The World Today for April 12, 2023

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New Kids on the Block


For years, Fatah and Hamas have vied for control of Palestine.

The largest faction in the late Yasser Arafat’s renowned Palestinian Liberation Organization, Fatah controls the occupied territories of the West Bank, where Palestinian officials uneasily cooperate with their Israeli counterparts in attempting to govern a powder keg. An offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that now receives support from Iran, Hamas rules the Gaza Strip.

Now a third organization has emerged to rally the Palestinian cause, however.

As Israeli newspaper Haaretz explained, the Lions’ Den militants emerged in Nablus, a Fatah stronghold in the West Bank, after Israeli troops staged a raid in late February that resulted in 11 dead and more than 100 wounded Palestinians. A video circulated of Palestinian security officers failing to stop and help people while the raid was occurring. At the instigation of the Lions’ Den militants, people took to the streets to protest.

A few days later, in a sign of how the cycle of violence in the region is seemingly unstoppable, and escalating, a Palestinian shot two Israeli settlers in the West Bank town of Huwara, noted Foreign Policy magazine, adding that Fatah has been unable to stop splinter groups from forming throughout Palestine.

Meanwhile, as the Brookings Institution wrote, the West Bank has once again reached a boiling point: “It is perhaps too soon to talk of a third intifada. But the situation has seriously deteriorated recently. A period of increased terror attacks began in March 2022 and continued ever since. The tension comes at a time of particular weakness for the Abbas regime … (which) seems to be less intent on a dialogue with (…) citizens, who haven’t voted in a general election since 2006. The battle for Abbas’ succession has, in fact, already begun.”

Into this breach comes a new group of Palestinian fighters called the Battalion of Martyr Omar Abu Laila – a reference to a Palestinian who stabbed and killed an Israeli soldier and a civilian – recently emerged in Salfit, a city in the northern West Bank, added the Jerusalem Post.

“I’d hate to make my parents cry,” Yousef Hosni Hammour, 28, who recently joined a new militia in Jaba near Jerusalem, told the Associated Press, as he held a rifle with photos of friends on its clip. “But I’m ready to die a martyr.”

The Lions’ Den, meanwhile, has become a voice for those Palestinians who think Fatah and Hamas are either too corrupt, too incompetent, or deeply misguided to realize the dream of independence. Lions’ Den leaders recently announced a new policy of confronting Israeli forces in support of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

“The hour of confrontation has approached and the drums of war have begun to sound in every inch of our blessed land,” the group said in a statement to Middle East Monitor. “O people of pride and dignity, our free prisoners, we welcome all battles that restore our dignity and pride, and we swear that the earth is boiling like our hearts.”

They don’t seem like they are interested in talking.

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Theater on the Pacific


The Philippines and the United States launched their largest-ever military drills across the South China Sea on Tuesday, an exercise aimed at deterring China’s ambitions in the disputed waters, Al Jazeera reported.

Known as the annual Balikatan drills, the event will have more than 17,600 soldiers taking part in the exercises – the largest since they began three decades ago. The drills aim to showcase US warships and fighter jets, as well as Patriot missiles and HIMARS rocket launchers.

The two allies will also stage a live-fire drill, where they will sink a target ship in Philippine territorial waters off the western province of Zambales later in the month, according to the Associated Press.

The drills will conclude on April 28.

Military officials from both sides said the Balikatan event aims to increase “our ability to work together effectively and efficiently in response to various crisis situations.”

The Balikatan exercises began a day after China ended three days of combat drills around Taiwan, in response to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s meeting with US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week in California, which enraged Beijing.

Taiwan criticized Beijing’s drills as a threat to regional stability, while Japan said they were an act of “intimidation.”

The Balikatan drills mark the latest demonstration of American firepower in Asia as the Biden administration expands an arc of alliances to more effectively counter China, including a potential clash over Taiwan, an island democracy that Beijing claims as its own.

It also comes as the Philippines is facing increasing pressure from China in recent years over Beijing’s expansive claim to almost the whole South China Sea.

