Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
Israel's Military Campaign in Rafah

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #215, 15 February 2024, Vol.5, No.7
An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and the India Office of the KAS

Nuha Aamina

War expands to Rafah, the border town
Nuha Aamina

In the news
On 12 February, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the military operation would continue "until total victory will bring about the release of all of our hostages." According to the Hamas-run health ministry, 94 people, including women and children have been killed in Rafah. Meanwhile, the same day, the Israeli military claimed that thirty-one hostages may have died in the previous day's operation.

On 9 February, Israel expanded its campaign into southern Gaza, the city of Rafah, forcing civilians to flee. Spokesperson of Netanyahu, Cal Heinrich, stated that if “Israel's hands are tied by the international community, or if we take the pressure for Hamas actions," would call for "more terrorism worldwide." On the same day, the Palestinian Authority called the UN Security Council to pay attention as “this step threatens security and peace in the region and the world.”

On 15 February, UN relief chief Martin Griffiths warned that 1.4 million Palestinians who reside in Rafah would be forced to flee to Egypt if Israel carried out its military operation. Griffiths stated: “The possibility of a military operation in Rafah with the possibility of the crossing closing down, with the possibility of spillover, … a sort of Egyptian nightmare, … is one that is right before our eyes.”

On 14 February, the Foreign Minister of Palestine, Riyad al Maliki, accused Netanyahu of wanting “to continue the war for his personal career, for his personal future” as his priorities are not “the lives of innocent people, both in Israel and in Palestine, the Israeli hostages and the Palestinian innocent people in Gaza.”

On 11 February, US President Joe Biden during a call with Netanyahu, pushed back on the plan for a military operation in Rafah stating: "A military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there."

On 14 February, German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, visited Jerusalem and stated that Germany, after France, the US and the UK, was pushing for sanctions against extremist settlers who attack Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. She stated: "Let's agree on sanctions together in Europe. For this, we need all 27 member states. We as Germans have pushed this on the European path.” 

On 13 February, Egypt held talks with the US, Israeli and Qatari officials; however, there was no breakthrough to a truce in Gaza. 

On 10 February, the EU Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, referring to the US, stated: "If you believe that too many people are being killed, maybe you should provide fewer arms in order to prevent so many people being killed." He added: "If the international community believes that this is a slaughter, that too many people are being killed, maybe we have to think about the provision of arms; Netanyahu doesn't listen (to) anyone."

Issues at large
First, the geographic significance of Rafah town. When Israel carried out the ground offensive in northern Gaza, more than a million civilians had to flee to the south. The Gaza Strip has three border crossings. Erez allows people in the north to cross into Israel. Kerem Shalom was the primary border through which humanitarian aid would enter. However, Rafah is the exit to leave Gaza and has no communication with Israel. It currently shelters 1.5 million people and is highly congested with routes blocked by tents set up by families. In 2007, after Hamas took control of the territory, Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade for security purposes, restricting the movement of people and goods. In October 2023, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi warned an exodus from Gaza would “liquidate” the Palestinian cause and urged the people to “remain steadfast in their land”. 

Second, the significance of Rafah for Israel's final push against the Hamas. Israel has carried out attacks through Northern Gaza, Gaza City, Deir-el-Balah and Khan-Younis reaching Rafah. Israeli claims that Rafah is the final point where four Hamas battalions are staying. For Israel, the military operation in Rafah would push Hamas to the brink. While Netanyahu aims at wiping out Hamas, the latter remains sceptical of Israel stopping its war if the hostages were released. 

