Blinken visits the Middle East
The U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, made an unannounced visit yesterday to Baghdad, showing support for Iraq’s prime minister, Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani, and sending a message to Iran about the Biden administration’s commitment to defending its personnel.
Blinken’s trip through the Middle East is aimed at containing the fallout from Israel’s war against Hamas and at deterring Iran and its proxies — particularly Hezbollah, the armed group that controls areas of Lebanon along Israel’s northern border — from entering the conflict. These maps show where border clashes have intensified.
Officials said that the Biden administration has sent messages to Iran and Hezbollah through regional partners that the U.S. would be prepared to intervene militarily against them if they launched attacks against Israel.
Earlier in the day, Blinken traveled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the internationally backed Palestinian Authority. Blinken and Abbas discussed efforts to restore calm in the West Bank, where strikes by the Israeli military and deadly attacks by armed Israeli settlers have surged since the Oct. 7 assault.
In Israel on Friday, Blinken privately outlined several steps to reduce civilian casualties in its military campaign, including using smaller bombs. Israel used at least two 2,000-pound bombs during an airstrike last week on Jabaliya, a dense area just north of Gaza City, according to a New York Times analysis.
Explosion: A blast overnight Saturday in a densely populated refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip destroyed several buildings and appeared to have killed and wounded many people.
In Israel: Leaders and diplomats have quietly tried to build international support for the transfer of several hundred thousand civilians from Gaza to Egypt for the duration of the war, augmenting Palestinian fears of a permanent expulsion.
In the U.S.: Tens of thousands of protesters marched in Ohio, Utah, California and Washington, D.C., to denounce the scale of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.
Militants attacked an air base in Pakistan
The Pakistani military said it had successfully repelled an attack by militants on the Mianwali Training Air Base in central Pakistan on Saturday. But the episode, which came on the heels of another brazen assault on the military, has renewed concerns about the country’s precarious security situation.
Tehreek-e-Jihad Pakistan, an obscure militant group, claimed responsibility for the assault. The claim could not immediately be verified. The attempt to breach the air base occurred a day after 14 soldiers traveling in a convoy were ambushed and killed in Baluchistan Province, in the southwest.
Context: Extremist violence in Pakistan has increased substantially since the 2021 Taliban takeover of neighboring Afghanistan, and defense analysts have noted a worrying trend of increased assaults on military targets.
A new push for divorce in the Philippines
Thousands of people are trapped in long-dead marriages in the Philippines, the only country in the world, other than the Vatican, where divorce remains illegal. Steep legal fees and mounds of paperwork make annulment practically impossible for many.
But attitudes in the country, where nearly 80 percent of the population is Catholic, have shifted, and the president has signaled openness to the idea. That’s prompted some in the legalization camp to reframe divorce as a basic human right, like access to health care or education.
Background: The approach is a departure from the previous strategy of sharing personal stories in the hope of winning lawmakers’ sympathy. Now, activists are using science and statistics to present the long-term effects that keeping divorce illegal has on millions of abused women.
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The rise of space junk
Earth’s orbital environment is no longer the realm of innovation and discovery. It’s a resource up for grabs, and it is being grabbed with impunity.
The number of satellites in orbit has multiplied more than tenfold since 1998, to approximately 8,500. Satellite megaconstellations traverse a sky littered with human-made space debris moving at 17,500 miles per hour.
This crowding can hamper astronomy research done from ground-based telescopes. It also raises the risk of collisions in space and of a scenario known as Kessler Syndrome, in which Earth’s orbital space becomes so crowded that collisions cascade until it is no longer usable.