Although public polls suggest that most Filipinos support stronger ties with the US, there were protests as Balikatan began, with people fearful that Manila would be drawn into a larger conflict.

Too Many Cooks


Protests and deadly clashes ignited in Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region this week after the central government announced plans to disarm regional forces across the country, a move that many residents fear will lead to the loss of territory and potential ethnic attacks, the Washington Post reported.

At least four people were killed in the town of Kobo following clashes between federal security forces and a civilian Amhara militia known as Fano. The death toll included two Ethiopian aid workers with the Catholic Relief Service.

The unrest began after the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed proposed plans to integrate Ethiopia’s regional forces into the federal army.

Ethiopia has 11 federal regions, each with its own security force. But over the years, these armed groups have grown powerful enough to pose a threat to the central government and have also been accused of human rights abuses.

The move comes at a challenging point for Abiy, who has been struggling to control a rise in ethnically based political movements that could threaten the integrity of Africa’s second-most-populous nation.

In November, the federal government signed a peace agreement with rebels from the northern Tigray region following a two-year civil war that killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.

Following the government’s integration proposal, protests erupted in Amhara where some leaders also lamented that the Tigray peace deal could force them to give up the land they seized during the civil conflict.

These rich farmland areas are claimed by both Amhara and Tigray but are now under Amhara control.

Under Fire


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed his decision to fire his defense minister, more than two weeks after the official called on the government to suspend a contentious judicial overhaul plan that had sparked fierce demonstrations across Israel, Axios reported.

Netanyahu announced Monday that he was reinstating Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, saying that he had “decided to put our differences behind us.”

The reversal came less than a month after Gallant made a televised speech calling on the ruling conservative coalition to suspend a judicial reform that would give the government and lawmakers more control in appointing judges.

The proposed plan received widespread opposition from many facets of Israeli society, including the business community and the military and intelligence branches. Gallant warned that the plan had “created an internal rift that poses a clear and immediate threat (to) Israel’s national security.”

Following his announcement, Netanyahu fired Gallant, a move that was soon met with large demonstrations and strikes in support of the minister that brought the country to a standstill.

Amid domestic and international pressure, Netanyahu later suspended the judicial overhaul bill to give a chance for dialogue with the opposition.

Analysts said Gallant’s reinstatement comes as Netanyahu and his coalition have taken a hit at the polls. One poll published over the weekend showed that only 21 percent of Israelis approve of the prime minister’s performance.

Meanwhile, some observers noted that the reversal also comes amid concerns over the security situation in Israel: Flaring tensions around Jerusalem’s Temple Mount led to an attack from Gaza, an unprecedented rocket attack launched from Lebanon, and a separate attack from Syria.


Beads of Life

It’s been long known that there is water on the Moon, but scientists have long wondered how it is stored on the lunar surface.

Now, a new study on recently collected lunar samples shows that water is hidden within small glass beads spread out across the surface of Earth’s satellite, Newsweek reported.

To arrive at this conclusion, researchers analyzed samples collected by China’s Chang’e 5 mission, which returned from the Moon in December 2020. They discovered that the tiny water-carrying beads are not originally from the Moon: The beads were formed because of meteorite impacts which caused silicate minerals to melt and form glass-like material.

The oxygen from Moon rocks within the beads then reacted with hydrogen ions in the solar wind to form H2O, which is then absorbed by the beads.

The team noted that these stones have been formed for millions of years, and they estimate there could be as much as 330 billion tons of water hidden inside these glass beads across the entire surface of the Moon.

Scientists had previously observed surface water on the Moon coming and going in diurnal cycles, being lost to space. The new findings confirm the theory of a hydrated layer that replenishes lost water in the lunar soil.

The authors suggested that this water can be easily extracted and serve as a resource for future human missions to the Moon.

They also speculated that these kinds of glass beads could be present in other airless planets where the solar wind can react with the rocks thrown up during meteor collisions.

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