TIME Israel

Israelis and Palestinians Ask if the Latest Fight Was Worth It

Palestinian men walk in a street of Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood in early morning dense fog among the ruins of their neighbourhood on Aug. 27, 2014.
Palestinian men walk among the ruins of Gaza City's Shejaiya neighborhood on Aug. 27, 2014 Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images

A bloody war is followed by a public-relations fight

Israeli and Palestinian leaders set out Wednesday to sell their constituents on what was achieved during the latest fighting between the two sides, a day into a cease-fire that ended 50 days of war.

Senior officials on both sides of the conflict declared victory, albeit in very different ways, and laid out the war’s purported achievements. But some found themselves questioning what was really accomplished — and at what price.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has faced severe criticism from both ends of the political spectrum — from left-wingers who think the war could have been avoided had he not squandered a recent round of peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and from right-wingers who say he didn’t go far enough in the latest Gaza war. Netanyahu resisted hawkish calls to have the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attempt an overthrow of Hamas and a reoccupation of the Gaza, and he shelved his insistence on the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, which he had been promoting last month as a solution to the conflict.

Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s own Foreign Minister and among the most prominent critics in his cabinet, slammed the cease-fire deal.

“We object to the cease-fire which offers Hamas the ability to continue to grow strong and fight future battles with Israel whenever it feels like,” Lieberman wrote on Facebook.

Unlike other key national decisions, Netanyahu did not bring the cease-fire deal to his cabinet for a discussion or a vote. After coming under fire for not addressing the nation Tuesday evening when the cease-fire deal was signed, Netanyahu held a news conference Wednesday alongside his Defense Minister and the IDF Chief of Staff, aimed at touting what he said was a mission accomplished, one that will provide “a lasting quiet” for Israel.

“Hamas did not get one of its demands to end Operation Protective Edge,” Netanyahu said, using the name of the Israeli military operation. “It demanded a seaport, it didn’t get it. It demanded an airport, it didn’t get it. It wanted mediation from Qatar and Turkey, it didn’t get it.”

He listed other Palestinian demands — the release of prisoners, the opening of Hamas offices in the West Bank that Israel closed, money — and boasted that Israel refused all of these. Rather, he said, what Israel essentially agreed to was the rehabilitation of Gaza by allowing humanitarian goods to enter.

A thousand Hamas terrorists were killed, many of them commanders,” he said. “Thousands of rocket arsenals, launch sites and weapons caches were destroyed along with hundreds of command centers.”

Those figures highlight the disparity in Palestinian and Israeli casualties and even how each side measures them: while Palestinians say that at least 70% of the approximately 2,100 Palestinians killed were civilians, Israel says about 50% were Hamas fighters. Seventy Israelis were killed, 64 of them soldiers.

While Israelis debated the war’s outcome and whether it was worth it — more than half say there was no winner, according to a new poll — the mood was more jubilant and less analytical in Gaza City. Palestinians went out to shop, to the bank, to the beach, and in many cases, to see if their homes were still standing. “People are happy that they survived more than anything else,” said Gazan journalist Abeer Ayyoub. “I’m just glad to be alive and that my house wasn’t demolished.”

Hamas rallied its supporters Wednesday afternoon, and many top officials not seen during the past seven weeks of war emerged to speak. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the blood spilled in the war was “the fuel of this victory.” Wearing a black-and-white kaffiyeh-patterned scarf over his business suit, he counted Hamas’ gains. “This battle is a war that lacks a precedent in the history of conflict with the enemy,” he said, adding that the group was preparing for the “ultimate battle” for Palestinian liberation.

“The war began with fire on Haifa and ended with fire on Haifa,” Haniyeh said, referring to the longer-range rockets Hamas used to target one of the main cities along Israel’s northern coast.

Mkhaimar Abusada, a political analyst at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said many Palestinians view Hamas as victorious simply because of its resilience and its survival.

“If you look at the numbers, we had about 30 times the number of Palestinians killed as in Israel … From this point of view, we didn’t win,” Abusada tells TIME. “But the Palestinians look at it from a different perspective. With limited capability, the Palestinian resistance was able to withstand the Israeli aggression and continue to fight to the last minute. Let’s face it, Israel didn’t reach its goals, because Israel could not stop the launching of missiles, and I’m not really sure they succeeded in deterring the Palestinians.”

