Special Coverage 23 February 2024 20+ minutes On Our Radar On Our Radar scans conflicts and crises around the globe every week and features some of the hotspots Crisis Group's analysts are closely watching. Whether an under-reported trend or a headline-grabbing development, our field experts explain why it matters or what should be done. Share Facebook Twitter Email Linkedin Whatsapp Save Print 23 February 2024 PAKISTAN The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party announced at midnight Wednesday they would join forces to form a government, following disputed 8 February elections in which, according to provisional results, they finished second and third, respectively. The top vote getter was Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan, though it did not win enough parliamentary seats to name its own cabinet. PTI supporters, who allege rigging in various locations and insist on a recount, were outraged at the other parties’ preemptive action. Protests are in the offing, says Crisis Group expert Samina Ahmed, and they could turn ugly. Lacking a strong popular mandate, the incoming government will struggle to make hard decisions needed to kickstart a moribund economy and counter rising militant threats.RWANDA-DR CONGO With M23 rebels threatening Goma, the capital of North Kivu province in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the U.S. put out a statement Sunday calling on the insurgents to stand down amid the worsening violence. The statement also “condemned” what Washington and Kinshasa, along with the UN and others, say is Rwandan support for the M23, including by means of Rwandan troops stationed on Congolese soil. Kigali issued a strongly worded response, accusing Kinshasa of harbouring Rwandan rebels. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says international stances on Rwanda’s actions in the DRC appear to be hardening somewhat, with the U.S. leading the charge. But concerted pressure on Kigali and Kinshasa will be needed to see the beginnings of a new regional peace deal.UNITED NATIONS The U.S. vetoed a Security Council resolution tabled by Algeria calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on Tuesday. It also floated its own draft, cautioning against an Israeli offensive in Rafah, the city in southernmost Gaza where over a million civilians are trapped. Crisis Group expert Richard Gowan says the U.S. may have introduced the draft to deflect attention from the veto, which provoked anger worldwide. But Washington is nonetheless signalling for the first time that there are limits to its support for Israel’s campaign at the UN. 16 February 2024 ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN An Azerbaijani attack Tuesday killed four Armenian soldiers along the two countries' heavily militarised border. Baku stated it conducted the attack in response to Armenian provocations at the border earlier this week, which resulted in wounding one of its border guards, a claim Yerevan denied but said it would investigate. This incident ended a period of relative calm following Azerbaijan’s lightning offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh last September. Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan says it deals a blow to the prospect of thawing relations between Baku and Yerevan after talks late last year had yielded progress. Word that the two countries' leaders may meet at this weekend’s Munich Security Conference may suggest they are looking to restore quiet.DR CONGO South Africa announced Monday the deployment of 2,900 soldiers to the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission supporting Kinshasa in fighting M23 rebels in the eastern province of North Kivu. Some of these troops have already engaged in combat. Violence is surging in the region, with clashes between the M23 and government forces intensifying around Sake town, forcing thousands to flee to Goma, the provincial capital nearby, and Minova in neighbouring South Kivu. On Thursday, Pretoria announced the first two fatalities among its soldiers. Absent a diplomatic path to end the conflict, says Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff, the SADC forces are unlikely to turn the tide.LEBANON Clashes escalated this week between Israel and Hizbollah, raising fears that their exchange of fire may blow up into full-scale war. On Wednesday, rockets launched from southern Lebanon struck an Israeli military base in Safed, killing a soldier and wounding eight others. Israel retaliated with airstrikes across southern Lebanon, which claimed the lives of a senior Hizbollah commander, two Hizbollah fighters and ten civilians. Crisis Group expert David Wood says serious incidents like this week’s risk propelling the conflict toward a disastrous confrontation – even if both parties seem for now to prefer to avoid that outcome. 9 February 2023 COLOMBIA Ahead of a UN Security Council visit, Colombia reached an agreement with the ELN, the country's largest remaining insurgency, that will see a bilateral ceasefire extended for another six months and an end to kidnapping for ransom. The ceasefire has reduced clashes between the guerrillas and the state, said Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson. But more is needed in the coming weeks, including better monitoring of compliance on both sides, to ensure that civilians reap the benefits.EL SALVADOR Salvadorans headed to the polls on 4 February for presidential and congressional elections, with President Nayib Bukele seeking an unconstitutional immediate re-election. Bukele has proclaimed that he won with an overwhelming majority and world leaders have congratulated him. But a collapse in the tallying means there are still no official results, leading to allegations of fraud aimed at making sure Bukele’s party, Nuevas Ideas, has full control of Congress. Crisis Group expert Pamela Ruiz says Bukele's win was not surprising, given the broad support for his security policy, which has significantly lowered gang violence throughout the country. As manual counts in Congressional votes begin, electoral authorities must ensure transparency, including allowing independent press outlets to broadcast tallies, to put allegations of cheating to rest.GAZA-ISRAEL Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday rejected the terms of a Hamas-proposed ceasefire, saying the military would continue its offensive in Gaza until it achieves “total victory”. He ordered Israeli troops to prepare for a push into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, which has become a last refuge for more than half of the strip’s residents. Crisis Group experts Mairav Zonszein and Tahani Mustafa say the prospect of expanding the ground offensive into Rafah is alarming, leaving Palestinians in Gaza, already suffering a humanitarian catastrophe, with no way to escape the fighting. Even if Israel deals a blow to the militants there, its war aims of eradicating Hamas and freeing the more than 100 hostages still held captive in the strip will likely remain elusive. 2 February 2024 SAHEL The military regimes in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger announced Sunday they will be leaving ECOWAS, the West African economic bloc. Crisis Group expert Jean-Hervé Jezequel says the move comes as a shock: it shows how deep the rift between the three Sahelian states and other governments has become following the July 2023 coup in Niamey. If the trio of regimes goes on to scrap regional trade and travel agreements, the lives of tens of millions of people will be disrupted. To avoid further escalation, the two sides should start discussions about mitigating the ramifications of this decision as soon as possible.UNITED STATES An armed drone hit Tower 22, a facility used by the U.S. military in far north-eastern Jordan on the Syrian border, killing three U.S. servicemembers Sunday. It followed a series of strikes and counterstrikes involving the “axis of resistance” – Iran-linked militant groups – and the U.S. military in the Middle East as Israel’s campaign in Gaza continues. The White House said it believes an assemblage of Iraqi groups launched this particular attack, adding that the U.S. response “won’t just be a one-off”. Crisis Group expert Brian Finucane says restraint is advisable, since Washington is not the only actor with a vote on whether the exchanges keep escalating. A ceasefire in Gaza is the best way to make sure they do not.VENEZUELA Last week, the government-controlled Supreme Court upheld a ban on opposition figure Maria Corina Machado running for office. Machado won an opposition primary in October, making her the main challenger to President Nicolás Maduro in the election due sometime in 2024. The ban threatens the vote’s validity, setting back prospects of an exit from Venezuela’s protracted political and humanitarian crisis. The opposition called it a violation of government commitments under October’s Barbados agreement, which laid out conditions for the polls, while the U.S. announced it would begin reinstating sanctions it had lifted thereafter. But all is not lost, says Crisis Group expert Phil Gunson, as long as the opposition, backed by outside allies, sticks to contesting the election rather than boycotting it. 26 January 2024 ISRAEL-GAZA The International Court of Justice on Friday delivered an interim ruling calling on Israel to take steps to prevent genocide in Gaza and allow in humanitarian aid, stopping short of calling for a ceasefire. The ruling came as the Israeli army this week intensified its assault on Gaza, encircling Khan Younis, the second-largest city in the enclave, killing hundreds of Palestinians. On Monday, 24 Israeli soldiers were killed in the deadliest incident for Israel since 7 October. Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa says Israel’s military operations in Khan Younis are deepening a humanitarian catastrophe. The Palestinian death toll since the start of the war has now surpassed 26,000.UKRAINE Russian missiles hit Ukraine’s two largest cities, Kyiv and Kharkiv, killing at least six people on Tuesday. The attacks came two days after Russian-installed authorities in the occupied city of Donetsk claimed Ukrainian artillery had killed at least 26 people in a suburban market. Amid uncertainty about whether Washington and Brussels will make good on their aid pledges, says Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel, Ukraine will likely shift to a more defensive posture and extend its fortifications along the front lines.ETHIOPIA-SOMALIA Somalia continues to lobby allies to increase pressure on Ethiopia to stop it from following through with a 1 January agreement with Somaliland, whose declaration of independence Mogadishu does not accept. Landlocked Ethiopia signed a memorandum of understanding with Somaliland to lease land on its coast for naval facilities, in exchange for recognition. On Sunday, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, an Ethiopian rival, vowed to support Somalia in what Mogadishu terms a plot by Addis Ababa to “annex” its territory. Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood says the development is ratcheting up tensions at a delicate time in the Horn of Africa, threatening continued Ethiopia-Somalia cooperation on crucial matters such as fighting the Al-Shabaab insurgents. 19 January 2023 IRAN Tehran this week launched missiles into Iraq, Syria and Pakistan, striking what it alleged were bases used by groups implicated in attacks in Iran as well as high-profile killings of Iranian and allied commanders outside the country. Baghdad and Islamabad denounced the strikes, with the former rejecting Tehran's claim to have hit an Israeli intelligence-linked site near Erbil and the latter denying Iran's assertion it had targeted militants. On Thursday, Pakistan launched retaliatory strikes on what it claims were separatist militant hideouts in Iran. The brazenness of Iran's actions, says Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez, shows the government is stinging at having suffered successive setbacks. Yet its countermeasures could end up exacerbating risks to Iran’s security while damaging ties with key neighbours.SUDAN The army Tuesday announced it is suspending its participation in mediation efforts led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), accusing the East African bloc of violating Sudan’s sovereignty by inviting Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, leader of its foe the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces to an extraordinary summit in Uganda Thursday to discuss the Sudanese crisis. Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael says the setback for IGAD is another blow to peace efforts, after separate talks between the warring parties in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia broke down last month. World and regional powers need to make a coordinated push for peace, as the conflict is spreading in Sudan’s east, worsening an already dire humanitarian crisis.TAIWAN On 13 January, Taiwan elected Lai Ching-te as its next president, marking a historic third term for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party. Lai has pledged to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Tsai Ing-wen, taking a moderate approach toward China, but Beijing has painted Lai as pro-independence. Crisis Group expert Amanda Hsiao says China’s response to Lai’s election has been measured so far, but Beijing could turn up the heat on Taipei around his inauguration in May. To avoid escalation, Beijing should roll back its military pressures on Taiwan, Taipei and Washington should keep signalling commitment to the status quo that has underwritten cross-strait peace and security for decades, and all three parties should clearly communicate their expectations, intentions and concerns in the lead-up to the transition. 12 January 2024 ECUADOR A wave of gang violence erupted in Ecuador this week after prominent gang leader Adolfo Macías escaped from prison, prompting riots in jails across the country that spread to nearby cities. On Tuesday, gunmen stormed a TV station, briefly holding hostages while on the air. The same day, President Daniel Noboa declared an “internal armed conflict”, ordering the military to go after 22 criminal gangs he labelled terrorists. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys González Calanche says the government first needs to regain control of prisons as it works to contain the situation, which is likely to escalate further.GAZA-ISRAEL As Israel continues its offensive in Gaza, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to the Middle East this week, where he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Blinken reiterated calls to protect civilians in Gaza and outlined plans for the strip’s post-war governance led by a "revitalised" Palestinian Authority. Crisis Group experts Mairav Zonszein and Tahani Mustafa say Blinken’s visit is unlikely to change the war’s course as Israel’s leadership looks committed to pursuing its objective of dismantling Hamas. Absent U.S. support for a permanent ceasefire, the humanitarian catastrophe in the strip is likely to worsen.MYANMAR On 4 January, the military’s last remaining base in Laukkaing, capital of the Kokang self-administered zone in northern Shan State on the Chinese border, surrendered to the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, leaving all of the zone under the ethnic armed group’s control. The deal to surrender the city was facilitated by China, without a shot fired. More than 2,300 troops were stationed there at the time. Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey says it is the most significant ground the military has given up in decades, one of a string of humiliating losses across northern Shan in recent weeks that have emboldened its opponents. On 12 January, a ceasefire brokered by China was announced for northern Shan. If it holds, which is not certain, it allows the armed groups the space to consolidate their gains, while preventing even more serious losses for the military. 5 January 2024 ETHIOPIA-SOMALILAND Ethiopia announced Monday it has agreed to lease a 20km stretch of Red Sea coastline from neighbouring Somaliland for a naval base. In exchange, Somaliland is to get shares in Ethiopian Airlines. Hargeisa says the deal also includes acknowledgement of Somaliland as a sovereign state, which would make Addis Ababa the first capital to recognise its 1991 declaration of independence from Somalia. Mogadishu reacted furiously, with President Hassan Sheikh Mahamud saying: “Not an inch of Somalia can or will be signed away by anybody”. Crisis Group expert Will Davison says Ethiopia’s commitment to recognising Somaliland appears tentative, meaning the lease may fall through. But for the time being the announcement has ratcheted up tensions in the Horn of Africa, a region already roiled by several conflicts.IRAN Two bombs shook the city of Kerman Wednesday morning, during ceremonies commemorating Qassem Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards commander killed in a 2020 U.S. drone strike in Iraq. Authorities said 84 people died in the explosions, while over 200 others were injured. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei vowed a “harsh response” to what he called the “terrorist attacks”, which were subsequently claimed by Islamic State or ISIS. The government may have little choice but to respond strongly, says Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez, given the high death toll and the bombings’ timing and place. It may retaliate against ISIS in some way and crack down domestically. If Tehran attempts to link the Kerman attack to Israel, it could fuel Middle East tensions that are already combustible with the Gaza war continuing.LEBANON An Israeli strike Tuesday killed Saleh al-Arouri, deputy chair of Hamas’s political bureau. Crisis Group expert David Wood says the assassination represents a significant escalation of the post-7 October clashes between Israel and Hizbollah – and not just because Hamas is the Shiite party’s ally. It occurred in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hizbollah has numerous offices and many of its supporters live, an area far away from the previously accepted conflict zone near the Israeli border. Hizbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah announced Wednesday that the killing would not “go unpunished”. Fears are mounting that the group will retaliate severely, but it may opt for more restraint, in keeping with its efforts over the past three months to avoid large-scale conflict with Israel. 