Third, the failure to reach a ceasefire. In early February, a ceasefire proposed by the Hamas referred to the following three:  de-escalation; an exchange of Palestinian hostages and Israeli hostages; ending Israel’s blockade in Gaza; and increasing the supply of aid. In response, on 7 February, at a news conference, Netanyahu stated that “surrendering to the delusional demands of Hamas ..will not lead to the release of the hostages. It will only invite another massacre.” He emphasised that “there is no other solution than total victory. If Hamas survives in Gaza, it is only a matter of time until the next massacre.” Later, the discussion in Cairo with other actors also did not result in a breakthrough.
Fourth, ineffective international pressure on Israel. Previously, the US has shown its support for Israel's actions. However, the recent attacks have led to a change in the US stance. Biden described the military response as "over the top.” Other European countries responded similarly. Besides, ICJ's ruling on South Africa's genocide case against Israel has recognised the rights of Palestinians and the necessity for their protection from genocide. Despite the pressure, Netanyahu is unwavering in his military approach. 

In perspective
First, the impending catastrophe. If Israel continues its operation, it would increase the death toll. These neighbouring countries may face international pressure to open their borders. Egypt and other neighbouring countries may not be too keen to receive displaced Palestinians.

Second, the reluctance of Hamas and Israel to move forward. Despite international pressure, Israel and the Hamas do not seem to relent to each other’s conditions. Netanyahu’s stance reflects a maximalist position as he uses the hostage rescue operation to justify the attacks. As he plans to wipe out the Hamas, it is clear that he won’t stop until the endgame. Meanwhile, the Hamas distrust Israel of ending the war until a ceasefire agreement is signed between both parties. Israel may take the war beyond its territory under the pretext of destroying the Hamas, who would cross to neighbouring countries. 

Issues in Peace and Conflict This Week:
Regional Roundups

Akriti Sharma, Alka Bala, Nuha Aamina, Vetriselvi Baskaran, Akhil Ajith, Rohini Reenum, Anu Maria Joseph, Femy Francis, Padmashree Anandhan, Dhriti Mukherjee, Shamini Velayutham and Narmatha S

East and Southeast Asia
China: “Don’t want to see a situation where Chinese are killing Chinese,” says former ambassador to the US
On 12 February, the South China Morning Post reported on comments by the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs advisor and longest-standing former Chinese ambassador to the US, Cui Tiankai. He stated that China would not fall into someone else’s trap to kickstart a war with Taiwan and that they did not want to see the Chinese killing the Chinese. He advised that the Asian countries should step up and control the regional tensions. During the recent Taiwanese elections, he expressed that they will achieve reunification one way or the other. He referenced the US arms sales to Taiwan and accused them of encouraging proxy war, however, iterated that they would not fall into the trap.

China: More Chinese migrants at the US border
On 13 February, Nikkie Asia reported on the increased number of Chinese migrants detained at the US border. Chinese migrants reach Thailand, and fly to Turkey and Ecuador; Chinese travellers do not require visas for these countries. From there they trek and take a vehicle through Mexico. In 2023, 37,000 Chinese migrants were detained at the US border. The economic crisis in China has led to many Chinese citizens taking such steps.

China: The Philippines accuses Chinese vessels of conducting “dangerous manoeuvres”
On 11 February, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that Chinese vessels were conducting “dangerous manoeuvres” near its waters. The Philippine vessel, BRP Teresa Magbanua, was deployed on 3 February near the waters of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. The PCG stated that there were “four Chinese maritime militia vessels,” chasing the Philippine ships for more than 40 occasions. China claims the entire island and its surroundings in the South China Sea.

China: Beijing threatens Tibetan exiles with repressive policies, reports TCHRD 
On 10 February, according to a report by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), the Chinese government continues to implement repressive policies in Tibet. The Tibetans are subjected to spying, blackmail and threats against their family members. China uses transnational repression to suppress the voices of Tibetans, Hongkongers and Uyghurs outside its borders. According to the report, an estimated 125,000 Tibetans live in exile. The policies undermine solidarity among the Tibetan diaspora and reduce their ability to mobilise against Chinese policies in Tibet. 

North Korea: Multiple cruise missiles launched
On 14 February, the Strait Times reported on North Korea launching multiple cruise missiles as part of its weapon tests alongside increased aggressive rhetoric from its leader, Kim Jong Un. The North Korean leader and officials have threatened South Korea with war, dismantled reunification and outreach agencies, and labelled South Korea as the country’s “principal enemy.” 

