News Roundup and Notes: July 21, 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

Last night proved to be the deadliest so far in the two weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the death toll reaching over 500 Palestinians and 20 Israelis [Haaretz]. Today, two Hamas cells reportedly infiltrating Israel via a tunnel from Gaza were thwarted by the Israeli military [New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren]. The Israeli Defense Force advanced into the Gaza strip overnight, engaging in clashes in a number of areas.

Haaretz writes that Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah spoke to Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal and Islamic jihad leader Ramadan Shalah, reportedly offering his organization’s assistance in the struggle against Israel.

Hamas claimed overnight that it had captured an Israeli soldier, a statement rejected by Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, who said “those rumors were untrue” [Al Jazeera].

The White House has said that President Obama expressed “serious concern about the growing number of casualties” on both sides during a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday.

The Guardian (Peter Beaumont and Harriet Sherwood) reports that the UN Security Council is holding an emergency meeting today in light of the escalated conflict in the region over the weekend.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met yesterday with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, in the first stop on a Middle Eastern tour aimed at ending the conflict [UN News Centre].

Secretary of State John Kerry was overheard discussing Gaza with a senior aide on Sunday, while hooked up to microphones for an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” [Washington Post’s Philip Bump]. During the “hot mike” moment, Kerry appears to describe the Israeli ground incursion as “a hell of a pinpoint operation,” saying “[i]t’s escalating quickly” and “[w]e’ve got to get over there.” Spokesperson Jen Psaki said that these “private comments were consistent with his publicly stated view.” Kerry, who will travel today to Egypt in an attempt to broker a ceasefire, called on Hamas to “step up and be reasonable.”

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said yesterday on CNN’s State of the Union (Candy Crowley) that his goal is to restore a “sustainable quiet.”  On ABC News’ “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, Netanyahu said: “We regret any civilian deaths but those lay entirely at Hamas’ door,” accusing the group of committing “a double war crime.”

The Wall Street Journal (Joshua Mitnick) reports on the death of 13 Golani Brigade soldiers killed fighting Hamas in Gaza City yesterday.

The Daily Beast (Josh Rogin) discusses reports that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees gave 20 rockets found in one of its buildings to members of the police force who many say answer to Hamas, raising questions over the agency’s neutrality.

Across the world, thousands of protestors expressed their concern for the Gaza crisis over the weekend, with large scale protests happening in London, Washington D.C. and Jordan, among others locations [BBCWashington PostReuters].

Jackson Diehl [Washington Post] discusses the potential to “change the status quo for the better” – once the fighting is over – by all sides embracing the Palestinian “unity” process.

The Daily Beast (Jesse Rosenfeld) writes on the limited escape options available to Palestinians to avoid the conflict, saying many have “nowhere left to run.” The New York Times (Anne Barnard) also discusses the lack of safe havens for civilians, with United Nations shelters full and travel restrictions preventing Gazans leaving the country.

Jodi Rudoren [New York Times] notes the propaganda of the recent conflict, and the use of emotive “epithets” and “euphemisms” by both Gaza and Israel.

Patty Culhane [Al Jazeera] discusses the absence of graphic imagery depicting the conflict in Gaza in the American media, arguing that the sanitizing of the news prevents the war becoming real and “distorts the reality”.

Russia and Ukraine

The Ukrainian army is reported to be launching an assault in the rebel-held eastern city of Donetsk, in the first major eruption of hostilities in the region since the Malaysia Airlines airplane was shot down last Thursday [Reuters’ Anton Zverev and Peter Graff].

The Associated Press covers the “chaotic” recovery effort at the crash site, where international investigators have only been given limited access to the rebel-controlled site, drawing global outrage. However, Ukraine announced this morning that it would hand over the investigation to Dutch authorities [Wall Street Journal’s Alexander Kolyandr].

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” (Candy Crowley) yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry presented a detailed case alleging Russia’s involvement in the events in Ukraine. Kerry said that the missile system was “transferred from Russia in the hands of separatists” and that “we know with confidence … that the Ukrainians did not have such a system anywhere near the vicinity at that point in time, so it obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists.” Kerry also said that Russia “is training these separatists.” The New York Times (Michael R. Gordon) and Washington Post (Craig Whitlock and Michael Birnbaum) provide more detail on the U.S. case against pro-Russian rebels and Moscow.

The U.S. Embassy in Kiev has issued a statement verifying the authenticity of the audio recordings of the separatist leaders discussing the downing, released last week.

Western leaders are raising pressure on Russia in the wake of last Thursday’s event, with European leaders threatening to impose new broad sanctions against Russia at their meeting on Tuesday [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Anton Troianovski].

In an op-ed in The Sunday Times, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his horror over the downing of the airplane, which he argued is “outrage made in Moscow.” Both Cameron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also said that the EU would need to review its approach to Russia “in light of evidence that pro-Russian separatists brought down the plane” [Wall Street Journal’s Matina Stevis].

