TIME Gaza

Egyptian Cease-Fire Efforts Collapse

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Smoke and debris rise after an Israeli strike hit Gaza City in the northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014. Adel Hana—AP

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — Egyptian attempts to broker an end to a monthlong war between Israel and Hamas militants collapsed in heavy fighting Tuesday, with Palestinian militants firing dozens of rockets and Israel responding with airstrikes across the Gaza Strip. At least two Palestinians were killed.

The burst of violence erupted in the hours before a temporary truce was set to expire. It left the Egyptian mediation efforts in tatters, and raised the likelihood of a new round of violence.

Israel withdrew its delegation from the Cairo cease-fire talks following a sudden burst of rocket fire on Tuesday afternoon, and quickly resumed its campaign of airstrikes.

Palestinian officials reported Israeli airstrikes throughout Gaza that gained intensity throughout the evening.

Palestinian medical official Ashraf al-Kidra said two people — a 40-year-old woman and a 2-year-old girl — were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City. A total of 21 people were wounded in a separate airstrike that hit a building that houses offices of Hamas’ Al Aqsa TV station, he said.

The fatalities were the first since a temporary truce was reached last Wednesday.

Israeli officials reported at least 20 rockets fired late Tuesday, including one that set off air raid sirens in the metropolis of Tel Aviv. There were no reports of injuries.

Israel’s civil defense authority, the Home Front Command, ordered authorities to reopen public bomb shelters within 50 miles (80 kilometers) of Gaza.

In announcing the withdrawal of the Israeli team, government spokesman Mark Regev said the rocket fire violated the terms of the negotiations.

“The Cairo talks were based on an agreed premise of a total cessation of hostilities,” he said. “When Hamas breaks the cease-fire, they also break the premise for the Cairo talks. Accordingly, the Israeli team has been called back as a result of today’s rocket fire.”

He would not say whether the team would return to Cairo, or whether Israel would resume cease-fire talks.

Egyptian security officials said Egypt was still pressing the two sides to agree on a cease-fire. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The breakdown dealt a tough blow to nearly a week of Egyptian-led diplomacy meant to end the heaviest fighting between Israel and Hamas since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

More than 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, and tens of thousands of people are homeless. Israel has claimed the number of militants killed was much higher, and it blames Hamas for causing civilian casualties by staging attacks from residential areas. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a guest worker have also been killed.

Hamas is seeking an end to a seven-year Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has ravaged Gaza’s economy, while Israel wants guarantees that Hamas will disarm.

In nearly a week of indirect talks, Egypt appears to have made little headway in resolving the differences. Late Monday, it secured a 24-hour extension to a temporary truce to allow more time for a last-ditch attempt to reach a longer-term deal.

An Egyptian compromise proposal calls for easing the blockade, but not lifting it altogether and opening the territory’s air and seaports as Hamas has demanded.

While the plan does not require Hamas to give up its weapons, it would give Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces were ousted by Hamas in 2007, a foothold back in Gaza running border crossings and overseeing internationally-backed reconstruction. Abbas’ presence would minimize friction with Israel and allow large amounts of international aid to flow into Gaza for reconstruction.

In Cairo, members of the Palestinian delegation, which is comprised of various factions, said no progress had been made in Tuesday’s talks. Yet some held out hope that the Egyptians would still succeed.

“Israel insisted during the talks on disarming the factions in Gaza, and that created huge difficulties during the talks,” said Kais Abdelkarim, a Palestinian negotiator.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmad, said the Palestinians had submitted a final proposal in hopes of reaching a breakthrough. “We gave the Egyptians our final position. We are waiting for them to come back with a response,” he said.

However, Khaled al-Batsch, a representative of the Islamic Jihad militant group, said the talks had collapsed and the Palestinian delegation would leave “starting tomorrow.” He blamed “Israel stubbornness” for failure of the talks but added: “Egypt is still trying to bring back the negotiators and we hope it succeeds.”

Hamas’ chief negotiator, Izzat Risheq, was pessimistic.

“Egyptian mediators are waiting for an answer from the enemy delegation to the response of the Palestinian delegation,” he wrote on Twitter. “Even at 12 o’clock, the end of the deadline for the truce … I do not think there will be an answer.”

