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Forecast: Israel launches military operation in Rafah, South Sudan peace talks begin, and Singapore’s prime minister steps down

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Welcome to Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories from the editors at Factal.

We publish our forward-looking note each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead.

Israel’s military began an operation this week in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah after more than 200 days of war with Hamas. In this week’s Factal Forecast podcast, Senior Editor Jimmy Lovaas and Editor Agnese Boffano discuss international reactions to the move and the precarious position now facing the more than one million Palestinians there. 

Listen now or download on your favorite platform. 

Week of May 10-17
A Look Ahead

May 10 – Nairobi to host South Sudan peace talks  

Peace talks between South Sudan’s transitional government and opposition groups will begin in Nairobi on Friday

What’s happened so far 
Kenya’s mediation will be led by former army commander Lazurus Sumbeiywo, who successfully mediated the 2005 Sudan Comprehensive Agreement that eventually led to South Sudan’s 2011 independence. The opposition groups, which had held out on signing the 2018 peace agreement aimed at ending a civil war, have agreed to join the negotiation table following a series of behind-the-scenes consultations.

The impact 
Violence in South Sudan has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and the internal displacement of over 2 million people over the past decade. Previous peace talks, including the 2023 ones in Rome, came up short and some see the agreement by holdout groups to join the Kenya-led negotiations as a positive first step in the peace process of a region embattled in conflict for over a decade.

May 10 – Deadline to remove destroyed cargo ship from Baltimore Harbor  

Officials in charge of reopening Baltimore Harbour following the March collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge said the ship responsible for the accident should be removed by Friday.

What’s happened so far 
Singaporean cargo ship MV Dali lost power in the early morning of March 26, causing the vessel to slam into a support column of the bridge, killing six maintenance workers and no motorists. With rubble blocking full access to the Port of Baltimore, economic losses have been estimated at roughly $15 million a day. Three temporary shipping lanes were reopened in the end of April, restoring roughly 15 percent of pre-accident traffic.

The impact
A unified command agency created for the bridge incident said they must use explosives to remove a bridge truss from on top of the Dali before the ship can be refloated. When the ship is removed, officials said they will be able to clear a 700-foot wide and 50-foot deep channel by the end of the month. The Port of Baltimore ranked as America’s ninth busiest in terms of total volume prior to the collapse and accounts for 20 percent of all American coal exports. Construction on the replacement bridge is expected to conclude in the fall of 2028 and cost at least $1.7 billion of federal government funds.

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May 11 – Eurovision protests  

The 68th Eurovision song competition will conclude on Saturday with protests widely expected.

What’s happened so far 
Eurovision holds its opening two rounds on Tuesday and Thursday before concluding over the weekend. Widespread protests over the involvement of an Israeli singer in the competition are expected, and host city Malmo, Sweden, has heavily bolstered security and policing in the runup to the contest.

The impact 
Israel has already issued a travel warning to its citizens going to Malmo over the threat of Israelis being targeted by crowds. The protest, meanwhile, is expected to draw more than 20,000 attendees. Protests have become commonplace in Sweden in recent years, spurned on in part by a spate of Quran burnings that have bled over into the international political sphere and in part helped trigger Sweden’s decision to raise its terror threat level

May 12 – Catalan regional election

Voters in Spain’s Catalonia region will elect a new regional parliament on Sunday.

What’s happened so far 
Outgoing Catalan President Pere Aragonés, from pro-independence party Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC) called early elections in March after the parliament failed to pass the 2024 budget by one vote. According to the latest surveys, former health minister and candidate of the regional branch of Spain’s governing socialist party, Salvador Illa, is leading the polls, followed by pro-independence parties Junts per Catalunya (JxC) and ERC. Far-right party Vox and pro-Catalan independence party Aliança Catalana could win 14 seats. 

The impact 
Despite all surveys projecting Illa’s PSC victory on Sunday, the formation of a new regional government will likely be subjected to negotiations with Catalan independence parties ERC and Carles Puigdemont’s JxC. PSC is expected to surpass the votes obtained in the last regional elections of 2021 amid higher approval rates among Catalan voters of PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez government and his amnesty law that seeks to pardon people condemned over the 2019 illegal independence referendum in Catalonia (members’ link).

May 13 – UAW 4811 strike vote following protest crackdown  

Members of the union representing University of California academic student employees and graduate students and researchers will begin voting Monday on whether to authorize a strike in the wake of police action against multiple pro-Palestinian campus protest sites.  

What’s happened so far 
The union filed unfair labor practice charges against the UC system over the use of force by police against its members after more than 200 arrests were made in the early morning hours of May 2 as officers cleared a campus encampment at UCLA. Union members were also taken into custody at UC San Diego earlier this week as a “Gaza Solidarity” encampment was taken down. In addition to amnesty for protesters that have been arrested or faced disciplinary action for their role in demonstrations, the union has called for free speech protections on campuses and divestment from weapons manufacturers, military contractors and “companies profiting” from the war in Gaza.

