March 23, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

SYRIA

Hollow Victories

Syria recently hit a grim anniversary: 10 years of brutal civil war.

In addition to more than 400,000 deaths and millions of displaced Syrians, the war has included attacks on civilians with chemical weapons and on civilian facilities such as schools and hospitals. It has seen Islamic State terrorism, disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and famine, according to United Nations officials.

They called it a “living nightmare.”

A photo caption in a CNN story illustrated the horrible, surreal war quality of the conflict: “Syrian men carrying babies make their way through the rubble of destroyed buildings following an airstrike in Aleppo on September 11, 2016.”

Aleppo, once a vibrant city where people have lived since 6 B.C.E, is now mostly in ruins.

As city after city fell to the government, inhabitants fled. By 2020, more than 6.6 million Syrians had fled the country and another 6.7 million have been displaced internally, a timeline of the conflict by New Humanitarian showed.

The war triggered a migrant crisis in Europe and other countries like Turkey and Lebanon where locals initially welcomed the refugees but now feel as if they might be harming the country’s already teetering economy, as France 24 wrote. Some Syrians, meanwhile, resettled in places across the globe such as Mauritania, Niger and even Venezuela, countries that struggle to employ and feed their own populations.

At home, though, much of the country is in ruins. In the Conversation, University of Oxford Research Associate Ammar Azzouz wrote about how the physical structures and social bonds of his hometown of Homs, once a peaceful, multicultural urban space, had been demolished in the fighting.

Hunger and bread lines have become common in war-torn Syria, the Associated Press reported.

The United Nations says more than 80 percent of Syrians now live in poverty, and 60 percent are at risk of hunger. The currency has crashed, now at 4,000 Syrian pounds to the dollar on the black market, compared to 700 a year ago and 47 at the beginning of the conflict in 2011. Prices go up several times a day.  Most people are too busy surviving – or failing to survive – to question the rule of President Bashar al-Assad anymore.

Al-Assad started the war in 2011 when he cracked down on protesters inspired by the Arab Spring, who were seeking respect for human rights. “The regime forced us to take up arms and turned the uprising into a war …. it was no longer possible to face guns with our screams,” Ashraf al Homsi, a Syrian refugee, told Al Jazeera.

The rebellion and the fighting are not over. As Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin explained, Assad now controls around two-thirds of the country with the help of Russia and Iran.

The participation of the latter two powers signifies the geopolitical morass that Syria has become. The US recently launched airstrikes against an Iranian-backed militia group in the country’s east, National Public Radio noted. Turkey has occupied parts of northern Syria to wage war against Kurdish fighters there.

Around a quarter of Syria’s population now lives in Idlib, the rebel’s last stronghold, reported Voice of America. Fighting continues in the city, where many residents are in limbo, waiting for the war to end. They wait, and wait, and wait.

In 2017, Assad declared victory and vowed to continue the fight until every rebel in the country was defeated. But like in Aleppo, if the government regains control, there will be little to win.

WANT TO KNOW

ITALY

Prime Anger

Tens of thousands of Amazon workers across Italy went on strike Monday over working conditions at the American company, the Guardian reported.

The 24-hour strike marks the first walkout in Italy to affect Amazon’s entire supply chain and involves warehouse and logistical hub workers, as well as drivers provided by third-party services.

The strike broke out after Italian unions and the US e-commerce giant failed to reach a consensus over revised job contracts on issues including long working hours for drivers and more stable temporary contracts.

Unions said that Amazon’s delivery network in Italy depends on 40,000 workers. They added that employees should have been paid extra for continuing to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

To pressure the company, Italy’s unions urged consumers to refrain from buying products on Amazon for the day as a sign of solidarity.

Amazon’s manager in Italy, Mariangela Marseglia, assured customers that the company “puts our employees and those of third-party suppliers first.”

CHINA

Judicial Games

The trial of a second Canadian citizen detained in China on alleged espionage charges wrapped up Monday in a case promising to intensify tensions between China, Canada and the United States, Al Jazeera reported.

The case concerns the detention of former diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor, who were arrested in 2018 on espionage charges. Spavor’s trial took place last week.

Both men could face up to life in prison if found guilty.

Western nations have condemned the detention of the two Canadians and China’s lack of transparency in its court proceedings. For example, Canadian diplomats were barred from attending the Beijing trial Monday on national security grounds.

Analysts said that the detention of the two Canadians is in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition warrant.

They also noted how the trial is taking place just as an extradition hearing for Meng enters its final months and also alongside fiery high-level talks between the US and China in Alaska.

China maintains that the arrests of the Canadians were lawful while calling Meng’s case “a purely political incident.”

TURKEY

Salt and Wounds

The United States and the European Union criticized Turkey’s decision this week to withdraw from a European treaty aimed at protecting women against violence, the Voice of America reported.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan withdrew from the Istanbul Convention on Saturday, saying that the agreement undermined the country’s conservative policies.

In 2011, Turkey became the first European country to adopt the agreement, which is aimed at eliminating domestic violence and promoting equality.

Conservative groups, however, maintain that the accord undermines Turkish family structures and encourages violence. Some critics particularly opposed the pact’s principle of gender equality and viewed it as promoting homosexuality, given its call against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The move was condemned internationally and at home: Hundreds of women hit the streets to protest the move across Turkey, Sky News reported.

Despite signing the treaty nearly 10 years ago, femicides have surged in Turkey.

This year to date, more than 70 women have been murdered or died under suspicious circumstances, according to a group that monitors femicide, a rate that has tripled in the past 10 years.

Turkish authorities, meanwhile, do not keep official statistics on femicide.

DISCOVERIES

Super Blood

When John Hollis’ returned from Europe last March, he came home to a roommate who had contracted Covid-19.

Hollis knew it was only a matter of time before he got infected himself.

He never did.

Wanting to know why, Hollis volunteered for a coronavirus study at Virginia’s George Mason University. He discovered that he is practically immune to it, according to BGR.

Researchers found that John had in fact developed “super antibodies” after experiencing a short bout of Covid-19 on his trip back from the US – an infection he was unaware of, having only experienced some mild nasal congestion earlier.

Although Covid-19 patients have different immune responses to the virus, previous studies have shown that only about five percent of patients develop super antibodies. These antibodies are very effective in neutralizing the SARS-CoV-2 virus but they tend to disappear within 90 days.

In Hollis’ case, though, his super antibodies are a medical miracle: Not only have they remained in his blood since March, they can also kill six different coronavirus variants and are still effective when diluted 10,000 times.

Now, Hollis has been donating blood and saliva samples to help researchers better understand how to kill the virus and develop drugs based on these antibodies.

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COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 29,869,516 (+0.17%)
  2. Brazil: 12,047,526 (+0.41%)
  3. India: 11,686,796 (+0.35%)
  4. Russia: 4,424,595 (+0.19%)
  5. France: 4,358,910 (+1.90%)
  6. UK: 4,315,602 (+0.13%)
  7. Italy: 3,390,181 (+0.41%)
  8. Spain: 3,228,803 (+0.51%)
  9. Turkey: 3,035,338 (+0.74%)
  10. Germany: 2,679,739 (+0.30%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours