Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Anannya Parekh
The Israel-Palestine war: The latest update
For more context on the Israel-Palestine war, check out our two-part series on the Hamas attack on Israel: part one lays out the Hamas offensive and failures of Israeli intelligence; part two explains the big picture—and Hamas’ motive driving what seems like a suicidal attack. Also read: our Big Story on the ground offensive by Israel, which will decide the fate of Gaza and the power balance in the Middle East. We look at the larger geopolitical picture in the region in this Big Story.
Death toll: 11,240 people have been killed in Gaza—of them 4,630 are children and 3,130 are women. According to Washington Post, in a little over a month of war, 0.5% of Gaza’s total population have been killed, which amounts to 1 in 200 people.
The battle over Al-Shifa: One of Gaza’s largest hospitals is trapped in a nightmare. Israel insists it is a refuge for Hamas—and the US agrees: “The militants, Israeli security officials say, have spent the better part of 16 years building a vast command complex under the hospital, and setting up similar bases underneath other medical facilities in the enclave.” Associated Press, however, points out that neither Tel Aviv nor Washington have provided any evidence re Al-Shifa. But Israel did share video and photographs showing weapons allegedly stored by Hamas in the basement of a children’s hospital.
Military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said troops had found a command centre with an armoury of weapons including grenades, suicide vests and other explosives stored by Hamas fighters in the basement of Rantissi Hospital, a paediatric hospital with a specialty in treating cancer patients.
Everyone, however, agrees that the situation within the hospital is a humanitarian apocalypse. Thirty two patients have died in the past three days—including three newborn babies—“as a result of the siege of the hospital and lack of power.” At least 650 patients were still inside. But tanks have blockaded all exits. One doctor says:
They bombed the (water) tanks, they bombed the water wells, they bombed the oxygen pump as well. They bombed everything in the hospital. So we are hardly surviving. We tell everyone, the hospital is no more a safe place for treating patients. We are harming patients by keeping them here.
Point to note: Al-Shifa is unlikely to be the only hospital to suffer this fate—as the Israelis have made clear, hospitals will be targeted as military sites this time around. President Biden finally spoke up yesterday—saying he hoped for “less intrusive action”—and that “hospitals must be protected.”
Some things to see: This is Norwegian surgeon Mads Gilbert sending a heart-wrenching message from Al Shifa:
This is the last recorded interview with one of the doctors at the hospital—before he died:
You can see images of the newborns taken off their incubators due to lack of fuel below:
Occupation of Gaza: PM Netanyahu has been doing his best to undercut every proposal floated by Washington. The US has repeatedly said there will be no Israeli occupation—and that the Palestinian Authority—which runs the West Bank—is best suited to run Gaza after the war. But Netanyahu has now flatly rejected any such plan. He has also made clear that Israel will not turn over Gaza to foreign (read: Arab) forces—which is Washington’s other pet idea.
But, but, but: A number of Israeli analysts say that Bibi’s ideas don’t really matter since he is extremely unpopular—and won’t be PM for long after the war. Related read: Vox on why the EU is increasingly divided over the war. (Wall Street Journal)
Meanwhile, in the Arab world: An extraordinary joint summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League ended with a joint resolution that was all talk and little action. It urged the International Criminal Court to investigate “war crimes and crimes against humanity that Israel is committing”—and called for an immediate cease-fire. But according to New Arab, four "influential countries" in the Arab League blocked any concrete measures against Israel:
The divisive clauses are believed to have included prohibiting the use of US and other military bases in Arab countries to supply Israel with weapons and ammunition; freezing Arab diplomatic, economic, security, and military relations with Israel; and threats to leverage oil and Arab economic capabilities to apply pressure and halt the ongoing aggression.
These are most likely Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. It remains to be seen how long they can hold out as Netanyahu continues to take an extremely tough line.
India votes against Israel: Many eyebrows were raised when India abstained from a UN General Assembly resolution seeking an immediate cease-fire—which was seen as evidence of a definite tilt toward Tel Aviv. But last week, India voted for five out of six GA resolutions criticising Israel. For example: It voted for a statement criticising Israeli settlements in the “Occupied Palestinian Territory”—calling them “illegal.” OTOH, New Delhi abstained on a resolution that called for an investigation into Israeli’s actions for human rights violations. (The Hindu)
Quote to note: When asked about New Delhi’s role, the Palestine envoy to India said: “I am not expecting anything from India. I have called them many many times. They did nothing. So I’m not expecting anything from them.”