15 December 2023 DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO Over 43 million Congolese are set to go to the polls next Wednesday to elect a new president as well as parliamentary, provincial and local representatives. The electoral commission is struggling to deliver voting materials to polling stations, with the government calling for Angolan and UN assistance. Meanwhile, a campaign meeting in Kongo Central province turned violent this week. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says the authorities seem determined to avoid delaying the elections. Yet thousands of polling stations may not have what they need to function, increasing the chance of disputed results. GAZA-ISRAEL On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly passed a nonbinding resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. The U.S. had vetoed a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution the previous Friday. Crisis Group experts Tahani Mustafa and Mairav Zonszein say the General Assembly vote reflects converging global public opinion regarding the Gaza war, with the U.S. increasingly isolated in its support for Israel. Palestinians in Gaza are facing a humanitarian catastrophe as Israel continues its bombardment amid the collapse of the strip’s health care system and the outbreak of infectious disease. The Gaza death toll now stands at over 18,000.YEMEN The Houthi rebels have fired missiles at several cargo vessels, after briefly seizing one in November, raising concerns about the security of shipping lanes in the Bab al-Mandab, the strait connecting the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. The Houthis have signalled their intent to continue these attacks, mostly targeting Israel-bound or Israel-linked commercial ships, as long as Israel continues its war in Gaza. Crisis Group expert Ahmed Nagi says the escalation in the Red Sea threatens to expand the conflict to Yemen. It could also undermine Saudi-Houthi talks aimed at ending Yemen’s own eight-year war. 8 December 2023 GAZA-ISRAEL After a “humanitarian pause” broke down last Friday, Israel’s military pressed its offensive further into southern Gaza this week, while heavy fighting continued in the north as well. On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the humanitarian system in Gaza is on the verge of collapse and, for the first time since 1989, invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter, forcing the Security Council to discuss a course of action. Crisis Group experts Tahani Mustafa and Mairav Zonszein say a ceasefire is urgently needed as millions of Gaza residents are running out of options to escape the war and are at acute risk of disease and starvation.SUDAN Talks between Sudan’s armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia were suspended indefinitely this week after reportedly reaching a deadlock. After more than seven months of war, the country’s humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate, with millions displaced and over half the population in need of aid amid mounting reports of war crimes. With both parties seemingly bent on military victory, says Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael, the war is likely to spread. Urgent efforts are needed to bring the parties back to the negotiating table before another opportunity to end the war is squandered.VENEZUELA-GUAYANA In a referendum Sunday, voters in Venezuela approved their country’s claim to the oil-rich Essequibo region in Guyana, rejecting the International Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in the territorial dispute. Two days later, President Nicolás Maduro proposed that parliament pass a bill creating a Venezuelan province in Essequibo and ordered the state oil company to make plans for tapping its hydrocarbon riches. Guyana responded by putting its armed forces on full alert. Crisis Group expert Phil Gunson says Maduro seeks to shore up nationalist support prior to next year’s presidential election with his bellicose rhetoric. Caracas may think twice, however, before acting militarily as it has virtually no international support for its claims, even among its traditional allies. 1 December 2023 CLIMATE Delegates gathered in Dubai Thursday for the 28th annual UN Climate Conference, where peace and security issues appear on the agenda for the first time. The hosts will ask participating nations to sign a Climate, Relief, Recovery and Peace Declaration and to pledge funds in support. Crisis Group expert Andrew Ciacci says the document is an important first step in raising awareness of the inequities war-torn countries face in dealing with climate change. But without concrete financial commitments, the effort will remain largely symbolic.GAZA-ISRAEL Israel resumed its air and ground operations in the Gaza Strip Friday, after a seven-day “humanitarian pause” it had agreed to with Hamas. It blamed Hamas for the renewed fighting, though both sides had violated the truce. Israeli planes dropped flyers in southern Gaza warning residents to move toward Rafah on the Egyptian border. During the “pause”, Hamas released 110 of the hostages it took in its 7 October attacks on Israel, while Israel freed 240 Palestinians from prison. Israel also allowed vital aid into Gaza, but not in sufficient quantities. Crisis Group experts Tahani Mustafa and Mairav Zonszein say the imperative now, given the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe and human suffering to date, is to pursue a permanent ceasefire.SIERRA LEONE An unknown number of armed men attacked military barracks, prisons and an armoury in the capital Freetown Sunday. At least twenty people were killed, including thirteen soldiers, while 1,890 prisoners escaped from jail. The government says the attacks were a failed coup attempt. After restoring calm, authorities imposed a nationwide curfew. The incidents came five months after President Julius Maada Bio won re-election amid concerns in the West about the vote’s transparency. Crisis Group expert Rinaldo Depagne says the episode is the latest illustration of a striking years-long trend in West Africa whereby electoral controversies expose the victors to the threat of violent overthrow. 24 November 2023 DR CONGO Presidential candidates kicked off a month-long campaign Sunday. Incumbent President Felix Tshisekedi is seen as the front runner, in part because the opposition did not throw its weight behind a single challenger. The campaign comes amid a surge of fighting in the eastern DRC, where M23 rebels now occupy much of North Kivu province, drawing close to its capital Goma. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says the election, set for 20 December, faces myriad logistical challenges on top of mounting security concerns. Inflammatory rhetoric from the candidates heightens the risk of electoral violence in urban centres.GAZA-ISRAEL A four-day humanitarian pause between Israel and Hamas went into effect Friday morning, marking the first break in seven weeks of devastating conflict in Gaza. The Qatari-mediated deal involves the release of at least 50 of the estimated 240 hostages in Gaza in exchange for 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, as well as allowing for more aid to cross into the strip from Egypt. Crisis Group experts Mairav Zonszein and Tahani Mustafa say the temporary truce offers much-needed respite to Palestinians in Gaza suffering shortages of basic necessities after weeks of Israeli bombardment, but it is not nearly enough. All sides should now focus on turning the pause into a permanent ceasefire.KOREAN PENINSULA Pyongyang launched a satellite into orbit Wednesday after two failed attempts earlier this year. In response, South Korea suspended parts of a five-year-old military agreement with North Korea, vowing to resume aerial surveillance along the border. North Korea, for its part, immediately stated that it would no longer be bound by the agreement at all and announced plans to send more troops and military equipment to the border. Crisis Group expert Chris Green says the reconnaissance satellite will be a technological breakthrough for the North, if it functions as intended, one that markedly raises Pyongyang's surveillance capacity. Meanwhile, the inter-Korean military agreement's collapse is likely to bring the opposing forces into closer proximity, elevating the risk of cross-border clashes. 17 November 2023 GAZA-ISRAEL Israel pushed on with its ground operations in the Gaza Strip for a third week, with the army laying siege to a major hospital it claimed (without yet presenting clear evidence) to be a Hamas command centre. Some 7,000 people are reportedly trapped inside. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is increasingly desperate, with water, food and fuel very hard to find. The death toll among Palestinians is well over 11,000; Israel reports that 50 of its soldiers have been killed. A ceasefire is urgent, say Crisis Group experts Tahani Mustafa and Mairav Zonszein, as is diplomacy to secure the release of the hostages held by Hamas. The signs, however, point to protracted war and even worse conditions for civilians in Gaza.SUDAN The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) appeared to make major gains against the Sudanese army amid horrific reports of killings of civilians, looting and mass displacement in Darfur. Fighting between the two sides since April has devastated the country. Yet diplomacy has moved at a languid pace, says Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael, with the warring parties waiting months before reconvening for talks in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia three weeks ago. The RSF is now expected to continue its offensive in regions that have been quiet so far. Outside actors should push the parties to reach a durable ceasefire before war engulfs all Sudan. U.S.-CHINA Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in San Francisco Wednesday for the first time in over a year. Crisis Group expert Amanda Hsiao says the most significant outcome is resumption of military-to-military communications, which Beijing had suspended following then-U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022. The two leaders made gestures toward lowering the temperature around Taiwan, but actual de-escalation will require more concerted diplomacy and action. The meeting has helped rebuild mutual good-will that, while modest, could serve as a buffer should tensions flare once more. 10 November 2023 AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN Pakistan this week continued the forcible deportation of thousands of Afghans after an ultimatum lapsed on 31 October for “illegal foreigners” to leave the country voluntarily. Islamabad cited alleged Afghan militant attacks near the border to justify the decision. The new rules apply to an estimated 1.7 million Afghans who are living in Pakistan without documentation. But millions of others may also be affected. Crisis Group expert Ibraheem Bahiss says Afghan authorities, already struggling to deal with one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, are not prepared for an influx of returning refugees. Pakistan should urgently reconsider its repatriation policy to avoid further destabilising the region. GAZA The Israeli army this week continued its bombardment and ground operations inside Gaza, advancing into Gaza City and leading tens of thousands of Gazans to flee south. After a month of war, the death toll in the strip has surpassed 10,000. Meanwhile, the future of governance in Gaza remains unclear. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Wednesday voiced support for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank taking over the enclave. Israel, for its part, announced plans to manage security in the strip for an indefinite period. Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa says neither option looks feasible. In any case, the immediate need is a ceasefire to stave off further devastation and civilian suffering.MYANMAR Ethnic Kokang and Ta’ang armed groups, along with allied forces, launched an offensive against regime troops last week in northern Shan State. They seized several strategic towns, severed key trade routes to China and overran numerous hilltop bases. Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey says it is a moment of jeopardy for the junta ruling the country since 2021. While the armed groups are not part of the anti-coup resistance, their military success has encouraged opposition attacks in other parts of the country. The regime will want to respond decisively to avoid further emboldening its opponents, likely with serious humanitarian consequences. Regime or military collapse is still a distant prospect, however. 3 November 2023 BANGLADESH Opposition forces including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) called a three-day blockade this week, attempting to disrupt road, rail and river transport, following clashes last Saturday between police and BNP protesters that left at least four dead. The BNP is demanding that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina step down prior to January 2024 elections, so that a technocratic caretaker cabinet can administer the polls. Authorities arrested Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and other leading BNP figures following last Saturday’s “grand rally”, accusing them of complicity in violent acts. Crisis Group expert Tom Kean says this crackdown has deepened polarisation in the country, lowering the chances of compromise between the parties before the elections and heightening the risk of further loss of life.GAZA Israel continued its bombardment of the Gaza Strip this week, also staging multiple ground incursions, following Hamas’s attacks on Israel on 7 October. The death toll among Palestinians now tops 9,000, including more than 3,700 children. Crisis Group President and CEO Comfort Ero says world leaders should work urgently to conclude a ceasefire. There is no easy answer for how to deal with Hamas. But, in the long run, levelling much of Gaza, killing thousands of innocent Palestinians and risking regional war will not make Israel safer. MEXICO Hurricane Otis tore through the Pacific coastal city of Acapulco last week, leaving at least 46 people dead, 58 others missing and residents scrambling to find food and potable water. The storm had grown to category-five strength at unprecedented speed, reducing the time citizens had to prepare for its approach. Authorities are still assessing the extent of the damage. The government’s aid response has been insufficient, says Crisis Group expert Falko Ernst, providing the area’s powerful criminal groups with the opportunity to fill many gaps. In the short term, elements of organised crime could be handing out supplies; in the medium term, they may find it easier to recruit new members from among the ranks of jobless youth, whose prospects for legal employment the hurricane’s effects have also battered. 27 October 2023 DR CONGO Fighting intensified this week between M23 rebels and pro-government forces, shattering a fragile six-month calm, with clashes occurring within 20km of the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma. On Tuesday, Kinshasa accused Rwandan army units of mounting an incursion into North Kivu to support the M23. According to the UN, over 100,000 people have been displaced since battles resumed in early October. Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba says the latest round of combat, coming just weeks before elections slated for 20 December, will compromise the vote in this troubled area, stymie efforts to reach a ceasefire and add to the struggles of the East African Community force that deployed to contain the violence. ISRAEL-GAZA The Israeli army this week conducted multiple ground incursions into northern and central Gaza, claiming to strike a series of Hamas targets in preparation for a wider offensive. Meanwhile, the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, with more than a million people displaced and food, water and fuel in short supply as Israeli air and artillery strikes intensified throughout the strip, flattening entire neighbourhoods and causing thousands of civilian casualties. Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonszein says it is unclear whether a ground offensive could dislodge Hamas from Gaza, and even if it were to, what the day after would look like. It would also likely exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the strip and significantly raise the risk of a regional conflict.MEXICO A criminal group killed thirteen police officers on Monday in El Papayo, a coastal town north of Acapulco, Guerrero. Two other officers are missing. The ambush was the latest in a string of increasingly aggressive attacks on security forces in this southern Mexican state. Just days prior, the Guerrero state attorney’s office had instructed its personnel to halt all activities due to insecurity. Crisis Group expert Falko Ernst says the government lacks effective strategies for quelling the violence, enabling organised crime to broaden its sway. Rank-and-file police often pay the price. In the past five years, more than 2,000 have lost their lives. 