The World Today for January 04, 2024

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NEED TO KNOW

The Unlikely Peacemaker

QATAR

Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani recently met in Poland with top-level officials from the Israeli spy agency Mossad and the US Central Intelligence Agency to secure the release of Israeli hostages whom Hamas currently holds in Gaza, reported Reuters.

These negotiations were part of ongoing talks between the two sides as violence engulfed the Gaza Strip following the Hamas massacre in Israel on Oct. 7. Qatari diplomats managed to pull off the successful ceasefire that existed between Israel and Hamas in late November, the Associated Press noted. They also persuaded Egypt, Hamas, and Israel to release hostages and allow foreign nationals to exit Gaza, CNN explained.

Qatar also helped persuade Russian officials to release four Ukrainian children between the ages of two to 17, added the Washington Post.

These efforts all underscore Qatar’s surprising and important diplomatic role in recent years in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Key to Qatar’s success is being able to maintain contacts with the US and other Western countries – the largest US air base in the Middle East is in Qatar – while also retaining links to those who are blacklisted, such as Hamas, the Taliban, and the mullahs who control Iran.

“(Qatar) has accomplished something of a geopolitical miracle,” wrote Oilprice.com. “It has overcome extraordinary odds to become the most trusted mediator in the region by both sides of the geopolitical divide – the US and its allies on the one side, and the China-Russia axis and its allies on the other.”

Perhaps most impressively, the Persian Gulf emirate has risen in prominence despite its diplomatic isolation between 2017 and 2021 due to sour relations with Saudi Arabia, a situation that led the country to withdraw from OPEC in 2018. Qatar’s role as one of the top three exporters of natural gas in the world – this commodity has become vital as energy prices have spiked due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – has likely bolstered its position in this regard.

Analysts at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, widely considered to be a pro-Israeli advocacy group, questioned whether Israel and the US can trust a country that retains links to Islamic jihadists like Hamas. For years, Qatar has been criticized in the West for financially supporting groups that are designated as terror organizations. The leaders of Hamas are hosted opulently in the Gulf kingdom and have an office there. And its close ties to Iran and support for groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood led its neighbors in the region to shut it out in 2017.

It certainly has played a dominant role in Gaza, financing much of the civilian infrastructure in the enclave and controlling the media megaphone of the Al Jazeera network broadcasting in Arabic and English, the dominant news network in the region.

Meanwhile, an opinion column in Middle East Monitor, which is widely regarded as pro-Palestinian, portrayed Qatar’s outsized role in regional diplomacy as taking a new path to building peace.

Irrespective of one’s opinion, one thing is for sure, the Washington Times wrote: Qatar will almost certainly have an outsized say in the new order – or chaos — in the Middle East.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

A Bitter Race

SOUTH KOREA

South Korean police on Wednesday raided the residence and office of a man who stabbed the country’s opposition leader in the neck earlier this week, an attack that shocked the nation and prompted calls for more security for politicians, the Associated Press reported.

On Tuesday, a 67-year-old man attacked Lee Jae-myung, the leader of the liberal opposition Democratic Party, while the latter was visiting the southeastern city of Busan.

Police said the attacker, who has not been officially identified, posed as a supporter and approached Lee asking for his autograph before stabbing him with a 6.7-inch knife. The opposition leader was rushed to hospital and was put into the intensive care unit for recovery.

Local media reported that Lee was later transferred to an ordinary ward.

Authorities detained the man, who confessed that he attempted to kill Lee and had plotted the attack alone. He did not detail a motive.

Busan police said they dispatched officers to search the suspect’s residence and office in the central city of Asan. They are also probing whether the man was a member of the Democratic Party or the People’s Power Party of President Yoon Suk Yeol.

Yoon condemned the attack as “an act of terror.”

Observers said the stabbing comes as South Korea becomes increasingly divided between conservatives and liberals following elections in 2022.

Lee lost to Yoon by 0.7 percentage points – the narrowest margin ever recorded in a South Korean presidential race. Even so, the opposition leader has remained a vocal critic of Yoon and has accused the president of pursuing a political vendetta through a series of corruption investigations targeting him.

