The Atlas Newsletter - Volume 56

The Atlas Newsletter – World Updates & International News

Monday, March 18th, 2024

Good morning everyone,

Let’s jump right in today.

In Europe, Putin shockingly wins re-election, the EU cuts down green reforms, and the Pope states he will not resign.

Over in the Middle East, South Africa promises to prosecute South Africans serving in the IDF, a deadly attack takes place in Gaza, and Iraq bans the PKK.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Senegal’s key opposition leaders are freed, the DRC reinstates the death penalty, and Kenya’s deployment to Haiti is delayed yet again after the country plunges deeper into crisis.

In the Americas, Colombia announces a new offensive against narco-terrorists, police in Brazil respond to a hostage situation in the capital, and Venezuela evacuates thousands of illegal miners in the country’s south.

In Asia and Oceania, the Japanese LDP attempt to fix their scandal, the Philippines combat insurgents, and a space launch fails in China.

All in all, it’s just another day at the office. Let's dive in:

- Joshua Paulo, Sebastien Gray, Trent Barr, & the Atlas team

Ramadan Begins; Peace Talks Stall

March 14th, 2024: (4 Minute Read) As Palestinians begin to observe Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims often known for the observation of fasting from sunrise to sunset, bombardment from Israeli strikes and nutritional deficiency due to a lack of meals per day and a lack of caloric-rich food continue to heavily impact millions of those living in Gaza, Palestine. Hunger conditions have been reported as continuing to worsen, according to NGO and humanitarian groups. At least 25 people, including 16 premature babies, a 15-year-old, and a 72-year-old man, have been recorded as dying of malnutrition and dehydration in northern Gaza, according to one of the senior doctors at the Emirati Hospital in Rafah, who spoke to The Associated Press.

Isolated due to the Israeli ground offensive and cutoff from food supplies and medical care for extended periods of time, have made the north deadly for those with pre-existing conditions or vulnerabilities. In this same manner, reportedly similar cases are leading to children succumbing in the south as well, such as in Rafah. Disease has led to difficulty for many to retain calories as they expel their stomach contents due to various symptoms causing frequent diarrhea and vomiting; weakened immune systems due to malnutrition lead to higher infection rates; unclean water and food contribute to the spread of disease and bacteria; and underfed mothers have difficulty breastfeeding children, according to Anuradha Narayan, a UNICEF child nutrition expert; as well, other doctors say premature deaths are rooted in their mothers malnutrition.

AP reports that Dr. Husam Abu Safiya, the acting head of Kamal Adwan Hospital, said his staff treat 300–400 children a day and that 75% suffer from malnutrition. Food, water, medicine, and other supplies have been largely prevented from entering Gaza by Israel since Hamas’ October 7th attack. Israel has blamed U.N. agencies for failing to properly distribute supplies that have been allowed in, while U.N. officials say convoys are turned back regularly and that lack of security has led to the looting of aid before it gets to designated areas, either by desperate civilians or armed Hamas forces. Airdrops provide a much smaller amount of aid than truck deliveries per transportation effort, but currently appear to be the path decided to be taken by countries outside the conflict over ground aid. Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Monday that 31,112 Palestinians have been killed since October 7th, as well as more than 70,000 wounded. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and non-combatants but says that two-thirds are women and children.

Inflation and scarcity of supplies in the north have become desperate, according to AP, which spoke to residents, with many reportedly resorting to eating weeds or wild plants that grow in empty lots known as “khubaiza” (Malva parviflora, Mallow common), which is said to taste like kale and contains simple vitamins as well as being known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Others reportedly grind up animal feed to use as makeshift flour or ration food for their younger or elderly family members, who are in higher danger of succumbing to malnutrition. In the South, canned goods are among the few main sources of actual food supplies remaining, often from aid packages.

