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A leader for all Israelis? Yair Lapid takes over as caretaker prime minister

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A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.

Jerusalem (CNN)Yair Lapid is used to being in the spotlight.

The son of a prominent family, Lapid has dabbled in acting, screenwriting, music and even amateur boxing, before becoming best known to the Israeli public as a journalist-turned-politician.
Now Lapid will be entering his biggest spotlight yet — as Israel’s caretaker prime minister.
Lapid officially took over as caretaker prime minister on Friday after the country’s parliament, the Knesset, passed a bill to dissolve itself a day earlier.
He’s now preparing for elections, trying to keep former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from climbing back to power.
A media celebrity
Despite his brief acting foray, Lapid became a mainstay in Israelis’ living rooms through the news. After briefly working as a print journalist, he made his way on to television in the mid-1990s, hosting one of the biggest talk shows of the era.
But in 2012 Lapid changed course following in the footsteps of his journalist-turned politician father. He created a new political party, dubbed “Yesh Atid” (There is a Future) and positioned himself as the centrist voice of the middle-class Israeli, focusing on domestic issues. He promised to tackle housing costs, end exemptions from the military draft for the Ultra-Orthodox, and to legalize same-sex marriage.
“What unites all of (our supporters) is that they said yes for hope and yes for mutual responsibility and yes to the fact that the truth is not being held in any side,” Lapid said at the time.
A centrist for all
In his first campaign, Lapid tried to portray his party as one all Israelis could be part of, even unveiling his diplomatic platform from a settlement in the occupied West Bank. He supports an independent Palestinian state, but says East Jerusalem shouldn’t be its capital. He opposes new settlement construction but says large existing settlement blocs should always be a part of Israel.
“Yair Lapid is the quintessential product of Tel Aviv, of Israel’s main secular city, its main business and culture center, center of nightlife and so on,” Anshel Pfeffer, a correspondent for Haaretz and The Economist, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
“Many Israelis, including Israelis who were close to his centrist perhaps leaning leftward politics and views, including many of my colleagues in Israeli media, didn’t take him seriously. They thought he’s a performer, he’s a presenter, there’s no real substance there, this will be a passing phase.”
But Lapid’s party shocked the Israeli political establishment by winning 19 seats in the 2013 elections, second only to Netanyahu’s Likud party. Lapid was dubbed Israel’s new political star, and Time Magazine named him as one of 2013’s “100 Most Influential People.”
He joined then-Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as finance minister but was fired within less than two years and became one of the opposition’s top voices.
The most diverse coalition
In 2021 after four inconclusive elections in two years, it was Lapid who was the architect of the coalition that would ultimately oust Netanyahu and end his run as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Pulling together parties from across the political spectrum, from the far left to those on the right, and even including the first Arab party in to sit in a governing coalition — the new government held a one-seat majority.
But it came at a cost to Lapid’s own political ambitions. As part of the deal to bring the right-winger Naftali Bennett on board as prime minister, Lapid would only take over after two years.
“Lapid brought together this very unwieldy, almost unimaginable, unprecedented coalition of eight parties (and) managed to get them all to vote for Naftali Bennett as prime minister, managed to maintain them for an entire year, and above all for many Israelis he is now the only man in the last 12 years to beat Netanyahu — that by itself is a big achievement,” Pfeffer said.
Lapid was appointed foreign minister, where he traversed the globe meeting with world leaders and, notably, Israel’s new Arab-state allies. It was Lapid who hosted the historic Negev summit, where the top diplomatic representatives from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and the United States met in southern Israel for the first time in March 2022.
But ultimately it was the coalition’s ideological diversity that was also the source of its fragility. It lost its parliamentary majority when two members of Bennett’s own right-wing party defected. And when some left-leaning members refused to support a recurring bill that among other things, gives Israeli settlers in the West Bank the same civil rights as citizens in Israel, the coalition reached a political impasse.
In a shock move, Lapid and Bennett announced last week they would dissolve their own government and trigger new elections, making Lapid interim prime minister.
Standing together in a show of solidarity, Lapid told Bennett “I love you,” a moment of outward bromance that surprised many in the Israeli media.
Lapid will be the first non-right-wing prime minister of Israel in more than a decade. He now has four months to convince the public he should keep the job. Elections will be held on November 1.

