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 Ukraine

Experts: MH17 Victims Could Have Remained Conscious During Fall

A firefighter and an armed man look at the remains and the corpses of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine, July 17, 2014.
A firefighter and an armed man look at the remains and the corpses of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine, July 17, 2014. Jerome Sessini—Magnum

A forensic analysis of the disaster

In the aftermath of the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet, it has been widely assumed that death—or at least unconsciousness—came quickly for the 298 people aboard when the Boeing 777 came apart in the oxygen-thin, cold air at 33,000 feet. But some medical and aviation experts who spoke to TIME are questioning this assumption.

As photos from the MH17 debris field near Gravobo, Ukraine, have shown, many of the victims’ bodies appeared completely intact after falling from a great altitude. TIME asked experts to review photographs from the scene and found a minority view: some victims may have survived the aircraft’s disintegration and even experienced consciousness during the fall to Earth. The images were taken by French photographer Jerome Sessini, who was among the first at the crash site, and they focused on plane debris and victims’ bodies. (Some of Sessini’s work was recently published by TIME, but the photos reviewed by the experts also included images of human remains considered inappropriate for publication.)

The intact bodies are not out of the ordinary, according to Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner of New York City and chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police. Baden has investigated high-profile plane disasters like the TWA 800 crash in 1996 and the 2010 crash of a Polish government jet near Smolensk, Russia, that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski. As Baden explained, objects falling through the air reach what is called terminal velocity, an upper limit on speed dictated by such variables as air density and the falling object’s surface area—but not the height from which it is dropped. For a human body, terminal velocity is about 120 mph (193 k/h). Impact at that speed inflicts devastating internal injuries, but the skin tends to remain intact.

Baden says that many of the victims did exhibit minor burns and shrapnel wounds, most of which appeared non-lethal. He says this suggests that some of the passengers could have been alive and even conscious during their descent.

“The cause of death in the great majority of these people would have been impact with the ground,” he said. Unless they were affected by the initial explosions or shrapnel, and absent some pre-existing condition like lung or heart disease, they would have remained alive and even been conscious at some point during the approximately 3-to-4-minute fall.

“Even if there’s no oxygen, you’d catch your breath in four minutes,” he said. “You might have some brain damage, but you’d be alive, and you could be conscious,” he said. Autopsies, at least when there is such extensive damage to the head and brain, cannot allow doctors to pinpoint when exactly consciousness was lost, so it might never be possible to know for sure if Baden is right.

The deceleration that occurred as a result of the attack—which could have been the equivalent of driving into a wall at 500 mph—might have been less sudden than has been assumed. The Russian-made SA-11 suspected to have been used in the attack is designed not to strike the aircraft directly, but to explode before impact, instead releasing a cloud of shrapnel.

“The deceleration itself wouldn’t be rapid, it would almost be like someone pulling back on the throttles perhaps,” says Robert Benzon, a former Air Force pilot and veteran accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, now retired. Benzon speculated based on the nature of the missile that the decompression may have been somewhat gradual, and could have been survivable in the short term. “In my estimation what you’d have is a lot of small holes in the airplane,” he says, “so the decompression itself would be pretty slow.”

Several bodies were found still strapped into their seats. Robert Goyer, who is editor-in-chief of Flying magazine, said that airliner seats are designed to withstand tremendous G-forces, sometimes more than a human body can sustain. Even when the seat itself is torn from the surrounding structure of the plane, people are likely to remain belted in. He cited Juliane Koepcke, who in 1971 survived a two-mile fall into the Amazon rainforest, strapped to her seat all the while.

Photographs indicate that those who did stay in their seats tended to retain all of their clothing, but other passengers were found in states of undress. While Goyer said that it was common to see bodies stripped of clothes after falling a long distance through the air, Baden suspected other causes.

“You can lose a shirt or a headband or maybe even a jacket, but not pants and underwear and shoes and socks. It would seem to me, given the situation, that looters came,” he said. As further evidence, he noted indications in the photos that some of the bodies appeared to have been moved around, based on lividity—the dark discoloration of the skin that occurs in the lowest parts of the body, as blood settles due to gravity. (When this discolored skin is seen facing up, it suggests that a part of the body previously low to the ground was shifted from that position.) Baden also observed that none of the bodies pictured appeared to be wearing watches or jewelry.

The investigation into the tragedy was initially hindered by strife in the region, with some reports suggesting that rebels have threatened investigators, tampered with the plane debris, and moved bodies around. The Dutch government has since succeeded in negotiating the release of some of the passengers’ remains, which were kept on refrigerated train cars and eventually flown back to the Netherlands for a more thorough forensic examination.

