TIME Middle East

Hopes of Prolonged Truce Dashed as Gaza Conflict Reignites

Smoke rises as Palestinians stand atop the rubble of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
Palestinians stand atop the rubble of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 20, 2014. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa — Reuters

Talks in Cairo collapse after rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel

Fighting in Gaza continued into the early hours of Wednesday morning after talks between Israel and Hamas over a cease-fire collapsed in Cairo.

The negotiations in the Egyptian capital came to an abrupt end after three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel eight hours before the latest truce was set to expire. Hamas denied launching the initial barrage of artillery on Tuesday night, but later claimed responsibility for rockets fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel responded to the salvos with renewed airstrikes into the Gaza Strip and pulled its negotiation team from Cairo, where it had been engaged in talks with Palestinian representatives over the establishment of a prolonged truce.

“The Cairo process was built on a total and complete cessation of all hostilities and so when rockets were fired from Gaza, not only was it a clear violation of the cease-fire but it also destroyed the premise upon which the talks were based,” Mark Regev, the spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Reuters.

The Palestinian team was also set to depart Egypt, reported Haaretz.

On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner accused Hamas of firing 70 rockets into Israel since Tuesday. No Israeli causalities have been reported since the hostilities reignited. Israeli officials went on to label Hamas’s actions as a “grave and direct violation” of the truce.

“This is the eleventh cease-fire that Hamas has either rejected or violated,” tweeted Regev.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported that Hamas accused the Israelis of attempting to “assassinate” one of the group’s top military commanders, Mohammed Deif, during an air raid in Gaza City that reportedly killed his wife and child. There has been no confirmation whether Deif was also killed during the strike.

Following ten days of relative calm in the battle-fatigued strip, where more 380,000 people are displaced, Hamas and Israel remain at loggerheads, with both parties continuing to make demands that neither side appears willing to accept.

“On the Israeli side, you have a demand that is not going to be implemented under any circumstance — and that’s the disarmament of Hamas,” Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program, tells TIME.

“And on the Hamas side you have a demand that is not going to be implemented under any circumstances and that’s a full lifting of the what Hamas calls the blockade or siege of Gaza.”

Approximately 2,000 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis have been killed in the month-long war between Hamas and Israel. However, analysts suggest that the worst fighting may, at least for the time being, have passed.

“I think that there is a real sense of exhaustion with this conflict on all sides,” says Thrall. “The most likely scenario is that the most violent period of this conflict is behind us, but no one can predict for sure.”

TIME Middle East

Video Purports to Show Beheading of American Journalist

James Foley
Journalist James Foley covers the civil war in Aleppo, Syria, in November 2012 Nicole Tung—AP

James Foley went missing in November 2012

A video posted online Tuesday purportedly shows an Islamist extremist beheading James Foley, an American journalist kidnapped in Syria more than 18 months ago.

A graphic video of the purported killing, whose authenticity could not be immediately verified, was posted online Tuesday and quickly spread on social media. The video, which appears to be the work of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, declares the act “A Message to #America (from the #IslamicState)” and retribution for the United States’ intervention against ISIS in Iraq. Some versions of the video and Twitter accounts circulating it were quickly taken offline Tuesday evening, though the video soon appeared on YouTube again.

TIME is not publishing the video. The video also includes a threat to kill Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist who has written for TIME among other outlets, and has been missing since August 2013.

A Facebook page affiliated with the Foley family’s campaign for his release posted a message Tuesday saying it couldn’t confirm the authenticity of the video or Foley’s fate.

“We know that many of you are looking for confirmation or answers,” the post read. “Please be patient until we all have more information, and keep the Foleys in your thoughts and prayers.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said the American intelligence community “is working as quickly as possible to determine its authenticity.”

“If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends,” NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said. “We will provide more information when it is available.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been briefed on the video and “will continue to receive regular updates.”

Foley “was taken by an organized gang after departing from an internet café in Binesh, Syria,” near the Turkish border, the FBI said in an alert following the Nov. 22, 2012, kidnapping. He was in Binesh covering the Syrian civil war for the GlobalPost website and AFP.

Foley, 40, grew up in New Hampshire, where his parents live.