The digest

Unilever sells Ben & Jerry’s Israel business after controversy
Unilever has sold its Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel for an undisclosed amount to American Quality Products (AQP), which distributes Ben & Jerry’s in the country, following the controversy related to its activities in Israel and the West Bank. Critics took the company to task for doing business in Israel — especially in West Bank settlements, considered illegal under international law — arguing it doesn’t align with Ben & Jerry’s liberal image. Ben & Jerry’s will now be sold under its Hebrew and Arabic names throughout Israel and the West Bank
Background: Unilever said Wednesday that it “has used the opportunity of the past year to listen to perspectives on this complex and sensitive matter and believes this is the best outcome for Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.” The ice cream company, however, tweeted that it doesn’t agree with Unilever’s announcement. “We continue to believe it is inconsistent with Ben & Jerry’s values for our ice cream to be sold in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” it tweeted, adding it will no longer profit from Ben & Jerry’s in Israel.
Why it matters: The sale ends a long saga that had angered ice cream fans on every side of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but it also highlights the challenges facing consumer brands doing business in the region.
Egyptian court sentences to death man accused of killing a 21-year-old student
A man accused of fatally stabbing a woman last week after she rejected his advances was sentenced to death by a state court in Egypt, according to state-run Al Ahram on Tuesday.
Background: The verdict, issued after two court sessions, will be deferred to Egypt’s top Islamic authority, the Grand Mufti — a formality in death penalty cases in the country, Al-Ahram said. The final verdict will be announced on July 6. The sentence can still be appealed in Egypt’s court of cassation, as per Egyptian law.
Why it matters: The killing of the woman, Naira Ashraf, in broad daylight was caught on film and left the Arab world in shock as activists called for justice and more protection for women.
Erdogan says Sweden has promised to extradite 73 people as part of NATO deal
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sweden promised to extradite 73 people to Turkey as a result of the memorandum that was signed at the NATO summit in Madrid between Sweden, Finland and Turkey. In signing the agreement, Turkey has agreed to support Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership bids, removing the last major hurdle to the two countries joining the alliance. “If the promise is not kept, we will do what is necessary in the agreement,” Erdogan said at a news conference on Thursday, adding that Turkey would not ratify the agreement.
Background: Turkey previously said it would veto Sweden and Finland’s NATO membership bids claiming they harbor members of Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which Turkey, the EU and the US recognize as a terror organization. The 10-article memorandum says Sweden and Finland will address Turkey’s pending extradition requests of terror suspects in accordance with the European Convention on Extradition.
Why it matters: Sweden and Finland formally ending decades of neutrality and joining NATO would be a historic breakthrough for the alliance, and deal a blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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An ancient tomb dating as far back as 2,400 years to the Roman era has been unearthed by archeologists in the Gaza Strip, showcasing the coastal enclave’s rich history.
Situated on the coast of northern Gaza, the tomb is a momentous find for the Palestinians living in the territory.
The tomb is part of a larger Roman cemetery that was discovered by accident earlier this year, said Jehad Abu Hassan, the Gaza Strip field coordinator for Premiere Urgence Internationale, a French NGO that is involved in helping to preserve Gaza’s heritage. “This is the first time a Roman cemetery has been found in Gaza.” The NGO has also supported work at another archeological site in central Gaza called Saint Hilarion.
It’s not uncommon for relics to be excavated in this region due to its historical geographic significance, which meant various civilizations moved through the area over the centuries.
The tomb is part of an ongoing archeological dig that has been in progress for months, where Abu Hassan says 40 graves have been found.
“It’s great that we protect and keep this rich heritage of Gaza for future generations,” he told CNN. “When we talk to children about their heritage they are very happy to see that people were coming from everywhere [to Gaza].”
The tombs stand out due to the social standing of those people they belonged to, according to a Palestinian official in Gaza.
“Some of the graves were decorated with elegant decorations,” said Mohammed Khalla, undersecretary for Gaza’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, speaking to Quds Press news agency. “Which indicates they belonged to figures who had a social and administrative status in Roman society at the time.”
The ministry said it is in the process of securing the necessary funding to preserve the site, according to Quds Press.
Interest in protecting the tomb arises from its location near the Anthedon (Blakhiyah) harbor, Gaza’s first port and a landmark that played a crucial role in connecting the territory to Europe thousands of years ago.
By Ghazi Nasser

