Illustration by Ben Beechener
CW: racism, anti-semitism
Welcome to the second week of The Oxford Blue’s new regular publication The World Beyond OX1. Each week your Global Affairs team will bring you five key stories of note from around the world. They are short and snappy summaries of what are inevitably nuanced and complex events and we hope you use them as a springboard to explore global current affairs in more depth.
Islamic State fighters attack a Syrian prison
On Thursday 20th January a group of armed ISIS soldiers launched an assault on the Ghwayaran prison complex in the city of Hasakah, located in the north of Syria. The prison houses 3,500 captured ISIS fighters, including several high-profile members, and is thought to be heavily overcrowded.
The attack began with the detonation of a car bomb before fighters seized weapons found within the prison. Having freed many of their members inside, fighting broke out between ISIS and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, supported from the air by US coalition forces.
The SDF have surrounded the prison and are re-capturing the surrounding neighbourhoods which provided the base for the operation. So far at least 23 Kurdish soldiers, 5 civilians and upwards of 40 IS fighters have been killed.
There are fears the incident may have been timed to co-ordinate with another ISIS attack on a military base in Iraq on Friday, which killed 11 soldiers. These attacks are among the deadliest and most ambitious since the defeat of the proclaimed-caliphate in the spring of 2019.
Escalation of the war in Yemen
On Monday 16th January, the Yemen Houthi rebels, backed by Iran claimed responsibility for a drone attack targeting an oil storage facility near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The explosion killed three and injured six. It is thought the attack may have been intended to deter the UAE from re-entering the civil war in Yemen.
In retaliation, a Saudi-led coalition executed an air strike on a detention facility in northern Yemen on Friday morning, killing at least 100 and injuring over 250. The strike has led to overcrowding in local hospitals, and was timed to coincide with another strike on Yemen’s internet infrastructure.
The United Nations General Secretary António Gutteres has expressed his concern at the rising tension and has condemned the attacks.
Netanyahu’s potential plea deal
Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and incumbent Attorney General Avichai Mandelbilt are reportedly in negotiations for a possible plea deal that would see corruption charges against him dropped.
Netanyahu has been charged on three cases of bribery and fraud. These cases include receiving $195,000 worth of champagne and cigars in exchange for political favours and attempting to buy favourable news coverage by passing legislation that would undermine the news outlets’ rivals.
Under the proposed plea deal the charges of bribery would be dropped, and instead of prison time Netanyahu would be required to undertake community service. However the Attorney General’s office is pushing for a ‘moral turpitude’ clause to be included, which would exclude him from political office for a minimum of seven years, currently opposed by Netanyahu.
On Tuesday 18th January, Norwegian far-right extremist Anders Breivik appeared in front of court to plead for early release from prison. Breivik has been imprisoned since 2012 after having been sentenced to 21 years for terrorist attacks committed on the 22nd July 2011. The attack killed 77 people and included a bomb planted near the Norwegian Government offices as well as mass shooting.
During the hearing Breivik said he would continue to fight for white supremacy and National Socialist dominance. The court did not grant him early release saying that he showed “no empathy and no regret” for his actions.
Hong Kong hamster cull
Hong Kong, one of the few remaining countries pursuing a “zero Covid” policy, is taking all potential threats of Covid-19 very seriously. The latest identified threat is rather unusual, with the Hong Kong health authorities identifying hamsters and other small mammals as potential transmission vectors. Over the next few weeks, over 2000 hamsters, from pet shops and private owners are set to be culled, after 11 tested positive for the virus. Health officials have said the outbreak amongst hamsters may provide evidence of animal-to-human Covid transmission, but full research is yet to be undertaken.