Top 10 International News Events of 2023 Selected by Yomiuri Shimbun Readers

Reuters/file photos
Top: Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Nov. 9.
Bottom: Palestinians flee north Gaza in the central Gaza Strip on Nov. 12.

The fighting between the Israeli military and the Hamas militant group, which effectively controls the Palestinian territory of Gaza, topped the list of international news events for 2023, as selected by Yomiuri Shimbun readers.

Next in the rankings was the massive earthquake in Turkey and Syria, followed by the devastating wildfires in Hawaii. A total of 18,788 votes were received during the polling period of Dec. 2 to Dec. 18, of which 17,684 were valid. Of that number, 12,328 were submitted online.

There were three voters whose choices matched the overall top 10 results.


1. Israel-Hamas conflict

The current fighting between Israel and the Hamas militant group was triggered by the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel by Hamas. More than two months later, the conflict continues and over 20,000 Palestinians have perished in the Israeli attacks. There seems little prospect of an end to the crisis.

About 1,200 people died in Israel as a result of the Hamas attack, and around 240 Israelis and foreign nationals were taken hostage. Declaring immediate retaliation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched airstrikes on Hamas strongholds and dispatched ground troops into northern Gaza.

A pause in the fighting occurred in late November, leading to the release of 105 hostages over seven days. However, about 130 people remain in captivity.

Electricity and water have been cut off in Gaza. About 1.9 million people, or about 85% of the entire population, have been internally displaced, deepening the humanitarian crisis.

Former hostage Mia Shem, center, is seen with her mother and brother at the Hatzerim air base on Nov. 30.

2. Earthquake rocks Turkey, Syria

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck southern Turkey in the early hours of Feb. 6, followed by a magnitude 7.5 aftershock that afternoon, killing more than 60,000 people in Turkey and neighboring Syria. According to the Turkish government, 53,457 people have died in that nation. Some 313,358 buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged, and around 2.5 million people were temporarily displaced, with about 650,000 still living in temporary housing.

In civil war-torn Syria, 6,795 people — 4,547 in rebel-controlled areas and 2,248 in regime-controlled areas — died in the disaster, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights in Britain. Reconstruction has been slow in the divided country.

3. Devastating Hawaii wildfire

A wildfire broke out Aug. 8 on the island of Maui in Hawaii, razing about 8.8 square kilometers in Lahaina on the western part of the island. More than 2,200 buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged, and local authorities have confirmed 100 deaths.

Many of the affected people continue to live in temporary accommodation. It is expected to take six to nine months to clean up hazardous debris in Lahaina, and Hawaii’s governor has predicted a five-year rebuilding period.

The fire is believed to have started when strong winds dislodged power lines that subsequently ignited grass.

4. Stalemate in Ukraine war

Russia’s aggression against Ukraine entered its second year in February with no end in sight.

On June 4, the Ukrainian military launched a large-scale offensive in the south and east of the country, using combat vehicles and other equipment provided by the United States and Europe.

The Russian military countered with a multilayered defense line of trenches and minefields, and the Ukrainian military made little progress in retaking territory. Several news items related to Russian aggression, such as “International Criminal Court issues arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin,” were in the top 20.

5. Coronation of Britain’s King Charles III

The coronation ceremony for King Charles III of the United Kingdom took place on May 6 at Westminster Abbey in London. This was the first coronation of a British monarch in 70 years, since his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was crowned in 1953. At 74 years old, King Charles III is the oldest person to take the British throne.

About 2,200 people, including heads of state and royalty from about 200 countries and regions, attended the coronation.

6. Twitter turns into X

U.S. social media giant Twitter changed its name to X and replaced its traditional blue bird logo with an X in July. Owner Elon Musk said he intends to turn Twitter into an “everything app” that offers multiple functions — including making payments.

7. End of COVID crisis declared

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced on May 5 that the “global health emergency” declared in January 2020 regarding COVID-19 was over. The world returned to a state of normalcy after almost three years and three months.

8. Wagner Group launches rebellion

Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of Russia’s Wagner Group mercenary force, declared an uprising against the leadership of the Russian defense ministry on social media on June 23. Wagner forces took control of Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia, then moved north toward Moscow. But Prigozhin ordered a halt to the march on the night of June 24, ending the rebellion.

Prigozhin died on Aug. 23 when his private jet crashed northwest of Moscow. He is believed to have been assassinated by the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

9. Finland joins NATO

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization officially voted to accept Finland as its newest member on April 4, bringing the organization to 31 member states. Finland had a long-time policy of not joining the military alliance out of consideration for Russia, but changed its security strategy after Russia invaded Ukraine.

10. South Africa wins Rugby World Cup

South Africa won the Rugby World Cup in France for the second consecutive tournament, beating New Zealand in the final on Oct. 28. This was South Africa’s fourth win overall, setting a new record for World Cup championships.

Japan failed to advance out of the group stage and match its quarterfinal appearance at the previous tournament in 2019.