Hamas finds itself pressured by both Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to accept a less than perfect deal with Israel, but needs to show the people of Gaza that the enormous sacrifices they endured in the fighting were not in vain.

In an apparent attempt to pressure Hamas, Egypt said early Monday it would co-host an international fundraising conference for Gaza — but only if a deal is reached first.

That appears to play into the hands of Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, which is eager to regain control of Gaza.

The disagreements have focused around the lifting of the blockade, with Hamas pushing for far more dramatic concessions than Israel is willing to offer.

The Gaza blockade has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent arms smuggling, but critics say the measures have amounted to collective punishment.

The latest round of Gaza fighting was precipitated by massive Israeli arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank in the aftermath of the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June. Their deaths were followed by the slaying of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem in what was a likely revenge attack.

TIME Egypt

Israelis, Palestinians Resume Talks on Gaza Deal

Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas listens to Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby during their meeting at his residence in Cairo on July 16, 2014 Amr Nabil—AP

Following Egypt's announcement of a 24-hour extension of a cease-fire, Palestinian and Israeli leaders met in Cairo to negotiate details about the future of the Gaza Strip

(CAIRO) — Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Cairo resumed indirect talks on Tuesday, trying to hammer out a roadmap for the war-torn Gaza Strip after Egypt announced a 24-hour extension of the cease-fire to allow more time for negotiations.

The extension of the truce fanned hopes of an emerging deal, however vague, though wide gaps remain on key issues, including Israel’s blockade of Gaza, its demands for disarmament of the Islamic militant group Hamas and Palestinian demands for a Gaza sea port and an airport.

In an apparent attempt to pressure Hamas, Egypt said early Monday it would co-host an international fundraising conference for Gaza — but only if a deal is reached first.

That appears to play into the hands of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which is seeking to regain a Gaza foothold, seven years after Hamas ousted it from power in the densely populated coastal strip.

A member of the Palestinian delegation said that Israel was offering to ease the Gaza blockade by opening border crossings to some goods and people, but was insisting that it retain the right to limit the imports of material like cement, and chemical and metal products, which Israel says can be used for weapons manufacturing.

The Palestinian official also told The Associated Press that Israel wants to put off for an unspecified, later date any discussion on the opening of a Gaza sea port and airport and the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss negotiations with the media.

The Gaza blockade, imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, has greatly limited the movement of Palestinians in and out of the territory of 1.8 million people, restricted the flow of goods into Gaza and blocked virtually all exports.

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent arms smuggling, but critics say the measures have amounted to collective punishment.

Jamal Shobaky, the Palestinian ambassador in Cairo voiced disappointment with the Israeli stance, particularly on the question of the blockade.

“What the Israelis have offered so far in the talks is not removing the blockade but rather easing it,” Shobaky said.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev would not comment on the talks.

The latest Gaza round of fighting was precipitated by massive Israeli arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank, following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers.

On Monday, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said it had uncovered a coup plot due to information gleaned from the arrests. It described the plot as a Hamas coup attempt in the West Bank aimed at toppling Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The three Israeli teens were slain in June in the West Bank. Their killings were followed by the slaying of a Palestinian youth in Jerusalem in what was a likely revenge attack.

Since the war started with an Israeli air campaign on July 8, followed by the introduction of troops on the ground nine days later, many of the strip’s structures have been destroyed and tens of thousands of people remain huddled in U.N. shelters.

Gaza Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra said Monday the death toll from the fighting had jumped to over 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, while U.N. officials, who often take more time to verify figures, put the number at 1,976. Israel lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers.

TIME Egypt

Egyptian Preacher Says Men Can Peep on Future Wives in the Shower

Peeping "is acceptable as long as your intentions are pure," the cleric said

An Egyptian preacher is getting blowback this week after he said a man should be allowed to peep on his future wife “while she is showering” before they are married.

“If you were really honest and wanted to marry that woman, and you were able to hide and watch her in secret, see the things that she wouldn’t usually let you see before marrying her, then it is acceptable as long as your intentions are pure,” Salamist preacher Usama al-Qawsi said in a video posted on Al Arabiya.

