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Conflict Weekly
Continuing Violence in Haiti, Myanmar and Gaza

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #212, 25 January 2024, Vol.5, No.4
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and the India Office of the KAS

Dhriti Mukherjee

Haiti: Continuing Violence and Kidnappings 
Dhriti Mukherjee

In the news
On 19 January, six nuns from the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anne were kidnapped while travelling by bus in Croix-des-Missions, Port-au-Prince. According to the Haitian Conference of the Religious, an unknown number of unidentified people on the bus were also kidnapped. Although no one has claimed responsibility, gangs are suspected to be behind the abductions. 

On 18 January, the Solino neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince was attacked by gang members, who raided houses and engaged in gunfire, killing 20 people. The area was placed under lockdown on the same day.

Since 13 January, there has been an increase in armed violence, which has been attributed to gangs seeking to put pressure on Haitian Prime Minister and acting President Ariel Henry. On 7 February, a political accord consolidated that his power was set to expire. The Haitian Conference of Religious condemned the “cowardly” kidnapping, and demanded the release of the nuns while calling on authorities to “ensure their safety and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

On 21 January, Pope Francis stated: “I join in asking for their release and pray for those who carry out this violence to have a conversion of heart.”

Issues at large
First, continuing gang violence and the weak state. Gang violence has become a part of daily life in Haiti and has been increasing since the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse in 2021. The weakened security apparatus, lack of effective law enforcement and widespread impunity have allowed over 80 per cent of the capital to be controlled by over 200 gangs. In 2023, the UN documented 4,789 people killed in gang violence, an increase of 119 per cent compared with 2022, while 3,000 people were kidnapped. In response to escalating violence, a civilian self-defence movement known as “Bwa Kale” emerged, and gang members retaliated by creating their movement known as “Zam Pale,” which led to more clashes. Gangs use sexual violence to dominate communities and force families to pay higher ransoms. This issue has been complemented with impunity, and 2023 marked the first time Haiti joined the 2023 Global Impunity Index. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), Haiti’s justice system “barely functions” and “impunity reigns.” 

Second, political instability. Haiti’s turbulent history of political leadership is a significant contributor to the country’s ongoing security crisis. President Michel Martelly stepped down from office in 2016 after postponing presidential elections twice and ruling by decree for more than a year. Moïse was elected as his successor that November but didn’t assume office until 2017 after allegations of fraud extended the election process. Moïse’s critics claimed that he allowed gangsters to function and helped them destabilise areas controlled by his political opponents. Following his assassination in 2021, Henry became the acting president, a succession that was never ratified by law. Elections have been postponed repeatedly since 2021. Civilians and gang members see his rule as illegitimate. Gangs have become the de facto authority in most parts of the country. 

Third, the failure of international missions. International assistance to Haiti often takes the form of short-term, crisis-driven interventions and fails to address the root causes of the issues. The 13-year UN mission in Haiti was characterised by sexual assaults, and the accidental introduction and spread of cholera. The US continues to support Henry, despite Haitian civilian leaders urging an end of support for a government they hold responsible for furthering violence. Following Henry’s calls for international assistance, on 26 January, the Kenyan High Court will decide whether a Kenya-led UN multinational mission can be legally deployed. However, civilians are strongly opposed to this, out of fears of human rights violations similar to past missions and the belief that the mission would support Henry’s “corrupt, illegitimate repressive” government.

In perspective
First, the potential for a surge in gang violence. Gangs have slowly begun extending to newer areas, implying that the violence is likely to increase in intensity and reach. They have created income streams from kidnapping, extortion, and trafficking. Coupled with a shortage of police who are usually outgunned, the violence would increase. Further, the breakdown of negotiation between Haiti’s biggest gangs, G9 and G-Pèp, in November 2023, will exacerbate clashes. This would imply a worsening situation for civilians, who are experiencing emergency levels of food insecurity and a cholera outbreak. 

Second, the probability of a power vacuum. As per a political agreement signed by Henry on 21 December 2022, elections were to be held in 2023 and the new government was supposed to be in power in February 2024. However, these elections were never conducted. The return of former rebel leader Guy Philippe could destabilise the transition process. Haiti is likely to face a political deadlock; without a legal governing body the situation would worsen. 


IPRI SPECIAL COMMENTARY
Myanmar: Ethnic Armed Organizations, China’s Mediation and Continuing Fighting
Bibhu Prasad Routray

Recent Developments
On 5 January, Laukkai, the largest base of the Myanmar military in northern Shan state’s Kokang region was overrun by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). Nearly 2,100 soldiers in the facility near the Chinese border laid down their arms. This was the largest surrender by the military during Operation 1027, an offensive that began on 27 October 2023 as part of the Three Brotherhood Alliance (TBA) of ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) comprising the MNDAA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army. In the last three months, 15 cities in northern Shan state have fallen into the hands of the TBA which has seized control of more than 200 military camps, prompting the surrender of some 4,000 troops. 