South Korea: To include Japan in the Nuclear Consultative Group 
On 12 February, former South Korean National Security Advisor Kim Sung-han stated that the country is open to expanding the Nuclear Consultative Group with the US, including Japan for a trilateral framework. On 26 April 2023, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden signed the Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) under the Washington Declaration. The NCG is designed to enhance the viability of US extended deterrence and formulate joint response strategies and procedures for the allies in the event of North Korean nuclear threats on the Korean Peninsula. Kim stated that it is up to Japan to join the group and that currently the US and South Korea are focusing on institutionalising the mechanism of extended deterrence. 

North Korea: Tests new rocket launcher control system
On 12 February, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that North Korea successfully developed and tested a new ballistic control system for a multiple rocket launcher along with controllable shells. The Academy of Defence Science oversees the country’s missile development. KCNA reported that the strategic value of the 240 millimetre-caliber multiple rocket launcher would be "re-evaluated" and its role in battlefields would increase due to its "rapid technical improvement." Additionally, the report mentioned the qualitative change in the army’s rocket launcher force after the induction of the new shell and the ballistic control system. 

Myanmar: Military bombs bridges to Rakhine capital
On 11 February, the military junta bombed the Kisapanadi Bridge in Kyauktaw Township which runs over the Kaladan River and is situated on the Yangon-Sittwe road. They also destroyed the Min Chang Bridge at the entrance of the city of Sittwe. These bridges were major road links to Sittwe, the capital city of Rakhine. The junta carried out the attacks as part of their effort to thwart the Arakan Army's offensive in the country.

South Asia
Bangladesh: Dhaka prepares to repatriate 330 junta soldiers
On 13 February, the Irrawaddy reported Bangladesh’s preparations to repatriate 330 defeated Myanmar junta soldiers. According to Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Myanmar’s junta government, the Bangladesh Navy and Coast Guard would arrange the repatriation by 16 February. Bangladeshi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hasan Mahmud, stated that the process is underway and a specific timetable cannot be given due to security reasons. 330 soldiers crossed Bangladesh’s border while fighting against the Arakan Army. Amar Bangladesh Party (ABP) highlighted that this was an opportunity to negotiate the repatriation of 1.3 million Rohingya refugees residing in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh: Relocation of Rohingyas from Cox Bazar
On 13 February, about 1,500 Rohingyas were moved from the camps in Cox Bazar to Bhasan Char, as Myanmar's internal conflict was influencing Bangladesh's border areas. The Additional Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC) stated: "In the 23rd phase, approximately 1,500 Rohingyas from the Ukhiya-Teknaf camp will travel to Bhasan Char. On 14 February morning, a naval ship would travel to Bhasan Char. Previously, 32,000 Rohingyas from Cox's Bazar camp were similarly relocated to Bhasan Char." More than 1.1 million Rohingyas from Rakhine state migrated to Bangladesh after being forcibly expelled from Myanmar, and are now living in refugee camps in Teknaf and Ukhiya in Cox Bazar. In 2022, the government began the process of moving at least 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char, an island in the Meghna estuary near Hatia in Noakhali, to alleviate refugee strain. 

Bangladesh: Rising sea level causes displacement
On 12 February, the Daily Star reported that the sea level rise could displace more than nine lakh people from Southern Bangladesh by 2050. According to a report released on 10 February by the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), the situation will worsen by the end of the century, with increasing oceans submerging 12 per cent to 18 per cent of Bangladesh's coastal land. According to the report, with Bangladesh already facing extreme weather events, this would have disastrous effects on critical food crops, and more people would be forced to flee their homes. The estimated yearly average loss due to cyclones is USD one billion which is 0.7 per cent of GDP. Bangladesh’s Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, stated in the report: “Due to our country's geographical position, we are witnessing flooding, depletion of water sources, rising sea levels, and the intrusion of salinity.”