TIME Middle East

Israel-Gaza Talks Collapse as Fighting Resumes Where It Left Off

Destruction is seen from the bathroom of a Palestinian apartment in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun, on August 18, 2014.
Destruction is seen from the bathroom of a Palestinian apartment in the northern Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanun, on August 18, 2014. Thomas Coex—AFP/Getty Images

Renewed rocket fire from the Gaza strip was met with Israeli airstrikes Tuesday, as Egypt negotiations were called off

Hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza resumed and peace negotiations in Cairo were called off Tuesday, with Israeli negotiators called home to Jerusalem hours before an already prolonged cease-fire was due to expire.

Militants in Gaza launched three rockets in the direction of the Israeli city of Beersheba at close to 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday afternoon, Israel Defense Forces reported. They fell in open areas and no one was injured. But the very fact of even a trio of rockets being launched tested the doctrine that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials had reiterated in recent days: that Israel would not negotiate under fire, and would not accept even a “drizzle” of rocket fire from Hamas and its allies in Gaza.

“If Hamas thinks that through the continued drizzle of rocket fire it will force us to make concessions, it’s mistaken,” Netanyahu warned on Sunday. The metaphor of this drizzle – or tif-toof as it’s referred to in Hebrew – has become the new catch-phrase being used in Israel to embody a zero-tolerance policy to rockets. Tens of thousands of Israelis, including residents of the southern parts of Israel who have often been subjected to rocket fire even when there isn’t a full-scale conflict going on, protested in Tel Aviv last Thursday night, demanding a more definitive solution to the problem.

Netanyahu’s right-wing Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett, said after the renewed fire Tuesday that it was impossible to negotiate with Hamas. “When you hold negotiations with a terror organization, you get more terror,” he said. “Hamas thinks that firing rockets helps in securing achievement in negotiations, therefore it is firing at Israel even during a cease-fire. Rockets are not a mistake [for Hamas], they are a method.”

A Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, accused Israel of dragging out the talks and of not being serious about reaching an agreement. “Israel’s foot-dragging proves it has no will to reach a truce deal,” Abu Zuhri said. “The Palestinian factions are ready to all possibilities,” he added, presaging the likelihood of a return to further conflict.

He also said that he had “no information about rocket fire coming from Gaza,” making it unclear as to which group actually launched the rockets. There are smaller militant groups than Hamas operating in Gaza; the largest of them, Islamic Jihad, has a delegation attending the talks in Cairo.

The return to hostilities is hardly the outcome everyone was waiting for as negotiators neared the end of their deadline for reaching a deal to bring a brutal and bloody summer of fighting to an end. Only a day earlier, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations meeting in Cairo were reported to be very close to reaching an agreement, as the nearly week-long ceasefire was extended for another 24 hours.

However, there were still large gaps on key issues. Hamas has demanded a complete lifting of the closure on the Gaza Strip, as well as permission to build an international seaport in Gaza. Israel has said it will not allow Hamas to use looser restrictions to rearm or to rebuild tunnels into Israel.

After the three initial rockets, further rocket salvoes on southern Israel were reported Tuesday afternoon. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an IDF Spokesperson said that the IDF “will continue striking terror infrastructure, pursuing terrorists, and eliminating terror capabilities in the Gaza Strip, in order to restore security for the State of Israel.”

TIME Middle East

Poll: 92% of Israeli Jews Say Operation Protection Edge Was Justified

Talks resume in Cairo, as fresh 3-day truce holds in Gaza
A general view of a Merkava tanks near the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip, 11 August 2014. Abir Sultan—EPA

A poll of Israeli public opinion in the aftermath of the ground invasion of Gaza finds overwhelming approval of the military operation among Israeli Jews.

A total of 92% of Israeli Jews agreed that Operation Protective Edge was justified, according to the monthly Peace Index poll published Tuesday by the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent think-tank, and Tel Aviv University. The survey found that even amongst self-described left-leaning Israeli Jews, 67% thought the operation was justified.

But Jewish Israelis weren’t so unified on the question of whether the Israel Defense Forces used the appropriate amount of firepower in its operation. While 48% thought the amount was just right, some 45% think too little firepower was used. 6% felt the IDF used too much.

Published two weeks after Israel announced the withdrawal of all ground troops in Operation Protective Edge from Gaza on Aug. 5, the poll found that just 13% of Israeli Arabs believed the government had achieved most or all of its goals, compared with 44% of Israeli Jews.

As Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet to discuss a cease-fire the real question is whether peace will be brought to the troubled region. Sadly 71% of Israeli Jews thought chances were low that Operation Protective Edge would lead to three or more years of quiet from Gaza. Amongst Israeli Arabs the figure was 49%.