The above developments have led to assumptions that the days of military rule in Myanmar are numbered. The on-ground situation, however, is complex.     

China mediated ceasefire in the Shan state
To halt the TBA’s military advance in the Shan state, a China-mediated Haigeng ceasefire agreement was announced on 12 January. This temporary agreement resulted from China’s third attempt since December 2023 at initiating a process of dialogue between the TBA and the military. A previous ceasefire pact reached in mid-December had collapsed as neither side honoured it. Beijing desperately wishes to keep the trade routes between Myanmar and its Yunnan state open, as well as its territory safe from the spillage of continuing clashes. Additionally, it wants to eliminate the online scam centres which have proliferated in the Shan state. However, the ceasefire is only a localised agreement. It is tenuous at its best. The TBA has continued accusing the military of breaking the terms of the ceasefire since day one, by launching ground offensives as well as air strikes.        

Continuing fighting in Rakhine and Chin states
There is no such pause to fighting in the western Rakhine and Chin states, where the Arakan Army (AA) has stepped up attacks on military targets since 13 November 2023. Townships such as Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U, Minbya, Pauktaw, and Rathedaung have witnessed escalated clashes between both sides and nearly 160 military bases have been run over by the AA. On 15 January, the AA claimed to have captured Paletwa town, bordering India and Bangladesh, in the Chin state. This led hundreds of Myanmar soldiers to enter India to seek refuge, some of whom have been sent back. On 21 January, the AA carried out a rocket attack on a naval base in the Kyaukphyu township of Rakhine state, prompting a military artillery strike in response, causing more than 1,000 civilians to flee their homes. A similar attack on the base had been carried out by the AA on 8 January. The base is part of the Kyaukphyu deep-sea port complex and is in a special economic zone that is currently being developed by China.  

The military’s responses
The Myanmar military Junta continues to face the most difficult challenge to its objective of consolidating power and moving ahead with its plan of holding national elections, in an attempt to legitimise its power grab. Public utterances and moves by the military leaders do portray a growing sense of frustration at not being able to control the attacks by the TBA and People Defence Forces (PDF). Previously the Junta had termed the fighting as something that can break the country apart and resolved to crush it. Over time, it has called on the ethnic organisations (EAOs) groups to solve their problems ‘politically’. 

The military is doing everything to avoid operational defeats and loss of key towns and bases. It continues to respond with airstrikes and artillery bombardments, forcing thousands of people to leave their homes. At the same time, however, it has neither been able to bring in reinforcements nor recover the ground it has lost. As Laukkai fell, six brigadier-generals in charge of the base were flown by helicopter to the Northeast Regional Military Command headquarters, and later sent to the capital Naypyidaw. Media reports suggest that they were taken into custody. Later three of them were sentenced to death and three others were jailed for life for abandoning their post. This desperate move by the military leaders can have large repercussions on the troops, affecting their morale and promoting desertion.    

Notwithstanding the sense of overarching optimism among the pro-democracy analysts who dominate the English-language media, the Junta looks weak, but its defeat is not imminent. What is being speculated in the ongoing conversations is that the battlefield heroics of the TBA will unleash a rebellion of sorts within the military, forcing the Junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to step down. Divisions between those who want the military to do more to crush the opposition and those who prefer stepping back to initiate a political dialogue may grow further. In mid-January, Ashin Ariawuntha, an ultranationalist Buddhist monk who helped set up pro-junta militias was detained and questioned by authorities. He had asked Min Aung Hlaing to take responsibility for the humiliating defeats and resign. These hopes, however, can only be fanciful and may get dashed. Internal cohesion and support from powerful external forces have kept the military going so far. To break these, more accomplishments would be required from the TBA and the National Unity Government (NUG).    

What next?
Although Myanmar remains in a state of bewildering flux, three truisms are evident from the prevailing state of affairs.

First, the State does not necessarily win conflicts that have overstretched. As conflicts linger, the weak opposition finds ways and means to sustain itself, upscale its attacks, and mount serious challenges to the state authorities. This prods the state to be more ruthless in its response, which has a countervailing effect in terms of contributing to the support base of the opposition. Due to the ceaseless and effective attacks by the TBA, the Junta has found itself in a state of shock, and disbelief, and is hard-pressed to end the conflict. However, three years of continued military effort appears to have drained its soldiers of morale and enthusiasm. An outright military victory over the opposition, therefore, is no longer a probable scenario. 
 