TIME Middle East

Israel and Palestinians Reach Open-Ended Cease-Fire Deal

The sign of victory as people gather in the streets to celebrate after a deal had been reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014 in Gaza City.
Palestinians in Gaza City celebrate in the streets after a deal had been reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014 Momen Faiz—NurPhoto/Corbis

Truce ends the seven-week war, but it's an open question whether longer-term political talks will resume

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Tuesday that Israel and various Palestinian militant factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad had reached a cease-fire deal to end seven weeks of devastating war, and to postpone negotiations over several remaining issues for one month.

The news follows weeks of intense efforts on the part of the Egyptian government to broker a truce between the sides, both of whom were keen to emerge looking victorious, or at least successful, from a bruising war that resulted in the death of nearly 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.

Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev told the BBC that the cease-fire would meet Israel’s primary goals of keeping its citizens safe. The deal, he said, “commits Hamas to ending all hostile activity against Israel from Gaza. Now if that in fact does happen, and we hope it does, that is, for us, victory.”

Abbas’ role in announcing the deal from his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank was evidence of the more prominent role that Egyptian, Israeli and other officials have sought in Gaza for the Palestinian President, whose Fatah party and security forces were ousted from the coastal strip in a Hamas coup in 2007.

In an evening speech making the deal official, Abbas said that he would soon present a detailed plan aimed at establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, a reference to Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories Israel occupied in the Six-Day War. He also indicated that he would not return to another round of negotiations with Israel amid what seems like such a discouraging prognosis for progress; the last round of talks ended in failure in April.

“The question now is, What’s next?” Abbas said. “Gaza suffered three wars and are we expecting another one? We will consult friends and the international community, and we can’t continue with cloudy negotiations.”

What’s in the Deal
The deal calls for an “open-ended” cease-fire and an Israeli agreement to ease its strict closure policy on Gaza, which Palestinians consider a siege. In theory, this means Israel should ease access at five crossings into Gaza that it controls, opening them up for a better flow of commercial goods and humanitarian needs, and most importantly, for building materials at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

This latter aspect, according to a Palestinian source close to Hamas, has held up a deal in recent weeks as Hamas thought it necessary to hold out for the free flow of materials such as cement and steel as part of the reconstruction of Gaza. Also included in the deal is an Israeli agreement to allow Gazan fisherman to fish in waters up to 12 nautical miles off the coast by the end of the year — more than doubling the distance they were able to travel offshore in recent years, leading to overfishing.

What Hamas did not get, but had demanded throughout the past month, are three other things that the sides have agreed to postpone discussing for one month. These include the creation of a Gaza seaport, an airport and the release of approximately 50 Hamas activists who were rearrested by Israel in June. After having let them go in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in October 2011, Israeli forces arrested them in West Bank raids following the kidnap-murder of three Israeli teenagers in mid-June. A senior Hamas official last week took responsibility for that attack.

Also postponed for a month is the demand by Hamas for Egypt to open the border crossing at Rafah. Egypt said it would work that out in a separate, bilateral agreement, with sources suggesting that that Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi wanted to take a wait-and-see approach before agreeing to ease Egypt’s own closure of the Hamas-run territory. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority forces are expected to take over responsibility for administering Gaza’s borders from Hamas, Reuters reports.

The agreement seems to lack exact details as to what precisely it would mean for Israel to “ease” its blockade of Gaza, leaving room for disagreements as in past years. Moreover, the deal largely mirrored the November 2012 cease-fire agreement that ended a week of war known as Operation Pillar of Defense. Exactly how “open-ended” this cease-fire ends up being thus remains to be seen.

Hamas Declares Victory
Hamas proclaimed itself victorious on Tuesday night, as details of the deal leaked out. Gazans gathered in several places throughout the strip and shot celebratory gunfire into the air.

“We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said at a news conference at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

The deal fulfilled what the Palestinian group had hoped for during the weeks of negotiations, said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli academic who has acted as a go-between Israel and Hamas on several occasions, including in the lead-up to the Shalit prisoner exchange deal almost three years ago. “Hamas has been ready for an agreement for two weeks, and has made it clear its achievements would not be military but political. What was important to them was to get building materials into Gaza,” he said.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of the Hamas political wing who has not been seen in public in some time, was one of several top Hamas officials to speak to the crowd of thousands gathered in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood Tuesday.