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 18

1. Providing shoes to barefoot walkers may be a basic first step to containing Ebola.

By Stephen T. Fomba in Zócalo Public Square

2. Your brain isn’t built to multitask. Give it a break.

By Michael Harris in Salon

3. U.S. intervention, while a key pillar, cannot solve the identity crisis in the Middle East.

By Steven Cook in the Washington Post

4. This arrest may be monitored: The best way to protect citizens from abuse of power is videorecording everything.

By Reihan Salam in Slate

5. To connect more people to jobs, we must build a true and equitable apprenticeship system in the United States.

By Robert Giloth and Maureen Conway in the Baltimore Sun

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Middle East

Hamas: Israel Will ‘Face a Long War’ If Palestinian Demands Not Met

A Palestinian man looks through the window of his house to buildings damaged by an overnight airstrike in Gaza City, July 22, 2014.
A Palestinian man looks through the window of his house to buildings damaged by an overnight airstrike in Gaza City, July 22, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

The militant Islamic group wants an end to Israel's long-standing economic blockade on Gaza and fewer movement restrictions on its people

The offers for peace made to the Palestinian delegation in Cairo don’t meet the demands of the people in Gaza, Hamas’ head of foreign affairs said Saturday, raising the prospect of a long-term conflict.

“Israel must accept the demands of the Palestinian people or face a long war,” Osama Hamdan said in Arabic on his official Facebook page on Saturday, according to an English translation by Reuters.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh told the Al-Aqsa Hamas TV station he has demanded an end to Israel’s long-standing economic blockade on Gaza, Reuters reports, and that Israel reduce movement restrictions on the 1.8 million residents of the territory.

Hamas and Israel are not meeting face-to-face in Cairo, as Israel considers it a terrorist organization.

The current violence in Gaza began July 8 when Israel responded to rocket fire from the territory, eventually launching a ground operation and killing more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. Sixty-seven Israelis have died in the conflict as well, and over 400,000 Gaza residents have been displaced.

TIME

ISIS Advance Turns the Spotlight on Weak Kurdish Forces

Caught off guard by the militants, Iraqi Kurdish fighters were forced to retreat

When thousands of ethnic Yazidis first became trapped on Mount Sinjar, the forces of Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region seemed like their only hope. Known as the peshmerga, the 100,000-strong Kurdish army is widely considered to be the last capable force in Iraq. But according to some, these fighters didn’t exactly live up to their reputation.

“The peshmerga didn’t tell us to run away, they just left suddenly,” says Said Suliman, who fled Sinjar with 12 members of his family after the peshmerga pulled out of the area. They are now taking refuge in the Kurdish controlled city of Dohuk. “We just hope the peshmerga won’t run from here also.”

According to Suliman, it was Syrian Kurdish fighters, both men and women, who initially stepped in to save the Yazidis as the peshmerga retreated and before the U.S. stepped in. “They are our heroes,” he says. Like many, he first fled into Syria and then back into the Kurdish Iraqi territory during his escape from the mountains.

It may have been the element of surprise that allowed fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS) to dispel the peshmerga so quickly.

Until two weeks ago, ISIS had made no claim or advance on the Kurdish areas. While there were skirmishes along the over 600 mile border which the Iraqi Kurds share with the extremist Sunni fighters, for months there was no full-on confrontation. ISIS said their sights were set on Baghdad, not the Kurdish capital of Erbil, and perhaps, because of that, they were caught off guard.

“The fact is they said they want to go to Baghdad and then they come to us,” says Halgord Hekmat a spokesman for the peshmerga in Erbil. “Of course it was bit of a surprise.”

But the Syrian Kurdish fighters knew ISIS as sparring partner. For over a year they have been fighting the Sunni militants inside Syria, where both groups now control territory.

“We are all Kurdish and its necessary when one part of Kurdistan has problem, we all help,” says Juann Ali, a Syrian Kurd who lives and works in Erbil. “In the end, we all have the same goal, to fight for Kurdistan.”

But in the last two decades there hasn’t been much opportunity to fight for that goal. The peshmerga forces were born of Kurdish resistance to Iraqi and Turkish domination, and for decades they defended their mountainous terrain, which stretches across Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian borders.