Second, in a civil war situation, the path towards victory by either party is never linear. Victory for the pro-democracy forces is not imminent. Serious challenges to be able to continue with the current revolution have emerged. Some well-established EAOs, like the Karen, the Kachin, the Karenni and the Chin, have allied themselves with the NUG. But others such as the bigger groups in Shan State have not. There are indications that even the TBA, which appeared to further the cause of democracy in the country, could gradually be settling for a solution that stops short of defeating the military and allows them to establish their suzerainty over the captured territories. That runs counter to the NUG’s goal. The NUG will have to find a way to keep the TBA and other groups aligned with its objective of making the Junta restore democracy and go back to the barracks.       

Third, China is the biggest elephant in the room, with significant leverage to shape the course of the civil war. At the same time, it is not a behemoth which is absolutely in control of the evolving situation. It is not tilted towards the NUG. It merely seeks to convert the recent military gains by the TBA to its advantage. The 5 January capture of Laaukkai, infamous for gambling, prostitution and cybercrime, and the dismantling of these organised crime syndicates by the TBA effectively took care of Chinese concerns of the past several months, which the Junta had been unable to fulfil. Lashio is another town in the northern Shan state that the Chinese are interested in dominating through the TBA, preferably without an all-out clash between the two sides. Ultimately, the Chinese could be working towards a solution in which their projects inside Myanmar are protected by both the military as well as the EAOs. 
  
Developments in the coming weeks and months will throw more light on the trajectory of conflict in Myanmar. As instability in the country appears uninterruptible, the end state is difficult to foresee at this point. 


Conflict Weekly Special
War in Gaza: Fifteenth Week
Rosemary Kurian, Nuha Aamina, Rishita Verma and Gananthula Uma Maheshwari

War on the ground
On 24 January, Al Jazeera stated that as per the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), explosives at a UN facility in Khan Younis, that was sheltering displaced residents, had resulted in nine fatalities and numerous injuries.

On 23 January, Gaza’s Palestine Red Crescent Society stated that the Israeli military had opened fire with artillery shells on its offices in Khan Younis. 

On 23 January, an anonymous top Egyptian official claimed that Hamas had rejected Israel’s proposal of a two-month pause in fighting and a mutual release of hostages from both sides.

On 22 January, Al Jazeera reported on information from the Palestinian news agency Wafa, according to which at least ten Palestinians, including children, died as a result of Israeli airstrikes, shelling, and gunfire in Khan Younis.

On 21 January, Al Jazeera reported that as per the Gaza Ministry of Health, the Israeli army was suspected of killing multiple Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip in the last 24 hours, leaving at least 165 Palestinians dead. 

On 20 January, Al Jazeera reported that displaced Palestinians in four evacuation zones in Gaza City received orders from the Israeli military to move towards central parts of the city.

On 20 January Al Jazeera reported that for the fourth day in a row, Palestinian fighters had claimed attacks against Israeli soldiers in the Jabalia area of northern Gaza.

On 19 January, Al Jazeera cited local media sources, who said that an Israeli airstrike on a residential structure west of Khan Younis claimed the lives of five people. Meanwhile, 12 people were killed and dozens injured in an Israeli air raid on an apartment building close to the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on the same day.

Regional responses
On 24 January, Majed Al Ansari, the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, said that they were “appalled” by the remarks of Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, on the role of Qatar as a mediator.

On 23 January, Arab News reported that Egypt rejected the allegation by Israel that the Rafah Crossing was being used to transport arms and ammunition.

On 23 January, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the Foreign Minister of Iran, during talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, agreed to an immediate ceasefire in Gaza along with humanitarian assistance.

On 22 January, over USD 165 million was collected by KSrelied, a Saudi Arabian aid agency, for the people of Gaza.

On 22 January, at a meeting of the foreign ministers of the European Union (EU), Ayman Safadi, the Foreign Minister of Jordan, criticized the Israeli government’s “radical racist agenda.”

On 21 January, Nuri Al-Maliki, the former Prime Minister of Iraq, met with the US ambassador to Iraq and warned against the “escalation of regional tensions” in the Middle East because of “multiple crises” in Palestine, Lebanon, the Red Sea, Syria and Iraq.

On 20 January, Iran accused Israel of an attack on Damascus that killed four members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards of Iran.

On 19 January, Reuters reported that the Houthi rebels stated that they had no intention of spreading their attacks in and around the Red Sea.

Global responses
On 25 January, the Norwegian government agreed to play the role of an intermediary in an attempt to unfreeze the earmarked tax funds from Israel to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

On 24 January, the Jerusalem Post reported that based on research it conducted with several sources, the network of South African organisations and straw man companies were found to be involved in funding Hamas.

On 24 January, as per a document and a Houthi official, American and British citizens working in UN offices and other humanitarian organisations in Yemen were ordered by the Houthis to leave the country within a month.    

