News Roundup and Notes: July 17, 2014

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

Israel-Palestine

A senior Israeli official told the BBC that agreement has been reached on a comprehensive ceasefire, scheduled to go into effect at 6am local time on Friday. The agreement follows a five hour temporary ceasefire, agreed to on a humanitarian basis, and which was breached by Palestinian militants who fired three mortars during that time [Washington Post’s William Booth et al.]. Follow Haaretz for live updates as the situation unfolds.

Four Palestinian children were killed yesterday in a bomb blast while playing on a beach in Gaza, outside a hotel housing Western journalists, resulting in extensive coverage [Washington Post’s Adam Taylor].

President Obama on Wednesday described himself as “heartbroken” by the civilian deaths in Israel and Gaza, and once again called for a ceasefire [Wall Street Journal’s Jeffrey Sparshott].

Al Jazeera reports that the IDF has foiled an attempt by more than a dozen Palestinians to infiltrate Israel through tunnels in Gaza.

Anne Gearan [Washington Post] discusses the uncomfortable position of the Obama administration in light of Israel’s pledge to intensify operations in Gaza, potentially putting the U.S. under pressure to demand that Israel end the assault.

The New York Times (Karen Yourish and Josh Keller) provides a useful breakdown of the daily events since the start of the current crisis between Israel and Palestine on July 8.

The Guardian editorial board expresses its view on the likelihood of a Gaza ceasefire, noting that Gaza “cannot be rescued from its misery without relieving it from the consequences of Hamas’s isolation.”

The Washington Post (Daoud Kuttab) suggests that the present conflict has “prematurely ended” the chance of peace between Palestine and Israel under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

In an opinion piece for Al Jazeera, Yasmeen El Khoudary expresses her exacerbation at the pattern of Israeli offensives against Gaza, each having “the same circumstances that include a seemingly everlasting siege, dire political and economic situations, new Egyptian regimes’ complicity… [and] the Palestinian Authority’s total detachment and pathetic stance against Israel.”

Alan M. Dershowitz [Haaretz] argues that the real enemy of the Palestinians is Hamas, an organization that “love[s] Palestinian children less than [it] hates Israel.”

Isabel Kershner [New York Times] provides an insight into the emergency routine of Israelis upon hearing the sirens.

The Palestinian-American teen beaten several weeks ago by Israeli police officers returned home to Florida on Wednesday [Al Jazeera America].

Iraq and Syria

The Pentagon intends to provide a “small” training program for Syrian opposition, an aid plan far smaller than advocates had hoped and offering no immediate support to the struggling moderates in the country [Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes]. Meanwhile, lawmakers have criticized the Pentagon for failing to provide sufficient details on the plan [The Hill’s Kristina Wong].

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was sworn in yesterday for his third term, defying efforts by the West to remove him from office [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher].

The Associated Press reports that Syrian government forces tried to seize the central town of Morek today, in an attempt to reclaim it from rebels, according to an activist group.

Istanbul governor Huseiyn Avni Mutlu said that authorities would take “drastic measures” to deal with the influx of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees flooding into Istanbul [Al Jazeera].

The New York Times (Alissa J. Rubin and Suadad Al-Salhy) reports on the debacle faced by Iraqi forces in Tikrit on Tuesday, when their attempt to retake the city resulted in falling for a trap set by Islamic militants, offering “a vivid illustration of how badly the Iraqi military needs advisors.”

Luke Harding [The Guardian] writes on his experience in Kurdistan, saying: “If there is a success story in Iraq, it’s here.”

The Daily Beast (Jacob Siegel) reports on the Iraqi Shia insurgency and their intent to combat ISIS and reunify Iraq.

Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, has expressed his frustration with Iraq’s increasing number of displaced people [Washington Post’s Abigail Hauslohner].

The Associated Press reports that the Moroccan government has expressed concern that its nationals currently fighting in Iraq and Syria are plotting terror attacks against their home state.

Leslie H. Gelb [The Daily Beast] discusses the “dismember[ment]” of the Middle East, cautioning the U.S. to realize that the Arab world is crumbling and suggesting that Washington carve new alliances, “shockingly” including Iran.

Russia and Ukraine

The Treasury Department has imposed a new “broad-based package of sanctions on entities in the financial services, energy, and arms or related materiel sectors of Russia” in response to Moscow’s “continued attempts to destabilize eastern Ukraine and its ongoing occupation of Crimea.” Politico (Philip Ewing and Jenifer Epstein) and the Washington Post (Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum) have more details.

EU leaders also agreed to expand sanctions at yesterday’s meeting in Brussels [Wall Street Journal’s William Mauldin and Paul Sonne], although the New York Times (Peter Baker and James Kanter) notes that the bloc “refused to match the American measures and instead adopted a more tempered plan.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the latest U.S. sanctions, labeling them “a primitive attempt to avenge the fact that developments in Ukraine are not following Washington’s scenario” [Reuters]. Moscow also criticized the EU for “contradicting its own interests” and “succumb[ing] to the blackmail of the U.S. administration” in imposing new sanctions.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes that the Obama administration “failed to hit Russia with wide financial sanctions that would hurt the Russian economy, as opposed to individual firms” and warns that the West’s “wavering may yet invite Mr. Putin to overreach in a way that leads to a hotter war between Ukraine and Russia.”

