News Roundup and Notes: July 29, 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

The Israeli military has escalated its operation in Gaza, as last night paid witness to one of the heaviest bombardments so far in the three-week conflict [BBC]. Up to 60 people were killed during the night, possibly including UN staff. Haaretz reports that Israeli rocket fire has hit Gaza’s only power plant and that it is ablaze. The Israeli military has also destroyed the home of an influential political leader for Hamas, “suggesting a slight operational shift” [New York Times’ Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren].

Ten Israeli soldiers have been killed in the past 24 hours, five in a militant border infiltration and five in other clashes [Haaretz]. At least ten people died in Gaza City yesterday, including seven children playing outdoors in celebration of the holy festival of Eid [Washington Post’s William Booth et al].  Reuters (Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell) reports that the death toll now stands at over 1,100 Gazans and 53 Israelis.

The escalation in attacks came after comments made last night by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised address, advising Israelis that [Reuters]:

“We need to be prepared for a lengthy campaign. We will continue to act with force and discretion until our mission is accomplished.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged Israel and Palestine to cease hostilities “in the name of humanity,” stating he was “deeply disappointed that dangerous hostilities resumed on Sunday” [UN News Centre].

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said that Israel’s conflict with Hamas constitutes “a massacre” [Associated Press]. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described Israel as a “rabid dog” for its offensive against the Gaza Strip, and encouraged the Muslim world to arm Palestinians to assist them in countering “genocide” [Reuters].

The Associated Press reports that the Obama administration is “fuming” over the “torrent of Israeli criticism” regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent bid to broker a ceasefire. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki criticized the anonymous sources saying “it’s simply not the way that partners and allies treat each other.” The Hill (Rebecca Shabad) reports that the White House sought to defend Kerry yesterday, stating, “Israel has no better friend, no stronger defender.”

David Igatius [Washington Post] suggests that Kerry’s focus on attaining a hasty close to the fighting in the region resulted in “solidif[ying] the role of Hamas,” arguing that his approach “has ignited a firestorm in Israel.”

The Wall Street Journal (Gerald F. Seib) reports on mounting tensions between the U.S. and Israel, cautioning that “more tensions likely lie ahead.”

Sari Bashi [Politico Magazine] argues that the best way for Israel to combat Hamas is to re-open Gaza and allow its population to live normal lives.

Bret Stephens [Wall Street Journal] writes that to argue in support of Palestine in the current conflict “makes you dumb,” describing the “Palestinian Effect” as either “bad moral idiocy or thinly veiled bigotry.”

David Brooks [New York Times] discusses the changing face of war in the Middle East arguing that while the current Israel-Palestine conflict looks “superficially like past campaigns,” the reality is that “the surrounding context is transformed.”

Be sure to check out Haaretz for live updates of the situation in the region.

Russia and Ukraine

The Obama administration has accused Russia of violating a 1987 arms control treaty by testing a ground-launched cruise missile, according to senior U.S. officials [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon].

The U.S. and EU have decided to escalate the sanctions imposed on Russia, which will target the country’s finance, energy and defense sectors, over the crisis in eastern Ukraine [BBC; New York Times’ Jack Ewing and Peter Baker].

The Department of Defense spokesperson said yesterday that roughly 12,000 Russian troops are stationed along the Ukrainian border, while Russian equipment continues to move across the border to pro-Russian separatists.

Reuters (Thomas Grove and Warren Strobel) reports on the “steady and ongoing flow” of sophisticated weapons from Russia into Ukraine, based on interviews with American officials, diplomats in Kiev and Russian military analysts.

The Wall Street Journal (Andy Pasztor) covers the setbacks faced by the rescue team at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, as security conditions deteriorate around the site and fighting escalates in the area.

The New York Times (Sabrina Tavernise and Noah Sneider) reports on the escalating “enmity” and civilian impact of the conflict on the Ukrainian population.

Iraq and Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his first public appearance yesterday since being sworn in for his third term as president when he attended prayers to celebrate the festival of Eid in Damascus [Al Jazeera].