“We’re going to build our port and our airport, and if they attack the port, they attack the port. But anyone who attacks the airport will have their airport attacked again,” al-Zahar said, according to an Agence France-Presse report, in a reference to the numerous rockets launched at Israel’s Ben Gurion International airport. Though none of these succeeded, a Hamas rocket that targeted a town near the airstrip caused the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend the landing of several U.S. airlines there for several days in July.

Netanyahu Faces Hard Sell
Israel seems less in the mood for celebrating. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who informed his cabinet of the cease-fire deal Tuesday evening, has a more complicated job of selling the war’s achievements to Israelis. While the vast majority of Israelis believed he was justified in going to war, according to polls, not all of them are ready to end Operation Protective Edge with Hamas seemingly undeterred — and many are fearful that a cease-fire is simply a time-out until the next round. Whereas 82% of Israelis supported Netanyahu in mid-July, when he first sent in ground troops, a new poll showed his approval rating sunk to 32%.

Three of Netanyahu’s most prominent right-wing coalition partners — Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich — announced their opposition to the cease-fire deal. The heads of local councils in southern Israel also announced Tuesday night that they flatly rejected the cease-fire agreement.

Itamar Shimoni, the mayor of Ashkelon, one of the cities hardest hit by the rocket fire, called the deal a “surrender to terrorism” and added: “We wanted to see Hamas defeated and begging for its life, but instead we’re seeing Israel running to the negotiation table every opportunity that presents itself.”

The upper echelons of Netanyahu’s team and senior Israel Defense Forces officials, however, will present it much differently. “The Israeli spin will be that Hamas shot most of their rockets and that won’t easily be replenished, and that most of the tunnels were destroyed and can’t be rebuilt,” Baskin tells TIME. “The big question is whether the regional political process will restart, as it should.”

TIME Iraq

Car Bombing Kills at Least 11 People in Baghdad

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-inspired militants

(BAGHDAD) — A parked car bomb exploded on Tuesday in a busy Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, killingat least 11 people, officials said, the latest in a series of attacks to shake the Iraqi capital as the Shiite-led government struggles to dislodge Sunni militants from areas in the country’s west and north.

The explosives-laden car went off during the morning rush hour in the main commercial area of the NewBaghdad district It was parked close to outdoor pet and vegetable markets and a traffic police office, a police officer said.

The attack killed at least 11 and wounded 31, he added. A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

The bombing came a day after a wave of attacks targeted Shiite areas in several cities, including Baghdad, killing at least 58 people. Among them were 15 worshippers who died in a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in the same New Baghdad neighborhood where Tuesday’s car bomb struck.

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-inspired militants.

Iraq has faced a growing Sunni insurgency since early this year as the Islamic State, an al-Qaeda-breakaway group, and allied militants have taken over areas in the country’s west and north. The crisis is Iraq’s worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The Islamic State has captured large swaths of territory in western and northern Iraq in a lightning offensive earlier this year.

The blitz stunned Iraqi security forces and the military, which melted away and withdrew as the Islamic State in June overran the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit, as well as small towns and villages on their path.

Since then, tens of thousands of Iraqis, including members of Christian and other minorities, have been forced from their homes and displaced, while the Islamic State has carved out a self-styled caliphate in the large area straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border that it now controls.

Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report

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 Shows Beheading of American Journalist

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

James Foley went missing in November 2012

Updated 11:43 a.m. on Aug. 20

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, which the U.S. government believes to be authentic, 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 spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said Wednesday morning the American intelligence community believes the video is authentic.

“The U.S. Intelligence Community has analyzed the recently released video showing U.S. citizens James Foley and Steven Sotloff,” said NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden. “We have reached the judgment that this video is authentic.”

A Facebook page affiliated with the Foley family’s campaign for his release posted a message Tuesday evening from his mother, Diane Foley.

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” she wrote. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people…We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”

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.”

The White House announced that Obama will deliver a statement at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday.

Foley “was taken by an organized gang after departing from an internet café in Binesh, Syria,” near the Turkish border, the Federal Bureau of Investigation 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.”

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