“One of the Prophet’s companions did that. Some disapproved and told him: ‘How do you do that when you’re one of the Prophet’s companions?’ The Prophet answered: ‘If you can see something that would make you want to marry her then go ahead and do it,’” he said, according to the Al Arabiya translation.

This fatwah (religious edict) goes against other Islamic traditions that prohibit women from showing their bodies to males other than their husbands and close family members. Egyptian Minister of Religious Endowments Mohammad Mukhtar rejected al-Qawsi’s fatwah, saying “where is the glory and masculinity in watching a woman shower?”

“Islam preaches that modesty should be in our nature and all religions concur,” Mukhtar said.

[Al-Arabiya]

 

TIME Gaza

Palestinians Mull Egyptian Proposal for Gaza Truce

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: Palestinians are seen inside their destroyed by strikes house in Al Shaaf neighbourhood during a 72 hours ceasefire on August 11, 2012. ALESSIO ROMENZI
Palestinians roam a destroyed house in Al Shaaf neighborhood in Gaza City on Aug. 11, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

Although an Egyptian proposal that called for easing parts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza was tabled on Tuesday, Palestinian negotiators say that they considered the proposal and would try to improve it

(CAIRO) — Palestinian negotiators were mulling over an Egyptian proposal to end the monthlong Israel-Hamas war as the latest 72-hour cease-fire in the Gaza Strip was due to expire on midnight Wednesday.

Since the truce went into effect Sunday, Israel has halted military operations in the coastal territory and Gaza militants have stopped firing rockets.

The cease-fire was meant to give the two sides time to negotiate a more sustainable truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory.

A member of the Palestinian delegation to Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo said Wednesday that his team was considering an Egyptian proposal, which was tabled on Tuesday. Egyptian mediators have been were ferrying between the Palestinians and their Israeli counterparts in an attempt overcome the differences between the sides.

The Egyptian proposal calls for easing parts of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, bringing some relief to the territory, according to Palestinian officials in the talks. But it leaves the key areas of disagreement, including Hamas’ demand for a full lifting of the blockade and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm, to later negotiations.

The Palestinian negotiator said he had some reservations about the proposal and would try to improve it.

“We would like to see more cross-border freedom, and also to have the question of a Gaza seaport and airport discussed,” he said.

The Palestinian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss negotiations with the media. An Israeli government spokesman had no comment on the negotiations.

The war began on July 8 with Israel’s air campaign against Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whom Israel blamed for the kidnapping and murder in June of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. Nine days later, Israel sent in ground troops to destroy Hamas’ underground cross-border tunnels constructed for attacks inside Israel.

The fighting has so far killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, Palestinian and U.N. officials say. On the Israeli side, 67 people have died, all but three of them soldiers.

The latest outbreak of fighting is the third between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since Hamas took over control of the densely-populated territory in 2007. Hamas has been consistently pushing for an end of an Israeli Gaza blockade, which Israel says is necessary to prevent the group from gaining access to weapons and munitions it deploys against Israelis.

TIME Egypt

HRW: Likely Crimes Against Humanity in Egypt

Mideast Egypt Divisions Drawn in Blood
Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi run from Egyptian security forces firing toward them during clashes in Cairo's Nasr City district, Egypt, on August 14, 2013 Manu Brabo—AP

Human Rights Watch accused authorities of using "deliberate and indiscriminate lethal force"

(CAIRO) — The New-York based Human Rights Watch called Tuesday for an international commission of inquiry into mass killings in Egypt last summer that left hundreds dead, saying they likely amount tocrimes against humanity.

Based on a year-long investigation into the incidents that followed the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013, Human Rights Watch called specifically for an inquiry in to the role of country’s current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and at least 10 senior military and security chiefs in the killing of 1,150 protesters in the span of six weeks.

The group said it found that authorities had used excessive and deliberate force against protesters on political grounds in successive attacks on their gatherings.

The worst incident of mass killings occurred on Aug. 14, when authorities opened fire on a massive pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaah al-Adawiyah square, leaving at least 817 dead after 12 hours. The group called it the “world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history.”