Ceasefire talks have continued to largely stall as both the Israeli government and Hamas militant leaders have reached an impasse in brokering the release of hostages and prisoners. Middleman countries such as the U.S., Qatar, and Egypt, which have all sought to negotiate terms between the two sides, have been unable to secure a ceasefire during the holiday period so far, despite efforts made to do so. They had hoped to bring about the simultaneous release of Israelis and Palestinians to each respective side that is being held either after being taken hostage on October 7th or being imprisoned within Israel and the occupied West Bank. An estimated 100 Israelis and other hostages are reported as being held captive by Hamas forces as IDF ground operations continue to divide and strike across the Gaza Strip in an effort to totally eradicate Hamas. Israel says the remains of 30 dead hostages remain in Hamas holding as well. 250 hostages were taken and 1,200 were killed in southern Israel during Hamas’ attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that the Israeli military will continue its attacks and operations in Gaza as long as Hamas remains in power and as long as hostages are held. Hamas leader Yehya Sinwar, reportedly behind the Oct. 7th attack, is said to be holding onto the hostages with a belief that he can end the war on his terms by waiting out the bombardments and ground invasion and applying pressure for Israel to withdraw and/or release Palestinians in prison en masse, including Hamas militants and political leaders serving long or life sentences. Both sides reject the others’ proposals as unrealistic or untenable. Israel has rescued three hostages since October while also reportedly killing three by mistake, and according to Hamas, several others were killed in airstrikes or failed rescue attempts. Hundreds have been exchanged so far in transfers between Israel and Hamas, facilitated by the Red Cross and Red Crescent.


March 17th, 2024 - Russian incumbent President Vladimir Putin has won the Russian election, with polls showing he secured approximately 87% of the vote. The victory, Putin’s highest ever percentage reported to have been won in an election, means he will be president until at least 2030. Notably, Russia set up polling booths in several locations outside of Russia, namely Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russian-occupied Ukraine, and Transnistria in Moldova as well. The setting up of poll booths in occupied territories has been subject to criticism by both Ukraine and Moldova alike. Nikolai Kharitonov of Russia’s Communist Party came in second with 4.6% of the vote. The legitimacy of Russia’s elections, including this one, is oftentimes called into question by the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo from Maxim Shemetov/Reuters).

March 14th, 2024 - The European Union has decided to cut down on the ruling bodies’ controversial green farming reforms, which have led to massive protests by farmers on Thursday. The reforms included agreements to force farmers to minimize tillage per acre, policies to reduce the need for chemical fertilizer and chemical pesticides, as well as requiring farmers to surrender 4% of their land for biodiversity. All of these policies have been struck down following months of farmers protesting from Spain to France to Poland against the reforms, along with grain purchases from Ukraine, which farmers claim put their livelihoods in jeopardy. However, many have claimed that the deal is only being cut down in order to secure votes for the upcoming EU elections, which are set to take place in early June. Following the protests, various political parties have scrambled in order to secure the farmers’ votes, with a notable faction being Germany’s controversial right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD).

March 14th, 2024 - Pope Francis stated that he will not resign despite his recent decline in health in an excerpt of a book that was published in the Italian Corriere della Sera newspaper on Thursday. In the book, His Holiness stated that he lacked “reasons serious enough to make me think about giving up" in regards to relinquishing the title of Supreme Pontiff. His Holiness’s health has declined on a multitude of occasions, with some leaving him wheelchair-bound for days before eventually recovering enough to use a cane to move. This decline in health has left some wondering if His Holiness may resign much like his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013, citing his advanced age as the primary reason.

Middle East

March 16th, 2024 - The South African Foreign Minister, Naledi Pandor, has announced that South Africa will arrest any South African citizens presently serving in the IDF upon their return to South Africa. “We are ready. When you come home, we are going to arrest you,” said the Foreign Minister. The government has cited local laws that they claim permit them to prosecute anyone who is serving in a foreign military without governmental permission or is serving in a war with which the government disagrees. South Africa has been one of Israel’s most staunch critics for their conduct in the present Israel-Gaza war, rather famously bringing them to court in the International Court of Justice after accusing Israel of genocide. South Africa is the first country to say they will prosecute their citizens who are fighting in the IDF. It is unclear if any other nations plan to follow suit with similar prosecutions. Movements that call for such actions exist in a number of countries, namely France and the UK; however, it is unlikely that any major nations will launch such measures.

A photo of IDF troops operating within Gaza (Photo from AP).

