News Roundup and Notes: July 28, 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

Reuters (Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams) reports that Israeli and Palestinian assaults have eased today, following strong calls from the United Nations and the United States for a durable ceasefire in the region. The death toll in the 21 day conflict now exceeds 1,000 people.

In a phone call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama emphasized the “imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” leading to a “permanent cessation of hostilities.”

Meeting in an emergency session yesterday, the UN Security Council also called for an “immediate and unconditional” ceasefire allowing for humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza [UN News Centre].

Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Washington yesterday after a week of failed attempts to broker a comprehensive ceasefire between Israel and Hamas [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon and Joshua Mitnick].

Top Pentagon intelligence official, Lieutenant General Michael Flynn warned over the weekend that the destruction of Hamas would only result in the gap being filled by something more dangerous [Reuters’ Phil Stewart].

Dore Gold [Washington Post], an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, discusses Hamas’ legal, political, and media strategy, arguing that the group is “not about to modify its hard line-ideology” and therefore “any diplomatic resolution to the war must demilitarize the Gaza Strip.”

The New York Times (Isabel Kershner and Ben Hubbard) reports that the Israeli military has denied responsibility for the attack last week on a UN school that was acting as a shelter, and said it was not responsible for the deaths of Palestinian civilians killed in the blast. Jesse Rosenfeld [The Daily Beast] writes on the destruction of the shelter, in an attack that killed 17 people, and the role and perception of the UNRWA in Gaza.

Former Somalia special envoy to the U.S., Abukar Arman [Al Jazeera] suggests that Israel enjoys impunity from international law, leading it to become “the most dangerous bully in the Middle East.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) described the United Nations as being “anti-Semitic” on CNN’s State of the Union yesterday.

David Grossman [New York Times] discusses the “evolved sophisticated justifications” on both sides of the conflict in Gaza, suggesting that “in this cruel and desperate bubble, both sides are right.”

Be sure to check Haaretz for live updates from the region.

Russia and Ukraine

Yesterday, the Obama administration released satellite surveillance images that it said provided confirmation that Russia has fired artillery rounds across the border on Ukrainian military units [Washington Post’s Carol Morello and Karen DeYoung]. However, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson disputed the accusations, reportedly stating that the U.S. should turn to more “trustworthy” information.

Heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine over the weekend prevented international monitors from reaching the crash site of the Malaysian flight MH17, although government troops reclaimed a strategic point close to the crash site from pro-Russian separatists earlier today [Reuters]. This most recent Ukrainian military operation, aimed at securing control over areas in the east, derailed the agreement reached by the Malaysian government with the rebels over access to the plane crash site [New York Times’ Andrew E. Kramer and Andrew Higgins]. Officials in the country’s east said that at least eight civilians have been killed in the latest fighting [Associated Press].

Reuters reports that, according to a Ukrainian security official, analysis of Flight MH17’s black box has revealed that the plane was downed by shrapnel from a rocket blast.

A high ranking UN official, speaking of the downing of the plane, said: “This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime” [New York Times‘ Alan Cowell].

Michael Birnbaum [Washington Post] notes that the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight appears to have had no effect on dynamics in eastern Ukraine, where many locals do not hold the pro-Russian rebels responsible for the catastrophe.

German leaders are preparing the public for broader sanctions against Russia, ahead of the expected EU decision to significantly expand its response to the Ukraine crisis, reports the Wall Street Journal (Andrea Thomas).

Senate’s CIA report

Ken Dilanian [Associated Press] reports that a number of former CIA officials identified in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the agency have been told they will not be able to review sections of the report, despite previously being told that they would have the opportunity to do so.

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti) covers how former CIA director George J. Tenet has “quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report,” parts of which could be released next month, as former CIA officials believe the report distorts the agency’s history.

Surveillance, Privacy, & Technology

The New York Times’ editorial board writes that the NSA reform bill to be introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy this week “represents a breakthrough in the struggle against the growth of government surveillance power” and calls on the Senate to pass it “without further dilution.” Similarly, tech firms and civil liberties advocates are optimistic that Leahy’s bill, if approved, will rein in the NSA [The Hill’s Julian Hattem].

The Intercept (Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain) reports on an April 2013 top secret memo that details the NSA’s expanded co-operation with Saudi Arabia, even as the State Department reported on the country’s significant human rights violations. According to the memo, provided by Edward Snowden, the NSA planned “to provide direct analytic and technical support” on “internal security” matters to the Saudis.

NSA Deputy Director Rick Ledgett said that “[a]s time goes on,” there is less need for a deal with Edward Snowden, stating “[i]t’s been over a year since he had access to our networks and our information so the need for us to understand that greater level of detail is lesser and lesser” [Politico].

The Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima) reports that intelligence officials and federal law enforcement authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to conduct court-ordered wiretaps on suspects due to a rise in online communications services that lack the technical capabilities to be intercepted.

Iraq and Syria

Kristina Wong [The Hill] reports that the Obama administration has quietly sent more advisors into Iraq in recent weeks to “be the eyes and the ears of the administration” in the country.

The Washington Post (Loveday Morris) reports that the party of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said it would “adhere to the principle of sacrifice” for the sake of the country, suggesting it would consider other candidates for Maliki’s position.

The New York Times (Tim Arango) reports that an influential Sunni politician was abducted on Friday by eight Shiite militiamen in Baghdad, threatening a “gangland edge” to Iraqi politics.

Rafe Al-Essawi and Atheel al-Nujaifi, in an op-ed for the New York Times, suggest the necessary steps to secure Iraq, arguing that “it is imperative that Iraq’s leaders start now to build institutions” to assure that people can live harmoniously together, “as they have in the past.”

Focusing on Iraq, Elmira Bayrasli [Washington Post] discusses the complexities inherent in democracy and how it does not always result in peace, arguing that “the United States has made this mistake over and over again … leaving war zones paralyzed without any prospects for peace.”

Chinese Islamist extremists may have travelled to Iraq to fight for ISIS, according to China’s special envoy to the Middle East [Reuters].

The Daily Beast (Nadette De Visser) covers the surge in ISIS supporters in Europe, cautioning that “ignoring ISIS will not make it disappear.”

In Syria, Al Jazeera reports that the army has retaken the gas field in the city of Homs that was captured by ISIS earlier this month.

The Washington Post (Liz Sly) reports that an American backed effort to support the modern Syrian opposition is gaining momentum along the Turkey-Syria border, but notes that “it may come too late to save the rebels from defeats on two fronts.”

Adam Entous and Dion Nissbaum [Wall Street Journal] note the release of thousands of photographs taken by a former forensic photographer of the Syrian military police, showing what U.S. investigators have said are up to 10,000 corpses believed to be the victims of a widespread campaign against anti-Assad activists.

Libya

The United States has temporarily evacuated its personnel from its embassy in Tripoli, Libya. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the “free-wheeling militia violence” in Tripoli posed a “very real risk to [U.S.] personnel,” during a joint press conference with Turkey, which has also evacuated about 700 personnel.

At least 38 people were killed in clashes between Islamist militia and troops loyal to the Libyan government in the eastern city of Benghazi over the weekend [BBC].

The Associated Press reports that after a number of oil tankards set ablaze amid clashes in and around Tripoli International Airport, the Libyan government has appealed for “international help” in a statement posted on its website yesterday.

Al Jazeera reports that a number of European states have called on its citizens currently in Libya to leave the country as violent clashes escalate.

Kareem Fahim [New York Times] writes that the new Libya is “coming undone” but argues “there are reasons to hope that the country will pull itself back from the brink.”

Other Developments

The Periodic Review Board has approved for release a Kuwaiti Guantánamo detainee, Fawzi al Odah, who has been held at the detention center for over a decade [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg].

This weekend bore witness to some of the heaviest fighting in years in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar, after Taliban fighters staged a number of attacks [New York Times’ Carlotta Gall and Taimoor Shah].

The Justice Department has taken steps to protect files of an influential anti-Iran advocacy group in a “highly unusual move,” stating that the files may contain information the government does not want disclosed [New York Times’ Matt Apuzzo].

Fred Hiatt [Washington Post] suggests that the recent global crises have been “as close to a laboratory experiment on the effects of U.S. disengagement as the real world is ever likely to provide,” noting that what we have gotten “is a far more dangerous world.”

Somini Sengupta [New York Times] discusses why the UN cannot solve global crises, arguing that the “problem is not that the major world powers don’t care … it is that they care too much.”

The Washington Post (Tansa Musa) reports that members of Boko Haram have kidnapped the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister and killed three people on Sunday, in a cross border attack in the town of Kolofata.In two further attacks in the northeast of Nigeria yesterday, Boko Haram killed 32 people [Wall Street Journal’s Gbenga Akingbule and Drew Hinshaw].

The Daily Nation (Mugumo Munene) reports that the Kenya Defense Forces have been accused of funding al-Shabaab militants in Somalia through illegal charcoal trade, according to a report of the Institute of Defense Analysis (IDA).

Filipino extremists, from the group Abu Sayyaf, killed at least 18 people on Monday, in one of the bloodiest attacks by the group in recent years [Associated Press].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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