Sharif Nashashibi [Al Jazeera] writes on rumors of a shift in support from Assad’s allies, Iran and Hezbollah, stating that the “talk of a rift seems based more on wild optimism than rational analysis.”

Josh Rogin [The Daily Beast] discusses the Syrian defector responsible for the release of tens of thousands of photos of apparent war crimes committed by the Assad regime, saying “[the defector’s] visit and the publicity it brings could push the Obama administration to confront more directly the issue of Assad’s atrocities.”

CNN (Yousuf Basil and Josh Levs) reports on the release of images from the Syrian conflict of militants putting victims’ severed heads onto poles.

Australia has issued arrest warrants for two citizens accused of fighting for the Islamic State and taking photos of the severed heads of members of the Syrian military [Wall Street Journal’s Rob Taylor].

The UN Security Council voiced concern yesterday over the control by the Islamic State of oilfields and pipelines in Iraq and Syria, emphasizing that “any trade of oil with these entities would be inconsistent with the Council’s resolutions” [UN News Centre].

Al Jazeera America reports that the Iraqi police discovered fifteen corpses in Baghdad yesterday, many of which had been killed in an execution-style manner.

The Associated Press covers the violent vision of the Islamic State, with fighters enforcing an extreme doctrine and destroying many cultural landmarks in the north Iraqi city of Mosul.

Al Jazeera reports that France has expressed willingness to accept Christians fleeing violence in the Islamic State-controlled area around Mosul.

Sen. John McCain said yesterday that being labeled as an enemy by the Islamic State is a “true badge of honor” [The Hill’s Lucy McCalmont].

Marc A. Thiessen [Washington Post] argues that the Obama administration had an opportunity to stop the spread of the Islamic State but failed to take advantage of it, suggesting that “the consequences of Obama’s failure to act may be felt far from Iraq.”

Afghanistan

The Washington Post (Ernesto Londoño) reports on the U.S. paratroopers currently in Afghanistan, who will assess how Afghan troops are coping in contested areas in addition to dealing “a few final blows” to militant organizations that have resisted U.S. firepower thus far.

A suicide bomb attack in the southern province of Kandahar this morning killed the cousin of outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was also a close ally of presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani [Reuters].

A report from the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan raises concerns about the oversupply of weapons to Afghan security forces and highlights the problems of tracking those weapons [Al Jazeera America’s Jamie Tarabay].

Other developments

A new report from the ACLU and HRW finds that mass surveillance by the U.S. government is harming the work of journalists and lawyers, forcing them to change the way they carry out their work [John Knefel, VICE].

Just Security’s David Cole [Washington Post] explains why the CIA’s recent public relations strategy is misguided, arguing that torture is “not a public relations problem,” but “a grave human rights abuse, and a war crime.”

Lawyers for Blackwater security guards, who are on trial for the killing of Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007, have accused the government of suppressing evidence favorable to the defendants [Associated Press’ Pete Yost].

The Washington Post’s editorial board calls journalist Jason Rezaian’s detention in Iran “unwarranted,” writing that it “also raises questions about whether [President] Rouhani’s professed policy of ‘constructive engagement’ is still in effect.” The Wall Street Journal (Benoît Faucon and Joel Schectman) reports on the U.S. move to expedite the sale of medical goods to Iran, which is part of the temporary easing of sanctions under the ongoing nuclear negotiations.

A federal judge in New York has disclosed that the Libyan government is paying the legal fees for suspected al-Qaeda terrorist, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, who was captured in the U.S. raid in Tripoli last October [Washington Post’s Adam Goldman].

Libya’s interim government said that the Italian government and an oil company were due to send specialized planes to fight the number of oil tanks set ablaze amid violent fighting around Tripoli’s airport [Wall Street Journal’s Benoît Faucon].

Adam Nossiter [New York Times] covers the “apparent shift” in strategy by Nigeria-based Boko Haram militants, who have now attacked high-profile political figures in two countries.

The UN has imposed sanctions on a North Korean shipping company that operated the carrier apprehended by Panama last July for carrying undeclared military equipment from Cuba [Associated Press].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security