In an op-ed for Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky argues why the new sanctions are as “hollow” as the previous set, and comments on the “growing disparity” between the U.S. and EU approach to sanctions.

A NATO factsheet aims to set the record straight on Russia’s accusations against the alliance, which it argues “are based on misrepresentations of the facts and ignore the sustained effort that NATO has put into building a partnership with Russia.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, notes that NATO “must adapt” to the “new security threat” posed by Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine.

The Associated Press reports on the fears of “urban warfare,” which could form the next phase in the conflict in Ukraine, as rebels are believed to be taking up positions in residential and industrial areas. And Dmitry Tymchuk [Kyiv Post] covers the continuing fighting in the country’s east.

Surveillance, privacy, and technology

A report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, on the right to privacy in the digital age, warns against the “disturbing” lack of transparency in governmental surveillance, including the “de facto coercion of private sector companies to provide sweeping access to information and data relating to private individuals without the latter’s knowledge or consent” [UN News Centre]. At a press conference, Pillay said the world owes a “great deal” to Edward Snowden “for revealing this kind of information” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem].

Pillay also questioned the U.K.’s latest surveillance legislation, stating it is “difficult to see” how the government could justify “rushing through wide-reaching emergency legislation which may not fully address the concerns raised by the [European Court of Justice], at a time when there are proceedings ongoing by the U.K.’s own investigative powers tribunal on these very issues” [Reuters].

Russia has reached an agreement with Cuba to reopen an electronic communications listening post located just outside of Havana, which was built during the Cold War [Intel News’ Joseph Fitsanakis].

Iran

The current round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program could end as early as Friday, according to senior Western and Iranian officials, with diplomats now considering the options for extending the talks beyond the July 20 deadline [Wall Street Journal’s Laurence Norman]. President Obama said yesterday that he believed the U.S. has “a credible way forward” in the negotiations, and indicated that an extension of the deadline might be possible [New York Times’ David E. Sanger].

The editorial boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post make a case for the nuclear negotiations with Iran to be extended if next week’s deadline is not met.

Afghanistan

Taliban militants attacked Kabul International Airport today, in what has been described as “one of the most audacious assaults” on the airport in over a year [Reuters’ Mirwais Harooni and Abdul Saboor].  The spokesperson for the Afghani Interior Ministry said four terrorists had been killed by police special forces.

The Guardian (Spencer Ackerman) has learned that detainees held in secret by the U.S., in a detention center near Bagram airfield in Afghanistan, have engaged in hunger strikes in a manner reminiscent of those at Guantánamo Bay.

A British man, Babar Ahmad, was sentenced yesterday to more than 12 years in prison by a U.S. judge for supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan at a time when it was protecting Osama Bin Laden [Associated Press].

Other Developments

The New York Times (Charlie Savage) reports that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has secretly informed Congress of the military’s plan to transfer six Guantánamo Bay detainees to Uruguay as early as next month.

Airstrikes in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 50 people yesterday, according to officials [Washington Post’s Tim Craig]. A number of local officials said they believed a U.S. drone to be responsible for the strikes, although the CIA declined to comment.

In a Q&A with Al Jazeera’s Saeed Al Batati, Yemen’s human rights minister, Hooria Mashhour, said that there is “public consensus” about the need to end U.S. drone missions in the country.

Politico (Jake Sherman et al) reports that Rep. Jeb Hansarling is engaged in a “behind-the-scenes power struggle” over the government-backed program to insure property in the event of large-scale terrorist attacks.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s lawyer has spoken about the vilification of his client, and has cautioned everybody to “hold the phone” and “[l]et the facts unfold a little bit” in the run up to the Army investigation into Bergdahl’s capture by the Taliban [Associated Press].

A district court in Sweden has upheld the arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted for questioning in relation to rape allegations [Wall Street Journal’s Sven Grundberg]. Assange’s legal team said it will appeal the court ruling.

Boko Haram has killed 44 people in attacks over the past few days, according to the leader of a vigilante group [Wall Street Journal’s Gbenga Akingbule and Drew Hinshaw]. The Associated Press reports that the Nigerian government has expressed its hopes of borrowing $1 billion from foreign states in order to improve military capacities, and to “enable them to more forcefully confront [the] serious threat” of insurgency by Boko Haram.

Tunisia’s Defense Ministry said that militants in the east of the country have attacked military posts, leaving at least two soldiers dead [Associated Press]. The Tunisian man, accused of seeking to engage in terrorist activities in the U.S. and other countries, has been sentenced to time served for the lesser charges to which he pleaded guilty [New York Times’ Benjamin Weiser].

The Greek police have arrested one of the country’s most wanted terrorists, the leader of the terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle, which is suspected of firing a rocket-propelled grenade into the U.S. Embassy [Wall Street Journal’s Nektaria Stamouli].

South Korea and the United States began a joint naval exercise yesterday off the west coast of the Korea peninsula [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).