India: Farmers' protests in Delhi to continue after failed talks
On 13 February, after the second round of meetings with Ministers of Union, Piyush Goyal and Arjun Munda, in Chandigarh failed, farmers continued with the 'Delhi Chalo' protests. Farmers were seeking legally-backed guarantees for a minimum purchase price for crops. Other demands, including freedom from debt, increased import duties on all agricultural products, cancellation of all free trade agreements and deals with the World Trade Organisation (WTO), suspending privatisation of electricity boards, and a pension for farmers remained unanswered. The Delhi police, imposed Section 144 for a month to manage the protests. A third round of talks has been scheduled for 15 February.

Nepal: Climate change leads to erratic weather patterns
On 10 February, the Kathmandu Post reported that Nepal had received only 11 millimetres of rainfall since 1 December, much lower than the regular winter average of 60.1 mm. The Department of Hydrology and Meteorology stated that six out of ten previous winters had below-normal rainfall. According to a new report released by the department, cold and dry weather dominated the second half of December. Daytime temperatures were higher than usual, with nighttime temperatures cooler in the north and warmer in the south. As climate disasters caused by irregular weather patterns become increasingly severe and frequent, the problems of internal and external climate displacement have been increasing.

Pakistan: Violence in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan
On 8 February, a series of violence took place in Dera Ismail Khan (DI Khan) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, resulting in nine people being killed and dozens getting injured. Separately, five police officers were killed in DI Khan. The violence came ahead of the national and provincial elections in the country. Meanwhile, in Balochistan province, four people and two security personnel were killed. According to Dawn, grenade attacks and bomb explosions were initiated when people started to arrive at the polling stations to vote in the Kech and Gwadar districts. Additionally, a child was killed in the town of Panjgur when rockets were fired at the polling station. Besides, at least 30 people were killed in the bomb explosions that took place in the regions of Khanozai and Qila Saifullah.

Pakistan: Protests erupt over election fraud across Sindh
On 12 February, Dawn reported that protests erupted across Sindh against alleged election fraud. Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) party members protested across the province and blocked highways, terming the elections “fraudulent.” Additionally, the Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf parties protested against alleged rigging while condemning the Election Commission of Pakistan. Traffic disruptions occurred, and leaders vowed further demonstrations until their demands were met. Claims of ballot stuffing were made, with threats of legal challenges. Karachi, Umerkot, Nawabshah, Sukkur, and Jacobabad witnessed demonstrations, with protestors denouncing what they termed as stolen mandates. 

Central Asia and the Middle East 
Armenia: Soldiers killed during confrontation with Azerbaijani forces
On 12 February, at least four Armenian soldiers were killed during a confrontation with Azerbaijani forces near the Nerkin Hand village. This is the first incident reported after the peace talks that began in late 2023 to defuse a three-decade-old conflict. Armenian Ministry of Defence stated: “Units of the Azerbaijani armed forces discharged fire from small arms towards the Armenian combat positions in the vicinity of Nerkin Hand.” However, Azerbaijan claimed that the attack was carried out in retaliation to Armenia’s firing across the borders. Subsequently, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Defence stated that Armenian forces had fired at its “troop position” along the northwestern border which is 300 kilometres from the Nerkin Hand village. However, Armenia denounced the claim.

Iran: Boeing 747 cargo plane sold by Iran to Venezuela seized by the US
On 11 February, the US seized an Iranian Boeing 747 cargo plane that the latter had sold to Venezuelan state airline Emtrasur in 2022. The plane was grounded by Argentina in July 2022. According to the US, the plane was seized as it violated US sanctions imposed on Tehran. The Assistant Secretary of Export Enforcement Matthew S Axelrod claimed: “Mahan Air – known to ferry weapons and fighters for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah – violated our export restrictions by selling this airplane to a Venezuelan cargo airline. Now, it’s property of the United States government.” Iran condemned the seizing of the plane as “illegal.” The spokesperson for Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nasser Kanaani, stated that the action violated the UN Charter. Additionally, Iran has promised to assist Venezuela in retrieving the plane. The government of Venezuela has termed the seizure as a “shameful rapacious operation,” and vowed to “take all actions to restore justice and achieve the restitution of the aircraft to its legitimate owner.”