TIME

Pictures of the Week: July 18 – July 25

From rising death toll on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the return of MH17 victims to the Netherlands, to wildfires in Washington and the fight to protect flamingos, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

 

TIME infectious diseases

Ebola Virus Suspected in Lagos, Nigeria

Samples have been sent to the WHO for testing

+ READ ARTICLE

The deadly Ebola virus that has killed hundreds across West Africa may have hit Africa’s most populous city, according to a Thursday statement from the country’s ministry of health.

Officials in Lagos, Nigeria are testing a Liberian man after he collapsed at the city’s airport displaying symptoms of the disease. Government representatives also expressed concern because the man worked and lived in Liberia where the disease is prevalent. Blood samples have been sent to the World Health Organization to be tested.

The virus has spread rapidly since an outbreak earlier this year, and health organizations have said they are struggling to control its spread.

In a statement, Nigerian health officials asked that residents “remain calm and take appropriate measures for the prevention and control of the disease.” These prevention measures include avoiding contact with people or animals suspected of having the disease.

While the outbreak has killed hundreds already in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it could be especially damaging if it hit Lagos, an urban center with a population of 21 million.

TIME Israel

Israel Says Soldier Missing in Gaza Confirmed Dead

(JERUSALEM) — The Israeli military says an Israel soldier Hamas claimed to have captured in the Gaza Strip earlier this week was in fact killed in battle on that day.

The Islamic militant Hamas announced late Sunday that it was holding Oron Shaul and gave his purported military ID. An Israeli soldier in the hands of Hamas could have been a game changer in the current round of Israel-Hamas fighting and efforts to end it.

The military said in an announcement Friday that Shaul was killed in battle in Gaza on Sunday.

TIME Religion

Report: Pope Francis to Visit U.S. in 2015

Pope Francis Visits Molise
Pope Francis attends a meeting with young people at the Sanctuary of Castelpetroso in Campobasso, Italy on July 5, 2014. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

Set to visit Philadelphia in September 2015

Updated 12:16pm ET.

Pope Francis has long been rumored to attend the World Meeting of Families in the U.S. next September, and now Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput says Pope Francis has accepted his invitation to join the gathering, according to a report by Catholic News Service.

The report also quotes Vatican spokesman Frederico Lombardi saying Friday that the Holy Father has expressed “his willingness to participate in the World Meeting of Families.” The Archdiocese of Philadelphia clarified later Friday that the Vatican itself has not officially confirmed Pope Francis’ visit. “We still expect that any official confirmation will come approximately six months prior to the event,” stated a press release. “Archbishop Chaput has frequently shared his confidence in Pope Francis’ attendance at the World Meeting and his personal conversations with the Holy Father are the foundation for that confidence.”

The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family sponsors the World Meeting of Families every three years in a different city. The upcoming gathering is still more than a year away, and Pope Francis is likely to push for more activity on the issues of family and marriage before then — at least if his workrate continues at its current pace.

In October, Pope Francis will host an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome to discuss the topic, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.” It is only the third such Extraordinary Synod since Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965, and it signals that issues of marriage and family—especially in changing modern times—are of special importance to Pope Francis.

TIME Iraq

Islamist Militants Raze Ancient Shrine in Mosul

The monument to the purported burial place of the prophet Younis was erected around 1393

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The Islamist militants who now control a large swath of northern Iraq destroyed a centuries-old shrine purported to be the tomb of the Biblical figure Jonah Thursday.

Militants from the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) rigged the Nabi Younus mosque with explosives and leveled it in front of a large crowd, AFP reports. The shrine was built at the purported burial place of Younis—known in the Bible as Jonah—and once displayed a tooth believers held to be that of the whale in which Jonah survived for a time.

The Sunni militant group ISIS, who subscribe to an austere form of Islam based on a strict interpretation of Shariah law, has declared a caliphate in northern Iraq after overrunning much of the country in recent weeks. The group has razed or damaged 30 shrines and 15 additional sites in and around Mosul, an anonymous official told AFP.

“But the worst destruction was of Nabi Yunus, which has been turned to dust,” he said.

The Nabi Younus mosque was erected atop the ruins of an old Christian church, which itself was built at the site of an ancient palace once located near the town of Nineva, located just across the Tigris River from Mosul.

 

TIME Photos

Feel Good Friday: 14 Fun Photos to Start Your Weekend

From inflatable toads to Taiwanese "frog men," here's a handful of photos to get your weekend started right

TIME Palestine

Tensions Swell in the West Bank as Gaza Offensive Rages

An Israeli armed vehicle seen passing near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.
An Israeli armed vehicle seen passing near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Israel rejected a cease-fire proposal from U.S. Secretary or State John Kerry as thousands of demonstrators raged against the Israeli military’s military operation in the Gaza Strip

Tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories remained high Friday as Israel rejected a cease-fire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry amid ongoing clashes between protesters and Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.