The incident came just months before South Korea’s April parliamentary elections, according to the Wall Street Journal. Following the attack, the government has boosted security measures for high-profile politicians.

Spilling Over

IRAN

At least 103 people were killed and more than 188 injured in central Iran after two explosions detonated near the burial site of slain Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, in what authorities have described as a terror attack, CNN reported.

Iranian state media said the twin blasts occurred in the city of Kerman, both taking place less than a mile from Soleimani’s grave. Officials said the first blast originated from a suitcase bomb inside a car that was detonated remotely.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blasts, but the Iranian government has condemned the explosions and declared Thursday a national day of mourning.

The blasts came during the fourth anniversary of Soleimani’s death – he was killed on Jan. 3, 2020, in a US airstrike at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.

The military leader was the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, an elite unit that handles Tehran’s overseas operations and has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.

According to the Pentagon, Soleimani and his unit were “responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more.”

Observers noted that the explosion came during a time of heightened tensions across the Middle East following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The conflict has led to fighting beyond Israel, often involving Iran-backed militias.

On Tuesday, a senior Hamas leader was killed in the Lebanese capital Beirut in a blast that one US official said was carried out by Israel. Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied their involvement.

Last week, Iran and its proxies accused Israel of assassinating a senior Iranian commander in Syria, leading to vows of retaliation.

Israel did not comment on the matter but has previously accused Iran of funding and arming Hamas.

Bending, Not Breaking

SIERRA LEONE

A court in Sierra Leone charged former President Ernest Bai Koroma and 12 others – including former police and correctional officers and a member of Koroma’s security detail – with treason, and other offenses for Koroma, over their alleged involvement in an attempted coup in late November, Reuters reported.

Individuals found guilty of treason could face life imprisonment, according to the country’s penal code.

The charges come amid a period of heightened tensions in Sierra Leone following the failed coup in November and a disputed June election in which President Julius Maada Bio secured a second term.

The country’s opposition rejected the election results, while Sierra Leone’s international partners – including the United States and the European Union – have questioned them.

The November attack saw gunmen targeting military barracks, a prison, and other locations, resulting in the release of 2,200 inmates and more than 20 fatalities.

The government attributed the incident to a foiled coup primarily led by Koroma’s bodyguards. The former president, who was summoned for questioning in December, condemned the attacks.

Sierra Leone is still recovering from a civil war from 1991 to 2002 in which more than 50,000 people were killed.

The November violence sparked fears of another military takeover in the West African region, which has seen a number of nations, including Mali and Niger, fall under military coups, Agence France-Presse wrote.

DISCOVERIES

Somebody That They Used to Know

It has long been known that humans share many features with apes. What has made us stand out in the animal kingdom is our ability to develop social networks. Now, that sense of kinship may also be found among our close cousins.

A study conducted on bonobos and chimpanzees in Belgium, Japan, and Scotland, showed that they could remember relatives and group mates, the Washington Post reported.

The animals were ingenuously lured in with fruit juice and a straw to keep their heads from moving, as the researchers showed them a picture of an ape they had lived with in the past, and a picture of a stranger.

The experiment resulted in the bonobos and chimps spending more time looking at the apes they knew, glancing at recognizable features. The difference was only a quarter second on average, leading the researchers to equate this reaction with the way humans would see an old classmate on the street.

One scientist not involved in the study commented that this result failed to prove that apes could recognize their fellows, and rather showed they could feel familiarity.

Nonetheless, it also provided evidence of the long-term memory of apes. One of the bonobos seemed to remember her sister, whom she had not seen in 26 years. This may signal that bonobos, chimps, and humans all inherited long-term memory from a common ancestor, who lived seven million years ago.

In the study, the bonobos and chimps did look longer at old group mates whom they had a positive connection with. However, whether apes can develop the same kinds of relationships as humans, including friendship, remains a controversial point. “It’s sometimes called the f-word in primatology,” one of the researchers said.

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