The World Today for December 29, 2023

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2023 – a World in Flux


Ukraine’s failure to reassert control of regions that Russia has seized since February 2022 (or 2014, counting the Crimean Peninsula) and the carnage of the war between Israel and Hamas, are continuing to dominate news headlines as 2023 comes to an end.

Concerning the Eastern European war, the sense is that Ukraine can’t forever go toe-to-toe with mighty Russia – unless Russia is far weaker than it seems at present.

The negative outlook recently forced Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to repudiate reports that his former Soviet republic was losing. Instead, he was considering whether to draft another 500,000 troops into the Ukrainian armed forces, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

As Zelenskyy lobbied American and European lawmakers for more vital military supplies – Ukraine stands no chance without Western aid, wrote Business Insider – he also floated a peace plan that required Russia to withdraw. Officials in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration called the plan “absurd,” noted CNBC.

In the Middle East, the attacks of Oct. 7 on Israel illustrated Hamas’s unforgivable disrespect for life. Since then, however, the news has shifted to the shocking devastation that Israeli forces have wrought in the Gaza Strip in reprisal. Hamas officials who run Gaza say Israeli strikes against the densely packed territory on the Mediterranean have claimed 20,000 lives, reported RTE, the Irish national broadcaster.

There was hope, however, for another reprieve. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh recently journeyed to Egypt for “intensive talks” on a new ceasefire, aid shipments, and hostage releases. Haniyeh resides in Qatar. He “typically wades publicly into diplomacy only when progress seems likely,” explained Reuters.

Other important stories at the end of the year reflect less intense but still important shifts in global politics, economics, and culture.

In Europe, the competition between left-leaning and far-right candidates for political office remains strong.

In Spain, Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez reached a controversial deal with Catalan separatists to retain his grip on government, confounding conservatives, wrote Al Jazeera. In Poland, former Prime Minister Donald Tusk won office again, kicking out the conservative ruling Law and Justice Party after eight years in power, reported the Guardian. Ironically, Tusk served as president of the European Council, whereas Law and Justice is skeptical of European institutions.

On the other hand, far-right populist, Geert Wilders, who opposes migration and has denounced Islam, could become the next prime minister of the Netherlands. In Austria, France, Germany, Hungary and Italy, the far right remains strong, too. In France, reported the Financial Times, traditional conservative parties have all but disappeared as new far-right parties have attracted legions of supporters.

Meanwhile, 2023 was difficult for China. Due to draconian Covid-19 lockdowns, crackdowns on the private sector, bankruptcies in the important real estate market, and other problems, the Chinese economy hit a rough patch in 2023, according to Foreign Policy.

As this bad news has worsened, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been accumulating more power domestically while asserting Chinese interests more vigorously abroad. According to ABC News, for example, Xi told President Joe Biden at a recent summit that China planned to reunify with Taiwan. Such an act could precipitate a war with the US and its allies.

Many hope now as we head into a new year that these trends cool down in 2024 as sane heads prevail.


We’ll be back next week with the latest from around the world.


A Roof, a Battle, a Holiday

“Years and years ago, there were these people called the Maccabees,” an armadillo once said as it tried to explain the story of Hannukah. New archaeological finds may now provide more details to that tale, Popular Mechanics reported.

A team of archaeologists in Jerusalem found 16 ceramic roof tiles in the so-called City of David archaeological site, believed to be 2,200 years old.

The researchers linked the tiles’ ceramic style and their location to historical developments that gave Jews the backstory to one of their most important holidays.

It goes that the Greek Seleucid King Antiochus IV, who ruled over a great part of the Middle East, tried to take over Jerusalem and built fortifications known as the Acra. Greek soldiers then based themselves in the Acra and attempted to “cleanse” the Temple of Jerusalem, leading to an insurrection by Jewish residents called the Maccabean Revolt. This fight resulted in the liberation of the temple, following which, as the scriptures have it, a menorah with only a one-day supply of oil burned for eight.

The Acra is well-described in historical references, but historians have long debated where it was located. Now, the newly found roof tiles lend credence to a theory that it was in the City of David.

Given the climate in the region, roof tiles were neither needed nor developed by the local population. As a result, tiles on Jerusalem roofs had been estimated to have appeared with the arrival of the Romans.

The City of David tiles confirmed the presence of Seleucid Greeks in Jerusalem. They brought the craftsmanship required to construct tiled roofs from Syria, another region they ruled, the researchers said.

The unnecessary character of the tiles highlights that Antiochus may have purposefully brought them to make a statement of his dominance. For the archaeologists, this essentially meant they had come “face-to-face” with the emperor.

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