At least five Palestinians were killed near the Qalandiyah checkpoint in the West Bank and another 200 injured after Israeli security forces fired live rounds into the crowd, reports The Los Angeles Times. An Israeli military spokesman told the Washington Post that an estimated 10,000 protesters “were rioting violently” on Thursday night, prompting the violent crackdown by riot police.

Israeli news outlets said the West Bank demonstrations were the largest since a five-year uprising in the territory ended in 2005. Palestinian leaders have called for the observance of a day of anger, which prompted Israel to dispatch thousands of security officials to Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of Friday prayers.

A number of diplomatic envoys, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have been canvassing the region to try to broker a truce.

In Cairo Friday for meetings with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Secretary Kerry called for a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds lasting at least five days amid a mounting civilian death toll in the conflict. Israeli’s security cabinet met Friday in Tel Aviv to discuss the temporary cease-fire and rejected the proposal, which would have gone into effect Sunday, reports Haaretz.

The Egyptian government tabled a U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal earlier this month calling for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas before negotiations over a seven-year blockade of Gaza commence. Israel endorsed the deal, while Hamas has continued to call for an end to the siege before signing a truce.

“The Israelis somehow seem to think they can do something through Egypt, where the present regime hates Hamas as much as it hates its own Muslim brethren,” Peter Sluglett, director of the Middle East Institute of National University of Singapore, tells TIME. “Really there is no future in that.”

Cairo has traditionally helped broker peace deals with Israel in the past, including the last cease-fire it signed with Hamas in 2012. However, experts say the calculus in Egypt has shifted since a military coup ousted the pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood from power a year ago.

Following the putsch, the Egyptian military dismantled numerous tunnels linking the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, which has increased the choke hold on the Strip’s economy and brought Hamas’s finances to a breaking point.

“What is important to me is there should be a genuine guarantee to lift the siege on Gaza,” said Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during an interview on BBC’s Hardtalk this week. “These promises have been made in the past. Nothing was done.”

Rather than continue to work through Cairo, analysts have suggested a shift to Qatar, where Meshaal is currently based.

“I genuinely believe that the international community should do a few things,” says Sultan Barakat, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “One is maybe turn its attention to Qatar instead of Egypt as a potential place for mediation given that Qatar, unlike Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, continues its contacts with Hamas.”

As diplomatic wrangling over a potential peace deal continued, Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip carried on.

The U.N. Offices for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on Friday that 814 people in the Palestinian coastal territory have been killed since the military offensive began, the vast majority of whom are civilians. At least 37 Israelis have died during the fighting, including two civilians and a foreign laborer.

On Friday morning, the Israel Defense Forces reportedly struck 30 targets and claimed to kill a senior Islamic Jihad militant.

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Investigators Examine Shrapnel-Like Holes in MH17 Debris

A part of the fuselage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured in a field near the village of Grabove, in the Donetsk region, on July 23, 2014.
A part of the fuselage of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured in a field near the village of Grabove, in the Donetsk region, on July 23, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

Possible evidence of missile impact discovered, as well as more human remains, while crash site still remains inadequately secured

Investigators have found shrapnel-like holes in pieces of the fuselage belonging to the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that crashed in eastern Ukraine last Thursday, allegedly after being struck by a missile.

Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), described the punctures as “almost machine gun-like holes,” and said that Malaysian aviation-security officials had inspected the damage before leaving the site on Thursday.

A second plane carrying bodies from the ill-fated jetliner arrived Thursday in the Netherlands. With 194 of the 298 people on board being Dutch, the Netherlands was the country that lost the most citizens in the crash. Confusion remains over how many bodies have actually been recovered, though. Russian-backed separatists in control over the crash site claim to have handed over 282 bodies, plus more than 80 body parts. However, Dutch officials estimate that the figure handed over could be lower. Meanwhile, monitors in Ukraine keep finding human remains in the area.

There’s still concern that the 12 km-long area over which plane debris has been scattered hasn’t been adequately secured. Farmers are operating agricultural equipment in fields that could contain further evidence or even human remains. Serhiy Bochkovsky, the head of State Service of Emergencies Ukraine, said the separatists were preventing his team from doing their job.

“They took away our tents, the ones which were at our base camp,” Bochkovsky told a news conference. “We were allowed only our equipment and machinery and we were chased away at gunpoint.”

The Netherlands has officially taken charge of the investigation. “Now that … Ukraine has transferred legal responsibility to the Netherlands, we feel we’ll get more progress from the separatists,” Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in Kiev. With 38 passengers, Australians comprised the third-largest nationality on the flight after the Netherlands and Malaysia. Both the Netherlands and Australia are sending additional teams to help with the investigation in Ukraine.

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