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White House summoned Chinese ambassador to condemn provocations

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(CNN)The White House summoned China’s ambassador on Thursday to condemn China’s “irresponsible” military activities near Taiwan as tensions continue to escalate in the region following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to the island this week.

“After China’s actions overnight, we summoned PRC Ambassador Qin Gang to the White House to demarche him about the PRC’s provocative actions. We condemned the PRC’s military actions, which are irresponsible, at odds with our long-standing goal of maintaining peace and stability and across the Taiwan Strait,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said in a statement to CNN.
The decision to summon Qin came after days of warnings to China not to escalate tensions in the region following the speaker’s visit to the self-governing island, which the Chinese Communist Party regards as its territory despite having never controlled it. It represents a shift from the White House’s attitude about the trip before it occurred, when officials privately tried to warn Pelosi over the possible consequences of the visit and how it could harm US-China relations. The meeting was first reported by The Washington Post.
In the days since Pelosi left Taiwan, China has taken multiple bellicose steps, both diplomatically and militarily.
On the diplomatic front, Beijing is sanctioning Pelosi and her immediate family and said Friday it would suspend cooperation with Washington on several issues, including combating the climate crisis.
The pause in climate talks between the US and China is symbolically significant for the two nations’ bilateral relationship because the climate crisis was one of the few areas the US and China had continued to cooperate on in recent years, even during times of heightened geopolitical tensions.
The US and China announced in Glasgow last year a bilateral agreement to cooperate on the climate crisis, widely seen as a progressive step that would allow China to work on key issues — like reducing methane emissions — without having to join global agreements that it had shown resistance to. The nations’ climate representatives had been in regular communication to build on that agreement.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said Chinese warships and aircraft conducted drills in waters around the island and that Chinese forces crossed the median line — the halfway point between the island and mainland China — in a move the ministry called a “highly provocative act.”
Two Chinese drones also flew close to Japan on Thursday, prompting the country’s Air Self-Defense Force to scramble fighter jets in response, according to a statement from Tokyo’s Ministry of Defense.
Kirby said the White House told Qin the US does not want a crisis in the region and reiterated there has been no change to the US’ “One China” policy and that Washington recognizes the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China.
“We also made clear that the United States is prepared for what Beijing chooses to do. We will not seek and do not want a crisis. At the same time, we will not be deterred from operating in the seas and skies of the Western Pacific, consistent with international law, as we have for decades — supporting Taiwan and defending a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Kirby said in the statement.
NSC Coordinator for Indo Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell met with Qin, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Friday that the US has repeatedly conveyed to China that “we do not seek and will not provoke a crisis.” He called China’s recent actions “provocative” and “a significant escalation.”
The speaker’s visit, he said, was “peaceful” and “there is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response.”
Pelosi, a California Democrat, said the visit — the first time a US House speaker had visited Taiwan in 25 years — was intended to make it “unequivocally clear” that the United States would “not abandon” Taipei.
It came at a low point in US-China relations and despite warnings from the Biden administration against a visit to the democratically governed island.
The US maintains close unofficial ties with Taiwan, and is bound by law to provide Taiwan with defensive arms. But it remains deliberately vague on whether it would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion, a policy known as “strategic ambiguity.”
The US postponed a long planned missile test because of China’s angry reaction to Pelosi’s trip. A US official told CNN that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin directed the Department of Defense to postpone the test flight of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile after China launched military exercises.
A top official at the Chinese embassy in Washington said Friday that Qin “totally rejected the so-called condemnation” by the White House of China’s cross-strait military actions when he was summoned.
“The only way out of this crisis is that the US side must take matters immediately to rectify its mistakes and eliminate the grave impact of Pelosi’s visit,” Minister Jing Quan said during a virtual briefing.
Jing reiterated that China views Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan as “a serious violation of the One China policy.” He said that they view the trip by the lawmaker as an official US government visit, noting that Pelosi flew on a US government plane. Using a government plane is standard for congressional delegations, especially for the House speaker who is high in the line of presidential succession.
He argued Pelosi “knows where China’s red lines are” but said she “still chose to deliberately provoke and challenge China’s position.”
This story has been updated with additional information.

