Beirut’s trash crisis worsened this week after a winter storm washed heaps of garbage onto Zouq Mosbeh beach, a normally pristine strip of sand north of the city. Powerful waves pushed cattle bones, tires, and plastic waste up to 100 feet inland following the collapse of retaining walls at a coastal dump. Waste management in Lebanon is notoriously corrupt and shoddy. Trash stopped being collected in Beirut in 2015 and the problem has still not been resolved. The government has been allowing garbage to be used to fill in land along the coast, creating new areas for real estate development. “We said it was not possible to keep dumping in the water,” said activist Paul Abi Rached. “We knew we were going to get here.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed the world’s first “minister of loneliness” to combat an epidemic of isolation. The new minister, Tracey Crouch, said she would build on the legacy of Jo Cox, a lawmaker who was murdered by a white supremacist in northern England in 2016. A commission set up by Cox before her death found that 9 million adults—about 14 percent of the U.K. population—reported being “often or always lonely,” while 3.6 million people ages 65 and older said television was their only company. Crouch said she would look into spending cuts by May’s government that had resulted in the closure of libraries and day-care centers. Research has shown that loneliness can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Ordinary Russians have rushed to the defense of a group of air cadets who were threatened with punishment for making a viral homoerotic spoof music video. The YouTube hit shows male students at the Ulyanovsk Institute of Civil Aviation dancing and gyrating through their dorm to DJ Benny Benassi’s club hit “Satisfaction”—while wearing only their underwear and cadet caps. When the video became an internet sensation, officials threatened the boys with expulsion and state TV said they could be prosecuted under anti-gay laws. But Russians rallied to support the cadets, with nurses, athletes, firefighters, and even senior citizens recording and uploading their own versions of the video. Officials soon backtracked, and the institute’s rector said it was unlikely anyone would be expelled.
Pence and Netanyahu
Vice President Mike Pence defended the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital while visiting the Middle East this week, and said the U.S. could move its embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city as soon as next year. Christian Arab leaders in the three countries Pence visited—Egypt, Jordan, and Israel—refused to meet with Pence, in protest over the Jerusalem decision. Palestinian leaders, who believe East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state, also boycotted the vice president. But Pence doubled down on the policy shift during meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and in an address to Israel’s Knesset, where he spoke of the historic Jewish connection to Jerusalem. “The United States,” he said, “has chosen fact over fiction.” Arab-Israeli lawmakers protested the speech and were forcibly ejected from the legislature.
Eastern Ghouta, Syria
Russia “bears responsibility” for suspected chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian regime, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said this week. His comments came a day after forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allegedly hit the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta with chlorine gas, injuring more than 20 people, most of them children. It was the fourth suspected chlorine gas attack in three weeks. Tillerson said that whoever conducted the attacks, Moscow was responsible because it supplies Assad with money, weapons, aircraft, and troops. Russia’s failure to rid Syria of chemical weapons violates its 2013 agreement with the U.S., Tillerson added. Russia has repeatedly vetoed U.N. efforts to investigate chemical attacks in Syria.
Four Americans were killed this week in a 13-hour Taliban attack on Kabul’s leading hotel, U.S. officials said. Six militants burst into the heavily guarded, government-owned Intercontinental in the evening, taking hostages, shooting people at random, and setting off explosives and fires in multiple rooms. Afghan police responded with helicopters and elite forces to evacuate some 150 people, and by the following morning the attackers were dead, along with at least 22 others, including 14 foreign guests. One survivor, Greek pilot Vassilis Vassiliou, said he hid under his mattress for hours as attackers shot at police from his balcony. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack; the Afghan government said it was the work of the Haqqani network, a Taliban affiliate based in Pakistan.
Mount Mayon, Philippines
More than 74,000 people fled their homes in the Philippines this week as a volcano spewed lava 3,000 feet into the air and as far as 2 miles from its center. Authorities said Mount Mayon could continue erupting for up to four months, forcing towns and villages to relocate schools and hospitals. Disaster officials recommended that electricity and water be cut off in the affected zone to discourage people from returning to check on their homes. “If pyroclastic flows”—superheated gas and volcanic debris—“hit people, there is no chance for life,” said provincial disaster official Cedric Daep.
ISIS hits back
A series of bombings in and around Baghdad have shaken residents of the Iraqi capital, who had hoped terrorist attacks would decline following the destruction of ISIS’ self-declared caliphate. Two suicide bombers killed at least 27 people and injured scores more last week when they blew themselves up at an open-air market in the city. ISIS claimed responsibility. Two days earlier, a suicide bomber had killed at least eight people at a police checkpoint in a northern Baghdad neighborhood. The Iraqi government declared victory over the Islamist group last month, but it still has an estimated 3,000 active fighters in Iraq and Syria, and some 7,000 more supporters. “There is a big difference between defeating them militarily on the battlefield,” said terrorism analyst Daniel Glaser, “and eliminating ISIS as a terrorist organization.” ■