Tag Archives: Gaza Strip

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The biggest story of the week has to be the breakdown of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Since last week, when we discussed the termination of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, the two sides have increased cross-border attacks.  Civilians on both sides of the border are preparing for an increase in violence, as Hamas threatens a dramatic increase in rocket attacks against Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip in response to the dramatic increase in Israeli air strikes over the weekend.  So far, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to launch an all-out ground attack, but many are speculating that Israel is preparing to follow the massive air strikes with some kind of ground assault.  The United States has given tacit approval to the Israeli strikes, calling on Hamas to cease its activities.  The Europeans are calling for a stop in the violence, and Libya has called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to address the crisis.  However, any solution to the crisis must also involve Egypt, which has so far failed to develop an initiative both sides can accept. 

In other news from the last week:

1.  On Friday, Pakistan began shifting large portions of its military forces from its northern border with Afghanistan to its eastern border with India.  Pakistani military officials are downplaying the move, which so far has involved an estimated 20,000 soldiers.  But the Pakistani government has raised concerns that India may launch a strike in response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks.  The United States and the European Union are urging restraint on both sides, noting that Pakistan’s move undermines the ability of coalition forces to wage the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  India and Pakistan have long been at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir.  Both are also nuclear powers.

2.  Somalia’s President, Abdullahi Yusuf, may be close to resigning.   Earlier this month, a political crisis emerged when Yusuf attempted to force the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein.  Hussein had been appointed as part of a power-sharing agreement supported by the West and by neighboring governments.  Since the attempt, Kenya has announced its intentions to move forward with sanctions against Somalia.  The resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf may increase instability in the embattled country, already home to a number of pirates and warlords.  Alternatively, it may result in greater stability if the Islamic insurgency with close ties to al Qaeda is able to establish control over the country. 

3.  The Russian government is bracing for an increase in unrest as the ruble fell to a four-year low against the euro and the dollar on Friday.  In early December, the Russian government put down protests in Vladivostok as it increased duties on imported cars in an attempt to protect domestic auto manufactures.  The opposition has criticized the government, and the liberal People’s Democratic Union leader Mikhail Kasyanov, has argued that the implicit social contract, under which the Russian people exchanged political freedoms for economic prosperity and consumer goods, had broken down.  The global economic crisis has hit Russia particularly hard, with industrial output falling and unemployment increasing at the same time the price of the country’s most important product, oil, has collapsed. 

4.  The December 23 death of Lansana Conté, left a power vacuum in Guinea  which was filled on Friday by a military junta.  Conté had ruled the West African nation for 24 years, after seizing power in a coup in 1984.  The military group which seized power on Friday is led by Moussa Camara, a captain who served in a logistics unit.  The junta has appealed to the international community for recognition and assistance.  But so far, the international community has been slow to recognize the new government, as the United States, the European Union, the African Union, and France have all condemned the coup.  Guinea is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite, a precoursor in the production of aluminum, and the coup has raised concerns about the stability of world alumunum markets.  It also has a key role to play in ensuring the stability of its neighbors, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which experienced a long civil war in the 1990s fueled by trade in illicit diamonds.

5.  The budget of the United Nations was passed on Tuesday.  The new budget increases spending by $700 million (from $4.17 billion to $4.87 billion), excluding the cost of peacekeeping operations.  Passing the budget of the United Nations has become an increasingly politicized affair, as developing countries push for an expansion of the international institution’s role while the developed countries attempt to limit it.  This year, compromise was reached when the developed countries agreed to fund an additional 92 positions in exchange for increasing UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Five Stories You Might Have Missesd

Efforts to rescue the failing auto industry continue, as President Bush last week announced a $17.4 billion package targeting the big three American auto manufacturers.  The Canadian government has stepped in with a C$4 billion package of its own, and pressure is growing on the British government to follow suit.

Here’s five other stories important from the previous week:

 1.  Despite the announcement of a record production cut by OPEC last week, oil prices continued to slide, falling below $34 per barrel—a four year low—on Friday.  Many analysts have raised concerns about the stability of oil prices, though oil producers and oil consumers remain at odds over precisely what the price should be.  In an interesting side note, falling oil prices have also undermined the ability of Venezuela to pursue its policy of supporting like-minded governments in Latin America.  Chavez’s government has pledged $30 billion in direct payments, oil financings, and other initiatives developed through the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, whose members include Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Dominica, and Honduras.