“The Kurds developed a way of fighting based on fighting the Iraqi army in the 70s and 80s, and the Iraqi army sucked. They didn’t need to be that good. They were mostly just defending the mountains, and mountainous terrain is the best to have to defend,” says Kenneth M. Pollack, a specialist in Middle East political-military affairs and a former CIA analyst. “The peshmerga doctrine hasn’t really evolved much since then, but warfare has evolved.”

Hekmat says the peshmerga were also hampered by their outdated weaponry. The mostly light artillery carried by the peshmerga was easily challenged by the much more sophisticated American weapons ISIS plundered after Iraqi national forces fled their posts in June. Those forces were controlled by then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has now stepped down amid increasing domestic and international pressure to make way for a new leader in Baghdad.

The U.S. air support—on Thursday, President Barack Obama said American forces had helped break the siege of Mount Sinjar—has allowed the peshmerga hold the line against ISIS and create a humanitarian corridor allowing many of the stranded Yazidis to make their way off the mountain. But American strikes are not a sustainable defense plan for the Kurds, who seek autonomy over their affairs.

“We don’t have any weapons, only the weapons we took from Saddam after 2003,” adds Hekmat. “We are just asking for the weapons that every developed military should have to fight against terrorists.”

The Kurds have been asking for better weapons from the US and other international suppliers, and while the UK and France have shown some willingness, the peshmerga say they are still under armed.

“What they are looking for is everything. They want tanks, they want artillery but they also want machine guns, they want rocket launchers and they want mortars,” says Pollack. “They want anything they can get their hands on.”

While they may have insufficient weapons, the Kurds aren’t lacking in passion. The ISIS advance caught them by surprise—but the force has not crumbled.

“Now they are properly deploying the weapons they do have, and their morale has recovered and they are proving a much more formidable foe for ISIS,” says Pollack. “The peshmerga is not as bad as people thought a week ago, but they are also not good as people thought a month ago.”

TIME Middle East

Iraq’s Embattled Prime Minister Agrees to Step Down

Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq on December 3, 2011.
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad on Dec. 3, 2011 Hadi Mizban—AP

A successor had been nominated earlier this week

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on Thursday evening that he would support the man nominated to replace him and step down, according to a report that cited state television, marking an apparent end to weeks of political uncertainty that threatened to consume the country as it battles extremists in the north.

The Associated Press reports Maliki announced in a televised address that he was leaving the post with an aim to preserve Iraq’s “unity” and had withdrawn his legal complaint against his replacement’s nomination, paving the way for Haider al-Abadi to assume the role and form an inclusive government. Al-Maliki had initially remained defiant after Iraqi President Fouad Massoum tapped al-Abadi to succeed him earlier in the week, insisting he deserved a third term, raising the specter that he would use his entrenched Shi‘ite supporters to forcefully oppose the move.

He planned to pursue his bid in the courts to retain power as recently as Wednesday, but was coming under growing pressure to relent, including from other Shi‘ite leaders and from the U.S. For weeks, al-Maliki has come under fire for failing to stem the incursion of Islamist militants from over the border with Syria. The Sunni extremists, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, have seized a large swath of northern Iraq with such fury that the U.S. was compelled to intervene with targeted air strikes and humanitarian aid drops for a threatened Yezidi minority.

The U.S. has pushed for a more inclusive government amid criticism that al-Maliki had marginalized Iraq’s Sunni population and opened the door for the militants’ lightning offensive that began in mid-June.

TIME Middle East

Gaza Probe ‘Operational’ Without Clooney’s Fiancee

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: A Palestinian look a heavy destruction in Al Shaaf neighbourhood during a 72 hours ceasefire on August 11, 2012. ALESSIO ROMENZI
A Palestinian man looks at heavy destruction during a 72 hours cease-fire in Al Shaaf neighborhood of Gaza City on Aug. 11, 2014 Alessio Romenzi for TIME

(GENEVA) — The president of the U.N. top human rights body says the commission on possible violations of the rules of war in Gaza is “operational” despite the decision by George Clooney’s fiancee to pull out of the panel.

British-Lebanese lawyer Amal Alamuddin, who is engaged to marry the 53-year-old actor, decided she couldn’t accept the role a few hours after she was appointed as one of three commissioners, said Gabon Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella, who presides over the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Alamuddin, an expert on human rights, was among a number of people that Ndong Ella approached as potential candidates, he said Tuesday, adding he will later decide “on how best to support and strengthen” the commission.

Alamuddin said Monday she “unfortunately could not accept this role.”

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