Yemen: Houthi rebels hit a Greek cargo ship
On 12 February, the US asserted that a Greek cargo ship was hit by the missiles fired by the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The US Central Command (CENTCOM) stated: “Missiles were launched toward MV Star Iris, a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel transiting the Red Sea carrying corn from Brazil. The ship reports being seaworthy with minor damage and no injuries to the crew.” However, the Houthis claimed that the ship, Star Iris, belonged to the US. According to Houthi rebel spokesperson, Yahya Saree, the attack was carried out in “retaliation to the American-British aggression in Yemen.”

Lebanon: Rockets fired on Safed
On 14 February, one Israeli was killed and eight were targeted by the rockets fired from Lebanon into the city of Safed and an army base in the northern city of Lebanon. In response to the attack, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) asserted that it had launched airstrikes targeting Hezbollah affiliates in Lebanon. It added that one rocket hit the command headquarters’ base in Safed which is 13 kilometres from the Lebanon border. Subsequently, the IDF targeted infrastructure belonging to Hezbollah’s Radwan force in Jabal al-Braij, Kfar Houneh, Kafr Dunin, Aadchit, and Souaneh respectively.

Tunisia: Migrant boat missing in the Mediterranean
On 12 February, BBC reported that Tunisian migrants went missing while attempting to reach Italy from the city of Bizerte in Tunisia. Tunisian National Guard stated that at least 17 Tunisian migrants went missing. Coastguards and Navy-backed helicopters are continuing the rescue operation. 

Sudan: Conflict-led displacement on the rise
On 9 February, humanitarian agencies cautioned that the continuing conflict in the Abyei region, a border region shared between Sudan and South Sudan, for the past two weeks has left thousands displaced. The clashes are between two rival factions, the Twic and Ngok, of the Dinka ethnic group belonging to the Wrrap state. According to BBC, nearly 100 people including UN peacekeepers have lost their lives in the violence. Troika, a coalition of the UK, the US and Norway forces, insisted that the South Sudanese government take responsibility for the attacks. Nearly 2,200 people, mostly women and Children, are residing in one of the UN camps, located in Rumajak, which is seven kilometres north of Abyei. 

Ethiopia: Oxfam warns of the hunger plight
On 9 February, Oxfam cautioned that one in three Ethiopians are undergoing hunger. Previously, the federal government had reported that nearly 400 people lost their lives due to hunger, which was denied by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Conflicts and drought are the central factors for the ongoing Famine situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray, Amhara and Oromia regions. Oxfam warned that the country would have faced the worst if no aid was provided. The pause in aid from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the US Aid Last Spring, due to looting allegations, worsened the situation. 

Ethiopia: EHRC claims 45 killed by security forces
On 13 February, the state-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) alleged that the Ethiopian government's security forces killed 45 civilians in a massacre in January. The commission confirmed “the identity of at least 45 civilians who were extrajudicially killed by government security forces for allegedly ‘supporting [ethnic Amhara armed group] Fano’.” The US raised concerns over the “targeted civilian killings” in Merawi, Amhara. According to the EHRC, the clashes in the Amhara region were plagued by extrajudicial and mass killings, carried out by security forces. The clashes between the Fano militia and the Tigrayan militia shredded when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed decided to merge the paramilitary forces in 2023. The violence in Amhara has become a major crisis since the peace agreement signed in Tigray in 2022. 

Somalia: Al Shabab claims responsibility for the attack on the UAE military base
On 10 February, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda-backed armed group, is accountable for the attack on its military base in Somalia. Al Shabab stated that the attack was to showcase that the UAE is an "enemy" of the Islamic law for backing Somalia. The attack on 10 February killed five people including four Emirati troops and a Bahraini military officer. 

South Africa: Deploys troops to assist DRC
On 13 February, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the deployment of 2,900 soldiers as part of the Southern African mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (SAMIDRC) to assist conflict-torn DRC. The deployment accounts for ZAR two billion and is said to last until December. SAMIDRC was initiated in May 2023 after DRC left the East African bloc citing its ineffectiveness. In addition to South Africa, Malawi and Tanzania are extending their support. 