Two executives from Human Rights Watch, arriving from New York on Sunday, were barred from enteringEgypt and were turned back ahead of a planned launch of the report in Cairo. Officials said they were barred from entering after the government asked them to postpone their visit. The executives refused and insisted on coming, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday.

The report’s authors said they had been in touch with government officials throughout their investigation, asking them repeated questions about their policies and planning, but received no response.

One of the main researchers of the HRW report also left the country after the executives were barred from entering.

The report’s findings provide a detailed look at the government’s policies and measures against successive protests by pro-Morsi supporters in the days following his ouster.

An Interior Ministry official had no immediate comment on the report when asked about it. Instead, he said a local quasi-governmental rights group had carried out its own investigation. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

Human Rights Watch accused authorities of using “deliberate and indiscriminate lethal force to disperse the two sit-ins, where protesters had remained encamped for 45 days, resulting in one of the most bloody incidents against protesters in recent history.

While Egyptian security forces have often used excessive force to respond to demonstrations, the August 14 dispersals were unprecedented in the scale of sheer brutality.” The group said the government failed to identify a specific time for the dispersal or give sufficient warnings for the protesters to leave the area.

The report found that the attack on the encampment at Rabaah was carried from five different directions, with witnesses saying there were gunmen shooting down from helicopters at protesters who were being besieged with no access to safe exits for most of the day. Snipers took positions on rooftops overlooking the sit-in and fired from there, it said.

The report also stated that “the brutal manner in which the security forces carried out the Rabaah and al-Nahda dispersals appears to reflect policies that the Egyptian authorities at the highest levels implemented after weeks of planning,” the report said.

The New York based-group said that after its yearlong investigation, it concluded that the Egyptian government used “disproportionate force, failed to take measures to minimize loss of life and knowingly opened fire on unarmed protesters.”

“The systematic and widespread nature of the deliberate and indiscriminate killings, coupled with evidence indicating that the government anticipated and planned to engage in mass unlawful killings … indicate that the violations likely amount to crimes against humanity,” it added.

The government had said the sit-ins had constituted a disruption of public order and security and accused the encampments of harboring “terrorists.”

However, the Human Rights Watch report said the dispersals of the large sit-in were not isolated developments, but rather “part of a systematic campaign by the Egyptian government to violently disperse dissent.”

The government’s final toll for the Rabaah killings was 624 dead. Morsi’s supporters say they documented names of 2,500 dead, though the highest tallies by independent rights groups have been close to 1,000. At least eight policemen were killed during the dispersals.

Soon after Morsi’s ouster, authorities repeatedly used lethal force to disperse protests. In four different incidents investigated by HRW in July and August before the dispersal of the sit-ins, at least 281 protesters were killed when security and military opened fire on the crowd.

The group suggested that “some protesters” carried weapons and shot at police. But based on interviews with 200 survivors, witnesses, including protesters, local residents, medics and journalists, “they were few in numbers” and didn’t justify the indiscriminate firing at unarmed protesters, the group said.

The report said that rather than investigating potential wrongdoing, the government has refused to acknowledge any possible infractions on the part of the security forces. No formal investigation by prosecutors has been made public and no single officer or any official has been held accountable.

Instead, the government has accused foreign correspondents of biased coverage, and provided them with material, footage and photos, to show that the encampments were training grounds for militants, often failing to authenticate the material or provide details on when it was taken or where, the report said.

— Associated Press writer Maggie Michael contributed to this report from Cairo.

TIME Gaza

Hamas Says It Will Continue Fight After Ceasefire

An armed Hamas militant walks through a street in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City on July 20, 2014.
An armed Hamas militant walks through a street in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City on July 20, 2014. Wissam Nassar—The New York Times/Redux

“We are ready for a long war”

Hamas reiterated late Thursday that it plans to continue fighting after a temporary cease-fire ends Friday morning, if its demands are not met.

“The resistance is ready to pay the price and the people are behind the resistance,” Abu Obaida, a spokesman for the military wing of Hamas, said on Hamas-run television, CNN reports. “We are ready for a long war.”

Earlier Thursday, Hamas held a public rally in Gaza City and a top Hamas official, Mushir al-Masri, declared to the crowd that Hamas would continue to fight until the seven-year-old blockade on Gaza by Israel and Egypt is lifted, the Associated Press reports.