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Turkey’s leader has unfinished business in Syria. What is he waiting for?

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A version of this story first appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories. Sign up here.

Abu Dhabi, UAE (CNN)Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to launch yet another military incursion into northeast Syria.

Pledged almost two months ago yet awaiting what analysts say is probably a green light from Moscow, the operation raises questions about Turkey’s ultimate plans for Syria.
Erdogan says he wants to initiate his fourth operation in the country’s north since 2016, targeting a zone which includes the two key towns of Manbij and Tel Rifaat. The goal, according to the President, is to rid the area of fighters allied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group that Turkey deems terrorist.
“We are going into the new phase of our determination to form a 30-km (20-mile) deep safe zone along our southern border,” Erdogan told lawmakers from his ruling AK Party in June. “We will clear Tal Rifaat and Manbij of terrorists, and we will do the same to other regions step-by-step.”
After a trilateral meeting between Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran yielded no evident developments last week, it seems that Turkey is still in talks with Moscow, hoping for Putin’s blessing to put more boots on the ground.
The Kremlin has thus far opposed the operation, saying it would not contribute to Syria’s stability and security.
Another attempt is expected next month in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, where the Russian independent news agency Interfax reported Putin and Erdogan will be meeting.
“Erdogan has been saying he would like to [launch] another cross-border [operation] into Syria and it’s clear he wants to do this before the Turkish elections,” said Asli Aydintasbas, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“But, as in the past cross border incursions, Turkey really needs a green light from Putin to do this,” Aydintasbas told CNN.
Erdogan’s announcement in May came amid negotiations with the West over Sweden and Finland’s accession to NATO, two Nordic countries which Turkey accused of harboring individuals with links to the PKK.
While Turkey in June dropped its objections to membership for the Nordic states, it has recently renewed its threats, warning that it could veto their accession at any point if they do not comply with agreements ending support for the PKK and its affiliates.
The PKK today remains Turkey’s primary concern in Syria, and the main reason why it has continued to militarily cross into the Levantine state’s territory.
Designated as terrorists by Turkey, the US and the EU, the PKK have been embroiled in a long-running conflict with Turkey on each side of the border. In its decades of tension with the Kurdish fighters, Turkey has already launched three military operations against the PKK in Syria’s north, the latest of which was in 2019.
The aim has always been the same: to create a 30-kilometer deep, PKK-free “safe zone” in Syria that would allow more than two million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return home.
Turkey says that its grand plan for the safe zone is not yet complete, and it is concerned about a “terrorism corridor” left after their previous operations, said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and chairman of Istanbul-based think-tank EDAM.
The targeted towns of Manbij and Tel Rifaat are technically under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), analysts say.
The SDF is backed by Washington. But its backbone is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey considers a wing of the PKK.
“Ankara sees no difference between the SDF and the PKK,” said Ulgen.
Washington has already warned Turkey against another incursion, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that “any escalation in northern Syria is something that we would oppose.”
Analysts say that Erdogan does take the US view into account, and that the Biden administration may take material action against Turkey in retaliation.
“US criticism matters — especially since it can spill over into other issues like congressional approval of F-16s,” said Aydintasbas.
Ankara in October requested to buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp-made F-16 fighter jets from the US, as well as other military equipment. The deal is awaiting approval from the US Congress, which remains bitter over Turkey’s previous purchase of Russian missile systems — a move that triggered US sanctions.
The complex web of control in Ankara’s latest area of interest underscores the many agreements that will need to be settled between world powers before Turkey starts rolling more tanks on the ground.
Erdogan has in the past sought approval from Moscow to enter Syria. Russia essentially controls Syrian airspace and can make a Turkish incursion much more costly if it wants to, analysts say.
To a certain degree, an Iranian green light for a Turkish operation would also reduce risks for Erdogan. Yet Iran has thus far opposed the plan, saying it would be detrimental to both Turkey and Syria.
“They can raise the costs of such an operation,” said Rich Outzen, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC and a former US military officer and State Department official.
But the playing field differs today. Russia is heavily occupied with a bloody war in Ukraine and Turkey has emerged as a key mediator in the conflict.
With Turkish presidential elections due in a year, some argue that Erdogan is losing popularity as inflation skyrockets and the economy overheats.
“In electoral terms, there is gain to be had from nationalist and other constituencies who want to see refugees return to Syria, PKK damaged, and the perceived U.S. project in Syria undercut,” said Outzen.
Yet the political benefit might be minimal, notes Aydintasbas, as most Turks now are fixated on the country’s economic woes.
“It may boost Erdogan’s standing by a couple of points, but that will likely be temporary,” she said. “With high inflation, this is not going to seal in the elections for Erdogan.”
While analysts see the incursion as taking place either sooner or later, there is skepticism about the practicality of Erdogan’s aims in northeastern Syria.
“There is no clear-cut exit strategy,” said Ulgen, adding that he believes the incursion is imminent as, at this point in time, no party can guarantee Turkey’s demands for a PKK-free border zone.
“On the long run, that will need to be the Syrian government,” he said. “But we are not there yet.”