On 23 January, Al Jazeera reported that Belgium announced complete support for the impending verdict by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on genocide claims by South Africa against Israel.

On 22 January, Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, urged a two-state solution to end the war in Gaza.

On 21 January, Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN, condemned Israel for being responsible for the “heartbreaking” deaths of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

On 20 January, the US forces struck a Houthi anti-ship missile targeting vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

On 20 January, according to Al Jazeera, global supplies of crude oil were nearly halved due to shipping delays caused by a route diversion due to the Houthi threat in the Red Sea.

On 19 January, the Office of the Swiss Attorney General said that it had received complaints against Isaac Herzog, the Israeli President, accusing him of committing war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza.

On 19 January, Josep Borrell, the foreign policy chief of the European Union (EU), stated that Israel aided the funding of Hamas to rule Gaza in a bid to weaken the power of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority.

On 19 January, Joe Biden, the US President, stated that he was not opposed to all two-state solutions, hinting at a possible solution without a militarised Palestine.

On 19 January, Russia’s foreign ministry said that Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, in a conversation with Abu Marzouk, a Hamas Politburo member, discussed the “ongoing confrontation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone.


Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Akriti Sharma, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Navinan G, Gopi Kesav, Akhil Ajith, Rohini Reenum, Rishika Yadav, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham and Narmatha S

East and Southeast Asia
China: 7.1 magnitude earthquake hits Western China
On 23 January, an earthquake of 7.1 magnitude hit China’s Xinjiang province, resulting in six casualties. The earthquake struck around 0200 hours, and about 200 rescuers were dispatched to the affected area. According to the Xinjiang authorities, the earthquake led to the collapse of 47 houses. The region is predominantly populated by Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnicity which has been a target of forced assimilation and mass detention. In China’s Southwest Yunnan province, rescue work is still underway, with 20 out of 47 victims recovered from the debris in the village of Liangshui.  

Tibet: Activists accuse China of cultural “erase” of children
On 22 January, activists for Tibetan human rights accused China of political indoctrination and purposeful “erasing” of their cultural and religious identity. They called for the UN to review China’s human rights record in the region. It is estimated that millions of Tibetan children have been forcefully separated from their parents and sent to boarding schools where they are indoctrinated. China has refuted these claims and stated that the school’s system respects and follows the religious and cultural rights of children.

North Korea: Cruise missiles launched into the West Sea
On 24 January, the South Korean Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) reported several cruise missiles being launched into the West Sea, triggering tensions. The JCS stated that they are strengthening their monitoring and vigilance, and coordinating with the US to monitor further provocations from North Korea. The missile was launched from the ground and is suspected to be Hwasal 1 or 2 which is capable of carrying a Hwasan 31 nuclear warhead. The launch comes ten days after North Korea test-fired a solid fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile with a hypersonic warhead into the East Sea. 

South Korea: China and North Korea conduct cyber attacks against Seoul
On 24 January, South Korea’s spy agency, National Intelligence Service, stated that there were major attempts by both China and North Korea against South Korea in 2023. Chinese attacks were not frequent, however, inflicted more than that of North Korea. Cyber-attacks against the public sector increased by 36 per cent last year compared to 2022. North Korea accounted for 80 per cent of those attacks, and China five per cent. The agency reported of Chinese cyber-attacks targeting ground stations aimed at gaining control of satellites. 

South Asia
Sri Lanka: Indian fishermen arrested by Sri Lankan Navy
On 23 January, six Indian fishermen from Tamil Nadu were arrested by the Sri Lankan Navy while illegally fishing in the high seas. Two of the boats were seized. The fishermen were taken to the Kankesanthurai Port for further proceedings. On 16 January in a similar incident, 18 Indian fishermen were arrested by the Navy.

India: Assam Rifles soldier shoots six fellow soldiers in Manipur
On 24 January, an Assam Rifles soldier shot six of his colleagues before shooting himself dead near the India-Myanmar border. According to the Indian Express, a statement from the Personnel Relations Office (PRO) of the Assam Rifles (South) stated: “In light of the ongoing ethnic strife in Manipur, it is important to share the details of the incident transparently to dispel any potential rumours and avoid any speculation. This unfortunate incident should not be correlated with the ongoing conflict, given that none of the injured are from Manipur.” The statement further acknowledged that “all Assam Rifles battalions have mixed class composition” and all individuals had been “operating together despite polarisation of society to maintain peace and stability in Manipur.”

India: Six-point demand proposal to ensure peace
On 24 January, the Arambai Tenggol (AT), a Meitei radical group in Manipur, urged the MLAs to convey the people's concerns to the central government. The group presented a six-point demand proposal to the Chief Minister of Manipur, N Biren Singh, to convey the people's concerns to the central government within 15 days. The AT’s demand proposal included “the removal of the Suspension of Operations, the implementation of the National Register of Citizens, fencing of the border with Myanmar, the replacement of the Assam Rifles by another force, and the removal of Kuki illegal immigrants from the Scheduled Tribe list.”

