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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
October 23, 2012

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: Emir of Qatar Begins Historic Gaza Visit

Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the emir of Qatar, entered the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in a landmark trip that makes him the first head of state (Guardian) to visit the Palestinian territory since the Islamist militant group Hamas seized control of the coastal strip five years ago. Al Thani's trip is billed as a humanitarian visit inaugurating $250 million worth of reconstruction projects to build homes in the south of the strip. However, the move drew fire from Israel, whose foreign ministry spokesman said it was "astounding" that Qatar was taking sides, noting that the emir has never "dignified" (Reuters) the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, with a visit. Hamas took control of Gaza from Abbas' Fatah forces in 2007, and is considered a terrorist group by the West.


"Long-time observers believe recent tensions with Syria and Iran are part of a broader shift. Hamas leaders, they argue, have come to recognize that the group's traditional patrons will emerge weakened from the Arab spring, if they survive. The group is therefore working hard, and with considerable success, to improve ties with rising regional powers such as Turkey and Qatar. Officials have also been careful to cultivate ties with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, attempting to align themselves more closely with the Islamist group that was the inspiration for the founders of Hamas," writes Tobias Buck for the Financial Times.

"Hamas will be unable to act against Israel in a way which will put Egypt's government, headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, in a place where it will have to choose between supporting terror and maintaining its stance as a state acting for a secure region (as well as its relations with the West). Egypt's role may be about to change. Unlike Mubarak who did not hesitate to cooperate in imposing sanctions on Gaza, Morsi will not want to be in a position he is forced to maintain Mubarak's policy regarding Gaza," writes Zvi Bar'el for Haaretz.

"History may credit Mr. Abbas with reigning over the more virtuous phase of this cycle, but he has likely laid the groundwork for the uglier one. Hamas, meanwhile, has already moved on. 'Israelis had a golden opportunity to sign an agreement with Abbas,' Hamas's health minister, Basem Naim, told me in Gaza last November. 'But the chance has already passed. They will not get it again,'" writes Nathan Thrall for the New York Times.



China Reshuffles Military Leaders

Ahead of its broader leadership transition on November 8, China appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff General Ma Xiaotian as commander of the air force and promoted General Zhang Yang from political commissar of the Guangzhou Military Region to director of the General Political Department. Zhang's promotion signaled the end of career hopes (FT) for some high-profile officers with close ties to the ousted Bo Xilai.

AUSTRALIA: Australia Opposition leader Tony Abbott revived a sexism row after suggesting Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who is childless, cut parental payments because she lacked experience in raising children (Telegraph).



Myanmar's Muslims and Buddhists Clash

Fresh clashes broke out between Muslims and Buddhists in western Myanmar, killing at least three (BangkokPost) on Tuesday. The religious unrest, which erupted Sunday night, is some of the worst reported since skirmishes in the region in June displaced tens of thousands.

AFGHANISTAN: The UK will double the number of armed drones (Guardian) flying combat and surveillance operations in Afghanistan, where they will likely begin operations within six weeks.

This CFR Backgrounder outlines the role of targeted killings in U.S. counterterrorism efforts.



Anti-Shiite Attacks Kills at Least Eight in Baghdad

A car bomb and mortar attacks against predominantly Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad killed at least eight people Tuesday (AFP), days after deadly violence targeted another mostly-Shiite district in the north of the capital.

Former CFR fellow Ned Parker discusses Iraq's precarious future in this interview.



Shelling Resumes in Sudan

Sudanese rebels shelled the capital of oil-producing South Kordofan state (MEO) on Tuesday in the latest attack on the border area, where rebels hit a UN compound last month. Sudan's army has been fighting SPLM-North rebels in the state since June of last year, shortly before South Sudan seceded from Sudan.

Alex de Waal discusses oil diplomacy in the Sudans in this CFR Interview.

MALI: Hundreds of additional Islamist fighters have deployed (VOA) in northern Mali as neighboring countries make plans to send troops to the country, following a UN Security Council resolution calling for a Mali force that could oust Islamist militants seizing control of the north.



Russian Opposition Forms Shadow Government

Russia's opposition announced voting outcomes for a shadow government that aims to unite its disparate voices (GlobalPost). More than 100,000 supporters voted for a forty-five-member "coordination council" that includes anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, chessmaster Garry Kasparov, and other prominent opposition leaders.

KOSOVO: Police in Kosovo clashed with opposition activists demonstrating against a new push by the European Union to improve the country's ties with Serbia (AlJazeera).



U.S.-Panama Free Trade Pact to Go Into Effect

A free trade agreement with Panama that reduces or eliminates tariffs (MiamiHerald) on U.S. exports and provides access to the Central American country's services industry will go into effect October 31. More than 86 percent of U.S. consumer and industrial exports will enter Panama duty-free.

COLOMBIA: Colombia's Vice President Angelino Garzon resigned after announcing he has prostate cancer (ColombiaReports), just two weeks after President Juan Manuel Santos underwent surgery to remove a cancerous prostate tumor.



Obama, Romney Agree Often in Foreign Policy Debate

President Obama and GOP nominee Mitt Romney debated foreign policy last night, agreeing with each other on several major issues (NPR) like the use of drones in Pakistan and how to deal with the conflict in Syria.

Read the full transcript of the debate here.

President Obama also said during the debate that sequestration "will not happen" (WSJ), in reply to Romney's criticism of the cuts to the defense budget that would occur if the fiscal cliff is not avoided.



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