Graffiti displaying the word “Hamas”. Photo: Soman/Wikimedia Commons.
Editor’s Note: This article is included in our ‘Conflict Hotspots 2014’ dossier which can be accessed here .
Born of a common struggle against Israel and nourished by common benefactors in Syria and Iran, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah have long been natural allies despite their sectarian differences. Ever since the early 1990s, when Israel exiled Hamas’ leadership to Lebanon, the two groups have cultivated an alliance that has shaped the Middle East’s balance of power for decades.
But the crisis in Syria has ruptured the old “axis of resistance,” with regional forces giving the two organizations opposing stakes in the conflict and bringing unprecedented tension to their relationship. While Hezbollah fighters have fought and died for Bashar al-Assad in some of the civil war’s fiercest battles, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the rebels and retreated deeper into the embrace of Sunni Islamist powers in the region. » More
German members of the Stabilization Force (SFOR) Bosnia. Photo: USAF/Wikimedia Commons.
At last: Leading German politicians, first and foremost the Federal President Joachim Gauck, are setting the tone for a more engaged and higher-profile German foreign policy.
In his well-received – perhaps historic – speech at the opening of the Munich Security Conference President Gauck called for Germany to play a more responsible role in the international community – commensurate with its economic standing and political influence in the world.
Even more remarkable is that it is a well-coordinated approach by the German government and not simply a Sunday’s address by a figure-head President devoid of any legislative powers. » More
Philippine Marines Corporal. Photo: Lcpl Cory Yenter/Wikimedia Commons.
More than 10,000 people fled their homes this week in Mindanao, southern Philippines, as government forces launched a major offensive against Muslim splinter groups opposed to a final peace deal to end decades of insurgency in the island. The country’s capacity to respond to emergencies has been stretched by a series of deadly disasters.
President Benigno Aquino said the offensive was a calculated response against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), who had been harassing civilians and troops in the towns of Datu Piang and Pikit, in Maguindanao Province.
Gun battles and heavy exchanges of mortar fire have left at least 37 rebels and one soldier dead since 27 January, and the military said at least three civilians were hurt by an improvised bomb attack near a market, in which seven troops were also injured.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in the capital, Manila, said it had requested assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide tents for some 4,200 people in 10 evacuation centres. Another 4,565 people are staying with friends and relatives. » More
Elephant ivory seized from poachers. Photo: Enough Project/flickr.
This article was originally published by the IPI Global Observatory on 30 January 2014.
Tied to rising ivory prices, elephant poaching and ivory trafficking has tripled over the last fifteen years, with the rate of increase jumping dramatically from 2009. Profits from illegal wildlife trafficking are now worth an estimated US$8-10 billion annually, making this the fifth most profitable form of transnational organized crime after drugs, people, oil, and counterfeiting. The sale of endangered species—from tigers to rhino horns to turtles—is big money, and elephant tusks are by far one of the most lucrative subsectors of this illicit trade.
There have been increased national anti-poaching efforts—in South Africa and Kenya, for example—but the poachers’ methods are evolving and becoming more brutal and distasteful to the general public. They now include cyanide poisoning of watering holes to reduce the risk of being detected by gunfire, resulting in the indiscriminate killing of entire herds. » More
Photo: Gwenael Piaser/flickr.
Anyone looking at North Africa and the Middle East today would be forgiven for thinking that the Arab Spring has rapidly turned into a bitter winter. The revolutionary road embarked upon by a number of countries looks ever more precarious. Syria is still being torn apart by civil war, in Libya the government is struggling to impose its authority and Egypt appears to be experiencing a reversal of the democratic gains it had made as the ‘deep state’ consolidates its position. Yet, within this overwhelmingly gloomy picture, recent developments in Tunisia are cause for optimism.
Tunisia provided the spark for the Arab uprisings three years ago with the self-immolation of Mohamad Bouazizi in Tunisia’s neglected interior. As the transition got underway, hopes were high for this small North African country. Tunisia’s domestic situation seemed to augur well for the transition process. The country’s largely Arab and Muslim population was well-educated and traditionally orientated towards moderation. Indeed, promising first steps were made toward democratic transition, with free and fair elections, and the establishment of a transitional government tasked with drafting a new constitution. Economically, the country’s lack of natural resources seemed to be compensated by its vibrant tourist industry. » More