Pakistan: Diplomatic stand-off with Iran comes to an end
On 22 January, following a phone conversation between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Iran and Pakistan, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Jalil Abbas Jilani respectively, both countries decided to end their diplomatic stand-off amidst a week of tensions and allow their respective envoys to resume their duties later this week.  They jointly stated that Amir-Abdollahian would visit Pakistan on 29 January following an invitation extended by Abbas Jilani. Official sources revealed to the Express Tribune that the two countries would “decide the future course of action and work on a new mechanism to prevent the recurrence of events of the last week.” The focus will be on addressing the root causes of the problems between the two. Although both countries have “friendly and brotherly” relations, there are irritants and underlying issues that need to be addressed. 

Pakistan: Baloch Yakjehti Committee ends month-long sit-in protest in Islamabad
On 23 January, the Baloch Yakjehti Committee (BYC) concluded its nearly 30-day sit-in outside the National Press Club in Islamabad, protesting against “enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings” in Balochistan. Mahrang Baloch, a key organiser, announced their return and plans for a rally on 27 January. The National Press Club (NPC) in Islamabad filed a complaint seeking the removal of Baloch protesters, citing security concerns and financial losses. Last month, Islamabad police cracked down on the demonstrators, leading to arrests and criticism. The Islamabad High Court later directed officials to avoid disrupting the protest. 

Pakistan: Torkham border crossing to reopen 
On 23 January, the Express Tribune reported that the Torkham border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan which has remained shut since 13 January is set to reopen. This is due to a relaxation in visa and travel document requirements that the Pakistani authorities had set for the drivers. The relaxation will last from 23 January to 31 March 2024. Earlier, Pakistan had introduced a new mandatory rule for all truckers and their assistants to produce visas and travel documents at the border. Afghanistan had rejected this and the ensuing disagreement had led to a closure for ten days. The new relaxation came after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and chamber of commerce delegation carried out negotiations with Pakistani embassy staff. Several border crossings including Chaman, Torkham, Ghulam Khan, Angur Ada and Kharlachi remained closed. 

Pakistan: High alert following intelligence reports of terrorist threats
On 24 January, the Express Tribune reported that security forces in Pakistan were placed under high alert following intelligence reports suggesting potential terrorist activities orchestrated by banned groups, including the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The warning indicated the arrival of 17 suicide bombers in the country, prompting nationwide security measures. The TTP allegedly held a meeting in Kabul, outlining plans for attacks in January. Targeted areas include Tank in KP, Rawalpindi, Dera Ismail Khan in Punjab, Islamabad and Quetta in Balochistan. Separately, Baloch sub-nationalists were reportedly planning attacks in Rawalpindi and Islamabad with alleged support from India’s intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). China’s Global Times cited “solid bits of evidence” of India supporting terrorism in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. 

Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa
Iran: IRGC claims six of its members killed in an air raid conducted by Israel in Damascus
On 20 January, according to a statement from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), five of its “military advisers” were killed in an Israeli missile attack on a residential building in Damascus, Syria. Several Syrian forces were additionally killed. Syrian state media, SANA, confirmed the attack and termed it an “Israeli aggression.” Blaming Israel for the attack, Iran argued that it “reserves the right to respond.” Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi stated: “The Islamic Republic will not leave the Zionist regime’s crimes unanswered.” A source informed Al Jazeera that an IRGC intelligence unit was the target of the attack. The source additionally revealed that during the attack, a senior IRGC intelligence official and his assistants were inside the building.

Iraq: US base attacked by Iran-backed group
On 20 January, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) stated that Iran-backed armed groups had fired “multiple ballistic missiles and rockets” on US forces stationed in Iraq a few hours after Iran blamed Israel for an attack in Damascus that killed five IRGC “military advisers.” According to CENTCOM, the Iranian attack caused the death of one Iraqi and several suspected US casualties. It stated on X: “Multiple ballistic missiles and rockets were launched by Iranian-backed militants in western Iraq targeting al-Assad Airbase.”

Iraq: Government condemns US strikes in Iraq
On 24 January, the US strikes on Iraq were condemned by the Iraqi government. According to a spokesperson for Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, the US “blatantly” infringed upon the sovereignty of Iraq. Meanwhile, the US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd Austin, stated: “US military forces conducted necessary and proportionate strikes on three facilities used by the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia group and other Iran-affiliated groups in Iraq.” Kataib Hezbollah military spokesperson, Jaafar al-Husseini, warned that the organisation would keep targeting “enemy bases” until Israel's oppression of Gaza ended and US backing for Israel was off.