The impact 
A spokesperson for the UC Office of the President told the Daily Bruin that a strike would “maximize disruption, interfere with end-of-year activities and create more uncertainty for our students and communities.” 

May 15 – Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to step down  

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will step aside Wednesday after almost 20 years in power

What’s happened so far 
Lee has named Lawrence Wong, his current deputy and finance minister, as his successor and asked Singaporeans to “rally behind” Wong and his team. Wong was praised for his work as co-head of the government’s coronavirus task force during the pandemic, employing strict restrictions to contain infection rate while also keeping the country’s economy afloat. While Wong’s succession doesn’t come as a surprise to many, as he was named “heir apparent” back in 2022, the timing has led some to wonder if there will be an early general election later this year.

The impact 
The transition is seen as a significant moment as it not only brings an end to the Lee family rule in Singapore for over half a century, but also marks only the third change of leadership in the country’s history since its independence in 1965. All eyes are now on Wong to navigate the country’s delicate geopolitical position amid rising U.S.-China tensions, maintain its competitiveness as Asia’s crucial financial hub, and secure domestic support for the long-ruling People’s Action Party.

What Else Matters

Two camouflaged tanks with an Israeli flag display, staged on pavement against a backdrop of palm trees and a clear blue sky.
Israeli forces operate in the eastern neighborhoods of Rafah in southern Gaza on May 7. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Israeli military operation in Rafah 

The armed wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam Brigades, fired multiple rockets from the southern Gaza Strip toward Karem Shalom in southern Israel on Sunday, killing four soldiers and injuring several others. Israel subsequently closed the key neighboring border crossing with the Gaza Strip and issued, the following day, an evacuation order for approximately 100,000 people in eastern Rafah. Following a night of heavy air bombardment in the city housing up to 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, the Israeli military claimed to have obtained “full operational control” of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in what marked the beginning of the much anticipated military invasion of Rafah.

Watch for: Despite Israeli claims that the evacuation orders are issued to “protect” the civilian population from its military goal of “eliminating” Hamas in the southern city, international actors and countries including the United States have condemned the offensive due to the humanitarian catastrophe already unfolding in the city that had been previously deemed “safe” for Palestinians. The passage of aid trucks and exit of refugees from Gaza has been halted following the Israeli takeover of the Palestinian side of the Rafah, and it remains unclear whether Israel is planning on consolidating control of the border if and when it does reopen. Although ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas are continuing in Cairo, analysts suggest that the current Israeli army offensive in Rafah is the beginning of a much larger military campaign in the southern city.

Brazil flooding

On April 27, a cold front began to pass over southern Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina regions, which led to days of heavy rain and flooding. More than 400 of the almost 500 towns and cities in Rio Grande do Sul alone have experienced flooding and currently the death toll stands at 95 people, with one other dead in Santa Catarina and hundreds more injured. Another 132 people are still missing, and police reinforcements are also being sent to large population areas. Structural damage has been widespread, with officials estimating more than 100,000 homes damaged or destroyed and financial losses of around 4.6 billion Brazilian reais ($900 million), with large amounts of emergency aid, both financially and materially, being sent to the region.

Watch for: Heavy rains are expected to continue in Rio Grande do Sul, reaching record levels of precipitation by mid-May not seen in over three decades. This will exacerbate power and internet outages that communities across major cities such as Porto Alegre are already experiencing, as well as contribute to damage, looting and robberiesSeveral dams along the Uruguay, Taquari and Das Antas rivers are at risk of collapsing, and higher levels of rain could push the water over the edge, with one dam already partially collapsing near Cotiporã. 

Extended Outlook

What’s on our radar in the coming weeks…

May 10-17 

May 10

  • Nairobi to host South Sudan peace talks
  • Ship should be removed from Port of Baltimore

May 12

  • Catalan regional election

May 13

  • Union plans strike vote over crackdown on University of California Gaza protests

May 15

  • Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to step down, Lawrence Wong to be sworn in

May 17

  • AMLO and Arévalo will meet on the border of Mexico and Guatemala 

May 18-24

May 18 

  • EU mission in Mali expires
  • Former President Donald Trump will visit the NRA convention

May 19 

  • Dominican Republic general election
  • President Joe Biden to address NAACP dinner in Detroit

May 21

  • AI Safety Summit

May 23

  • Kenyan president to visit White House

May 25-31 

May 29

  • South Africa general elections

June 1-7 

June 1

  • UEFA Champions League final

June 2 

  • Mexico elections

June 4

  • Trial resumes over alleged medical negligence in death of former Argentine soccer player Maradona
  • Results announced for India’s general election

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