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Middle East / North Africa

  • Written by Ruairi Kavanagh

Tension at the 'vineyard of peace', the border crossing between Israel and Gaza

Palestinians sifting through rubble for metal. At 45%, the unemployment rate in Gaza is among the highest in the world.Ruairi Kavanagh, a journalist who specialises in security and military affairs, visits Kerem Shalom, the only currently functioning crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip and reports that the economic plight of the people of Gaza is a sub-plot of the current impasse between the Jewish State and the Hamas regime which governs Gaza that has repeatedly vowed to bring about the destruction of Israel.

The border crossing at Kerem Shalom is a tense place. The manager of the facility, Amos (not his real name), shows me around the tightly fortified plazas which are filled with trucks delivering cargo, which is then scanned and examined by teams of customs and security workers before, if allowed, being transferred to Gaza side of the crossing, which is run by Hamas. The fact that Hamas and Israel jointly run the crossing, albeit under a small UN monitoring presence, only adds to the surreal nature of the place, which is situated just a mere stone's throw from the Egyptian border.

The process of allowing goods into and out of the Gaza Strip is a tightly orchestrated and seemingly fluid affair. A truck arrives, its goods are unloaded. They are then examined by the Israelis for banned items of 'dual purpose', such as building materials destined for private companies in Gaza. Approved items, the list of which the Israelis say has greatly increased, are then loaded onto a sterile truck and driven to another plaza where they are then loaded onto another truck for delivery into Gaza itself. Walls and barriers, and weapons, are everywhere in Kerem Shalom. Human contact is minimal but according to Amos, this is the way it has to be and this is the way it works.

  • Written by World and Media

Al Qaeda will fail

Ground Zero, New York following the death of Osama Bin Laden. Photo: Flickr/pamhule.[ANALYSIS] The death of Bin Laden is the latest blow to Al Qaeda. The opening decade of the 21st century was not a good one for America. It has been less remembered quite how bad it was for the Islamist network, whose "victory" on September 11, 2001 proved phyrric when it precipitated the – albeit incomplete – defeat of the Taliban.

The controversial US-led removal of Saddam two years later was not part of the jihadist script either. Whatever happens next, Iraq will not become a Salafist theocracy and may eventually emerge as a functioning democracy (though Freedom House currently categorises Iraq as "not free"). Al-Qaeda regards Shiites as apostates, so it would view a Shia-led or pluralist Iraq as anathema, as it would the increased influence of Iran.

2011 may mark a reversal of fortune for the United States and an annus horribilis for Al Qaeda. The sweeping away of dictators - some of whom had good relations with the United States - by the Arab Spring could yet make space for theocracies and sectarian war. However, the Arab upheaval is more likely to emerge as a greater blow to extremist ambitions than the death of Bin Laden.

  • Written by World and Media

Tunisian authorities, aid agencies prepare for Libya exodus

The new Choucha transit camp on the Libya-Tunisia border. Refugees gather every day in hopes of hearing about their departure status. Photo: Jesse Hardman/Internews.[UPDATED 21/03] As the conflict in Libya enters a new phase, the flow of refugees and migrants out of Libya appears to have accelerated. Government and humanitarian agencies have been preparing for the worst.

Across the border, Tunisian public health, military and civil protection sectors gathered Saturday in anticipation of a dramatic increase in Libyan refugee numbers. Humanitarian agencies had already been stockpiling supplies in Tunisia.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said on Friday (March 18) it was ready to work with the Egyptian government to prepare for a "massive influx" of people there fleeing the violence in Libya.

The pace  of events has added to the uncertainty facing Libyan residents.

  • Written by Paul Rogers

Libya: Regime survival depends on regaining control of oil and gas

The Gaddafi regime will only survive beyond the short term if it regains control of most of Libya’s oil-and-gas industry. Photo: Flickr/10b travelling, Libya.The military balance of Libya’s domestic conflict is raising debate about external intervention. But the strategy of the Gaddafi regime is also crucial to what happens next.

The conflict in Libya is taking on the character of a civil war as Muammar Gaddafi’s regime recovers from its earlier reversals and consolidates its forces. Its substantial support is concentrated mainly in western Libya, especially around the greater Tripoli area which has nearly one-third of the country’s 6 million population (see Alison Pargeter, "Libya: a hard road ahead", 8 March 2011).

  • Written by World and Media

Analysis: Redrawing the map of the Not Free World

2011 Freedom House map of Freedom in the World. Legend: Green = Free; Yellow = Partly Free; Purple = Not Free. Original: Wikimedia.Algeria, Libya, Iraq and Iran are all significant oil producers but they have something else in common with each other and also with Egypt: a special place in the 2011 Map of Freedom in the World.

The map from Freedom House shows a vast virtually unbroken belt of land that is "not free". It stretches from Angola in Southern Africa and Western Sahara and Mauritania in North West Africa all the way to Russia, China, North Korea and Vietnam.

There are five individual countries where successful reform could put a sizeable break in the East-West chain: Iraq and Egypt, which have lost veteran dictators in 2003 and 2011; Libya, which may follow; Algeria, which has just lifted a state of emergency ordered 19 years ago; and Iran, where three weeks of Tuesday protests are planned for March.

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