2.  Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s government in Belgium resigned on Friday after the country’s supreme court found signs that the government had attempted to exercise undue influence over the country’s courts.  The resignation of Leterme’s government is the most recent indication of political instability in the country, sharply divided along linguistic lines and perpetually in danger of dissolution.  The government has been in office since March, after taking more than nine months to cobble together his five-party coalition.  As head of state, King Albert II must now decide whether to accept the resignation and schedule new elections, or try to form a new coalition out of the country’s sharply divided parliament.

3.  Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and Israelis living near it are bracing for a renewal of violence this weekend as the Egyptian-negotiated ceasefire between the Israeli government and the Hamas-led government in Gaza ended on Friday.  The fragile ceasefire has been in place for six months, but both sides have regularly violated the agreement.  In response to rocket attacks against Israeli settlements, the Israeli military has closed all entry-points into Gaza, effectively cutting the region off from the outside world and creating severe shortages of key materials, including food and fuel.  The Hamas government asserts that it will not stop the rocket attacks until the blockage is lifted.

4.  On Thursday, a United Nations court found Colonel Theoneste Bagosora guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in Rwanda and sentenced him to life in prison.  Bagosora assumed leadership of the military, and became the de facto leader of Rwanda after President Huvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in April, 1994.  The downing of the plane marked the beginning of the mass killings, which resulted in the murder of more than 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda.  The conviction makes Bagosora the highest-ranking member of the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government to be convicted. 

5.  The United States is preparing to expand its mission in Afghanistan, projecting an increased force commitment of between 20,000 and 30,000 soldiers by next summer.  The extra troops are necessary to fight a growing Taliban insurgency centered in the east and south of Afghanistan.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The global economic summit of the G20 countries concluded yesterday.  The meeting, intended to address the global financial crisis, concluded with a promise to take “whatever further actions are necessary” to address the crisis, but offered few concrete steps forward.  The summit was an opportunity to reconsider the international financial architecture, often referred to as the Bretton Woods system.  I’ll have a more detailed assessment of the summit tomorrow.  In the meantime, here are five other studies you might have missed:

1. Remember the timeline for withdrawal from Iraq that would have handed a victory to the terrorists?  Well, now we have one.  The Bush administration concluded a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government that requires the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces by 2011.  The UN Security Council resolution which authorized the U.S. military presence in Iraq is due to expire in December, and without either a new Security Council authorization or an agreement with the Iraqi government, the status of American troops in Iraq would have been uncertain at best (and illegal at worst).  The timeline for withdrawal was a sticking point for approval of the Iraqi legislature. 

2.  The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza militants continued to come under strain last week.  An Israeli attack early last week resulted in the death of six Hamas militants.  Palestinian militants responded by increasing rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip.  The Israeli government then closed Gaza’s borders, shutting down the flow of supplies.  The European Union on Friday called on Israel to permit the importation of food, fuel, and basic humanitarian supplies, but so far, the Israeli government has declined.

3.  The Eurozone has officially entered its first recession ever.  Established in 1999 and comprised of all European Union members which have adopted the Euro as their official currency, the 15-member Eurozone has now experienced two consecutive quarters of declining gross domestic product.  According to an FT editorial, the recession represents the first real challenge for European economic unity.  Already the European Central Bank has taken steps to address the economic downturn, cutting interest rates and increasing liquidity.  The effectiveness of these policies—and the difficulty of managing fifteen national economies through a single monetary policy—remains to be seen.

4.  Faced with oil prices declining below $55 per barrel and the lowest level of growth in demand for oil since 1985, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) scheduled an emergency meeting for the end of the month.  Most forecasters believe OPEC will try to trim global output in an attempt to increase world oil prices.

5.  The fighting in eastern portions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has resulted in the displacement of as many as 250,000 people, continued last week despite UN pressure to establish a ceasefire.  The United Nations is attempting to address the humanitarian crisis, but has so far been unsuccessful. But according to sources within the UN mission in the Congo, known as MONUC, rebel forces are attempting to force the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers from the region.

And a bonus story for this week:

6.  The Mexican Congress passed its annual budget for 2009.  In an environment characterized by the global economic downturn and tight finances, the Mexican government will increase spending by 13.1 percent in real terms in 2009.  The budget—the first in six years in which the government will run a deficit—increases spending on infrastructure, security, and social development. The new budget represents a return to Keynesian-style counter-cyclical spending which the Mexican government hopes will permit the country to avoid the worst of the global economic crisis.