March 14th, 2024 - Palestinian sources reported dozens of casualties, including over 50 fatalities, from a claimed attack carried out by Israeli helicopters upon a crowd of “thousands” of people that were waiting for aid deliveries at the Kuwait Roundabout nearby Gaza City. Over 150 people were also reported to have been injured. Israeli sources have refuted the Palestinians claims, instead claiming that Palestinian gunmen within the crowds opened fire upon people waiting for aid.

March 14th, 2024 - Iraq has announced they are banning the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in a joint statement with Turkey, which has designated the PKK as a terrorist organization. Iraq stated that the PKK “poses a security threat to Turkey and Iraq, and noted that the presence of the organization in question on Iraqi soil means that it violated the Iraqi constitution.” The declaration is likely to bring along with it impending Turkish strikes against the PKK, which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had promised earlier in January, when he also promised further strikes against groups operating in Syria.


March 14th, 2024 - Ousmane Sonko and Bassirou Diomaye Faye, two key opposition leaders in Senegal, have been freed from prison under Senegalese President Macky Sall’s Amnesty Law. They were freed late on the 14th, giving the pair less than 10 days to campaign for Bassirou’s candidacy in the presidential election to be held on March 24th. Ousmane Sonko, previously thought to be the largest threat to the ruling party, was barred from running in the election after the upholding of his conviction in a defamation case in early 2023. Bassirou, his chosen successor, was permitted to run, however, despite having been in prison since April of 2023. Sonko had been in jail since July 2023. Both were freed under President Sall’s Amnesty Law, which was passed by the government as an attempt at political reconciliation following several weeks of political crises resulting from government attempts to delay the election, which was initially planned for February 25th.

A photo of pro-Sonko protestors gathering in celebration of his release (Photo from Seyllou/AFP).

March 15th, 2024 - The Justice Ministry of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has announced that the nation is reinstating the death penalty after having banned it since 2003. The last year the DRC carried out an execution was also in 2003. The ministry said the penalty will only be applied to those involved in armed gangs, insurrection, criminal conspiracies, treason, and war crimes. The ministry further added, however, that such qualifications will be applied to those within the DRC's military as well, including rebels and anyone who defects to hostile groups. The announcement comes as the government searches for different ways to combat the more than 120 different armed groups operating in the DRC’s east. The ministry stated that the measure is largely to assist with regaining control. The measure has of course been opposed by many of these armed groups, most prominently the M23 rebels, but also by human rights organizations, who have called it a “step backwards” for the country.

March 12th, 2024 - The Kenyan government announced that it is delaying its deployment to Haiti after Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s resignation. Kenya's Foreign Affairs Secretary, Korir Sing'oei, stated that the PM's resignation has caused a "fundamental change in circumstances" which has resulted in the delay. They have claimed that without the existence of an interim government, which the US has insisted will be created soon, they will be unable to properly coordinate with Haitian security forces. PM Henry resigned after mounting pressure both within and outside Haiti after the nation's gangs, primarily the G9 headed by former police officer Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier, launched attacks throughout the country aimed at forcing his resignation. The gangs succeeded, and now it is unclear what exactly their next goals are; however, Cherizier has previously called for a political upheaval.

The Americas

March 14th, 2024 - The Colombian government announced a new offensive both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as well as the National Liberation Army (ELN), on Thursday. The announcement, which was posted on X, came from Iván Velásquez Gómez, the Minister of Defense for Colombia, who declared the offensive was in order to execute a total of 481 arrest warrants for those suspected of committing homicides of a number of public figures, which included “former FARC members, human rights defenders, and social leaders.” The operation, dubbed “Operation Themis,” focuses on targeting both those with arrest warrants related to the killings as well as high-ranking members of the previously mentioned criminal organizations active within Colombia. Among those targeted are key leaders of both the FARC and the ELN, with the most notable being Néstor Gregorio Vera, also known as Iván Mordisco, who acts as the commander of the Estado Mayor Central faction of the FARC. The operation follows the murder of five signatories to the Havana Peace Accord, an agreement signed in 2016 between members of the FARC and the Colombian government under the presidency of Juan Manuel Santos. The Colombian government documented 62 murders of signatories to the accord and 271 murders of human rights defenders, 187 of whom were killed in 2023, since the election of Gustavo Petro in 2022.