20 October 2023 COLOMBIA The Colombian government Tuesday signed a three-month ceasefire with a dissident faction of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), known as the EMC. The accord comes at a crucial moment, just ahead of the 29 October local elections, and includes a provision to ensure the vote moves ahead without armed interference. Unlike past ceasefires, says Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson, this agreement focuses on civilian protection, including key commitments to safeguard the rights of children, ethnic communities and other vulnerable populations. It is vital that communities start to feel the impact of de-escalation in their daily lives.IRAQ Iran-backed militias conducted drone strikes Wednesday on the Ain al-Assad and Harir air bases in the Anbar and Erbil provinces, respectively, lightly injuring a number of U.S. soldiers stationed there. The U.S. military reported additional attacks Thursday on its facilities in Iraq and Syria. Angry about U.S. support for Israel in the Gaza war, the Iran-aligned armed groups in Iraq have threatened to keep targeting U.S. assets. Crisis Group expert Lahib Higel, says their attacks are likely to continue. SOUTH CHINA SEA The Philippine military called out Beijing Sunday for “dangerous and offensive manoeuvres”, saying a Chinese warship cut across the bow of a Philippine vessel near Thitu island, the Philippines' largest outpost in the Spratlys, a disputed archipelago in the South China Sea. Beijing insisted its ship’s actions were “lawful and legitimate”. The incident followed a standoff last month that pitted a Philippine resupply mission against the Chinese coast guard over the Second Thomas Shoal. Crisis Group expert Georgi Engelbrecht says the incident is another reminder that the Sea is full of flashpoints. With Manila becoming more assertive with its own patrols, further escalation may not be a matter of if but when. 13 October 2023 GUATEMALA Indigenous, student and civil society organisations have set up more than 100 roadblocks as part of a growing national strike demanding respect for the 2023 election results. The strike was called by Indigenous authorities, the 48 Cantones of Totonicapán, to compel the resignation of officials who they see as attacking the elections’ integrity, including by casting doubt on Bernardo Arévalo’s victory in the presidential race. The president-elect has denounced these officials’ efforts as a “slow-motion coup”. Crisis Group expert Pamela Ruiz says the protests bespeak widespread indignation. Most have been peaceful, but demonstrators say provocateurs have infiltrated some in attempts to spark violence that would bring a harsh crackdown. ISRAEL-GAZA Israeli troops massed around the Gaza Strip in seeming preparation for a ground invasion, days after Hamas launched its unprecedented assault inside Israel, killing some 1,200 people, many of whom were civilians, and taking numerous hostages. Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa says the Hamas attacks were likely a desperate attempt to bring about change in the status quo, a 17-year siege of Gaza that has made the enclave essentially unlivable. Now Israel’s response – intense bombardment, along with cutoffs of electricity, fuel and food supplies, amounting to collective punishment on a massive scale – is creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the coastal strip. On Friday, Israel told the 1.1 million inhabitants of northern Gaza to move south. A ground invasion would doubtless make the situation far worse.LEBANON-ISRAEL Hizbollah and Israel have been trading occasional fire over the Lebanon-Israel border since Sunday, the Gaza war’s second day. Both sides appear keen to avoid escalation. But an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza could yet pull the Shiite Islamist group into the fray, as could rockets launched at Israel by Palestinian groups in Lebanon that bring Israeli retaliation. Crisis Group expert Heiko Wimmen says a Gaza ceasefire is the only sure way to forestall these scenarios. In the meantime, Hizbollah should impress upon its Palestinian allies, and Western countries upon Israel, that opening a second front is in no one’s interest. 6 October 2023 ARMENIA More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh have sought refuge in Armenia following Azerbaijan’s mid-September offensive that ended the enclave’s de facto self-rule. Beyond providing them with food, shelter and health care, says Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan, it is vital to plan for the future. Not only are the new arrivals traumatised by war, but many also speak a dialect that people in Armenia cannot understand. Yerevan will likely require outside aid and expertise to help them integrate. Authorities should take care that programming is gender-responsive, meeting the particular needs of women, children and the elderly. HAITI The UN Security Council authorised a new multinational mission in Haiti Monday. Crisis Group expert Diego Da Rin says specialised foreign forces, which could deploy within three months, will likely help police reduce the unprecedented ferocity of gang violence in the country as well as ease the flow of humanitarian aid. But it remains crucial that acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry reach an agreement with a broad cross-section of the opposition to form a transitional government with proper checks and balances. In the absence of such an accord, many Haitians may see the mission merely as a means for Henry and his allies to strengthen their hold on power.TÜRKIYE The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) bombed police headquarters in Ankara on Sunday, the first time it has hit the Turkish capital since 2016. The group is likely trying to demonstrate resilience with the attack; it has been under significant pressure from the Turkish military on the battlefield. Ankara retaliated immediately with a wave of arrests inside Türkiye as well as airstrikes on PKK and allied targets in northern Iraq and northern Syria, straining ties with Washington. The U.S. said it shot down an armed Turkish drone Wednesday flying close to its troops in Syria. Ankara denied the drone belonged to the Turkish armed forces. Crisis Group expert Berkay Mandıracı says the four-decade conflict will now likely escalate further with the Turkish military doubling down on trying to weaken the PKK and the latter pushing back. 29 September 2023 KOSOVO Heavily armed Serbs attacked police Sunday in Banjska, a northern Kosovo village, and then occupied a monastery, leading to a day-long standoff. A policeman and three of the assailants were killed. Prime Minister Albin Kurti accused Serbia of backing the attack; Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić denied involvement and blamed Kurti for provocations. Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec says the military-grade weapons seized from the attackers indicate Serbs in northern Kosovo, where they are in the majority, are preparing for a fight. With neither Kurti nor Vučić likely to make unilateral concessions, negotiations are the best bet for averting major escalation. NIGER French President Emmanuel Macron announced Sunday that France would withdraw its troops from Niger and recall its ambassador. Relations between Paris and Niamey have soured since a junta deposed President Mohamed Bazoum in July. Coup leaders in Niger have tapped into growing anti-French sentiment to shore up popular support, says Crisis Group expert Jean-Hervé Jezequel. But France’s departure from the country also means the military will have a hard time avoiding accountability should it fail to maintain security in the coming period.YEMEN A drone strike Monday killed three Bahraini soldiers stationed near the Saudi-Yemeni border. The soldiers belonged to the Saudi-led coalition forces fighting the Houthi rebels. Bahrain blamed the Houthis for the attack, while the coalition condemned it, asserting the right to respond. Without acknowledging the strike, the Houthis accused the coalition of breaking the de facto truce, which has largely held after formally lapsing almost a year ago. The incident is concerning in light of recent advances in Houthi-Saudi ceasefire talks, says Crisis Group expert Ahmed Nagi, but neither side appears inclined to escalate. 22 September 2023 DOMINICAN REPUBLIC-HAITI The Dominican Republic last Friday shut its borders with Haiti, escalating a dispute over construction of a canal by farmers on the Haitian side. The canal taps into the Massacre River, which runs along the northern border, to irrigate the drought-stricken Maribaroux plains. The Dominican government claims that digging it violates a 1929 treaty on shared use of the river waters. Crisis Group expert Diego Da Rin says the border closure could significantly harm both countries’ economies at a time when living conditions in Haiti have already deteriorated amid rampant gang violence and rising hunger. MALI Fresh fighting broke out Sunday between Malian forces and a coalition of Tuareg rebels who claim to have temporarily seized two army bases in Lere, a town in the northern Timbuktu region. Clashes have intensified in recent weeks amid the withdrawal of MINUSMA, the UN stabilisation mission in the country, after ten years of deployment. Neither side stands to benefit from resuming hostilities, says Crisis Group expert Ibrahim Maiga. A return to dialogue is in the best interest of both the Malian state and the rebel groups, which signed a peace agreement with Bamako in 2015. UNITED NATIONS World leaders attended the UN General Assembly for its annual high-level week in New York. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to both the Assembly and the UN Security Council, attempting to rally stronger support for Kyiv in fending off Russia’s aggression, but the main theme of the gathering was economic development, says Crisis Group expert Richard Gowan. As Zelenskyy huddled with non-Western leaders, lobbying them to take a harder line against Moscow, Western leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, focused on addressing the economic concerns of the so-called Global South. 15 September 2023 COLOMBIA The government released a new counter-narcotics strategy Saturday, aimed at helping small farmers find alternatives to growing coca as well as improving law enforcement. Days later, the UN reported that Colombia’s coca crop had reached record levels in 2022, helping drive the price down dramatically. Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson says the government has a unique opportunity to help farmers stop planting coca, thus following through on President Gustavo Petro's promises to shift the focus of anti-drug efforts off the rural poor onto crime bosses.NORTH KOREA-RUSSIA North Korean leader Kim Jong-un travelled to Russia for unexpected talks Wednesday with President Vladimir Putin. The two affirmed North Korean-Russian friendship but made no concrete announcements. After two failed satellite launches this year, says Crisis Group expert Chris Green, North Korea is likely seeking technological assistance. It may also be hoping that Russia will admit more North Korean workers. Putin accepted an invitation to visit Pyongyang, a sign of closer relations that will unsettle Washington and Seoul. The U.S. threatened additional sanctions on Moscow should the two countries make a deal for North Korea to send weapons to Russia in order to aid its war effort in Ukraine. SUDAN An airstrike on a market in the capital Khartoum Sunday, carried out by the Sudanese air force, killed over 40 civilians, one of the highest single-incident death tolls since war broke out between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in April. Meanwhile, attacks by all sides on residential areas intensifed in the Darfur and Kordofan regions. Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael says outside actors now leading competing peace initiatives urgently need to coordinate diplomacy to end the fighting. 8 September 2023 GABON Brice Oligui Nguema, leader of the junta that toppled long-time President Ali Bongo last week, was sworn in as interim president Monday, promising elections but giving no date for military rule to end. The coup in Gabon is the latest in a string of putsches in former French colonies in West Africa. It comes barely a month after a group of generals took power in Niger. Crisis Group expert Pauline Bax says the reasons for Gabon’s coup are markedly different from the causes of the earlier military takeovers. Nonetheless, the putsch signals that popular support for governing elites is declining in West Africa, leading some to see the military as a viable alternative.SYRIA Deadly clashes between the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and allied Arab militias continued this week in north-eastern Syria. Fighting broke out after the SDF detained the (Arab) head of the Deir al-Zor Military Council, its local affiliate formed by the SDF in 2016. The initially isolated clashes expanded as Arab tribes reacted to reports that the SDF had killed or wounded dozens of civilians from the Council head's community. Crisis Group expert Heiko Wimmen says the violence can be seen as a failure of the SDF's governance approach since it took control of Deir al-Zor in 2019, when it sidelined local actors and largely neglected the area’s security and economy.UKRAINE President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov Sunday, following allegations that the ministry has mishandled repeated cases of corruption. Reznikov himself is not accused of wrongdoing and will become Ukraine’s ambassador in London. Zelenskyy named Rustem Umerov, the trusted head of the state property fund, as Reznikov’s replacement. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says Kyiv is eager to signal that it is fighting corruption in state institutions and that the sacrifices by the population and Western support are brought to good use. 1 September 2023 GUATEMALA The Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Monday officially declared Bernardo Arévalo of the Movimiento Semilla party winner of the 20 August presidential runoff. Hours earlier, the electoral registry, a body within the Tribunal, announced that Semilla’s legal status was being provisionally suspended in response to a judicial order following accusations of irregularities in gathering signatures for the party’s formation. Two days later, the Board of Directors of Congress refused to recognise Semilla as a party. Arévalo said the party’s cancellation was legally void and vowed to appeal the decision. Crisis Group expert Pamela Ruiz says domestic and international actors monitoring the risk of unrest should keep an eye on legal attacks on Semilla and other attempts to weaken Arévalo before he takes power on 14 January.RUSSIA Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the mercenary Wagner Group, was buried in St Petersburg Tuesday after his plane crashed in the Tver region last week, killing him and all the company’s other top figures. The incident came two months after Prigozhin organised an armed rebellion, marching on but stopping short of Moscow. The circumstances of his death have become a topic of widespread speculation. Absent its leaders, Wagner has an uncertain future. Crisis Group expert Oleg Ignatov says if Wagner emerges from this episode diminished, it will inevitably affect the Kremlin’s operations and ambitions in Africa and other regions where Moscow has relied on the group to advance its interests.ZIMBABWE President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Saturday was declared the winner of last week’s election, granting him a final five-year term in office. The main opposition party was quick to reject the result, alleging massive irregularities in the vote and demanding fresh elections. Election observers, notably from the Southern African Development Community, also criticised the conduct of the polls, pointing to curbs on freedom of assembly and bans on opposition campaign rallies. Crisis Group expert Nicolas Delaunay says the irregularities, coming on top of the government’s patchy human rights record, are likely to hamper Harare’s drive to re-engage with international partners and secure the removal of sanctions. 19 August 2023 ECUADOR Pedro Briones, a local organiser for the Citizen Revolution party, was shot dead Monday, the fourth assassination of a political figure in the space of three weeks as 20 August elections draw near. Presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio was killed last week; a legislative candidate and a mayor were gunned down before that. Six Colombians with alleged ties to organised crime have been arrested in the Villavicencio assassination. Villavicencio was an outspoken advocate of tough approaches to drug trafficking, corruption and other illicit activity. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche says the spate of murders highlights the salience of criminal violence as a political issue. It is likely to benefit candidates who promote heavy-handed security policies.NIGER A group of West African countries met this week to discuss strategy for military intervention in Niger, after the junta the ignored an ultimatum the nations had set demanding reinstatement of President Mohamed Bazoum. Bazoum was deposed in a coup on 26 July. The West African bloc would prefer negotiations as a means of restoring democratic government but failing that is considering force. Authorities in Burkina Faso and Mali, who themselves seized power in military takeovers, have vowed to come to the Nigerien junta’s defence should external actors try to dislodge it. Crisis Group expert Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim says outside powers concerned with a peaceful resolution to Niger’s crisis should press urgently for dialogue so as to avert an armed conflict. 5 August 2023 COLOMBIA Security forces stepped up operations against the Gulf Clan and other criminal armed groups Monday, leaving twenty dead in clashes, three days before a formal ceasefire with the largest leftist insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN), went into effect. Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson says the government seems keen to regain a military advantage over armed organisations even as it pursues dialogue. It may signal a long-awaited alignment in Bogotá’s strategy: seeking concessions from these groups using both force and negotiations.LEBANON Fighting erupted this week between factions in Ain al-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp near the southern city of Sidon. The clashes, which pit forces loyal to the Fatah party against an array of Islamist-leaning groups, have killed at least twelve and displaced 300 families. Some link the gun battles to unrest in the West Bank, where the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority is cracking down on a new generation of militants. Others suspect that Hizbollah and elements of Hamas are egging on the Islamists in order to weaken Fatah. Crisis Group expert Heiko Wimmen says the confrontation continues a worrying trend whereby tensions in occupied Palestine manifest among Palestinians in Lebanon.PAKISTAN A suicide bomber struck an Islamist party's election campaign gathering in the Bajaur district near the Afghan border Sunday, killing 54 and injuring more than 200. Islamic State Khorasan Province (IS-KP), the area branch of ISIS, took responsibility. Crisis Group expert Jerome Drevon says the attack is likely connected to the conflict between IS-KP and the Afghan Taliban, who are friendly with the Pakistani party that was holding the rally. The Taliban have lately been dealing serious military blows to IS-KP in Afghanistan. 29 July 2023 ECUADOR President Lasso declared a 60-day state of exception across Ecuador’s prison system, in the provinces of Manabi and Los Rios, and in the city of Duran in response to raging violence. The mayor of Manta port city was gunned down, three days of clashes between gangs in the country’s main prison in Guayaquil killed at least 31 inmates and armed men terrorised citizens in Esmeraldas and Guayaquil. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez says the government is limited to combating the criminal groups with the states of exception – which have not yielded effective results in the past – until new general elections are held. The groups are exploiting the government’s limited capacity by expanding operations, confronting their rivals, and seizing strategic drug trafficking sites, all the while increasingly targeting local officials and politicians.LIBYA The ongoing political crisis took a new turn on Tuesday after the House of Representatives approved a roadmap that sets the stage for the appointment of a supposed unity government next month. The ambition of unifying the country under a single executive and thereby ending rule by two parallel governments since early 2022 has its merits. But Crisis Group expert Claudia Gazzini says the move will face opposition from factions allied to the Tripoli government of Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dabaiba, which could mobilise in protest. The UN and Western capitals also have not expressed support for the House's decision, raising the question to what extent the new government, if indeed appointed, will enjoy international recognition. NAGORNO-KARABAKH Armenia and Azerbaijan continue to engage in high-level dialogue under U.S., European Union and Russian auspices as the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh under Azerbaijan's blockade worsens each day, with severe shortages and hardship for local Armenians. The latest round of talks on Tuesday in Moscow concluded without any tangible results. Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan says calming the escalating crisis and achieving lasting agreements is an urgent task, not least given the worsening humanitarian situation. Without a diplomatic breakthrough and an end to the blockade, tensions will continue to mount along the front lines amid repeated deadly incidents, any one of which could potentially escalate into a larger conflict with significant civilian casualties. 22 July 2023 KENYA At least six people have been killed and dozens arrested this week as opposition supporters in the capital Nairobi and cities across the country protest proposed increases in taxes, including on fuel, and more generally the rising cost of living. The government says the hikes, contained in its Finance Bill, will help it pay down debt, but the opposition has denounced them as inflationary when many Kenyans are already struggling financially. Politics raises the stakes: opposition leader Raila Odinga continues to reject President William Ruto’s 2022 election victory. Bipartisan talks about the Finance Bill, among other issues, have stalled, and Kenya’s High Court has suspended the legislation ending a legal challenge. With tensions between government and opposition running high, says Crisis Group expert Meron Elias, the unrest could very well intensify if the two sides do not resume talks.PERU Tens of thousands marched in the capital Lima and other departments Wednesday, while others blocked highways around provincial towns, calling on President Dina Boluarte to step down. Riot police fired tear gas at protesters carrying rocks and bottles; six demonstrators and two officers sustained injuries. Unrest has persisted in the country since December, when left-wing ex-President Pedro Castillo was arrested after illegally trying to dissolve Congress. Many protesters want closure of Congress, early general elections, work on a new constitution and Castillo’s release. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche says the turmoil has deeper roots, however, in Peru’s fragmented party system and widespread distrust in the main democratic institutions. UNITED NATIONS On Monday, Russia pulled out of the Black Sea grain deal, the crucial initiative launched in mid-2022 to allow Ukraine to resume shipping that had been stymied by a Russian naval blockade. The move sent jitters through global markets, bumping up grain prices. Crisis Group expert Richard Gowan says Moscow may be hoping to pressure Western states into easing obstacles to Russian agricultural exports and unblocking Russian assets. Its rejection of the grain deal comes right after it blocked a UN Security Council mandate authorising humanitarian aid to Syria. Having used the UN as a space for compromise with the West, Russia is taking a harder line as its war in Ukraine drags on. 15 July 2023 CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC Hundreds of Wagner Group personnel flew out of the capital Bangui last week, a departure some speculated was tied to the Kremlin’s attempt to rein in the private military company following its aborted mutiny in Russia in late June. Wagner mercenaries have been operating in the country since 2017, pursuant to an agreement between Bangui and Moscow. If a redeployment is under way, it appears to be limited, says Crisis Group expert Charles Bouessel. Russia has assured Central African authorities that its military assistance – Wagner is helping the army fight insurgents – will continue. Nonetheless, the news raises several questions, for instance who will now control the Wagner contingent in the country and what will happen to the economic assets the mercenaries have acquired.NATO Alliance leaders met this week in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius for their second summit since Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine. Their ranks are now poised to grow by one, as NATO on Monday accepted Sweden’s application to join, which Türkiye had previously held up, objecting to Stockholm’s policies toward groups Ankara classes as terrorist. Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker says Sweden’s historic reversal in seeking a NATO berth (alongside Finland, which has already joined) is a direct result of Russia’s war in Ukraine: Stockholm and NATO capitals see Moscow’s aggression as threatening all Europe. As for prospective Ukrainian membership, the alliance deferred with a carefully worded, if not unexpected, statement Tuesday promising Kyiv an invitation “when allies agree and conditions are met” even as it pledged continued aid to Ukraine.ROHINGYA REFUGEES Six Rohingya living in camps in Bangladesh died last week in violence involving rival militant groups, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO). The RSO killed five ARSA members in a gunfight, according to Bangladeshi police, after ARSA murdered a refugee community leader. Crisis Group expert Tom Kean says the shootings are the latest escalation in a growing turf war among ARSA, the RSO and other factions. Insecurity has become a major problem in the camps, at least as big as the ration cuts that the UN has been forced to make due to declining international funding. Refugees increasingly fear for their own safety. 8 July 2023 ISRAEL-PALESTINE The Israeli military on Monday launched its largest-scale offensive in the northern West Bank in years, deploying thousands of soldiers and conducting multiple airstrikes in Jenin. The operation killed at least twelve Palestinians, wounded 50 and forced 500 families to flee. Militants in Gaza fired rockets the next day. Crisis Group experts Tahani Mustafa and Mairav Zonszsein say this significant escalation may be the first in a series of increasingly routine incursions, which could mark a new and more violent stage in the conflict. The armed groups Israel hopes to deter are unlikely to back down because their emergence was driven by despair, anger and hopelessness at the status quo, including Israel’s open commitment to entrench its control of occupied territory.THAILAND After the progressive opposition Move Forward Party secured the most seats in May’s general elections, the new Thai parliament convened to select a new speaker – Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, a veteran politician who ran unopposed. The new speaker will now convene a joint session with the 250-member military-appointed senate to elect the next government. Crisis Group expert Matt Wheeler says despite securing the most seats, Move Forward Party’s leader Pita Limjareonrat faces legal and political hurdles in his quest to lead the next government. Street protests can be expected if the courts disqualify Pita from holding office.VENEZUELA In a major blow to the prospects for a competitive, free and fair 2024 presidential election, the comptroller's office controlled by the Maduro government announced that María Corina Machado – the current opposition frontrunner – is barred from holding public office for fifteen years. Crisis Group expert Mariano de Alba says the arbitrary decision confirms that the government is in no mood to allow a competitive election after the unfair presidential poll in 2018 deepened Venezuela’s political crisis and led to U.S. economic sanctions. The possibility of a negotiated agreement to improve electoral conditions in return for partial sanctions relief appears increasingly unlikely. 1 July 2023 KENYA Suspected Al-Shabaab militants killed five villagers in Lamu county, just south of Somalia, last Saturday, raising the death toll in such cross-border attacks to at least 30 in the past month. The dead include soldiers and police, but also civilians. The killings followed Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki’s visit to Lamu, during which he vowed to enhance security measures in the area. Crisis Group expert Meron Elias says Al-Shabaab has likely stepped up its incursions into Kenya because it is under pressure in Somalia, where the government has launched an offensive against the insurgency.UGANDA Unknown assailants brutally murdered 44 people, most of them children, at a school close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last week. Six other students were kidnapped. Ugandan officials blamed the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a rebel group also known as Islamic State Central Africa Province, for the atrocity. The group has kept mum about the school attack, though the Islamic State did claim an ambush Wednesday that killed four Ugandan soldiers. In 2021, Kampala sent troops into the eastern DRC to track down the militants, who have been based there for some two decades. Crisis Group expert Richard Moncrieff says better coordination among regional intelligence services is needed to rein in the ADF.UNITED STATES A UN special rapporteur, law professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, released a 23-page report Monday expressing “serious concerns” about conditions for the 30 men still held in the U.S. military’s detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. opened the facility in 2002 to house people captured in its globe-spanning war on terrorism. Many prisoners have been there for twenty years; nineteen have never been charged with a crime. Ní Aoláin said “every single detainee” shows evidence of “deep psychological harm”. She also claimed many are subject to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”. The Biden administration said it disagreed “in significant respects” with some of her findings. Crisis Group expert Michael Wahid Hanna says the administration made the right decision in opening the jail to the UN special rapporteur’s scrutiny. It was a step toward much needed transparency in the war on terror. The administration should move as quickly as possible to close the facility. 24 June 2023 HONDURAS An apparent riot took at least 46 women’s lives in a jail Tuesday. Most of the women burned to death in a fire and others died of gunshot wounds. President Xiomara Castro sacked the security minister, accusing prison authorities of “acquiescence” in the unrest, which she blamed on the criminal gangs prevalent in the country. Crisis Group expert Pamela Ruiz says it was the fourth such mass-casualty incident in Honduran jails since 2003, but the first in a women’s penitentiary. Castro has restored military control of prisons, in a step back from promises to put civilian police in charge of the penal system.PALESTINE A string of violent incidents this week raised tensions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The Israeli army staged a major raid in Jenin refugee camp Monday, meeting stiff Palestinian resistance including an improvised explosive device. The fighting left six Palestinians dead and 92 wounded; seven Israeli soldiers were also injured. The army entered the camp to arrest suspects in an Israeli settler’s killing in May. On Tuesday, Palestinian gunmen shot five settlers dead in retaliation for the raid, prompting settler attacks on nearby villages in which another Palestinian was killed. Meanwhile, says Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa, Israel announced it will build 1,000 new housing units in the West Bank, a further expansion of the settlement project that portends more turmoil to come.SOMALIA At least 26 people were killed Tuesday amid firefights in Garowe, capital of the Puntland federal member state. Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood says the violence is linked to uncertainty about the date for forthcoming state elections and the number of parties that will compete. Opposition groups suspect the incumbent state president, Said Abdullahi Deni, of trying to secure an extension of his mandate via constitutional amendments. Government and opposition will need to reach agreement on the electoral cycle to prevent further violence. 17 June 2023 HAITI CARICOM, a body of Caribbean nations, convened Haitian politicians and civil society leaders in Jamaica this week for talks aimed at resolving the country’s political crisis. Haiti’s political forces have been at odds over how to structure a transitional government since President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination in July 2021, even as rampant gang violence renders life intolerable for much of the population. Outside powers stress that Haitian political consensus is necessary before they might consider sending troops to help bring the gangs to heel. Crisis Group expert Diego Da Rin says the meetings were somewhat hopeful, rekindling dialogue between acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry and opposition groups.INDIA Nine people died Wednesday in new clashes between the Kuki and Metei ethnic groups in the north-eastern state of Manipur, bringing the death toll in this strife to over 100 since May. The majority Metei are seeking recognition as a tribal community, a special status that would give them certain government benefits. The minority Kuki oppose this idea. Crisis Group expert Praveen Donthi says the fighting threatens to escalate to the level of a civil conflict, with Manipur divided into ethnic enclaves. The state government, headed by a Meitei, has not been neutral, meaning it is not well placed to convene urgently needed peace talks.UKRAINE Officials in Kyiv accused Russia of blowing up a small dam in Donetsk Monday, a week after the explosion breaking apart the huge Kakhovka hydro-electric plant on the Dnipro river. Both dams sit in territory occupied by Russia after its all-out invasion in 2022, at least some of which Ukraine hopes to retake in its long-awaited counteroffensive. The Kakhovka dam’s collapse inundated dozens of towns, many of which are in an active war zone, complicating a reliable count of casualties and the Ukrainian aid response, which is further hampered by continuing Russian attacks. Russia, meanwhile, has seemingly done little in the way of rescue in areas under its control. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says the humanitarian and ecological toll is massive and mounting. 10 June 2023 U.S.-CHINA The U.S. Navy on Sunday released footage of a Chinese warship cutting in front of a U.S. destroyer transiting the Taiwan Strait the previous day, which the U.S. called an “unsafe interaction". A similar incident involving U.S. and Chinese fighter jets had occurred the previous week. In the current political climate, a collision would produce a political crisis that would set bilateral relations even further back, says Crisis Group expert Amanda Hsiao. The message that such shows of resolve are risky and can lead to unintended consequences should be sent to Beijing through as many channels as possible. COLOMBIA Audio recordings leaked on Sunday of Colombia’s former Venezuela Ambassador Armando Benedetti accusing President Gustavo Petro of accepting $3.4 million in questionable circumstances for his presidential campaign. Congress the following day paused debates on Petro’s social reform program to allow investigation into Benedetti’s allegations. Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson says the scandal stands to complicate Petro’s efforts to enact promised reforms, as well as the total peace agenda aimed at dialogue with armed and criminal groups, with potentially dramatic consequences for populations exposed to persistent armed violence and social need.LIBYA The presidents of Libya's rival assemblies, who met in Morocco this week, failed to sign off on electoral legislation negotiators on Sunday announced was ready for adoption. Passing these laws would have been a critical first step toward holding the country's long-delayed presidential and legislative elections. Crisis Group expert Claudia Gazzini says this outcome should not come as a surprise, as disagreements persisted over longstanding controversies such as criteria to stand in the presidential election and, more broadly, over the very notion of holding a vote at all. 3 June 2023 EL SALVADOR The NGO Cristosal released a report Monday highlighting maltreatment of accused gang members in the country’s jails. It said 153 people have died in custody since last March, when President Nayib Bukele launched a campaign of mass arrests. Of the dead, 29 bore signs of torture, such as strangulation and beating. Crisis Group expert Ivan Briscoe says harsh prison conditions do not resolve the deep issues driving gang membership and criminal activity. But Bukele is unlikely to halt his crackdown, which has reduced violence sharply and remains popular.LIBYA Tripoli-based authorities ordered drone strikes twice in the past week outside the western city of Zawiya, saying they are targeting smugglers. Crisis Group expert Claudia Gazzini says politics may also play a role, with the country still divided between rival governments, one led by Prime Minister Abdelhamid Dabaiba in Tripoli and another by parliament in Tobruk. The strikes hit armed groups tied to Ali Bouzriba, an MP seeking to oust the premier. Dabaiba is trying to stay in power by cutting a deal with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who nominally backs parliament at present.SUDAN Battles continued between the army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, despite a nominal ceasefire extension. More than 1.9 million people have fled the fighting, which has expanded and implicated various parties, particularly in Darfur. Talks sponsored by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have yet to yield tangible results. Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael says unless Sudanese, African and other foreign actors put in concerted effort to end the conflict soon, Sudan will become yet another failed state with serious security implications for its neighbourhood and beyond. 27 May 2023 INDIA India this week hosted a G20 working group meeting on tourism in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian-administered Kashmir. Pakistan condemned the meeting being held in the disputed territory, accusing India of instrumentalising its G20 presidency for political purposes, while China, Türkiye, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Oman skipped it. India revoked Jammu and Kashmir’s special autonomy status in 2019. Crisis Group expert Praveen Donthi says the Modi government wanted to project peace and normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir but deadly militant attacks and insecurity persist across the region, as made evident by the stringent security measures that surrounded this meeting.RUSSIA Authorities on Tuesday reported that “saboteurs” from Ukraine had launched a raid into Russia’s Belgorod region and had deployed reinforcements to repel the invaders. While Ukraine denied involvement, its officials openly say the two combat groups, reportedly comprised of Russian citizens, believed to have conducted the operation are part of its defence forces. Crisis Group expert Oleg Ignatov says that as Kyiv plans counteroffensive operations, Ukraine hopes to divert Russia's attention and resources from other parts of the frontline while demonstrating that Russian authorities are now unable to defend its borders and Ukraine can wreak havoc on Russian territory using relatively limited resources. 20 May 2023 THAILAND In a surprise outcome, the opposition and progressive Move Forward party became Thailand’s largest party in parliament in Sunday’s elections, securing 152 seats. The other main opposition party Pheu Thai won 141 seats, while military-backed parties secured fewer than 80. Crisis Group expert Matt Wheeler called the result a political earthquake, and said any effort by the establishment to prevent Move Forward from forming the next government, via the appointed senate or the judiciary, will invite a popular backlash that could see renewed mass protests.TÜRKIYE A run-off presidential vote will take place on 28 May after neither incumbent President Erdogan nor the main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu secured the threshold of 50 percent of votes on Sunday, although the ruling party and its allies secured a majority in parliament. Crisis Group expert Nigar Goksel says the two presidential contenders are likely to present themselves as the patriotic choice with national unity issues, such as how to deal with Türkiye's large refugee population and pro-Kurdish political parties and armed groups, dominating the discourse. 13 May 2023 INDIA India’s Home Minister Amit Shah on Monday announced clashes between the Kuki and Metei communities that killed 60 and displaced over 35,000 in the country’s north-eastern Manipur state had ceased. Crisis Group expert Praveen Donthi says longstanding tensions, fuelled by the growing influx of Chin refugees from neighbouring Myanmar, who share close ethnic links with the Kukis, boiled over last week over Metei demands that they be recognised as a tribal community, which the minority Kuki oppose. While the deployment of central security forces has put an end to the violence, deepening distrust between the communities could still lead to further outbursts.IRAN Iran's lead nuclear negotiator on Tuesday maintained that the 2015 agreement could still be salvaged if the U.S. and Western allies showed "credible political will". Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says that five years after former U.S. President Trump withdrew from the deal, and more than two years since negotiations to restore it began under the Biden administration, neither Washington nor European partners are likely to be satisfied with its restoration, even if Tehran were to concede on the demands that led to deadlock last year. A narrower agreement, or shift toward a regional non-proliferation strategy, may be a more feasible option. ISRAEL-PALESTINE Israeli air strikes on Tuesday killed five Islamic Jihad commanders and at least eight civilians, launching an exchange of heavy fire that, despite Egyptian efforts to mediate a ceasefire, marks the conflict’s gravest escalation in almost a year, with one Israeli and around 30 Palestinians dead. Palestinian groups in Gaza had last week fired rockets into Israel after Islamic Jihad member Khader Adnan on 2 May died in Israeli custody following a prolonged hunger strike. Crisis Group experts Mairav Zonszein and Tahani Mustafa say that while the over sixteen-years-long siege on Gaza continues, the cycle of violence is bound to carry on. 6 May 2023 KOREAN PENINSULA The U.S. seems to be moving ahead with plans for a South Korean port visit by a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, as agreed last week during South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’s White House meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden. The two presidents issued a declaration reaffirming the U.S.-South Korea alliance, which Biden promised to back up by enhancing “the regular visibility of strategic assets” on the peninsula. North Korea denounced the statement as “hostile and aggressive”; China warned it could put the region on a “dangerous path”. Crisis Group expert Chris Green says Beijing may be about to punish Seoul, presumably economically, for inching too close to Washington. Pyongyang will likely also feel compelled to respond, at a minimum with missile tests.PERU The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released a report Wednesday decrying lethal force in the state’s response to mass protests running from last December through 23 January. Demonstrators were calling for early elections following former President Pedro Castillo’s ouster. But the report identified deeper grievances, including Indigenous peoples’ and farmers’ demands to redress various forms of inequality. It also pointed to particular types of violence directed at women during the unrest, recommending that reparations address the gendered impact of abuses. Together with Amnesty International’s findings published last week, says Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche, the report highlights the flaws of Peruvian democratic institutions and helps advocates seeking justice for victims of state violence.SUDAN Fighting persisted between the army and paramilitary forces this week, including in the capital Khartoum, despite another round of declared ceasefires. Mediation attempts have failed thus far, though they continue. Refugees continue to flee across borders amid a mounting humanitarian crisis. For now, says Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael, both sides appear intent on gaining the upper hand on the battlefield before any negotiations. But neither is poised to win, leaving the civilian population caught in the crossfire. Mediators should be sure to coordinate their efforts, as more than one track seems to be emerging. 29 April 2023 BURKINA FASO Men in military uniform killed dozens of people in the north-central Yatenga province, authorities said Monday, as they announced an investigation into the deaths. Survivors buried 136 bodies — including 50 women and 20 children, as well as 66 men — on Thursday. The country's north is wracked by conflict between the army and groups of jihadist militants, one of several such wars across the Sahel. The government has armed volunteers to help it battle the insurgents. All the warring parties have increasingly targeted civilians of late, says Crisis Group expert Mathieu Pellerin, including the jihadists but also members of the security forces and volunteers. The latter abuses are causing Ouagadougou's strategy to backfire, as they deepen the population's distrust of the central state and feed the insurgencies.HAITI Maria Isabel Salvador, the new UN special representative for Haiti, stressed the urgency Wednesday of stopping the country’s “vicious circle of violence”, in reference to the criminal gangs fighting for control of the capital Port-au-Prince and other cities. She was briefing the UN Security Council two days after angry Port-au-Prince residents burned thirteen suspected gang members to death. With the police overwhelmed, says Crisis Group expert Renata Segura, citizens are increasingly organising “self-defence groups”, prompting fears of more such vigilantism.SUDAN A series of announced ceasefires broke down this week, in another worrying sign that rival military leaders Abdelfattah al-Burhan and Muhammad “Hemedti” Dagalo are digging in for protracted war. The UN has recorded over 450 deaths – likely a severe undercount – in fourteen days of fighting mostly in urban areas across the country. Tens of thousands of refugees are fleeing to Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan; thousands of Sudanese have also left by boat or plane from Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast. Many more, however, remain trapped in neighbourhoods the belligerents have turned into combat zones. Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael says those left behind need life-saving provisions, including food, drinking water and medical supplies. Delivering humanitarian aid is urgent, as is mediation to end the conflict. 22 April 2023 GULF Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that they will resume full diplomatic relations more than two years after the signing of the January 2021 Al-Ula agreement, which formally ended the intra-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) confrontation. Crisis Group expert Anna Jacobs says the announcement follows a long period of high-level dialogue and visits, including a visit by UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan to Doha during the World Cup in November. The restoration of ties means that all former blockading states (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE) have now resumed diplomatic ties with Qatar or announced their intention to. It is a positive step for GCC unity, even if tensions and competition remain a reality.NORTH KOREA Leader Kim Jong-un this week reaffirmed Pyongyang’s intention to launch what the country calls a “military reconnaissance satellite” in the coming months. Kim stated the importance of launching the satellite for “securing real-time information” about the military activities of “hostile forces” and implied the launch could be timed to coincide with U.S.-South Korea military drills in June that mark the 70th anniversary of their alliance. Crisis Group expert Christopher Green says that while North Korea has a genuine need for intelligence on alliance military activities in South Korea, it won’t be met by a satellite launch. Rather, a satellite launch is a way of testing intercontinental ballistic missile technology.SUDAN Deadly fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted in the capital Khartoum and spread to cities and towns countrywide. Millions of civilians are caught in the crossfire and fast running out of basic necessities in a burgeoning humanitarian disaster. Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael says the hostilities have pushed the country toward full-blown civil war. The combat could quickly slide into a sustained war that risks rippling through Sudan’s restive peripheries – embroiling countless armed groups and communal militias. The immediate priority must be achieving a humanitarian ceasefire, while all national, regional and international actors must remain united in rejecting the war. 15 April 2023 ISRAEL-PALESTINE Israel decided Tuesday to close Jerusalem’s Holy Esplanade to non-Muslim visitors for the remainder of Ramadan, which is due to end on 20 April. This plaza, where al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located, is also sacred to Jews as the site of the ancient Temples. Jewish Temple Mount activists, emboldened by Itamar Ben-Gvir, national security minister in Israel’s far-right government, hope to undermine a decades-old understanding limiting the frequency and nature of their visits to the Esplanade. Past Israeli governments have stopped Jewish visits entirely as the Muslim holy month drew to a close, in order to lower tensions. The present cabinet’s welcome choice to follow suit shows that it, too, understands how sensitive the site is, says Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonszein. Events last week, when Israeli forces attacked Palestinians in al-Aqsa, prompting rocket fire at Israel from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, may also have played a role in the decision. It is in all parties’ interest to avoid additional friction that could lead to multi-front cross-border conflict.MYANMAR Regime aircraft bombed and strafed a village in Kanbalu township in Myanmar’s north-western Sagaing Region Tuesday morning, reportedly destroying several buildings and killing dozens, including many civilians. Forces fighting the regime, a junta that deposed a democratically elected government in 2021, had invited locals to the opening of a “people’s administration office” in the village, which the resistance controls. A rescue worker told reporters the death toll could top one hundred. The regime acknowledged ordering the attack but said it hit only “terrorists”. Crisis Group expert Richard Horsey says the strike is part of a strategy: the regime is committing war crimes to mete out collective punishment – deliberately targeting non-combatant residents of conflict zones – and thereby to intimidate people throughout the country who oppose military rule.UNITED STATES Media outlets discovered a trove of alleged classified U.S. intelligence assessments on a gaming website Saturday. The photographed documents, many of which appear to be from the Pentagon or the CIA, cover a range of highly sensitive issues. Most concern the war in Ukraine, including estimates of Kyiv’s fighting capacity in resisting Russia’s all-out invasion, while others touch on related matters, such as alleged Egyptian plans to transfer arms to Moscow. Still others show evidence of U.S. spying on allies such as Israel and South Korea. Federal authorities arrested a young air national guardsman Thursday in connection with what they are treating as a major security breach. Crisis Group expert Michael Wahid Hanna says at least some of the papers seem to be authentic, though others have clearly been doctored. In any case, the news is embarrassing for Washington, which must now reassure allies that may become wary of intelligence sharing, particularly given the suspect’s low rank. The breach may also trigger greater Congressional scrutiny of how some U.S. partners are approaching the war in Ukraine as well as further questions about U.S. military assistance to Egypt, straining Washington’s relations with those countries. 8 April 2023 SUDAN Signatories of the December framework agreement postponed for the third time signing a final deal for the transition to civilian rule, delaying the ambitious timeline agreed in March. Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael says the delay is a result of disagreement between army chief and de facto head of state General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Sovereign Council deputy and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) leader Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo “Hemedti” over the timeline for the RSF’s integration into the regular forces and the terms of command and control of the integrated army. Reform of the security sector is one of the thorniest issues a civilian transitional government will have to manage. Rising tensions between the two forces in recent weeks fanned fears of an internecine conflict within the military before both leaders reached an agreement to de-escalate the situation. TAIWAN Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy in the U.S. on Wednesday as Taiwan’s defence ministry reported that it was “closely monitoring” Chinese navy vessels passing through the Bashi Channel south of the island. Maritime authorities in China’s Fujian province also announced a patrol operation to inspect cargo vessels transiting the Strait. Taiwan said it would not comply. Crisis Group expert Amanda Hsiao says China’s measured response so far is likely due to a number of factors, including that the meeting taking place in the U.S. was meant as a compromise by Taipei and Washington and that former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-Jeou was visiting China. An overly belligerent response would undercut Beijing's message to Taiwan that economic exchange and dialogue with the mainland will deliver benefits and so Taiwanese citizens should vote for Ma's opposition Kuomintang party, which favours closer ties with Beijing, in the upcoming election set for January 2024.YEMEN All eight members of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC), the government’s executive body representing a range of anti-Huthi groups, met in person for the first time in six months in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh. The meeting took place as ceasefire talks between the Saudis and the Huthis have made some progress, and follows a breakthrough China-brokered deal between Tehran and Riyadh – who support opposing sides in Yemen’s war – to restore diplomatic relations after seven years. Crisis Group expert Ahmed Nagi says this meeting is significant for two reasons. Firstly, the Saudis aim to brief PLC members on a possible ceasefire agreement resulting from their ongoing negotiations with the Huthis. Secondly, Riyadh is attempting to overcome the many rifts among the PLC’s associated factions. 1 April 2023 KENYA Protests in Kenya again turned violent on Monday and Thursday, with police firing tear gas and water cannons at crowds in the capital Nairobi, and officers reportedly shooting one protester dead in the country’s third-largest town Kisumu. Police are also investigating the death of two people during clashes in Nairobi’s informal settlement of Kibera. Authorities had violently repressed demonstrations last week after opposition leader Raila Odinga, who lost to President Ruto in elections last year, called for bi-weekly protests against what he perceives as a stolen election, the high cost of living and the new government’s policies. Crisis Group expert Meron Elias says the protests are costing the country millions of dollars each day and could be the first major domestic challenge for Ruto, who has put economic recovery at the top of his agenda.EL SALVADOR This week marked one year since El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele imposed a state of exception as part of a crackdown on gang violence. Amid record low murder rates, Bukele boasts gang members are being locked up and will spend decades behind bars. Rights organisations have documented over 65,000 people detained, many of them arbitrarily, while 111 people have died in detention. A recent University Institute of Public Opinion poll indicates that while a vast majority of Salvadorans feel safe with the state of exception, many were unaware constitutional guarantees had been suspended and expressed concern at authorities’ lack of transparency. Crisis Group expert Pamela Ruiz says President Bukele will likely continue capitalising on Salvadorans’ feeling safer and homicide reductions to outweigh concerns of arbitrary arrests and deaths. ISRAEL Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced controversial anti-democratic legislation would be delayed following months-long protests and a nationwide strike. Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets to protest the government’s planned overhaul of the judicial system, which would notably allow parliament to supersede Supreme Court decisions and control judicial appointments. The crisis also threatened the ruling coalition, as Netanyahu on Friday fired his defence minister after he suggested postponing the overhaul. While the delay indicates that the protests – along with U.S. pressure – are powerful, says Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonszein, Netanyahu is preoccupied with his survival and seems intent on pursuing the legislation at a later date. Meanwhile, the government continues its control and dispossession of the Palestinians, about which the Israelis taking to the streets are not protesting. 25 March 2023 HAITI The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called Tuesday for urgent international action to redress growing displacement in Haiti, amid ever sharper fighting among heavily armed criminal gangs in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. At least 160,000 people have been driven from their homes as gangs battle for turf. Gangs now control almost the entire capital, with Haitian security forces in disarray. Outside powers remain reluctant to intervene, in light of past failures and the lack of broad political consensus in the country. External backing for Interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry is a major sticking point, says Crisis Group expert Diego Da Rin, as that support has allowed him to avoid serious power-sharing negotiations with his opponents. If this impasse endures, a UN peacekeeping operation may be the only way to reduce violence that has become intolerable for the vast majority of Haitians. U.S.-ETHIOPIA The U.S. State Department said Monday it had determined that Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, as well as allied Amhara fighters, committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the conflict in and around Tigray from 2020 to 2022. It also said Tigrayan forces were responsible for war crimes. The statement came shortly after Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Ethiopia, during which he commended the federal government and Tigrayan representatives’ commitment to a peace deal signed late last year. Addis Ababa rejected the U.S. announcement as “inflammatory” and “selective”, partly because it levelled fewer allegations at the Tigrayan side. Crisis Group expert Will Davison says the statement’s timing may indicate U.S. plans to resume suspended aid to Ethiopia even as it presses for accountability for the war’s horrors. The government is likely to keep blocking a UN investigation that might buttress such calls. YEMEN Clashes reignited Monday in the Harib district of Marib, the northern province where most of the country’s oil deposits lie. The Huthi rebels have been trying to take Marib from forces aligned with the internationally recognised government since early 2020. A de facto truce has prevailed in the last six months. When the Huthis attacked anew, they made progress in the western Harib mountains, before their local adversaries sent reinforcements to the front. Dozens of civilians fled to other areas, fearful of the conflict spreading. Crisis Group expert Ahmed Nagi says the renewed fighting is particularly significant, coming just after the deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to start restoring diplomatic relations. Some had hoped that detente would quiet the war in Yemen, where Riyadh backs the government side and Tehran the rebels. The Huthis’ escalation is likely a signal that the deal is not important to them as well as an attempt to break the stalemate in their own negotiations with the Saudis. 18 March 2023 IRAN-SAUDI ARABIA China brokered a deal between Tehran and Riyadh that commits both to a principle of non-interference and sets out a roadmap to better ties. The pair agreed to two months of further dialogue before reestablishing diplomatic relations and reopening embassies. Crisis Group expert Anna Jacobs says the deal is a big step forward. While it does not solve the various points of friction between the two countries, Saudi-Iran rapprochement should help mitigate some of these proxy conflicts and promote de-escalation in key conflict areas, such as Yemen. It also suggests greater commitment to resolving differences through diplomacy.MEXICO Following the abduction of U.S. citizens in Mexico, calls are gathering steam stateside to double down on heavy-handed responses to organised crime, including by designating some cartels as foreign terrorist organisations (FTO) and taking military action in Mexico. Crisis Group expert Falko Ernst says such policies are unlikely to help. The U.S. already has in place most of the FTO tools to combat organised crime, especially as concerns freezing assets, while billions of dollars spent on force-based policies in recent decades have failed to curb the drug supply. Instead, the U.S. could dent demand by investing in addiction prevention and hampering criminal groups’ ability to purchase American guns, while supporting Mexico to tackle its region-specific conflicts.PAKISTAN Former Prime Minister Imran Khan's supporters clashed with police attempting to execute an arrest warrant issued by an Islamabad court after Khan’s repeated refusal to appear before the court. Police used tear gas and water cannons against party activists attacking law-enforcement personnel outside Khan’s residence, injuring 59 police officers. The Lahore High Court then temporarily suspended the police operation. Crisis Group expert Samina Ahmed says with Khan insisting that the Sharif government intends to assassinate him, the heightening tensions bode ill for the upcoming 30 April elections in Punjab province and raise the prospect of further violent unrest. 11 March 2023 GEORGIA The ruling Georgian Dream party withdrew a controversial foreign agents bill this week after it triggered large-scale protests in the capital Tbilisi, which police violently dispersed. Critics and protesters argued the draft law would impinge on civil liberties and was akin to a similar Russian law. Crisis Group expert Olesya Vartanyan says the government has backed down for now in response to growing public anger, widespread unrest and its fear of losing power. Criticism from the U.S. and European Union has also played a role, as Tbilisi cannot afford to isolate itself from its Western partners and thereby risk increasing its vulnerability to Russia, which maintains security and military personnel in the two breakaway regions Moscow recognised in 2008.SOMALILAND Around 185,000 people have fled the town of Las Anod in Sool region after deadly fighting erupted last month between Somaliland armed forces and Dhulbalhante clan militias, killing over 200 people. The latest violence started after Dhulbahante representatives declared they did not recognise Somaliland’s administration and wanted to be part of Somalia, demanding the withdrawal of Somaliland forces. Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood says the continued violence is highly worrying, as it aggravates a precarious humanitarian situation. It also risks a wider conflagration, which could draw in outside actors like Puntland, Somalia or Ethiopia.SOUTH KOREA-JAPAN South Korea announced a plan to respond to a November 2018 court ruling that ordered two Japanese companies to compensate Koreans forced to work in its factories during the colonial period. Seoul intends for the remaining victims to be compensated by Korean companies that benefited from Japanese reparations paid when the two states normalised ties in 1965. Crisis Group expert Christopher Green says given Russia’s war in Ukraine, ongoing tensions with China and an increasingly assertive North Korea, it is not surprising that the U.S. and its allies have welcomed a deal that portends improved relations between South Korea and Japan. But the plan – which its many critics argue absolves Japan of responsibility for historic wrongs – has stoked considerable controversy and opposition in South Korea. Protests are almost certain to hamper President Yoon Suk-yeol's implementation of the deal, and may even come to define his presidency. 4 March 2023 KASHMIR (INDIAN-ADMINISTERED) Indian authorities have rearmed the Village Defence Group, a Hindu militia first formed in the 1990s, in a remote part of Jammu and Kashmir, the mountainous territory divided between Indian and Pakistani administration and claimed by both countries. The action comes after several killings of local minority Hindus for which police blame Muslim insurgents. Though Muslim militants are not as numerous as in previous decades, they have been attacking non-Muslim minorities following moves by New Delhi to take away the region’s semi-autonomy, suppress civil rights, imprison Muslim politicians and restaff the administration with Hindu civil servants. Muslims suspect that these policies aim to alter the region’s demographic balance in Hindus’ favour. Crisis Group expert Praveen Donthi says the militia’s reappearance is an ominous development that could fan inter-communal animosity, recalling the violence of the past but this time aided by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party government. ISRAEL-PALESTINE Hundreds of Israeli settlers attacked the Palestinian towns of Huwara, Burin and Einbus in the northern West Bank Sunday night, in the largest of a string of such assaults in recent years. The mob, demanding revenge for two Israelis killed by Palestinians on a West Bank highway earlier that day, torched houses and cars and beat residents with metal rods and rocks. A Palestinian was also shot dead. Though these towns are in Area B, a part of the West Bank under Israeli security control, Israeli soldiers largely stood by during the rampage. Of the ten suspects who were arrested, nine were released (though two are now in administrative detention.) Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials had met earlier Sunday in Aqaba, Jordan to discuss resuming security cooperation. Crisis Group experts Tahani Mustafa and Mairav Zonszein say the confluence of events illustrates disturbing patterns: settlers enjoy virtual impunity for violent acts, and the open sympathy of members of Israel's new far-right government, while meagre diplomatic efforts serve to reinforce the status quo of deepening Israeli control of the occupied Palestinian territories.NIGERIA The electoral commission declared Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress winner of the 25 February presidential election, which took place amid logistical and technological difficulties as well as voter intimidation and other violence. The two main opposition parties, the Peoples Democratic Party and Labour Party, say the vote tally is fraudulent and demand that it be annulled. They have decided to lodge their protest in court rather than in the streets, in accordance with an agreement they signed before the balloting. Tensions were high right after the poll, says Crisis Group expert Nnamdi Obasi, but they have subsided substantially despite widespread disillusionment with the election’s conduct and outcome. Six of the 36 state governments have filed suit at the Supreme Court asking it to void the election. 25 February 2023 CAMEROON Deadly hostilities have intensified between government forces and Anglophone rebels as both sides increased their military activities. The uptick in attacks is being partly fuelled by the stalled peace initiative, which Canada announced last month and the government quickly denounced. Crisis Group expert Arrey E. Ntui says the Canada-led facilitation is delayed but not dead. Separatists have not retracted their commitment to the process, though they have intensified their military campaign for an independent Southern Cameroon. Government forces likewise have increased actions to contain them. President Biya fears talks may be perceived by the public as an admission that the army has failed to defeat Anglophone militants.CHINA-JAPAN This week, Japanese and Chinese senior officials revived a security dialogue mechanism that had been moribund for four years. Both Beijing and Tokyo used the discussion to air a long list of security concerns in the relationship. Of core concern for China is Japan’s decision to significantly bolster its defence spending and counter-strike capabilities, the tightening U.S.-Japan security alliance, and what this portends for Japan’s role in a Taiwan Strait crisis, says Crisis Group expert Amanda Hsiao. Deep distrust remains in the relationship, but such discussions can be useful for reducing the chances of miscalculation, particularly as the two sides regularly encounter each other around the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.IRAN The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reportedly discovered uranium enriched to 84 per cent at one of Iran’s nuclear facilities. As senior IAEA officials visited Tehran seeking clarifications, Iran maintained that it has not undertaken enrichment above 60 per cent. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says the IAEA’s discovery comes as relations between the agency and Tehran are already strained over the lack of progress in a long-running safeguards investigation into past activities at undeclared sites, as well as modifications at Iran’s Fordow facility that the IAEA said had not been disclosed in advance. With talks to revive the nuclear deal in deep freeze, the accumulating tensions between Tehran and the IAEA will raise alarm in Western capitals and Israel about Iran’s advancing nuclear program, and sets the stage for a showdown at the IAEA’s Board of Governors meeting that begins on 6 March. 18 February 2023 COLOMBIA Government and National Liberation Army (ELN) negotiators began a second round of talks in Mexico, hoping to continue discussions on a wide agenda for peace as well as a possible ceasefire. Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson said that the negotiations are likely to move forward slowly, even as the urgency of the humanitarian situation continues. The Petro government last week signed ceasefire protocols with a faction of dissidents of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Yet despite dissidents' ceasefire with the government, they are still fighting the ELN in Arauca and Nariño, with devastating fallout for civilians.TUNISIA Authorities continued their crackdown on opponents as police detained multiple individuals, including an official of the largest opposition party An-Nahda, a prominent lobbyist and others linked to the media, judiciary and labour sectors. Crisis Group expert Michaël Ayari says the arrests are widely seen as an orchestrated campaign by President Saïed, who faces declining popularity following the recent legislative elections, which saw the lowest voter turnout ever. A growing number of opposition figures and former officials face trials on various charges and Saïed is stepping up his harsh public discourse, accusing opponents of an assassination plot against him and blaming them for inflation and shortages. His crackdowns risk further political polarisation that could lead to violence.UKRAINE Russia continues its campaign of missile strikes on Ukrainian infrastructure, albeit at a decreased frequency and intensity since January. With temperatures gradually rising above freezing and a decline in unscheduled power cuts, Ukraine may just have dodged the worst of the humanitarian winter crisis. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says that in the east, Russian activity along the front line suggests an offensive may be in the offing. Yet so far, Moscow has been unable to amass a force strong enough to punch through Ukrainian defensive lines. Russian forces have advanced around Bakhmut city in Donetsk but they have suffered an unsustainably high rate of attrition and for now Ukrainians hold the main road out of the city. With Moscow unlikely to field a significantly superior land force anytime soon, Ukraine's Western partners voice concern that it could resort to intensified air strikes. 11 February 2023 DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO Thousands took to the streets of Goma, capital of North Kivu province, on Monday to protest the perceived inaction of an East African force in beating back the M23 rebels threatening the city. The force, which deployed in November, is composed of Kenyan, Burundian, Ugandan and South Sudanese soldiers. Protesters say it is reluctant to tackle the M23 because the insurgents are backed by Rwanda, with which the troop-contributing nations want to keep good relations. The M23 is the strongest of several rebel groups in North Kivu and adjacent provinces, some of which are Congolese but others of which are from the DRC’s neighbours, giving each of those countries its own distinct interests in the multifaceted conflict. Regional diplomats held an extraordinary summit last Saturday, but it did little to ameliorate the complex, interlocking dangers in the DRC’s east. Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba says the Goma protest underscores the depth of popular frustration as the intense fighting nearby continues to displace civilians. SOMALILAND Clashes between the Somaliland army and local forces in the town of Las Anod killed at least 30 this week. Tensions in Las Anod have been rising since late December, when Somaliland forces cracked down on protesters decrying the unclaimed assassination of a local politician, but Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood says the roots go much deeper. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991. Its claim is unrecognised internationally, however, and contentious in parts of the territory it administers. Las Anod and its environs are predominantly inhabited by the Dhulbahante clan, which generally has resisted Somaliland’s authority and leaned toward Somali unity. Somaliland forces pulled back from Las Anod in early January, and Dhulbahante representatives flooded in for a heralded meeting to chart their political future. This week’s violence came at that meeting’s conclusion, when the clan members called on Somaliland to respect their desire to be part of Somalia. Fighting is likely to continue, given the two sides’ contrasting political stances, and could spread beyond Las Anod’s vicinity.SYRIA The number of known deaths from the massive earthquakes that shook north-western Syria and southern Türkiye climbed over 23,000 Friday, including more than 4,000 in Syria. The quakes hit a swathe of the country, but damage was greatest in the north west, the last area held by rebels fighting the regime in Damascus. Crisis Group expert Dareen Khalifa says the situation is catastrophic. North-western Syria is besieged, for all intents and purposes. Local rescue workers have received no help, as donors are reluctant to provide direct support to the area. UN humanitarian aid was very slow to trickle in – the first trucks arrived from Türkiye only on Thursday – and will likely remain inadequate to meet the scale of need. North-western Syria’s population has tripled since the civil war began, as Syrians displaced by fighting elsewhere seek refuge; now the quakes have uprooted many of these people once more.TÜRKIYE As of Friday, authorities had confirmed 20,000 people dead in Türkiye due to the earthquakes, with the toll expected to rise much higher in the coming weeks. The epicentre of the first quake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, was in the southern province of Kahramanmaraş. More than 12,100 buildings collapsed or were severely damaged there and in nine other provinces – an area whose population is over thirteen million. The government declared a three-month state of emergency in these ten provinces, as rescue teams began despairing of finding survivors in the rubble, amid winter snows and temperatures dropping well below freezing. Some 7,000 rescue workers from 75 foreign countries have come to help. Crisis Group expert Berkay Mandıracı says this calamity is by far the deadliest in the contemporary Turkish state’s almost 100-year history. The government is under huge pressure, with many painting its response as slow and over-centralised. Critics also say the government has allowed shoddy construction practices and failed to conduct proper building inspections. The quakes are likely to deepen political polarisation, with elections slated in May, and certainly will add considerably to socio-economic strains in the country. 4 February 2023 HAITI Hooded police officers on motorcycles brought the capital Port-au-Prince to a standstill late last week, blocking streets, torching cars and breaching security barriers at the airport as well as at acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s residence. Crisis Group expert Diego Da Rin says it is the latest sign of brewing rebellion among Haitian police, who feel the authorities have left them ill-equipped and unprotected in fighting the criminal gangs that control much of the country. At least ten officers were killed in the week preceding the riots. Henry has promised the police upgraded gear and weaponry, but continuing attacks on police stations are a dark omen for the force’s future. Calls for an international mission to rein in the gangs may now grow louder.IRAN The government confirmed a drone attack Sunday on what it described as a defence ministry workshop in Isfahan. There were no reported injuries, and officials said the damage was minimal. In a subsequent letter to the UN Security Council, the foreign ministry pinned responsibility on Israel, whose role has also been widely hinted at in Western media reports. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says Iran’s initial response could come in the form of renewed attacks on Iraq-based Kurdish separatist groups that Tehran claims are working with foreign powers. The incident, which follows a pattern of Israeli operations targeting Iranian military facilities and personnel, also raises the risk of retaliation at a time when Iran’s government is facing continued domestic discontent and increasingly confrontational relations with the West over its repression of protests, military cooperation with Russia and advancing nuclear program.ISRAEL-PALESTINE U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Tuesday, reaffirming support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amid a deeply disquieting escalation of violence. In the worst incidents over the preceding week, the Israeli army killed ten Palestinians in the West Bank town of Jenin and a Palestinian shot seven Israelis dead in Neve Yaakov, a settlement in occupied East Jerusalem. Crisis Group experts Mairav Zonszein and Tahani Mustafa say invocations of a two-state solution ring hollow, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government opposes one and peace negotiations have been moribund for years. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s government is promising to build more settlements in the occupied territories and Palestinian politicians are diverted by infighting over who might succeed President Mahmoud Abbas, two of several factors that not only augur poorly for restarting talks but also suggest the situation could get much worse.PAKISTAN A suicide bomber attacked a mosque inside a government compound Monday, killing 101 people, the vast majority of them police officers. The mosque is located in Peshawar, capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where security forces are battling the Pakistani Taliban insurgency. The Pakistani Taliban first claimed, but later denied, responsibility for the bombing. Crisis Group expert Samina Ahmed says militant operations have surged since the Afghan Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, where Pakistani Taliban leaders enjoy safe haven. The number of attacks in Pakistan has spiked in the last two months, after the insurgents called off a ceasefire due to deadlock in talks with authorities.PERU Congress rejected two proposals to hold snap elections this week, amid mounting anger among protesters who have pressed for them since former President Pedro Castillo’s ouster in early December. Forty-seven people have been killed in clashes with police since then, including, for the first time, a demonstrator in the capital Lima last week. According to a recent survey, 73 per cent of the public supports holding a vote in 2023 to help defuse the crisis. Castillo’s successor Dina Boluarte, who has come under sharp criticism from protesters as the death toll climbs, backs organising fresh polls, as well as empowering the next Congress to overhaul the 1993 constitution. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche says Congress seems disconnected from citizens’ demands, threatening further upheaval. 28 January 2023 ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN The EU on Monday announced its plan to establish a civilian monitoring mission in Armenia that will conduct routine patrols with the aim of fostering stability along the border with Azerbaijan, including in the areas that have witnessed hundreds of casualties since the 2020 war. Crisis Group experts Olesya Vartanyan and Zaur Shiriyev say the mission is a bold step to help prevent tensions spiralling into renewed conflict and get EU-mediated peace talks back on track. The mission, however, would enjoy better prospects of success if the EU can secure Baku’s cooperation and agreement on regular meetings to discuss incident prevention.BURKINA FASO The government on Monday formally requested French military forces – some 400 soldiers operating in the country since 2018 as part of efforts to combat jihadist groups – to leave the country within a month. Crisis Group expert Rinaldo Depagne says this decision was motivated by several reasons. The government wants the country to defend itself and promote a patriotic spirit, to look for new external partners to get easier access to military equipment and to satisfy its political base. The announcement followed protests in the capital Ouagadougou against the presence of French forces. CAMEROON Canada last week announced an agreement between the Cameroonian government and several Anglophone separatist groups to engage in a peace process facilitated by Canada to end the brutal conflict ongoing since 2017. The Cameroon government's spokesperson, however, denied that Canada was assigned the role of facilitator. Crisis Group expert Arrey E. Ntui says discreet, low profile consultations between the parties have been ongoing for about two months. The formal announcement of the peace process was supposed to mark a rare, positive step by the parties aimed at ending one of the world’s most neglected conflicts. The surprise rebuttal from Yaoundé highlights divisions within the government and that intense diplomatic effort is required to secure Cameroon’s support. 21 January 2023 DR CONGO The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for a blast at a church in Kasindi city in the country’s east on Sunday, which killed at least fourteen people and wounded dozens. Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba says the blast was almost certainly conducted by the ISIS affiliate Allied Democratic Forces, a Ugandan-origin, multinational jihadist group which operates in DR Congo’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces. The church attack is only one of a number of recent atrocities, and more than a year of joint Ugandan and Congolese army operations seem to have done little to dent its operational capacity. LIBYA The speaker of Libya’s House of Representatives, Aghila Saleh, on Wednesday announced that UN-backed talks between his Tobruq-based parliament and the rival Tripoli-based assembly had reached a dead end. The objective of those talks, ongoing for the past eight months, was to amend a draft constitution that – if approved by the assemblies – was meant to chart a roadmap toward elections and unify a country that has been divided into two parallel executives since last February. Crisis Group expert Claudia Gazzini says the announcement is not necessarily bad news. The talks between representatives of the two assemblies were controversial from the outset, and participants did not appear to be willing to negotiate in good faith. The UN envoy now has an opportunity to chart a fresh roadmap toward elections in consultation with Libya's politicians. TUNISIA Thousands of protesters gathered in the capital Tunis on Saturday, the twelfth anniversary of the departure of the autocrat Ben Ali, to rally against current President Kais Saied’s power grab and deteriorating economic conditions. Crisis Group expert Michael Ayari says many citizens describe their daily lives as unbearable amid shortages of essentials, the rising cost of living, crumbling state institutions, increasing corruption, spreading delinquency and a country drained of its best-skilled workers due to legal and illegal migration to Europe. Saied is increasingly isolated and the worsening economic situation could fuel new popular protests, further polarise political elites and cause violence. 14 January 2023 AFGHANISTAN An explosion near the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the heart of downtown Kabul on Wednesday injured at least 40 people, according to a nearby hospital. Taliban officials claimed that only five people were killed but the death toll may rise. Crisis Group expert Graeme Smith says the Islamic State’s local branch, the Islamic State Khorasan Province, claimed the attack. The group is broadening its recruitment beyond traditional supporters in the eastern provinces to benefit from anti-Taliban sentiment in other parts of the country. Still, overall violence remains at low ebb during the winter months, and it’s unclear whether armed resistance against the Taliban will gain traction when the weather improves enough to allow fighters greater mobility. ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN Azerbaijani-supported activists maintained a blockade of the only road that connects Nagorno-Karabakh with Armenia. In the entity’s main town of Stepanakert, which is home to roughly half of the mountainous enclave’s Armenian population of 120,000, food shelves are bare and locals queue for hours to buy scarce goods from nearby villages. Schools have shut due to a lack of food, and residents say they can no longer find painkillers, much less medication for diabetes, cancer and other illnesses. Crisis Group’s expert Olesya Vartanyan says the urgent humanitarian situation comes amid an ongoing crisis in talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan and after their failure to sign a peace deal in 2022. If the sides do not find a way to resume contacts, the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh is likely to continue to deteriorate. ETHIOPIA Fulfilling a key clause of the November peace deal, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has begun surrendering heavy weapons to federal forces. Crisis Group expert William Davison says this is another important step that will bolster a still fragile peace process. Critically, the truce is holding, aid is entering Tigray, and the federal government is restoring services, indicating that federal-Tigray relations are improving. But outstanding challenges remain, including the continued presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray and Amhara region’s control of the disputed Western Tigray area. 7 January 2023 COLOMBIA President Petro on 31 December announced a six-month ceasefire with six armed groups, including National Liberation Army (ELN), two Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) dissident groups and two post-paramilitary groups. The ELN, however, denied a ceasefire had been agreed, prompting the government to clarify that it will be discussed in the ongoing peace negotiations with the group but other armed groups had agreed. Crisis Group expert Renata Segura says the episode marks the government’s first major misstep in the current peace process with the ELN, although no lasting damage may have been done. As most violent altercations in Colombia are between criminal organisations, and not between the state and armed groups, securing the buy-in of the other actors is an important development that could offer immediate relief to conflict-ridden areas.ISRAEL-PALESTINE National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir became the first minister in almost five years to enter Jerusalem's Holy Esplanade (the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount complex). The move, which the Palestinian Authority called an “unprecedented provocation” and Hamas labelled crossing a “red line”, sparked international condemnation, including from Israeli friends the U.S., Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonszein says Ben-Gvir did not enter the compound for religious reasons, nor as a message aimed at Hamas. Rather, he sought to set a precedent for further change to the historic status quo. As an epicentre of friction in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with violent clashes as recently as May 2021, any Israeli effort to change the status quo or claim sovereignty over the Holy Esplanade almost certainly will trigger violence far beyond Jerusalem. UKRAINE Ukrainian artillery struck a Russian military base in occupied Makiyivka, a suburb of Donetsk, on New Year’s Eve. A Ukrainian Army Telegram channel said that some 400 mobilised Russians had been killed, while Russia this week admitted 89 had died. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says the strike, which was conducted using the U.S.-supplied HIMARS system, marks the highest number of Russian fatalities in a single incident that Moscow has admitted since the war began. The subsequent blame game among Russian military observers points to persistent disciplinary and logistical problems that may be leading Russian commanders to concentrate large numbers of troops, even within range of Ukrainian artillery. 24 December 2022 AFGHANISTAN The Taliban authorities announced Tuesday that they would ban women from attending university “until further notice”. Damaging as this misogynistic policy will be to Afghan women, says Crisis Group expert Graeme Smith, it will also hinder the country’s economic recovery from decades of war. Afghanistan already suffers from shortages of female health care workers, teachers and other professionals, many of whom fled after the Taliban’s 2021 takeover for fear of precisely this sort of draconian measure. This move will compound these problems; it may also bring new sanctions. With the Taliban signalling that they will keep the country isolated, international donors should focus on rebuilding livelihoods in order to minimise the population’s suffering. PERU Protests rocked the country for a second week as Congress approved interim President Dina Boluarte’s proposal to hold early elections in April 2024. Boluarte assumed office on 7 December in the wake of her predecessor and running mate Pedro Castillo’s bungled attempt to dissolve the legislature. Lawmakers impeached Castillo for this illegal gambit; he now faces eighteen months in pretrial detention. (Mexico has offered him asylum and granted it to his family.) Unrest has persisted in several southern regions following the legislators’ decision. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche says many Peruvians remain deeply dissatisfied with the country’s political institutions. They are demanding Boluarte’s resignation, snap polls in 2023 and justice for the 27 people killed in clashes with police since Castillo’s ouster.SUDAN This week marked the four-year anniversary of the popular uprising that unseated Sudan’s long-time president, Omar al-Bashir, coinciding with a deadline for reaching an agreement to form a civilian government after fourteen months with the military in charge. On 5 December, the military concluded an initial framework deal with a civilian coalition. This agreement has significantly divided Sudanese political actors, delaying the conclusion of talks and inadvertently extending the military’s de facto rule. Crisis Group expert Shewit Woldemichael says it is critical for all actors to make concessions during the next round of negotiations in order to reach a final accord that has broader legitimacy. The framework agreement, despite its flaws, is an opportunity to form an inclusive civilian government that should not be squandered. U.S.-UKRAINE Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy got a warm reception in Washington Wednesday on his first trip outside the country since Russia’s all-out invasion on 24 February. At a White House meeting, U.S. President Joe Biden affirmed Washington’s continued support for Kyiv, including a Patriot missile battery, reiterating that the U.S. will back Ukraine in the war “as long as it takes”. That evening, Zelenskyy spoke to a joint session of Congress, thanking the U.S. for its massive assistance to date. Displaying awareness of scepticism in the Republican caucus, he stressed that the aid was “not charity” but “an investment” in mutual security objectives – and also not enough. Crisis Group experts Olga Oliker and Michael Wahid Hanna say both presidents scored important political victories: Zelenskyy laid down markers for additional assistance Kyiv hopes to receive down the road, while Biden won a show of bipartisan unity behind his Ukraine policy. Congress will vote on a new aid package before January, when the Republicans will take over the lower house. 17 December 2022 INDIA-CHINA Indian and Chinese troops clashed along the disputed border in Arunachal Pradesh state in the east last Friday, severely injuring around 30 Indian and likely as many Chinese troops. Both sides reportedly fought with non-lethal weapons such as sticks, nail-studded clubs and tasers to bypass agreements forbidding the use of firearms and blamed each other for the incident. Crisis Group expert Praveen Donthi says though face-offs are common between the troops along the disputed border known as the Line of Actual Control, this is the biggest since the deadly clash in June 2020. It does not portend well for relations between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which are already under severe stress, and marks the new normal of “no war, no peace” between the two powers. KOSOVO-SERBIA Serbs barricaded highways and border crossings in northern Kosovo in protest against the arrest of a former police officer suspected of taking part in attacks on election officials, and against the presence of heavily armed Kosovo police in Serb-majority areas. The EU and the U.S. embassies in Belgrade and Pristina called on protesters to remove the barricades. Crisis Group expert Marko Prelec says that the EU-led negotiations aimed at normalising the Belgrade-Pristina relationship and securing autonomy for Serb-majority areas in Kosovo continue, while both sides are resorting to unilateral acts on the ground in an attempt to improve their positions in the talks. PERU After President Castillo attempted to shutter Congress and rule by decree, Congress impeached him and swore into office Vice President Dina Boluarte as his replacement. His removal sparked nationwide protests demanding the chamber’s dissolution and general elections, which intensified this week with attacks on police stations and Boluarate declaring a 30-day state of emergency. Clashes between protesters and police have killed eighteen and injured hundreds. Crisis Group expert Glaeldys Gonzalez Calanche says the wave of violence comes at a time when citizens’ confidence in Peruvian democracy and political actors has severely deteriorated as politicians have failed to address growing challenges, such as high levels of extreme poverty and unprecedented levels of food insecurity. Many see general elections and all-inclusive dialogue as the only exit from the crisis. 10 December 2022 EL SALVADOR President Bukele announced a military operation involving 10,000 police officers and soldiers against gangs in the country’s most populous city of Soyapango. The operation, branded as a new phase of the government’s security strategy, takes place under a state of emergency imposed in March in response to a sudden uptick in gang violence. Crisis Group expert Tiziano Breda says that the operation, while unlikely to lead to a permanent weakening of gangs, is designed to be a public display of the government’s power and control. Unless it is coupled with efforts to improve services and offer opportunities to youth targeted by gang recruitment, such heavy-handed methods are unlikely to yield anything but a temporary reprieve in violence.SAUDI ARABIA China’s President Xi commenced his first visit to the kingdom since 2016. The three-day trip is aimed at boosting and diversifying economic ties beyond oil. Crisis Group expert Anna Jacobs says Xi’s visit symbolises Riyadh’s desire to diversify its relations amid an increasingly multipolar world order and tensions with the U.S. The latter stem from the kingdom’s concerns over Washington’s commitment to its security and U.S. disquiet over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and prosecution of the war in Yemen. Ties further frayed following the OPEC+ decision to cut oil production, which Washington saw as helping Russia mitigate the impact of sanctions. The U.S. will be closely observing agreements made during Xi’s visit, especially those related to defence, arms sales and nuclear power. SOUTH SUDAN At least 10,000 civilians in Kodok – the capital of Fashoda county, in Upper Nile state – are at risk of attack by Nuer militia forces from northern Jonglei state. Aided by several Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) soldiers, the militias since early October have repeatedly targeted the local ethnic Shilluk population, displacing tens of thousands. The local Shilluk militia, the Agwalek, has fought the Nuer militia forces. Crisis Group expert Ferenc David Marko says the state government has declared it cannot resolve the crisis, while the small UN peacekeeping force in Kodok is severely understaffed and may fail to deter an attack. The federal government has deployed limited armed forces, but it remains unclear if they are willing, or even able, to protect civilians. External stakeholders, including regional and donor powers, should press Juba to intervene to prevent further bloodshed, while the UN should reinforce the area with more peacekeepers and provide protection for humanitarian relief.UKRAINE-RUSSIA Russian authorities accused Ukraine of attacks on three Russian air bases near the cities of Saratov, Ryazan and Kursk on Monday and Tuesday, which killed three people and damaged several aircraft in Russia’s strategic bomber fleet. Kyiv acknowledged the attacks but did not take direct responsibility. Crisis Group expert Simon Schlegel says the strikes once more reveal that Ukraine has long-range capabilities that Russian intelligence seemed to be unaware of and its air defence unprepared for. Whether Kyiv can use such capabilities repeatedly to eventually shift the military balance remains unclear. 3 December 2022 ISIS The Pentagon said Wednesday former Syrian rebels had killed Abu al-Hasan al-Hashemi al-Qureishi, the top leader of ISIS, in a mid-October operation in Daraa province in southern Syria. ISIS had released an audio recording earlier that day announcing his death. Crisis Group expert Jerome Drevon says al-Qureishi’s demise is another setback for the jihadist group, whose previous chief was killed in February, and which has largely gone underground since losing its last territorial seat in 2019. Yet ISIS remains resilient in Syria, particularly in the centre and north east, where it conducts regular raids while accumulating resources and strengthening its support networks.PALESTINE Nine Palestinians were killed this week in confrontations with the Israeli army in the occupied West Bank. An Israeli soldier was badly injured when a Palestinian (later shot dead) rammed into her with his car. A total of 211 Palestinians and nineteen Israelis have lost their lives in Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2022 to date, making it the conflict’s deadliest year since 2006. Beyond the daily violence and indignities of the occupation, several factors are contributing to the heightened tensions, says Crisis Group expert Tahani Mustafa. Among them are stepped-up Israeli raids, arrests and killings of Palestinians and the bleak prospects for positive change on the ground, given the potential for a new far-right Israeli government with an openly annexationist agenda. SOMALIA Al-Shabaab fighters stormed a hotel in Mogadishu Sunday night, initiating a siege that lasted until the following evening. At least eight civilians, a police officer and five militants died. The Islamist insurgency has ratcheted up its attacks in the Somali capital, mounting a lethal assault on another hotel in August and killing more than 100 people in a bombing of a busy intersection in October. The latest hotel siege is worrying evidence of the militants’ continued ability to strike the city, says Crisis Group expert Omar Mahmood, even in districts heavily guarded by security forces. It comes amid a fresh government offensive aimed at rooting Al-Shabaab out of rural areas in central Somalia. 26 November 2022 COLOMBIA The government this week reopened peace talks with its last remaining leftist insurgency, the National Liberation Army (ELN). The talks are the centrepiece of President Petro’s plan to seek “total peace” through dialogue with all armed and criminal groups. Crisis Group expert Elizabeth Dickinson says that there are enormous expectations riding on the negotiations in conflict-affected communities, both to lower violence and to set the tone for a broader de-escalation. Colombia’s conflict is no longer a fight between the state and armed groups but rather between rival groups, who fight amid and atop the civilian population. The government’s focus on initial humanitarian agreements with these armed and criminal groups could be a first step toward reducing the devastating impact.IRAN The government’s crackdown on nationwide anti-government protests continues, especially in Kurdish-majority regions. Tehran also began enriching uranium to 60% as its fortified Fordow plant and promised to install more advanced centrifuges in response to a censure vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. Crisis Group expert Ali Vaez says relying on brute force to suppress protests has only deepened domestic anger and mobilised sweeping international condemnation. The lack of progress on resolving outstanding safeguards concerns deepens the impasse around Iran’s nuclear activity. Combined with an array of Western sanctions over Tehran’s arms provision to Russia, the trend lines across intersecting domestic, nuclear and regional fronts give ample reason for concern in the weeks ahead.ISRAEL-PALESTINE Unclaimed bombings at two bus stops in Jerusalem during Wednesday’s rush hour killed one Israeli teenager and wounded at least eighteen. Crisis Group expert Mairav Zonzsein says the attacks take place against a backdrop of heightened tensions and volatility. For months Israel has conducted raids in the northern West Bank, which is witnessing its deadliest wave of violence since the Second Intifada. In recent weeks there has been an uptick in Palestinian attacks on Israelis, just as Knesset members are in the process of assembling Israel’s most far-right government ever. The explosions signal a more organised effort to target civilians that will likely provoke a harsher Israeli response, perpetuating a deadly cycle of violence. 19 November 2022 DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO Tens of thousands of villagers in North Kivu province have fled fighting between M23 rebels and the Congolese army in the past week. The UN estimates that 188,000 people have been displaced since the M23 launched an offensive on 20 October. Battles are so intense that humanitarian agencies are unable to aid many of those in need. Congolese authorities continue to accuse neighbouring Rwanda of backing the insurgents, a charge Kigali denies. As the rebels draw closer to Goma, North Kivu’s capital, Crisis Group expert Onesphore Sematumba says African-led diplomacy is badly needed to avert the humanitarian catastrophe that would follow the city’s fall.TÜRKIYE A bomb went off Sunday in Istiklal Street, a bustling commercial avenue in Istanbul, killing six and injuring 81. No one has claimed responsibility, but authorities quickly blamed the PKK, the Kurdish insurgency that has been battling the Turkish army for decades, and the YPG, its Syrian affiliate (though they did not exclude an ISIS connection). Police arrested a woman, charging her with detonating the explosives. Ankara also excoriated Washington, which is backing the YPG in its fight with ISIS in Syria. The Turkish government sees the YPG as an extension of the PKK; it believes that the group’s quasi-autonomy in Syria is encouraging Kurdish militancy in Türkiye. Crisis Group expert Berkay Mandıracı says the attack raises public expectations that Ankara will carry out a wider incursion into northern Syria to roll back the YPG.UKRAINE Russia launched more than 90 missiles at Ukraine on Tuesday, and sent in several drones, in what was likely its largest single aerial attack since its all-out invasion in February. The projectiles hit several power plants, plunging parts of Kyiv and other cities into darkness amid the winter chill. What seems to have been a Ukrainian air defence rocket – fired during the Russian barrage – landed in Poland, killing two. Warsaw and its NATO allies responded by urging calm. Russian bombardment continued later in the week, taking at least two Ukrainian lives. Crisis Group expert Olga Oliker says the incidents underline not only the war’s human costs but also its escalatory risks: when Moscow mounts such massive air assaults, the odds of a stray missile, Russian or Ukrainian, hitting a third country go way up.U.S.