June 04, 2021

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NEED TO KNOW

ISRAEL / WEST BANK & GAZA

Now What

The Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza have stopped shooting at each other.

Now what?

The 11 days of fighting that began in early May was the latest in a century of conflict that took a major turn in 1948 – a year that Israelis mark as the birth of their nation but which Palestinians call the “Catastrophe” to mark the Israeli occupation of their territory in Gaza and the West Bank, the BBC explained.

At least 240 people died in Gaza while 12 perished in Israel in the recent fighting. But this round of warfare was more violent and intense than many expected. Militant group-cum-political party Hamas fired rockets into Israel, including Jerusalem, and Israel launched airstrikes on dense Gaza neighborhoods. But there was also fighting in the streets in Israel between Jews and Arabs.

“There may be no going back to the way things once were,” wrote Washington Post columnist Ishaan Tharoor, who argued that the domestic politics in the backdrop of the fighting seemed rawer than ever.

Facing corruption charges and unable to form a government after two years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed to look tough before his constituents. Gaza-based Hamas militants, meanwhile, wanted to demonstrate that they were the defenders of the Palestinian people to differentiate themselves from President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority that controls the West Bank. Abbas recently postponed Palestinian elections in what critics called a bald attempt to retain power, National Public Radio reported.

Netanyahu’s plans did not work very well. A coalition that includes his former defense minister, Naftali Bennett, opposition leader Yair Lapid and, most surprisingly, Arab Islamist political party Raam were expected to replace Netanyahu’s government, CNBC explained.

International politics have also shifted. As the Associated Press wrote, in the wake of the social justice movements in the US, for example, some progressive American Jews found themselves uneasy with the thought of a well-equipped, technologically advanced Israeli military killing impoverished Palestinians compelled to live in a walled-off enclave that the Norwegian Refugee Council has called the “world’s biggest open-air prison.”

Calling for investigations, United Nations officials said that Israel might have committed war crimes with its airstrikes. Ireland – not a powerhouse but a country with significant moral standing regarding colonialism – has condemned the annexation of Palestinian lands, reported Al Jazeera.

Many commentators, like those at Vox, said the only hope for peace was the so-called “two-state solution” that would grant the Palestinians their own sovereign country. Foreign Policy was cynical about the prospects for success, however. The deep-rooted hatred between the Israelis and Palestinians, the nationalism on both sides, the legal questions surrounding land and other issues are just too thorny, the magazine argued.

Perhaps a new Israeli government will change things. Unfortunately, however, optimists have little evidence to sustain them.

WANT TO KNOW

SRI LANKA

Sinking Ecology

Environmental and volunteer groups raised fears about an ecological catastrophe after a fire-damaged ship containing various chemicals began sinking off the coast of Sri Lanka, Sky News reported Thursday.

The MV X-Press Pearl container vessel started sinking Wednesday, a day after authorities extinguished a fire that had raged on the ship for 12 days.

Marine officials failed to tow the ship from where it was located nearly 11 miles off the west coast of Sri Lanka into deeper waters, after its stern became submerged and rested on the seabed.

The blaze destroyed most of the cargo, including 25 tons of nitric acid and other chemicals. Environmentalists, however, warned that large quantities of plastic pellets had spilled into the sea and hundreds of tons of oil from the vessel’s fuel tanks could also escape.

Charith Jayaratna, country manager for The Mighty Roar voluntary organization, described the situation as “the worst marine ecological disaster ever to happen to Sri Lanka.”

He added that the disaster killed many fish and other marine creatures, including sea turtles.

Scientists, meanwhile, warned that the released plastic pellets and chemicals could move southwards and also enter Sri Lanka’s river system, according to NPR.

Authorities have banned fishing along about 50 miles of coastline, but the incident has also endangered the livelihoods of fishermen in the country.

LEBANON

Out of Business

A United Nations tribunal in Lebanon scrapped a new trial proposed for the man convicted of the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, saying that the court had run out funds and may be forced to shut down, Reuters reported Thursday.

Last year, the tribunal convicted former Hezbollah member Salim Jamil Ayyash in absentia for the murder of Hariri and 21 others. The ruling is currently being appealed.

Ayyash has also been accused of other assassinations and attacks against Lebanese politicians between 2004 and 2005. A new trial was set to begin later this month, but judges said the case was “highly likely to be terminated in July due to lack of funds.”

Earlier this week, the tribunal – formed by a 2007 UN Security Council resolution and based in the Netherlands – announced that it will have to close after July if it is unable to resolve its funding shortage.

Lebanon’s government contributes 49 percent of the institution’s budget, while the rest comes from voluntary contributions. Its 2020 budget was $67 million, but the court said the 2021 budget was cut by nearly 40 percent.

Lebanon is in the midst of a severe economic crisis – coupled with a political one – which the World Bank describes as one of the worst depressions recorded anywhere in modern times.

GERMANY

Choking Consequences

The European Court of Justice ruled Thursday that Germany “persistently” violated the upper limits for nitrogen dioxide emissions, a polluting gas responsible for significant respiratory problems, Agence France-Presse reported.

The court found that the European Union’s top economy exceeded the annual nitrogen dioxide limit in 26 out of 89 areas from 2010 to 2016.

Under EU regulations, countries are required to keep the gas to under 40 micrograms per cubic meter – even though that level is often exceeded in many crowded European cities.

The case was brought forward by the European Commission in 2018 following years of warnings that went unaddressed.

The German environment ministry said that air quality had improved in the last five years. In 2019, the number of cities exceeding national pollution limits dropped to 25 from 90 in 2016.

Last year, the number dropped to six, mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns.

Nevertheless, Germany could still face possible sanctions in certain regions, such as Hamburg and Munich, according to the Hill.

DISCOVERIES

Who’s a Cranky Boy?

A new study found that dogs with a grumpier personality are better learners than ones with an easygoing temperament, the New York Times reported.

Dogs, many owners realize and scientists confirm, are social learners, meaning they are able to learn by watching other dogs – or people – and repeating the same actions.

Hungarian researcher Peter Pongracz and his team analyzed the relationship between pooches and their owners to examine how that process works. Pet owners had to fill out a questionnaire, while their canine friends had to participate in some tests.

In their experiments, the dogs had to pick up an object placed behind a V-shaped wire fence. Initially, the animals would try to lunge straight toward the object, but that didn’t work. To succeed, they would have to go around the fence.

The findings showed that the grumpy and agreeable dogs had the same level of performance when they had to figure out the problem by themselves or with their owners’ assistance.

However, the cranky ones were “more attentive” when a stranger showed them how to do it.

This was puzzling for the team since the grumps are not very obedient and need special – and tolerant – trainers.

Other researchers pointed out that other factors might be at play here such as the nature of the dog’s training and their life history.

The study did not point out which breeds were better learners, but at least it offers some refreshing news for owners with grouchy pets.

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: 33,326,410 (+0.06%)
  2. India: 28,574,350 (+0.47%)
  3. Brazil: 16,803,472 (+0.50%)
  4. France: 5,755,679 (+0.27%)
  5. Turkey: 5,270,299 (+0.13%)
  6. Russia: 5,040,390 (+0.18%)
  7. UK: 4,515,778 (+0.11%)
  8. Italy: 4,225,163 (+0.05%)
  9. Argentina: 3,884,447 (+0.84%)
  10. Germany: 3,701,692 (+0.10%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours