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Briefing: U.S. and Israel withdraw from UNESCO, kidnapped couple rescued in Pakistan

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Update

  • The U.S. and Israel withdrew from Unesco, citing the group’s “anti-Israel bias.” Unesco is known for preserving world heritage sites, however, the group is also responsible for literacy and health initiatives in the developing world. Israel and the Trump administration have bemoaned Unesco’s recent decisions, including the listing of Hebron, a city in the southern part of the occupied Palestinian territories, as a Palestinian world heritage site.
    • This is not the first time the U.S. government has been at odds with Unesco. The U.S. withdrew from the organization in 1984, under former Ronald Reagan administration for becoming overly politicized. The U.S. later rejoined in 2002. In 2011, the U.S. stopped financially contributing to Unesco when the organization recognized Palestine as a full-member.
  • President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order that allows businesses to purchase bare-bones health insurance plans for their employees, a move that undermines the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare.  The ACA purposefully banned these cheaper policies, that offer less coverage, in order to finance coverage for less-healthy, often older U.S. citizens with more costly medical needs.
  • The Islamic State killed 18 people with multiple suicide car bombings in the Syrian village of Abu Fas. The attack comes as the militant group continues to be pushed back by U.S.-backed forces from the North and the Syrian Army from the West.
  • The European Union cut ties with Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s leading general, over concerns of the military’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority.
    • Min Aung Hlaing responded to international criticism of persecution of the Rohingya as overblown. According to his Facebook page, he told the U.S. ambassador to Myanmar that the Rohingya are not “native” to Rakhine state, a reference to the country’s infamous 1982 Citizenship Law.
  • Pakistani security forces secured the release of a five-member U.S.-Canadian family that had been held by a Taliban-linked group for five years. U.S. citizen Caitlin Coleman and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle had three children in the years they were held captive by the Haqqani network.
  • Kenyan police banned protests in major cities after demonstrations by supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga. The opposition party is calling for further protests after police used tear gas on protesters a day after Odinga withdrew from the country’s presidential race. Odinga says he does not expect the race to be free or fair (though the electoral commission says he has not formally withdrawn). His supporters were also protesting a new election law that would give incumbent Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta a certain win in the rerun of the elections later this month.
    • In a first for an African democracy, Kenya’s Supreme Court annulled Kenyatta’s August 8 victory, citing widespread voting irregularities and mismanagement by electoral officials. At least 37 people died in subsequent protests in a country where only a decade ago some 1,100 people were killed in post-election politically motivated tribal violence.

Earlier

  • Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have reached an agreement on political reconciliation at talks in Cairo, Egypt, according to Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh. The agreement has not yet been disclosed, but a Hamas official said details are expected to be released at noon.
    • The Western-backed mainstream Fatah party lost control of the Gaza Strip when Hamas took it over in 2007.  However, last month Hamas agreed to give powers to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah-backed government. Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization which has been labelled a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
  • Sensitive Australian military information was stolen in a cyber hack. Approximately 30 gigabytes of commercial data – including details about new fighter planes and navy vessels – was taken after a government contractor was hacked. The breach began in July last year, but the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) was not aware of it until November. The hacker’s identity is not known and authorities have not yet established if the hack was orchestrated by another country. Defence Industry Minister, Christopher Pyne, said he had been assured the hack was not a risk to national security.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he will look to Canada or Mexico for individual trade agreements if a deal to revise the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) cannot be reached. Mexican business leaders also said on Wednesday that it would be better to dump NAFTA than to have to live with “a bad deal.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, said that he still believed in the 1994 agreement which brought the three North American countries together in creating one of the world’s largest free trade zones. Trump’s comments came as Trudeau visited the White House to promote the deal’s benefits and work towards a new round of NAFTA renegotiations.
  • Hundreds of people are reported missing in wildfires that have devastated Northern California. Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano said on Wednesday that investigators were searching shelters and homes to see if the missing escaped the fires alive. Three days after the fires began, firefighters were still unable to gain control of the blazes. The death toll climbed to 24 and was expected to rise. The fires leveled entire Northern California neighborhoods and destroyed at least 3,500 homes and businesses.

What we’re reading

  • More comfortable heading online than heading out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis, argues this piece in The Atlantic magazine. The article charts psychology professor Jean M. Twenge’s 25 years of work looking into the differences between generations and how they seem to define themselves. “Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states,” she writes. “In all my analyses of generational data – some reaching back to the 1930s – I had never seen anything like it.”
  • After criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, the Department of Defence released a video documenting the apparent successes that had been achieved there. However, this piece in the Washington Post shows what was missing in the 8-minute long video. The reporter writes: “There are many more federal workers and military members featured than Puerto Ricans in need of aid, and there is no mention of the fact that 84 percent of the island is still without power and more than one-third of residents do not have access to clean drinking water.”


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New Zealand
Charles Anderson is a New Zealand-based editor with WikiTribune. His work has appeared in the International New York Times, the Guardian, the Sydney Morning Herald and National Geographic Traveller.

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07 February 2018

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