A three-day truce mediated by Egypt has largely quieted the three-week-long conflict that killed more than 1,860 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel. The truce is scheduled to end Friday at 8 a.m. local time, though representatives of Hamas and other Palestinian factions are in Cairo indirectly negotiating with Israel for a permanent ceasefire.

But hours before the ceasefire is set to end, talks have faltered, with Hamas demanding an end to the blockade and Israel saying the militants must first disarm, a condition Hamas has so far rejected.

[CNN]

TIME Middle East

Hamas Still Has Some Friends Left

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament in Ankara, Turkey, July 22, 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at parliament wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, in Ankara, July 22, 2014. Burhan Ozbilici—AP

Though Egypt has turned its back on Hamas, other countries are coming in from the cold

With the fighting in Gaza intensifying daily, the ruling militant group Hamas is finding itself pushed to the limit. Trying to match Israel’s vast military might is an impossible task, and even finding the resources to launch rocket attacks against Israeli targets could only be achieved by heavy foreign investment.

But which country wants to invest in Hamas? The West certainly doesn’t. The militant Palestinian organization has been a firm fixture on the United States’ Foreign Terrorist Organizations list since 1997. Hamas’ only hope is its neighbors in the Arab world.

Hamas has two clear allies, according to Middle East experts: Qatar and Turkey. Both have given Hamas their public support and financial assistance estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Qatar also hosts Hamas’ political bureau which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal,” says Shashank Joshi, Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “Qatar has a long history of providing shelter to Islamist groups, amongst them the Muslim Brotherhood and the Taliban.”

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002, supports what Joshi calls “other neo-Islamist allies.” Though the Turkish government explicitly rejects the label “Islamist”, their social conservatism is inspired by an Islamic ideology that Hamas shares. Last year, Meshaal visited Turkey and met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for several hours.

Both Qatar — one of the world’s richest states — and Turkey are powerful allies to have, but Hamas might wish for more support given the breadth of the Arab world. It once had it, too. Hamas used to be strongly allied with both Iran and Syria, with the former giving Hamas an estimated $13-15 million a month as recently as 2011, as well as long-range missiles. Hamas’ political bureau used to be based in the Syrian capital of Damascus before its move to Qatar in 2012.

But relations cooled dramatically with Iran and Syria amid sectarian divisions following the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Iran, a Shia-majority country, backed the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whose Alawite faith is a branch of Shia Islam. Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Islamist group based in Lebanon, also took Assad’s side.

However Hamas, a Sunni-led faction, sided, as most of the Arab world did, with the rebels. Cue Tehran cutting their allowance, Hezbollah allegedly ordering Hamas members out of Lebanon, and Hamas packing their bags for Qatar.

“Iran’s relationship with Hamas was always problematic,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding. “Hamas is a Palestinian Sunni group and Iran is Shia. Nevertheless, Hamas was their entry into the issue of Palestine.”

Seeking to regain its influence over this issue, Iran has attempted to foster a reconciliation with Hamas over the last 18 months. Farwaz Gerges, professor on the Middle East at the London School of Economics says the conflict in Gaza is the reason. “The current crisis has brought a kind of rapprochement between Iranian leaders and Hamas.”

Hezbollah too, Gerges notes, has invited Hamas back into the fold. On Monday, the Hezbollah-owned television channel Al Manar reported that Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, praised Meshaal for “the persistence of the Hamas resistance.” The TV station added he “strongly supported their rightful demands to end the current battle.”

Gerges is quick to point out that this doesn’t signal “a return to the warm days of the Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders.” However he adds: “Out of this particular crisis, a new realignment might happen.” That may sound like good news for Hamas, but there’s another Arab country that is of late vehemently opposed to it. That would be Egypt, the largest and most influential country in the Arab world and the one responsible for drafting a potential cease-fire.

From 2012 to 2013, Hamas enjoyed Egypt’s munificence under the leadership of former President Mohamed Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood of which Hamas is an offshoot. When Morsi was ousted last year and replaced with Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Hamas knew the good times were over.

