Ramadan Begins Without Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire

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Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at the latest from the Israel-Hamas war as Ramadan begins, regional efforts to defuse Haiti’s crisis, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s most recent move to consolidate power.

Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at the latest from the Israel-Hamas war as Ramadan begins, regional efforts to defuse Haiti’s crisis, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s most recent move to consolidate power.

No Cease-Fire in Gaza as Ramadan Starts 

Despite a diplomatic scramble to secure a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the holiday began on Monday without an agreement in place, fueling fears of heightened tensions during the period.

In the weeks before Ramadan, negotiators from Egypt, Qatar, and the United States expressed hopes that they could reach a deal resulting in a pause in fighting, the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, and the flow of more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Talks stalled last week after Hamas issued demands that extended beyond the proposed deal, the New York Times reported. Both Israeli and Hamas officials have accused each other of obstructing negotiations. The absence of a cease-fire deal as the holiday begins has intensified concerns about the conflict spiraling and humanitarian conditions worsening in Gaza.

“The onset of the holy month brings with it a number of specific events and circumstances that could very easily lead to a dramatic escalation not just in the Israel-Hamas war but also in the simmering tensions across the Middle East,” FP’s Amy Mackinnon wrote last week.

On Monday, the beginning of Ramadan was marked by clashes between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers at the Al-Aqsa mosque, a holy site in Jerusalem. Continued violence throughout the holiday, which is the holiest period in the Islamic calendar, could risk inflaming tensions and exacerbating regional outrage.

“It adds a layer of distastefulness and outrage to an already pretty horrendous situation,” Khaled Elgindy, the director of the Middle East Institute’s Palestine program, told Mackinnon last week. “It adds more pressure on Arab governments to at least look like they’re doing something.”

As the war stretches into its sixth month, officials and aid agencies have warned of increasingly dire conditions in Gaza. The United Nations reports that at least one-quarter of people in Gaza are “one step away from famine,” while nearly 60,000 pregnant women in Gaza face malnutrition and dehydration, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. The death toll in Gaza is estimated to have surpassed 30,000 people.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead. Israel still plans to launch a military offensive in the Gazan city of Rafah, Netanyahu said on Sunday, despite U.S. President Joe Biden’s earlier warnings that he considers such an attack to be a “red line.”

Today’s Most Read

The World This Week

 Monday, March 11: Caribbean Community leaders gather in Jamaica for urgent talks about Haiti.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosts Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

Tuesday, March 12: U.S. President Joe Biden hosts Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Tuesday, March 12, to Thursday, March 14: International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Grossi visits Japan. 

Wednesday, March 13: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts Peruvian Foreign Minister Javier González-Olaechea for talks.

French President Emmanuel Macron hosts his Lithuanian counterpart, Gitanas Nauseda.

Wednesday, March 13, to Friday, March 15: EU High Representative Josep Borrell visits Washington.

Friday, March 15, to Sunday, March 17: Russia holds a presidential election.

What We’re Following

Haiti’s worsening crisis. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to travel to Jamaica on Monday to participate in regional talks about Haiti’s political crisis, which escalated this month after gangs forcibly prevented acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry from returning to the country after a diplomatic trip abroad. Henry has held power since 2021, when former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, despite growing regional pressure for a political transition.

Monday’s trip comes just days after Blinken pressed Henry to back a transition proposal that could lay the groundwork for an election, according to top U.S. officials. “The Secretary urged Henry to support this proposal in the interest of restoring peace and stability to Haiti so the Haitian people can resume their daily lives free from violence and despair,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller.

Xi consolidates power. China concluded the annual session of its National People’s Congress on Monday with a revised law that offers the Chinese Communist Party greater influence over the country’s cabinet, known as the State Council. The change marks the latest indication of how Chinese President Xi Jinping is tightening his grip on power.

The legislation in question—the State Council Organic Law—now includes sections that detail how the State Council has to follow Xi Jinping Thought and “resolutely uphold the Party Central Committee’s authority and its centralised and unified leadership,” according to Reuters.

Portugal’s election results. Portuguese politics are set to enter a new chapter after the country’s snap election on Sunday, in which a center-right coalition appeared to narrowly win the vote while a far-right party also surged in popularity. The center-right Democratic Alliance ultimately secured 79 out of the legislature’s 230 seats, beating out incumbent Socialist Party, which had been in power for eight years and secured 77 seats on Sunday.

The vote was marked by a surge in popularity for the far-right Chega party, which secured the third-highest number of votes, reflective of broader political pressures facing European leaders. “It’s an absolutely historic result,” said the party’s leader, André Ventura.

Odds and Ends

Indonesian lawmakers have vowed to investigate how two pilots fell asleep on the job during a Batik Air flight in January, causing the plane—which was carrying 153 passengers and four flight attendants, along with the pilots—to veer off course, alarming the air traffic controllers. The pilots were both asleep for around a half an hour, officials said. No one was harmed during their slumber, and the plane landed in Jakarta after a course correction.

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