parliament has been effectively defunct but Abbas stayed in office.

Between the timing of the election and Abbas’s history, it makes sense to question whether the vote will be fair and free.

But in the context of a divided Palestine that’s on a semi-war footing with Israel, it’s probably the best the Palestinian people can expect anytime soon.

WANT TO KNOW

SAUDI ARABIA

Mopping Up

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor on Thursday formally requested the death penalty for five out of 11 suspects in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The prosecutor’s office’s statement did not provide further details about the investigation or reveal the names of the suspects in the killing, which has prompted widespread suspicion that it was sanctioned by high-ranking members of the government if not crown prince Mohammed bin Salman himself, the New York Times reported.

Turkish officials and the New York Times’ own investigations have suggested that at least 15 agents – many closely connected to the crown prince – flew into Saudi Arabia for the operation that ended with Khashoggi’s death and dismembering in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October.

Saudi Arabia has insisted that the decision to kill the dissident journalist was made by the team on the ground and not under the orders of higher officials in Riyadh.

COLOMBIA

Growing and Growing

“Deeply concerned” about rising levels of coca production in Colombia, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo targeted a 50 percent drop in the cultivation of the plant used to make cocaine by 2023 in a meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque this week.

But it’s hard to say how effective that pledge will be.

Despite around $400 million a year in US assistance, Colombia’s efforts to eradicate coca plantations have made little headway over the past four years – with the area under cultivation hitting record levels in 2017, the BBC reported.

Colombia says it eradicated 80,000 hectares of coca plantations in 2018, while some 171,000 hectares were under cultivation a year earlier, according to UN statistics. The government has vowed to eliminate another 100,000 hectares in 2019.

Though Pompeo acknowledged that cutting demand in the US was also essential to the eradication effort, he didn’t offer details on what actions the administration might take on that front.

FRANCE

Truck-Drivin’ Man

French authorities arrested Eric Drouet, one of the leading figures in the yellow vest protests, for a second time Wednesday.

Drouet’s arrest on suspicion of organizing an unofficial protest in Paris highlighting the people who have died during the campaign prompted immediate accusations of police harassment, the BBC reported.

The truck driver was released on Thursday afternoon.

The yellow vest protesters don’t have any formal leadership structure, but Drouet had emerged as a de facto spokesman after appearing in TV interviews and posting on Facebook. He was first arrested on Dec. 22 for allegedly violating rules governing protests in France, and the authorities claimed he was carrying a baton and planning to commit violence.

Drouet’s second arrest may have been counterproductive for President Emmanuel Macron, who struck a defiant tone about his reform agenda in his New Year’s address after offering some concessions to try to quell dissent earlier in December.

It appears to have energized not only the yellow vests but also Macron’s political opponents on the left and right, the BBC said.

DISCOVERIES

A New Insect Overlord

Nature always finds ways to be more terrifying.

If mind-controlling fungi weren’t enough, say hello to mind-controlling wasps.

In the jungles of Ecuador, scientists have discovered a new species of wasps that turn spiders into their personal zombies and food, Canada’s CBC News reported.

Biologist Philippe Fernandez-Fournier was studying Anelosimus eximius spiders, a very social arachnid that rarely strays far from home, when he noticed some of them wandering off and forming strange cocoons.

He took some of the cocoons back to the lab to watch, the University of British Columbia explained in a news release, only to observe a new species of parasitoid wasps emerging.

In his study, Fernandez-Fournier and his team wrote that a female wasp would lay an egg on the spider, where a larva would hatch. The latter would begin consuming its host’s fluids, but keep the spider alive until it prepared a shelter for the larva’s incubation – the strange cocoon.

The new wasp is in the Zatypota group. Its modus operandi, co-author Samantha Straus said, is a matter of survival, since the spider’s silk provides good protection in Ecuador’s tough environment.

The jury is still out on explaining the insect’s voodoo powers, but Straus was so fascinated, she now sports a tattoo of the wasp.

“I think they’re beautiful,” she said. “You have to be a pretty big nerd to think this stuff is cool. Which I am.”