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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Israel Kills Hamas Leader, Group Says Attack Opens ‘Gates of Hell’

The head of the military wing of the Islamist group Hamas, Ahmed al-Jabari, was killed by an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on Wednesday. The attack was part of the Israeli Defence Force’s (IDF) “Operation Cloud Pillar” against Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other militant groups. A ground invasion of Gaza is expected to follow, with Israeli reservists called up shortly after the air strikes. Israeli officials had allegedly been considering assassinating senior Hamas figures following a recent wave of rocket attacks. Hamas said the air strike had “opened the gates of hell”. Earlier, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was found to have advocated toppling the Palestinian Authority’s leadership if the country’s bid for observer status at the United Nations is approved later this month. “Toppling Abu Mazen’s (Abbas’s) regime would be the only option in this case”, said a policy paper obtained by the BBC. “Any other option would mean waving a white flag and admitting the failure of the Israeli leadership to deal with the challenge.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beitenu, a right-wing nationalist party, had told Israel’s Channel 10 in early November that he would “ensure that the Palestinian Authority collapses” if its leadership pushed ahead with the U.N. bid.

Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain Hold Anti-Austerity Strikes

Greek, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish trade unions started strike actions on Wednesday to protest government austerity plans. In Spain, 81 people were arrested after clashing with police officers and damaging storefronts in Madrid, while others took to jamming cash machines with glue and coins. In Italy, the protests came at the one year anniversary of Mario Monti’s government. Demonstrators hurled bottles and firecrackers at riot police in Rome and at least one bleeding protester was bundled into a police van, according to a witness quoted by the Reuters news agency. Protesters in Athens carried banners proclaiming “Enough is enough” in several languages and proceedings were largely peaceful. The protests in Lisbon and Porto were similarly peaceful, with demonstrators remonstrating any members who tried to damage public property.

Turkey Evacuates Villages Along the Border with Syria

Turkey has evacuated three villages along its border with Syria to protect residents from a potential spillover of the violence in the neighbouring country’s civil war. The villages are located west of Ceylanpinar, a Kurdish town in southeastern Turkey. Just across the border lies the Syrian city of Ras al-Ain, bombed for the third straight day on Wednesday. The bombs shook buildings on the Turkish side, with bullets and shrapnel also commonly landing in Ceylanpinar. “We cannot live like this. We are being drawn into the war. Even if the state doesn’t enter the war, the people living along the border are being drawn into it”, said Ceylanpinar’s mayor, Ismail Arslan. “This conflict took a totally different dimension with the coming of the jets.” The town itself is yet to be evacuated, but police officers have visited those districts most affected by stray bullets and told residents to leave.

European Union Approves €5 Billion Aid Package for Egypt

The European Union has approved a €5 billion aid package for Egypt, according to statement from Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s office. The text said the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) would each provide €2 billion, with the remaining €1 billion coming from EU member states. The aid package announcement came after talks between Morsi and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Cairo. The package comes at a critical time for the Egyptian economy. Its growth rates have dropped and its foreign reserves been depleted to half of their amount since the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Afghan Women Becoming Literate Through Mobile Phones

Afghanistan has launched a literacy programme that enables women to learn to read and write using mobile phones. Called Ustad Mobile (mobile teacher), it provides national curriculum courses in the two national languages, Dari and Pashto, as well as mathematics, delivered in audio and video installments. The courses are free to students. “I could not go to school because the Taliban took control of Kabul”, said 18-year-old Muzhgan Nazari to the AFP news agency. She said her father had the idea of his daughters attending school, but she managed to convince him to let her take the course. “He allowed me to attend on a daily basis”, said Nazari. The software was developed in Afghanistan by Paiwastoon, a local IT company, with US$80,000 in U.S. aid. Some 100 students are enrolled in the pilot project in Kabul and 65 percent of them are women, but the country’s Ministry of Education plans to roll the project out across Afghanistan.

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