Israel: IDF claims 24 soldiers killed in Gaza
On 22 January, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) reported that 24 of its soldiers were killed in Gaza. It added that 21 among them were reservists who were killed in a suspected mine explosion that Israeli soldiers had planted. The mines were set off by fire from rocket-propelled grenades. IDF’s Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari stated: “The first rocket hit one of the buildings in which explosives had been laid out. The hit led to the explosion that caused the collapse of the building and the building next to it.” However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the country would continue its offensive until it achieved “absolute victory,” notwithstanding its suffering.

Yemen: US missile strikes continue
On 24 January, the US military carried out strikes in Yemen against Houthi anti-ship missiles and facilities in Iraq, claiming that these groups are responsible for missile and drone attacks on the US forces in Iraq and Syria. The US Central Command stated: “US forces identified the missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that they presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and the US Navy ships in the region.” Subsequently, the Pentagon claimed that after the US and its allies began attacking Houthi military sites on 11 January, they destroyed or damaged more than 25 missile launch and deployment facilities, more than 20 missiles and drones, coastal radar, the group's air surveillance capabilities and weapons storage areas.

Lebanon: Israeli strikes kill a Hezbollah member
On 21 January, according to Lebanese health officials, an Israeli airstrike struck two vehicles near a Lebanese army checkpoint in south Lebanon, killing a Hezbollah member and injuring a woman. Recently, Israel has switched to a strategy of killing specific Hezbollah and allied figures, at times striking far from the border.

Syria: Israeli strikes on Damascus destroys building
On 20 January, Iranian and Syrian state media reported that at least four Iranians were killed in an Israeli strike on a building used by the Iranian paramilitary, Revolutionary Guard, in the Syrian capital Damascus. According to the Syrian army, the Israeli air force fired the missiles while flying over Syria’s Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. It added that a building in the heavily guarded Mazzeh neighbourhood in western Damascus was destroyed. However, following the attack, the Israeli military remained discrete.

Egypt: "Ethiopia-Somaliland's deal acceptable to no one" says Sisi
On 23 January, Al Jazeera reported that Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud condemned the implementation of a recently signed port deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland. On 22 January, while talking to Somalia's President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and Egyptian President, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, commented that the deal signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland is unacceptable. He added: "We are unwavering in our support for our brothers, and if they call upon us, we will not hesitate to act." Meanwhile, Ethiopia's national security affairs advisor, Redwan Hussien, highlighted that the deal is meant for cooperation and partnership and not "annexation" of any other state. On the X platform, he posted that the two countries "are not just neighbours who share a border but they are fraternal nations sharing a common language, culture and people." 

Sudan: EU imposes sanctions on various companies
On 22 January, BBC reported on the sanctions imposed on companies by the EU in Sudan. Since the war broke out in April, war crimes committed by both Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) have killed more than 10,000 people. Six firms associated with helping Sudan in arms support have been frozen and sanctioned. Among these companies, two firms have been supporting the SAF with weapons, finance and logistics. Three firms have been supporting the RSF in acquiring weapons and ammunition. The EU stated that it is deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation. 

Ethiopia: UN's concern on worsening drought
On 18 January, the UN stated that it is concerned about the severe drought in Ethiopia and its impacts. The UN urged for immediate funding to hurry the response phase. The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) mentioned that the drought has affected four million residents living in the Amhara, Oromia, Afar and Tigray regions. It stated: "Multiple and often overlapping crises have severely weakened people’s ability to cope with climate shocks such as drought leaving millions of people vulnerable to falling even further into severe need and destitution." Tigray officials claimed that another 200 people died from starving warns the region is "on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe."

South Africa: Increasing crime rate creates fear
On 18 January, BBC reported on increasing violent crimes and killings in South Africa. According to the latest annual statistics, more than 27,000 people were killed in a year. Getting away with murder has become normal. The insecurities reported are due to crimes, poverty and unemployment. Cash-in-transit hijacks are common with security vans carrying money being rammed off deliberately and the guards are attacked and killed. According to the head of security firm Fidelity Services Group, Wahl Bartmann, the gangs are "like a terrorist group.” He adds that they are well organised, and executed and very difficult to track down and stop them. Fifteen of the company's guards were killed last year during robberies. 

Europe 
The UK: Second joint attack with the US against Houthi targets conducted
On 22 January, the second joint attack by the US and UK against eight Houthi targets in Yemen was conducted. As per a joint statement, a Houthi underground storage site, and missile and surveillance capabilities were targeted. The US and UK stated that the attacks were to enable the “free flow of commerce” in the Red Sea and to de-escalate the conflict. The statement further suggested that a new round of strikes against Houthi targets would be conducted if necessary. The UK Foreign Secretary, David Cameron, stated the UK demanded a “permanent, sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza. The strike, done with the support of Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, was to hold the group “accountable for their illegal and unjustifiable attacks” as per the UK Ministry of Defence. 