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt [Financial Times] said that the crisis over Ukraine “has been initiated and driven by Russia at each and every step” and that “whatever details emerge over the downing of the Malaysian airliner on Thursday, it is here that the ultimate responsibility lies.”

The UN Security Council is scheduled to vote today on an Australia-proposed resolution demanding international access to the plane crash site as well as a cease-fire, although Britain has accused Moscow of employing “delaying tactics” [Associated Press]. Reuters (Michelle Nichols) has more detail on the draft resolution.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a statement, saying his country “will do everything it can to shift the conflict … from today’s military stage to the stage of discussion at the negotiating table,” while endorsing the need for safe access for international investigators [New York Times’ NEIL MacFarquhar].

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” (Candy Crowley), Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein placed blame on Putin, while Homeland Security Committee chair Rep. Michael McCaul said more pressure needed to be put on the Russian President. Similarly, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Robert Menendez and ranking member Bob Corker said that the U.S. was not doing enough to hold Putin responsible for the plane attack [The Hill’s Megan R. Wilson].

The downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane has ignited questions among aviation experts as to why a comprehensive ban over the Ukrainian war zone was not in place [Wall Street Journal’s Robert Wall et al.]. International airline Emirates has called for a summit of carriers to rethink the dangers posed by regional conflicts [Reuters’ Tim Hepher].

James Kitfield [Washington Post] notes that missiles are so easily available that it is “fortunate” that more planes have not been brought down in this manner. Gregg Easterbrook [Reuters] discusses the “technical fix” that could shield civilian planes from missile attacks. And Clive Irving [The Daily Beast] covers how the Russian Buk missile, confirmed as the weapon that brought down last week’s plane, is “the high-tech equivalent of the ubiquitous AK-47.”

Former U.S. undersecretary of state for global affairs, Paula J. Dobriansky and others [Wall Street Journal] call for a “global task force” to help Ukraine unite “at this critical time in its history.”

In the New York Times, Maxim Trudolyubov explains how the crisis in eastern Ukraine is “a product of long-felt anti-Western tensions within Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin that are rapidly spiraling out of control.”

Be sure to check the Wall Street Journal for latest updates on the situation in the region. 

Surveillance, privacy, & technology

In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, John Napier Tye discusses Executive Order 12333, the “Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans,” and which, unlike Section 215, authorizes collection of the content of communications of U.S. persons, with no protections where this occurs outside U.S. borders.

Al Jazeera investigates the “shadowy world of FBI informants,” revealing new information about their undercover work for the government.

Speaking at a hacking conference via video on Saturday, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden called on the audience to develop anti-surveillance technologies [Reuters].

Iraq and Syria

Iraqi forces have taken control of a former U.S. military base outside Tikrit from ISIS militants, who captured the camp shortly after taking control of Tikrit on June 11 [Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas and Ali A. Nabhan].

Jacob Siegel [The Daily Beast] questions where the truth lies in the “web of propaganda” between ISIS fighters and the Iraqi government.

Tim Arango [New York Times] reports on the plight of Iraqi Christians, after ISIS threatened the Christian community in Mosul and forced many to flee on Saturday. Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki said that the U.S. “condemns in the strongest terms the systematic persecution of ethnic and religious minorities” by ISIS. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also strongly condemned the systematic persecution of minorities in Mosul [UN News Centre].

Peter Van Buren [Reuters] writes on America’s new strategy for resolving the Sunni-Shi’ite crisis in Iraq, which he considers “won’t work.”

Over 100 people have been killed in ongoing fighting between government forces and militants for control of a Syrian gas field east of Homs [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher].

Al Jazeera reports on the growing popularity of ISIS across Asia and the Pacific, which experts warn could pose a long-term threat to security in the region. 

Other developments 

BBC reports that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has converted all of its enriched uranium into less dangerous forms, as part of a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, a four-month extension to the negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program has been agreed between the P5+1 countries and Iran.

Kristina Wong [The Hill] reports that lawmakers have expressed skepticism over President Obama’s plans for a $5 billion counterterrorism fund, saying the details on how it would be spent were lacking.

The Guardian (Richard Norton-Taylor) writes on the Belhaj litigation in the U.K. Court of Appeal, involving the Libyan dissident who was barred from bringing a claim against British intelligence for its role in his abduction and extraordinary rendition to Libya in 2004.

The Wall Street Journal (Gbenga Akingbule and Drew Hinshaw) reports that Boko Haram captured the town of Damboa in the northeast of Nigeria on Saturday, with estimated deaths in the town reaching over 100 since Thursday.

Rival militias fought for control of Tripoli International Airport in Libya yesterday, the clashes resuming after cease-fire attempts failed last week [Al Jazeera America].

An attack on an Egyptian checkpoint on Saturday killed at least 15 Egyptian troops, according to senior officials [The Hill’s Megan R. Wilson].

Al Jazeera reports that rebels in South Sudan launched a new offensive on Sunday to retake the town of Nasir, in what the UN described as a clear violation of the truce agreement.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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