“The most devastating thing that has happened to Hamas is the ousting of Mohamed Morsi,” comments Gerges. Sisi, whose government has orchestrated a violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, destroyed Hamas’ tunnel network into Egypt and closed the border crossing at Rafah, devastating Hamas’ finances. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, two of Egypt’s financial backers, are also hostile to Hamas. Like Egypt, they view the Muslim Brotherhood as a clear domestic threat — and Hamas is guilty by association.

But perhaps Hamas doesn’t need Egypt. As the death toll continues to rise in Gaza, there is a groundswell of public sympathy across the Arab world for the group.

“Hamas in terms of people on the street is at the height of its political power in every single Arab country with the exception of Egypt,” says Gerges. “The longer the conflict continues, the more they gain in popularity. And for Hamas, what really matters is the public pulse.”

TIME Israel-Gaza conflict

As Israel Fights Hamas in Gaza, Egypt Plays the Peacemaker Once Again

APTOPIX Mideast Israel Palestinians
Smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City on July 24, 2014. Adel Hana—AP

Egypt craves Western and Arab approval but fears strengthening Hamas

John Kerry, the beleaguered U.S. Secretary of State, arrived in Cairo Monday to try and broker another cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian militant group which controls the Gaza Strip. But it’s not the U.S. that’s most likely to get a deal done – it’s Egypt.

Egypt has often played the role of negotiator when conflicts between Israel and Hamas have bubbled up in the past. Former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak brokered a cease-fire between them in 2009. After Mubarak was given the boot in 2011, it was left to Mohamed Morsi to negotiate the next truce.

Cairo, though, has a rough road ahead. Israel and Hamas aren’t likely to seek a cease-fire just yet, as both are claiming successes in their latest bout of violence. Israel says it’s destroying Hamas’ tunnel network. Hamas, meanwhile managed to scare several international airlines away from flying to Israel for a few days for fear of rocket attacks. It also claimed to have captured an Israeli soldier.

Egypt’s position as peacemaker dates back to 1979, when then-president Anwar Sadat, exhausted by Egypt’s 30 years of war with Israel, signed a peace agreement between the two countries. It was a deeply controversial decision — Israel is not, and was not, considered a traditional ally by other Arab countries. Sadat was assassinated two years later.

“In the intervening 35 years [since 1979], Egypt has always played an important role, both because of its geography and the peace treaty,” says Robert Danin, Senior Fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations. “It is the largest Arab country and still has a leadership role.”

Yet for Egypt’s current president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who took control after playing a key role in ousting the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi, the peace treaty and its accompanying accord agreeing to Palestinian autonomy no longer carry much weight.

“The view in the west is Egypt has traditionally played [the role of peacemaker] and this is a role they should play now,” says Eric Trager, Wagner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “But Sisi is in an existential conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hamas is the Palestinian equivalent. Egypt views Hamas as the same as the enemy they’re fighting at home … It’s not going to offer cease-fire terms that are at all favorable to Hamas.”

International diplomacy isn’t exactly at the top of Sisi’s agenda, either. Facing upheavals in Egypt’s Western Desert and the Sinai, plus the ever-present threat of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s president has his own domestic conflicts to sort out.

It’s easy to assume that a prolonged war between Israel and Hamas would benefit Egypt, who wants to see Hamas weakened. But Danin thinks otherwise, as Egypt’s Arab partners put pressure on it to act.

‘”At a certain point [conflict] isn’t [beneficial],” says Danin. “When things get out of hand, the perception in the Arab world is that Israel is slaughtering Palestinians … it puts Egypt in a difficult position.”

Egypt’s acting as a negotiator not only appeases the Arab world — its financial backers in the Gulf States particularly — but the U.S. as well.

“Sisi needs to establish his credibility in the West,” says Dr. Claire Spencer, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House. Brokering a cease-fire presents “Egypt as a power to be reckoned with,” she adds.

If Egypt can help put an end to Israel’s current invasion in Gaza, it will be lauded as a peacemaker and a key player in international diplomacy. Yet Sisi may have darker motives for getting involved with negotiations. Cairo’s current record on rule of law, democracy and human rights is dubious, to say the least. The recent sentencing of three Al-Jazeera journalists to seven years in jail is only one example of this. “When people are focusing on Israel this is good,” says Danin. “It means people aren’t focusing on Egypt.”