The digest

Iraqi protesters break into Baghdad’s Green Zone, denouncing the nomination of new premier
Hundreds of protesters loyal to populist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr broke into the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad on Wednesday, denouncing the nomination of Mohammed Shiya al-Sudani for the position of Prime Minister.
Background: Al-Sudani was formally nominated Monday by the Coordination Framework, the largest Shiite alliance in the Iraqi parliament, after nine months of political deadlock following an October parliamentary election, which has so far hampered the formation of a government. Iraqi security forces used teargas and watercannons to disperse the protesters in an attempt to push them out of the Green Zone’s perimeter. Sadr called on his supporters at the Parliament building inside the Green Zone to return to their homes. “Your message has been received. You have terrified the corrupt. Pray, and return home safely,” he tweeted.
Why it matters: Iraq is living its longest post-election deadlock, with Wednesday’s protests signaling possible further delays. While Sadr no longer has a parliamentary bloc after its resignation in June, his greatest influence lies in his ability to mobilize supporters on the streets. Analysts say that the kingmaker of Iraqi politics is capable of thwarting the nomination of al-Sudani as Prime Minister.
Joint Coordination Center opens in Istanbul to “provide safe transportation” of Ukrainian grain
The goal of the newly opened Joint Coordination Center is to “provide safe transportation” of Ukrainian grain, according to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar. He also gave more information about how the center will function, adding that Russia, Ukraine, the United Nations and Turkey will each send five representatives, who will be a mix of civilian and military.
Background: The Joint Coordination Center, which will oversee the export of Ukrainian grain, was opened in Istanbul on Wednesday. That was after a deal inked Friday between Ukraine and Russia promised grain ships safe navigation through corridors in the Black Sea, and passage through the Bosphorus strait — an important shipping corridor in north-west Turkey — in order to reach global markets.
Why it matters: Russia has so far been blocking maritime access to important ports in Ukraine, meaning many Ukrainian exports, such as grain and fertilizers, could not be shipped to countries that rely on them. The coordination center is one of the key creations of the grain deal agreed with Russia and Ukraine under the auspices of the UN and Turkey, and in the words of Akar, will make significant contributions to overcoming the food crisis affecting the whole world, especially by lowering prices.
Macron hosts Saudi crown prince in Paris
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Paris, where an Elys?e spokesperson told journalists that Macron will bring up the issue of human rights with the Saudi de facto ruler.
Background: The Saudi crown prince’s visit to Europe — including a stop in Greece — is the first since the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. A consortium of NGOs headed by DAWN (Democracy for the Arab World Now), a group founded by Khashoggi before his disappearance, filed a criminal complaint against bin Salman with a Paris court on Thursday morning. The Elys?e spokesperson said the complaint “had been noted,” but would “have no direct impact on the meeting,” pointing to the personal immunity that heads of state benefit from during these visits.
Why it matters: The crown prince’s visit comes amid Western efforts to tighten relations with the oil-producing country amid shortages following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Macron has repeatedly called on oil producers to ramp up output to “exceptional” volumes.