Ukraine: High precision missile strike by Russia in Kyiv and Kharkiv kills six
On 23 January, the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, stated that Russian airstrikes in various districts of Kyiv and Kharkiv had killed six people and injured more than 12. Ukrainian military claimed to have countered 21 out of 41 missiles launched by Russia. The Kremlin denied allegations that the airstrikes were in retaliation to an attack by Ukraine on a marketplace in Russia-occupied Donetsk on 21 January, which killed 27 people. The Press Secretary for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, stated that the strikes were a series of “high-precision missiles” targeting Ukrainian military facilities involved in producing rockets and munitions. He criticised Ukraine’s shelling of Donetsk.

Europe: NATO signs USD 1.2 billion artillery contract, some rounds to be supplied to Ukraine
On 23 January, NATO signed a USD 1.2 billion contract for 155-millimetre artillery rounds with some of the ammunition intended for Ukraine due to reported shortages. NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, emphasised the critical role of ammunition in the conflict, describing the war in Ukraine as a “battle of ammunition” and acknowledging Ukraine's struggle with "shell hunger." The NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) facilitated the deal on behalf of allies, including Belgium, Lithuania and Spain who will either provide the ammunition to Ukraine or replenish their inventories. The contract, expected to yield around 220,000 rounds, involves French arms maker Nexter and Germany's Junghans. Deliveries are anticipated by the end of 2025. Since July, NSPA has agreed on deals worth approximately USD ten billion, addressing military stock shortfalls.
 
Turkey's parliament approves Sweden's NATO membership bid after delay
On 23 January, Turkey's parliament approved Sweden's NATO membership bid, concluding a 20-month-long delay. The ratification took place with 287 votes in favour, 55 against and four abstentions. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to sign the bill into law shortly. Swedish Prime Minister, Ulf Kristersson, stated that the vote put Sweden “one step closer” to joining NATO. The delay initially centred on perceived Swedish acceptance of Kurdish groups labelled as "terrorists" by Turkey led to discussions and adjustments in Sweden's antiterrorism legislation and security measures. Turkey's resistance left Hungary as the last holdout in the NATO accession process initiated by Sweden and Finland.

The Americas
Mexico: Demand for “urgent investigation” into how American military-grade weapons were found with cartel members
On 22 January, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Alicia Barcena, demanded an urgent investigation into how US military-grade weapons were frequently used by drug cartels. Barcena stated: “The (Mexican) Defense Department has warned the United States about weapons entering Mexico that are for the exclusive use of the U.S. army.” In June 2023, Mexican authorities stated that since late 2018, 221 fully automatic machine guns, 56 grenade launchers and two rocket launchers were seized from drug cartels. Cartels with access to these weapons had posted images of them on social media, posing a threat to the Mexican Army. The US Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, confirmed that the US would “look into it” as it was committed to working with “Sedena (Mexico’s Defence Department) to see what’s going on.” 

Venezuela: Attorney general announces 14 arrest warrants against alleged conspirators
On 22 January, the Attorney General of Venezuela, Tarek William Saab, stated that 14 arrest warrants were issued for several civilians and former military members allegedly conspiring against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Saab added that around 32 people, including civilians and former military officers, were detained as Maduro alleged plans aimed to assassinate him and the Minister of Defence, Vladimir Padrino. The Ministry of Defence alleged that some members of the military had assisted the plan.

Ecuador: Security forces arrest 68 gang members
On 21 January, in the Guayas province, 68 gang members were arrested by the Ecuadorean security forces while they tried to take over the hospital. They were guarding a gang member receiving treatment in the facility against a possible attack from their rival. On 19 January, Ecuadorian security forces initiated an operation at a major jail complex in the port city of Guayaquil. Soldiers and police officers raided the building and claimed to have restored order after a week of riots in jails around the country. 

Mexico and Chile: “Growing worry” over Gaza War
On 18 January, in a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over possible war crimes, Mexico and Chile expressed "growing worry" about the “escalation of violence” in Gaza. Mexico's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the ICC was the forum through which potential criminal responsibility could be established, regardless of whether it was “committed by agents of the occupying power or the occupied power.” It added that both countries were becoming increasingly worried about the violence “against civilian targets,” and that as per many UN reports that explain what constitutes a crime under the ICC, Israel could be held accountable. Chile’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alberto van Klaveren, explained that Chile was “interested in supporting the investigation into any possible war crime.” While Israel is not a member of the ICC, the court’s prosecutor has highlighted that it has jurisdiction over suspected war crimes committed by Hamas soldiers in Israel and Israel in Gaza. The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the referral to the ICC. 