A vintage photo of the FARC in their earlier days. (Photo - BBC)

March 12th, 2024 - A tense standoff between Brazilian police and a hostage taker took place in Sao Paulo, the nation’s capital, on Tuesday. The standoff began after the attacker attempted to rob civilians on a bus at the main bus terminal of Sao Paulo. Two people were injured after the attacker fired shots following the initial attack, forcing one to seek surgery at a hospital in the city while the other received medical attention for light injuries on site. Brazil’s Special Police unit, BOPE, was called in to handle the hostage situation alongside a negotiator in the standoff that lasted for nearly an hour. 17 people were taken hostage, with children and the elderly also being held hostage. Following the attack, Brazilian authorities evacuated the bus station, advising those nearby to avoid the area. Luckily, all hostages were released unharmed following the attacker’s surrender to police.

March 14th, 2024 - An estimated 7,000 people were evacuated from an illegal mine located in the state of Bolívar, Venezuela, on Thursday. This comes following a government operation within the country to curb illegal mining, both due to the danger to human lives as well as environmental concerns. The evacuations centered around a mine that faced collapse in February, which led to the deaths of 16 people and the injuries of 36 others. It was at this mine that authorities destroyed a number illegal mining camps, which have cropped up all across southern Venezuela as poor miners seek to provide for themselves and their families, in corroboration with various criminal groups active in Venezuela. One such group known to operate within Venezuela is the Colombian National Liberation Army (ELN), which commonly uses illegal mining to fund its war against the government and other narco-terrorist organizations within Colombia and its surrounding nations. Venezuelan authorities have also undergone efforts to reduce the impact of illegal logging in the nation, launching a number of offensives against illegal loggers and deploying 2,500 military personnel to national parks, forest reserves, and hydrographic basins in order to combat both illegal logging and mining within the nation.

Asia and Oceania

March 17th, 2024 - The current ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Japan has approved changes to the party’s rules surrounding political funds. The changes are a bid to regain public trust after a slush fund scandal in which party members failed to report a portion of their income from fundraising events. The LDP promised to move away from using factions as vehicles to gather funding and from assigning government and party positions to lawmakers. However, the party will continue to allow for internal party groups as “policy groups.” Current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has promised to “take the lead” in restoring public confidence and apologizing for “inviting suspicion and mistrust.” Eighty out of 370 LDP members failed to fully declare their income in internal documents to track political funds. However, the party has not investigated where the unreported income went or said what the funds were ultimately used for. The new rules ensure that the LDP can demand a lawmaker leave the party if a lawmaker or their political group’s accountant is arrested or charged for violations of fund laws. However, the updated ruling will not extend to those lawmakers involved in the scandals.

(Photo - Yuichi Yamazaki / AFP - Getty Images)

March 17th, 2024 - Four members of the Philippine Army (PA) were killed during an ambush in Datu Hoffer Ampatuan, Maguindanao del Sur province. The soldiers killed in the ambush belong to the 6th Infantry Division’s 40th Infantry Battalion. At least 10 members of Dawlah Islamiya (DI), allies of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), conducted the ambush. The attack reportedly occurred around 10 a.m. local time when the group fired on the soldier’s vehicle from hidden locations along the road as they passed the ambush site. Commanding General Lt. Gen. Roy Galido did not elaborate further on the matter, only stating: “The soldiers were heading back to their patrol base after buying supplies when the perpetrators ambushed them near a residential area in Barangay Tuayan Mother.”

March 14th, 2024 - A statement from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center said that two satellites it recently launched experienced “abnormalities” on March 14th. The launch occurred on March 13th and involved a Yuanzheng-1S upper stage aircraft carrying two satellites, the DRO-A and DRO-B, on a Long March-2C rocket. While the Long March’s first and second stages operated normally but the Yuanzheng suffered an “abnormality” as it flew into the atmosphere. The unspecified abnormality caused the two satellites to fail to enter the preset orbit, and work is “currently underway” to dispose of the satellites. The plan for the DRO-A and DRO-B was reportedly for them to head to the moon and enter a retrograde orbit, which would then orbit in formation. The two satellites would then work with the DRO-L that China successfully placed into Low Earth Orbit last month. The statement from Xichang is a rare instance of China admitting a failure associated with its space program.

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