Democratic Republic of Congo: Clashes between police and the protesters
On 13 February, BBC reported on the police using tear gas to disperse anti-West protesters in the capital Kinshasa. Pepin Mbindu, one of the protesters stated: "The Westerners are behind the looting of our country. Rwanda doesn't work alone, so they must leave our country." They burned the flags of the US and Belgium. The US asked the protesters to keep "a low profile" and the UK cautioned that the protest is "likely to continue throughout the week" and asserted the risk of foreigners being "indiscriminately targeted." The fear persists as the M23 rebel group advances towards Goma in the eastern DRC; however, the group has denied the intention of attacking Goma. According to the UN, the intensifying conflict in the region has displaced more than seven million people. Meanwhile, the government of Congo has assured of controlling the status quo. 

Democratic Republic of Congo: M23 advances in Goma
On 10 February, BBC reported on the M23 advancing towards Goma, the capital of the North Kivu state. The logistics and supplies have ceased, leaving people without necessities. Nearly seven million people are forced to leave their homes. The M23 insurgency, led by the Tutsi community, began in 2012 to protect their community in the eastern DRC. The group is accused of being backed by the Rwandan government. Recently, re-elected Congolese President Félix Tshisekedi stated that “Congolese need to learn to trust us, Goma will never fall.” Congolese Minister of Communications, Patrick Muyaya, told the BBC: “We all know that the reason for this war is economic. Rwanda is continuing... for the past 25 years… looting our mineral resources.” 

Nigeria: Economic recession and increasing cost of living
On 13 February, BBC reported on the economic recession and increased cost of living in Nigeria. The cost of rice has increased 70 per cent from that of 2023 and people are forced to rely on the Afafata rice. Afafata rice is normally discarded as not saleable at the end of the sorting and is sold to farmers to feed the fish. Besides, the cancellation of fuel subsidies and devaluation of the Naira have worsened inflation. Protests broke out across the country demanding to reduce the cost of goods. 

Senegal: Election delay, ECOWAS’ emergency meeting, internet restrictions and protests
On 12 February, the Ministry of Business and Trade spokesperson, Abdou Karim Fofana, stated that the election delay is a necessary move and a "moral obligation to stay and solve this problem" because according to the constitution, President Macky Sall is the guarantor of the functioning of the institutions. Three people have died in violent riots after Sall announced the delayed elections. Meanwhile, the same day, ECOWAS chair and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu met Senegal’s President Macky Sall at the Senegalese capital Dakar in the wake of the postponement of the Presidential election. The development came after the bloc held emergency-level talks the previous week, discussing the political crisis in Senegal and the withdrawal of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso from the bloc. On 13 February, the Ministry of Communication issued new internet restrictions to prevent the spread of hateful messages against the government. Violent protests erupted against President Macky Sall’s announcement of the delayed elections the previous week. Sall cited a dispute in the eligibility of the candidates for the election postponement. The election was scheduled for 25 February and is currently postponed to December 2024. 

Morocco: Demonstrators demand to end ties with Israel
On 12 February, BBC reported that thousands of Moroccans protested in the capital Rabat against the country's ties with Israel, angered over the war in Gaza. The protesters waved signs condemning the violence and called for an end to Israel-Morocco relations. In 2020, the US brokered into establishing diplomatic ties between Morocco and Israel in exchange for the US recognition of Moroccan claims in Western Sahara.

