Welcome back to World Brief, where we’re looking at Turkey voting on Sweden’s NATO bid, Israeli military casualties in its fight against Hamas, and Iran’s execution of a 23-year-old anti-government protester.
Nearing the Finish Line
Turkey’s parliament approved Sweden’s NATO membership bid on Tuesday, clearing one of the last few hurdles left for Sweden to become an official member of the alliance. The measure passed with 287 votes for it to 55 against, with four abstentions. The ruling Justice and Development Party, main opposition Republican People’s Party, and Nationalist Movement Party all supported accession. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is now expected to ratify the decision within the coming days.
Sweden first applied for NATO membership alongside Finland in 2022 following the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, reversing a two-centuries-long policy of neutrality. The bloc approved Finnish membership last April, thereby doubling NATO’s border with Russia and strengthening its Baltic defenses.
But despite Stockholm and Helsinki initially promising to join NATO together, Turkish pressures delayed Swedish membership. Erdogan said he would not grant Sweden accession unless Stockholm cracked down on members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) living in Sweden. Turkey and several other foreign powers consider the PKK a terrorist organization. To appease Turkish demands, Stockholm passed an anti-terrorism bill in June 2023 that criminalizes being a member of a terrorist group, but Swedish freedom of speech laws prevent the government from stifling public support for Kurdish independence. Stockholm—alongside Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands—also carved a path forward last year toward relaxing policies restricting arms exports to Turkey.
Erdogan hinted that Swedish ratification was also linked to the United States approving the sale of 40 new F-16 fighter jets to Turkey to modernize the nation’s warplane fleet. During a trip to Istanbul this month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the White House is expected to finalize the sale once Turkey votes on Swedish NATO membership. However, some members of the U.S. Congress continue to oppose the deal due to Turkey’s flawed human rights record.
If Erdogan ratifies the vote, Hungary will become the last remaining holdout preventing Sweden from joining the 31-nation military alliance. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban invited Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson to Budapest on Tuesday for NATO negotiations. “Political and security cooperation needs unconditional trust,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said.
Today’s Most Read
What We’re Following
IDF military losses. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) suffered their deadliest day of the Israel-Hamas war on Monday when 24 soldiers were killed, an Israeli official announced on Tuesday. Twenty-one of the soldiers were killed when two buildings that the IDF had previously mined for demolition collapsed after militants targeted a nearby tank. Three others were killed in a separate attack. “In the name of our heroes, for the sake of our lives, we will not stop fighting until absolute victory,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. Nearly 220 Israeli soldiers have been killed since war broke out on Oct. 7. According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, more than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed in the past three months.
Monday also marked the IDF’s largest operation in the Gaza Strip in a month, with troops seizing expansive swaths of the southern city of Khan Younis, including two of its main hospitals. Netanyahu said that Monday’s IDF casualties and Israel’s assault on Khan Younis do not change his administration’s goals. Israel recently proposed a two-month cease-fire in exchange for Hamas releasing all remaining hostages. The militant group has yet to respond to the deal.
Death sentence. Iranian authorities hanged 23-year-old Mohammad Ghobadlou on Tuesday for “corruption on Earth” and murder related to his involvement in anti-government protests in September 2022. Ghobadlou was accused of killing a police officer with his car in response to Iran’s morality police killing 22-year-old Mahsa Amini for allegedly not wearing a headscarf properly. Amnesty International condemned the rulings on Friday as “grossly unfair sham trials, marred by torture-tainted ‘confessions’ and failure to order rigorous mental health assessments despite [Ghobadlou’s] mental disability.”
A group of 50 psychiatrists wrote a letter to the court asking the justices to allow a committee of mental health professionals to examine Ghobadlou before his sentencing. Ghobadlou was believed to have bipolar disorder and was reportedly not taking medication at the time of the incident, but judicial officials ignored the request. Tehran has executed at least eight people allegedly involved in the protests and arrested thousands more. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed during the initial wave of marches.
Tremors across China. A roughly 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck China’s Xinjiang province near the Kyrgyzstan border on Tuesday, killing at least three people and causing extensive damage to the region. Local officials suspended railway operations, and around 1,000 rescue workers were deployed to the area, worried that a winter cold front could worsen the quake’s death toll.
The natural disaster is just the latest in a series of environmental tragedies to rock the country in recent weeks. On Sunday, a major landslide in China’s southwestern Yunnan province killed at least 47 people. And last month, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake killed at least 127 people and injured hundreds more in the northern Gansu province.
Odds and Ends
For some people, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. That’s certainly the case for neighbors of Kathleen Murray, a resident of Tasmania, who secured the title of “World’s Ugliest Lawn” last week. Never watered and never mowed, critters from all walks of Australian life made Murray’s “hideous, yet heroic” backyard their “own private Disneyland.” The competition is designed to highlight the global water scarcity crisis in a glass-half-full manner. So, avoiding your yardwork maybe isn’t the worst thing after all.