The US: March for Life against abortion held in Washington
On 19 January, thousands of anti-abortion protesters gathered for the annual “March for Life,” with speakers encouraging the crowd to use the movement's Supreme Court victory as a reason to continue fighting until abortion is abolished. Anti-abortion campaigners used statements such as "Life is precious" during the protest. The upcoming presidential elections are predominantly influenced by abortion policies. This march was the second in Washington since the June 2022 Supreme Court verdict that terminated federal protection of abortion rights. The House Speaker, Mike Johnson, stated that the movement could “build a culture that cherishes and protects life.” 

The US: NATO set to conduct largest drills since Cold War
On 18 January, the top Commander of NATO, General Chris Cavoli, announced that NATO planned to initiate “Steadfast Defender,” the largest drills since the Cold War. The rehearsal, involving around 90,000 personnel, reportedly aims to prepare a defence plan in the event of a Russian attack. Although Russia was not mentioned explicitly in the announcement, according to NATO’s top strategic document, Russia is a direct threat to NATO members. About 50 ships, 80 fighter jets and over 1,100 combat vehicles would be taking part in the exercise. It will include wargames, with a “simulated emerging conflict scenario with a near-peer adversary” and will last until the end of May. Cavoli stated that the drills would demonstrate “our unity, our strength, and our determination to protect each other.” It is expected that Sweden will also take part in the drills, as it is planning to join NATO soon. 


This Week in History
22 January 1973: The landmark Roe v Wade judgement
Dhriti Mukherjee

On 22 January 1973, the US Supreme Court, in the landmark case Roe v. Wade, issued a ruling that legalised abortion across the nation. The case involved Norma McCorvey, who approached the court under the pseudonym “Jane Roe.” She was a Texan woman who had faced significant restrictions under Texas law while seeking an abortion. At the time, Texas had made abortion illegal in all cases except where the mother’s life was in danger. The state representative for the case was Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County. 

Roe’s central arguments were that the Texas law violated the right to “liberty” under the 14th Amendment, while also being absolute and overstepping into rights to marital, familial and sexual privacy provided by the Bill of Rights. Wade countered by highlighting the state’s interest in safeguarding health and protecting prenatal life from the time of conception. Wade also cited the 14th Amendment, which holds a foetus as a “person.”

Ultimately, the Court voted seven to two that a woman’s right to privacy translated into her right to get an abortion. There were two central parts of the decision. The first was acknowledging that under the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, a fundamental “right to privacy” was granted, enabling women to seek an abortion. The second part was the Court’s specification that abortion rights were not absolute and must be weighed against the state’s interests in protecting women’s health and prenatal life. 

The Supreme Court, acknowledging the right to privacy, rejected the notion that constitutional protections begin at conception. It emphasised that the unborn had not been legally recognised as persons. To balance opposing demands, the judgement was structured around a trimester-based framework. In the first trimester, the court stated that a woman’s right to choose abortion is absolute, protecting it from undue state interference. During the second trimester, the state was granted limited authority to regulate abortion procedures in the interest of maternal health. During the third trimester, the court maintained that restrictions on abortion could be constitutionally justified if they aimed at protecting the potentiality of foetal life.

Despite the importance of the case in the fight for women’s reproductive rights, it has been surrounded by controversy. Critics argued that the ruling went beyond the scope of constitutional interpretation, infringing upon states’ rights to regulate abortion. Many supported the decision but criticised the process, which they termed as “judicial activism.” Proponents of the “pro-life” movement, who oppose abortion on religious and moral terms, saw this decision as a threat to their ideals and conducted protests and marches to sway public opinion. The Supreme Court stated: “One's philosophy, one's experiences, one's exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one's religious training, one's attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and to color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion.” The issue of abortion, women’s reproductive rights, and the Roe v Wade case continue to remain an integral part of US politics, often influencing voter behaviour.


About the authors
Dr Bibhu Prasad Routray is the Director of Mantraya, Goa. He was formerly a Deputy Director at the National Security Council Secretariat, Government of India.

Nuha Amina, and Rosemary Kurian are Undergraduate Scholars at St Joseph’s University, Bangalore. 

Akriti Sharma and Rohini Reenum are PhD scholars at NIAS. 

Padmashree Anandhan and Anu Maria Joseph are Research Associates at NIAS. 

Femy Francis, Rishika Yadav, Dhriti Mukherjee, Akhil Ajith and Shamini Velayutham are Research Assistants at NIAS. 

Navinan G, Gopi Kesav, Vetriselvi Baskaran and Narmatha S are postgraduate scholars at the University of Madras. Rishita Verma and Gananthula Uma Maheshwari are postgraduate scholars from Pondicherry University.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of any institutions or organisations.

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