What to watch

In a moment of national pride, Lebanon knocked out China for the first time ever and made its way to the finals of the FIBA Asia Cup, which takes place every four years. The win provides a glimmer of hope in otherwise desperate times for the Levantine country.
“We come from a broken country, so we just want to make our people happy,” Lebanon’s team captain Wael Arakji told CNN’s Becky Anderson.
Watch the full report here:

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We may soon be learning a lot more about the practices of ancient human settlements in the Gulf.
A group of Saudi and French archaeologists, in conjunction with the Saudi Heritage Commission, have discovered the remains of settlements dating back to the Stone Age in the Al-Faw Archaeological Area.
The findings included the remains of a stone temple and part of an altar, Neolithic human settlements and nearly 3,000 graves. Archaeologists also found the foundations of four larger monuments and rock engravings addressing deities of the ancient Al-Faw people.
The archaeological team used state-of-the-art technology, such as laser scanning and drones, according to the National.
The Al-Faw Archaeological Area in southern Riyadh is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and these inscriptions could shed new light on the religious practices of the nomadic and semi-nomadic people that occupied bustling ancient caravan cities. Those tribes traded myrrh and frankincense around Arabia, Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean, according to UNESCO.
Preserved for hundreds of years by the harsh desert climate, there are a number of prominent ancient UNESCO sites in Saudi Arabia. For example, rock art in the Ha’il region depicts human life 10,000 years ago, while the Hegra Archaeological Site is home to well-preserved tombs dating back to the first century BC.
Discoveries happen regularly and just in January, archaeologists discovered a 4,500-year-old highway network in Saudi Arabia lined with well-preserved ancient tombs.
By Eoin McSweeney

Time capsule

Today marks ten years since the Zaatari Refugee Camp first opened.
Sitting by Jordan’s northern border with Syria, the Zaatari Refugee came to life in 2012. Its goal was to host Syrians fleeing conflict in their country.
Over the years the camp turned into a semblance of a functioning city, with caravan houses, electricity, jobs, and even schools.
Today it hosts almost 80,000 refugees, mostly Syrians, according to the UNHCR.
While Zaatari has changed a lot over the years, residents say it is still far from being a home.
One resident, Rana Muhammad Al-Barghash arrived in the camp when she was barely one year old. Now 11, the camp is all she knows.
Rana told CNN that she dreams of becoming a doctor one day. Her mother, Amal, said that one of the hardest things about living in the camp is watching her kids grow up with “no guarantee of a future.”
By Elizabeth Wells and Mohammed Abdelbary

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Rise in gasoline prices threatens social stability and food security in Latin America

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Bogota, Colombia (CNN)South American countries are bracing for an autumn of discontent, as spiking global fuel prices threaten to provoke more protests in the upcoming months.