Sisi, then, is torn. Arranging a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will paint him as a hero to the West and the Arab world, both sick of the bloodshed in Gaza. Yet any cease-fire that benefits Hamas will cost him support amongst his party and strengthen an enemy. Caught in this deadlock, a truce looks unlikely. Whatever Sisi suggests, Hamas is almost sure to refuse.

TIME Palestine

Israel Hits More Than 70 Targets in Gaza, as Ban and Kerry Call for Truce

The U.N. Secretary General and the U.S. Secretary of State lament renewed carnage and call for a cease-fire

+ READ ARTICLE

Israeli warplanes struck more than 70 targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Tuesday morning, including a stadium, five mosques and the home of a late Hamas military chief, reports the Associated Press.

The attacks came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accelerated diplomatic efforts for an immediate cease-fire.

The Israel Defense Forces through its Twitter account on Tuesday said that it had killed 183 “terrorists” and struck at more than 1,300 “terror sites” in Gaza during the two-week-old Operation Protective Edge. However, according to Human Rights Watch, many of the attacks have been made on civilian structures, including a refugee camp and hundreds of homes, leading to thousands of displacements.

Some 584 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed during the conflict. The U.N. estimates that 75% of Palestinian deaths are of civilians, with scores of women and children among them.

“We must find a way to stop the violence,” said Ban at a joint press conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, with Kerry. “So many people have died. As [Secretary Kerry] just said, it’s mostly [the] civilian population, women and children. It’s very sad, it’s tragic.”

Kerry called on Hamas to accept a cease-fire framework tabled by Egyptian authorities earlier this month.

“Israel has accepted that cease-fire proposal,” said Kerry, who landed in Egypt on Monday after being dispatched to the region by President Barack Obama on Sunday night. “So only Hamas now needs to make the decision to spare innocent civilians from this violence.”

Despite the heavy loss of Palestinian lives in the fighting, Kerry described Israel’s military operation in Gaza as “appropriate” and a “legitimate effort to defend itself.”

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities acknowledged to local media on Monday that they could not account for the whereabouts of one of their soldiers but that he may have been killed after an attack on an armored vehicle over the weekend.

The admission comes a day after Israel’s envoy to the U.N. dismissed claims made by Hamas on television Sunday that they had kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

TIME Egypt

Egypt: 7 Jailed for Life for Public Sexual Assaults

Egyptian men sentenced to life in prison for sexual assaults on women during a number of public rallies in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, attend their trial at a court in Cairo, July 16, 2014.
Egyptian men sentenced to life in prison for sexual assaults on women during a number of public rallies in Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, attend their trial at a court in Cairo, July 16, 2014. Aly Hazza—El Shorouk/AP

Three of the men received multiple life sentences as Egypt's new government cracks down on sex offenders

Correction appended 9:25am ET

A court in Egypt has sentenced seven men to life in prison for committing sexual assaults during protests in Tahrir Square, the Associated Press reports.

Three of the men received multiple life sentences for taking part in different assaults. These are the first heavy sentences against sexual abusers since Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, vowed to toughen penalties in June.

The sentences stem from four separate incidents of sexual assault, including one that occurred during celebrations for Sisi’s inauguration.

This last assault may refer to an incident during the June 8 celebrations, when a video emerged showing a young woman being stripped naked and beaten by a crowd in Tahrir Square.

The timing of the brutal attack was particularly embarrassing given Sisi’s election promise to end the frequent assaults occurring in Tahrir Square.

The president vowed during his campaign to “restore the sense of shame” to sexual abusers. Before Sisi’s inauguration, the interim president Adly Mansour said physical and verbal sexual harassment was punishable by six-month to five-year prison sentences.

Egypt’s long-standing problems with sexual assault came into focus following the 2011 uprisings which ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. Though women protested shoulder to shoulder with men they were persistently subjected to sexual assaults during the mass protests in Tahrir Square. CBS News journalist Lara Logan was among the victims of assault in 2011.

The original version of this story, based on an Associated Press report, misstated the number of men sentenced. It was 7.

[AP]

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