THE INDEX – March 5, 2009

Despite the truces called over Gaza in January, attacks and violence still wax and wane in the region. Reportedly, a group of Palestinian rebels fired a rocket-propelled grenade across the border into Israel early today. Although it seems no one was injured from that specific rocket attack, Israel responded with a series of air strikes, one of which apparently killed “Islamic Jihad commander” Khalid Shaalan for his involvement in the attack earlier today. The air strike was said to have targeted a group of armed men (of which Shaalan was a member) after they witnessed them fire at Israeli soldiers across the border. Islamic Jihad claims that these men were merely returning home after doing an armed border patrol. Following the air strike, more rocket attacks were launched into Israel but resulted in no reported injuries. With the truces becoming increasingly tattered and less respected, a certain cycle of violence is emerging: “Missiles are regularly fired by Palestinian militants, albeit mainly into open areas, and the Israeli air force responds with air strikes.” The inhabitants of Gaza’s border towns and settlements, where the majority of this cycle plays itself out, “are unsure how the pattern will be broken.”

The ambush launched by a group of gunmen on the Sri Lankan cricket team before their match in Pakistan on Tuesday has now turned into a conspiracy. Feeding the conspiratorial flames, there was reportedly a five-minute gap when the Sri Lankan team was unaccompanied by their scheduled armed guards, and this lapse was when the gunmen struck. In addition, during the first two days of the match the two teams, from Sri Lanka and Pakistan, traveled to the stadium together. On the day of the attack, they traveled separately as the Pakistan team left five minutes later then the scheduled time. None of the twelve reported members of the attacking group have been found, but Pakistani police have released sketches and have promised a reward for any information regarding those responsible. Of course, there are many different accounts and different time lines that describe the events that took place. Eight people died in the attack, including the Sri Lankan bus driver and six Pakistani police officers. Eight Sri Lankan players were also wounded in the ambush.

A day after President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan was ordered to be arrested by the International Criminal Court for atrocities committed in Darfur, his fiery response came: “we are not succumbing, we are not bending.” According to Bashir, the ICC’s decision is part of a conspiracy to remove him from power and recolonize his country. Addressing the ICC and the UN Security Council, Bashir continued: “Sudan is raising its voice. It rejects the hegemony, the colonialists… We are ready to face you.” Another aspect of this response came just before his rabble-rousing speech when government officials told all Western aid groups (who provide food, water and shelter to millions of Sudanese) to cease operations and leave the country. Bashir was not charged with genocide but with crimes against humanity for playing an “essential role” in the murder, rape, and pillaging that has taken place in Darfur. This warrant is the first from The Hague that has sought the arrest of a head of state. While Bashir is unlikely to be seized in his own country, the international fallout for Sudan is expected to be immediate. Moreover, according to the United Nations’ under secretary general for peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy, violence will surely play a part in sorting this all out.

North Korea, in its seemingly continual succession of threats, warned that it might attack and shoot down South Korean commercial airliners that fly too close to its airspace. This latest warning comes a few days before the annual United States-South Korea military drills exercise where both U.S. and South Korean troops and military equipment are tested and put through basic operational activities. The North regularly criticizes these drills as “a prelude to invasion and nuclear war.” The two neighboring countries are still technically at war and between them over a million troops are stationed on both sides of the demilitarized zone that was established and has separated the peninsula since the ceasefire of the 1950-53 Korean War. There are currently about 28,000 United States troops in South Korea.

As if Afghanistan needs another problem: President Hamid Karzai‘s term is up this May, but the Election Committee has ruled that there can be no presidential election before August. Here, it seems, the clash is between security and politics. The committee named an August 20 date to allow international security forces to arrive and help prepare for a national election. Karzai wants an election in April, in less then sixty days, which even for a peaceful and developed nation, seems a stretch. But, on the surface, the committee’s August date theoretically leaves the country without a president for almost three months, so Karzai may just be attempting to head off an executive-office crisis. Others, however, believe Karzai is pushing for a quick election to take advantage of the little political clout (locally and internationally) he still has left in the violence-riddled country. At this point, it is unsure what may happen when Karzai’s term ends. An interim president could be chosen by Parliament, but whether it’s Karzai, who has held the office since 2001, remains to be seen.

Memorabilia and some belongings of Mahatma Gandhi are set to be auctioned off in New York on Friday and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is trying to stop it. Approaching the United States embassy and other officials in India to assist in getting the items back to India, Singh as even allowed the option of entering the auction and placing bids if diplomacy fails. The items are “a Zenith pocket watch, steel-rimmed spectacles, a pair of sandals, and an eating bowl and plate used by Mahatma Gandhi,” and the collection has a reserve price of $20,000 to $30,000. The collector of the items, U.S. citizen James Otis, received appeals from the Indian minister of state for external affairs, Anand Sharma, to take the items off the auction block. According to reports, “Otis had offered to withdraw the articles from sale if India agreed to spend more on healthcare for the poor or support educational events to promote non-violent resistance.” Instead, the Indian government has taken other paths, from issuing “a Delhi High Court order staying the planned auction” to purchasing the items outright in the name of India.

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