A good read: Washington Post (splainer gift link) on how Hamas was planning attacks deeper into Israeli territory—precisely to provoke this kind of bloodbath. Always good to note: the story is sourced to “a dozen current and former intelligence and security officials from four Western and Middle Eastern countries.”
Sunak makes big cabinet moves
The UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman—best known for her extreme anti-immigrant views—has been finally shown the door. By her fellow Indian-origin boss, no less. Braverman finally took a step too far when she accused the London police of having a “double standard”—being far tougher on right-wing demonstrations. Also: she called homelessness a “lifestyle choice.” We explained the UK's increasingly harsh asylum policy in this Big Story. (BBC News)
Far more notable: The return of former prime minister David Cameron as Foreign Secretary—right in the middle of the war in Gaza. He quit the top job after the 2016 Brexit referendum—which he called for and foolishly never expected the result. FYI: Indian External Affairs minister S Jaishankar—who is on an official trip to the UK—has already held his first meeting with Cameron. Politico has more on why Cameron’s return could be awkward for Sunak.
Some excellent news about cholesterol
One: A small clinical trial successfully tested a gene editing treatment that significantly reduced cholesterol levels. But it involved only ten patients who suffered from a genetic disease that causes high cholesterol from the time of birth. However, experts say this treatment has the potential to create “a single cholesterol-lowering treatment that results in lifelong protection from heart disease.” (New York Times)
Two: A second study trialled a drug to tackle a dangerous type of cholesterol called lipoprotein(a)—which is considered “essentially untreatable.” This is also a genetic condition. The medicine targets the messenger RNA that tells the body to stop producing lipoprotein(a). And it seems startlingly effective: “A single shot of lepodisiran drove down Lp(a) by more than 94% for nearly one year.” (NBC News)
Why these studies matter:
Both medications target people born with a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol. While drugs like statins, as well as diet and exercise, can help these individuals manage cholesterol, they cannot change the underlying genetic cause.
No TikTok in Nepal
The government has banned the social media app for disrupting “social harmony” in the country—specifically, encouraging hate speech. It isn’t clear what triggered this sudden announcement. But the government has recently introduced new social media regulations. The Print has lots more.
The most polluted city in the world is…
Delhi. Now that is a shocker (not!). The list was put out by a Swiss air purifier company. And it is notable mostly for the fact that it contains two other Indian cities—Mumbai and Kolkata. Delhi’s abysmal ranking was confirmed by an Indian study conducted on Diwali, as well. The happy news for Bangalore: It reported the lowest levels of PM 2.5 among the 11 cities analysed by the study—and its figures were lower compared to Diwali last year. (The Hindu)
In big pollution-related news: A Canadian company has launched a satellite aimed at detecting carbon dioxide emissions from individual facilities from space. This means specific coal plants and steel mills—allowing us to name and shame the worst offenders. (Reuters)
Indian students heart America
According to a new report, the US remains the top destination for Indian students—and by a mile. The number of students in the country surged by 35%—reaching a record 268,923 in 2022/2023. India has now beaten China to become the largest source of international graduate students in the US—for the first time since 2009-10. Mint has more numbers.
Four things to see
One: Behold the wandering bag as it boldly goes where no toolkit has gone before. This kit was dropped by astronauts during a spacewalk at the ISS on November 2. Now it’s floating about two-four minutes ahead of the ISS—and can be seen with just a pair of binoculars and a NASA app. It’s unexpectedly shiny. (Space)
Two: We all know Indian fans can be thoda zyaada. But bursting crackers in the middle of a theatre is just plain stupid—Darwinian level stupid. Watch Salman Khan’s fans do just that in a cinema hall in Nashik—at a screening of ‘Tiger 3’. Sallu condemned the incident on Twitter. (Deccan Herald)
Four: This is the official trailer for the live-action version of the beloved animated series—‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. We hope this Netflix series will fare better than the last sorry attempt. The trailer looks stunning. It is slated to release on February 22. (The Verge)