France: Cybersecurity agency identifies Russia-linked disinformation network
On 12 February, the Guardian reported that Viginum, a French cybersecurity agency tasked with detecting foreign digital interference to influence public opinion, claimed to have identified a Russia-based network spreading disinformation and propaganda in Western Europe. The agency reported that Russia was carrying out a manipulation campaign for the upcoming European elections under the name “Portal Kombat.” Nearly 193 sites were found disseminating pro-Russia propaganda, justifying the invasion of Ukraine and criticising the Ukrainian government. The European Commission, NATO, and the UN agencies described disinformation as one of the biggest threats to democracy in 2024, with NATO calling it a “national security issue” that could “reach the level of an armed attack.” The Vice President of the European Union (EU), V?ra Jourová, stated: “Every day we see the Kremlin’s action to spread propaganda and interfere in democracies.” She asserted that since “the Kremlin spares no effort,” the EU should not either. Jourová appreciated the “strong determination” of France, Germany and Poland to “fight back.”

Germany: Olaf Scholz pledges to meet NATO defence target
On 12 February, the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, emphasised Germany’s commitment to spend two per cent of its GDP on NATO defence. The statement came after Donald Trump blamed the NATO countries for not meeting the benchmark on defence expenditure to counter a potential Russian invasion, targeting those countries who did not meet the alliance goal of spending two per cent of GDP on defence. Scholz stated: “We have to move away from manufacturing towards large-scale production of defence equipment.” He added that “Germany’s power alone is not enough,” calling upon “all European countries” to increase efforts “even more to support Ukraine” as the world was not “in times of peace.” Rheinmetall, one of the largest defence production companies in Germany, raised its production after an increase in demand for ammunition. The company is expected to provide 200,000 artillery shells annually. 

Hungary: Farmers' association organises protests against EU rules
On 9 February, over a thousand farmers protested near the Hungarian-Ukrainian border Záhony against the European Commission’s decision to extend the unlimited import of Ukrainian agricultural products annually. During the protests, which were organised by the Hungarian farmers’ association MAGOSZ and the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture (NAK), farmers used tractors, harvesters and trucks to block passenger and freight traffic. The President of MAGOSZ, István Jakab, blamed the “incompetent” people in Brussels for ruining European agriculture and demanded on behalf of the farmers that EU rules be applied to countries outside the EU from which food raw materials can enter Hungary.

The Americas
Trinidad and Tobago: National emergency declared amidst oil spill spreading in the Caribbean
On 14 February, a week after an oil spill was detected on Tobago’s shore, the island’s emergency management agency, TEMA, warned neighbouring countries as portions of the stain spread in opposite directions in the Caribbean Sea. The Director of TEMA, Allan Stewart, commented that the satellite images showed that “some of it was moving,” and could impact the coral reefs along the beaches. Trinidad’s Ministry of National Security stated that a tugboat and a barge allegedly linked to the spill were found, adding that the “barge was being towed” by the “Solo Creed from Panama.” According to Stewart, one-third of the shoreline on Tobago’s Atlantic Ocean had been cleaned. On 11 February, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Keith Rowley, stated that a “national emergency” had been declared as the oil spill near the twin-island nation became difficult to contain. The oil had coated multiple beaches on Tobago’s southwest coast. Rowley stated that “cleaning and restoration” would begin after bringing “the situation under control,” adding that a few “not-so-insignificant costs” were “incurred just to respond to this incident.” 

Mexico: Multiple arrests in Cancun 
On 12 February, prosecutors in Mexico claimed to have arrested six drug gang members in Cancun, who allegedly killed eight people. This gang was protected by a network of motorcycle taxis and minors. Additionally, 23 other people were arrested for operating a fake tour agency that acted as a cover for selling drugs in Cancun. These arrests were made after an American woman and a man from Belize were killed in the crossfire between drug dealers in Tulum; the woman was not involved and the man was a suspected drug dealer. 

Venezuela: White House concerned on the arrest of rights activist 
On 12 February, the US stated that it was “deeply concerned” about the arrest of Venezuelan human rights activist Rocio San Miguel and her family members. On 11 February, the Venezuelan government confirmed the arrest of Miguel. Venezuela’s attorney general Tarek William Saab claimed that Miguel was arrested for “the conspiracy plot and attempted assassination ... aimed at attacking the life of Head of State Nicolas Maduro and other high-ranking officials.” Miguel is the president of Control Ciudadano, a non-governmental organisation that advocates for citizen oversight of Venezuela’s armed forces. The White House spokesperson, John Kirby, stated that the US was “watching this very, very closely,” emphasising that Maduro needed to “meet the commitments” that he made about how his administration would “treat civil society, political activists, as well as opposition parties.” 