Rising fuel prices have already brought about protests in Argentina, Ecuador and Panama. Their neighbors could be particularly susceptible to rising prices at the pump, because the region lacks alternative means of transportation, such as railways and waterways that are more common in Europe and North America — and guzzle less fuel.
“The price of fuel is an anchor for the entire economy: if fuel increases, it has a direct impact on all sorts of prices,” says Sergio Guzman, director of Colombia’s Risk Analysis, a business consultancy in Bogota.
Exacerbating the issue, some sectors in the region are requiring greater amounts of fuel than ever before — paradoxically, to compensate for the effects of climate change.
In Ecuador, where bananas are the leading agricultural export, diesel pumps move water in and out of banana plantations — a necessity that has been more urgent as increasingly intense rainfalls hit the country, say analysts.
According to Raul Villacres of Pulso Bananero, a banana-trade consultancy in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s banana production is down 7% compared to last year, in part due to rising costs of diesel and gasoline.
A similar situation is affecting the fishing industry in Colombia, where residents enjoy some of the cheapest fuel prices in the world. Still, when the Energy and Mining Ministry published new regulated prices at the beginning of July, it sent shockwaves across the country.
Twice a week, fisherman Jimmy Murillo leaves shore from the port city of Buenaventura, on Colombia’s Pacific coast. He spends on average two or three days at sea before coming back with his catch, but lately the trips have grown longer, as fish stocks have reduced and the fishermen head further offshore to find better prey.
Ironically, one of the reasons why fishing catches have decreased is climate change, and fishermen like Murillo must use more fuel to mitigate its impact. One of the reasons, Murillo told CNN, is that as rainfalls patterns change and more torrential rains hit the Colombia, rivers and streams arrive at the ocean carrying more sand and soil in their waters, and because of that most of the fish migrate further off shore, where the water is clearer, and cooler.
“In January, fuel for our boats cost 8,000 pesos ($1.96) per gallons, now it’s over 9,800 pesos ($2.70). Every week, it grows a little more, and the government does not help,” Murillo told CNN.
Nicole Mu?oz of Albacora, a small-scale, sustainable fishing operation in Bogota that moves around 400 kilograms of fish from the Colombian coast to the capital every week, also says gasoline is key to her entire business model.
“We use fuel for fishing boats, to move the produce from shore to airports, then in planes, our whole logistics depend on it,” Mu?oz told CNN.
While fish prices have not increased as much as other food sectors in Colombia, like beef and poultry products, Mu?oz believes prices will start growing as the impact of pricier fuel is felt.
In April, the World Bank reviewed its growth prediction for Latin America and the Caribbean to 2.3% this year, shredding 0.4 percentage points due to the impact of the war in Ukraine and the global rise in world’s prices. At the same time, the Bank estimated Latin American countries have lost the equivalent of 1.7% of their GDP due to climate related disaster over the last twenty years, and expects Latin America’s agriculture to be on the line of fire as the planet grows warmer.
As daily life grows more expensive, could the popular anger seen in Panama, Ecuador and Argentina spread to Colombia and other countries in the region?
“It’s really not a question of if, but of when,” says Guzman of Colombia’s Risk Analysis.
He argues that regional governments won’t be able to spend enough to mitigate the rising cost of living and pacify their populations. “As pockets tightens, people will be losing their patience, not because of anything the governments do, but because these countries don’t have the capacity to increase social spending.”
Ecuador’s President Guillermo Lasso, for example, has been forced by protests to cap the price of gasoline at $2.40 per gallon — a decision that will cost the country an additional three billion dollars by the end of the year, according to finance minister Simon Cueva.
In Argentina, where the country’s finance minister has been forced to step down over extreme inflation, one Buenos Aires food delivery worker told CNN the year had so far proven more rancorous than the early years of the pandemic.
“Everybody complains,” Federico Mansilia, a father of two, told CNN. “Those who get social support because they say it’s not enough, and those who don’t get it because they want social support. At least in the pandemic, government and opposition worked together, now polarization and bitterness is growing again.”
The sole hope for a moment of national unity, Mansilia says, is for Argentina to win the Football World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year.
“That will really bring the country together. If we win, everybody will be happy, no inflation or gasoline price to bother us. But right now, things are pretty miserable.”

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