Colombia: Loans worth over USD 1.2 billion secured to fund budget and peace plans
On 11 February, Colombia’s Ministry of Finance stated that loan agreements worth more than USD 1.2 billion were signed with multilateral lenders, aimed at funding budget items and peace plans. Two loan agreements were signed with the German state development bank, KfW, worth USD 323 million each, while a USD 663 million loan was signed with the Inter-American Development Bank. The ministry stated: “These loans will contribute to financing the projects in the budget approved by Congress and highlights the cooperative agenda that Colombia has had with Germany for many years concerning peace and development.” 

The US: Mass shooting at Super Bowl parade near Kansas City kills one and injures 21
On 14 February, a mass shooting in Kansas City during a parade celebrating the Super Bowl victory of the Kansas City Chiefs killed one person and injured 21 others, including eight children. The Kansas City Police Chief, Stacey Graves, said that three people were taken into custody, firearms were seized and the motive for the shooting was under investigation. The Mayor of Kansas City, Quinton Lucas, stated that “it seems like almost nothing is safe,” expressing that he was “incredibly upset, disappointed” as no one in attendance thought they would be “forced to run” for their safety. 

The US: “Temporary safe haven” provided to Palestinians in the US through protection from deportation
On 14 February, the White House declared that Palestinians in the US would be covered under “deferred enforced departure” as the situation in Gaza had “significantly deteriorated.” This directive, signed by US President Joe Biden, protects Palestinian immigrants in the US from the threat of deportation. US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, stated that the protection would last for 18 months, providing Palestinians a “temporary safe haven.” However, he specified that those Palestinians who had been convicted of crimes or “otherwise deemed to pose a public safety threat” would not qualify for this protection. This decision was made after over 100 Democratic lawyers urged the White House to use the enforced departure of temporary protected status to avoid being forced to return to the “dangerous and deadly conditions” in Gaza.

About the authors
Nuha Aamina and Alka Bala 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, Dhriti Mukherjee, Akhil Ajith and Shamini Velayutham are Research Assistants at NIAS. Vetriselvi Baskaran and Narmatha S are Postgraduate Scholars at the University of Madras. 

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Africa This Week
December 2023 | CWA # 1189

Hoimi Mukherjee | Hoimi Mukherjee is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science in Bankura Zilla Saradamani Mahila Mahavidyapith.

Chile in 2023: Crises of Constitutionality
December 2023 | CWA # 1187

Aprajita Kashyap | Aprajita Kashyap is a faculty of Latin American Studies, School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi.

Haiti in 2023: The Humanitarian Crisis
December 2023 | CWA # 1185

Binod Khanal | Binod Khanal is a Doctoral candidate at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi.

The Baltic: Energy, Russia, NATO and China
December 2023 | CWA # 1183

Padmashree Anandhan | Padmashree Anandhan is a Research Associate at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangaluru.

Germany in 2023: Defence, Economy and Energy Triangle
December 2023 | CWA # 1178

​​​​​​​Ashok Alex Luke | Ashok Alex Luke is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at CMS College, Kottayam.

China and South Asia in 2023: Advantage Beijing?
December 2023 | CWA # 1177

Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri | Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri is a postgraduate student at the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies at the University of Madras, Chennai.

China and East Asia
October 2023 | CWA # 1091

Annem Naga Bindhu Madhuri

Issues for Europe
July 2023 | CWA # 1012

Bibhu Prasad Routray

Myanmar continues to burn
December 2022 | CWA # 879

Padmashree Anandhan

The Ukraine War
November 2022 | CWA # 838

Rishma Banerjee

Tracing Europe's droughts
March 2022 | CWA # 705

NIAS Africa Team

In Focus: Libya
January 2022 | CWA # 645

Ankit Singh