News Roundup and Notes: August 4, 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

Haaretz reports that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lierberman said today that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should consider placing Gaza under UN control, citing the UN mandates in East Timor and Kosovo as positive examples.

The BBC notes that a seven hour “humanitarian window” is currently underway in parts of Gaza. Palestinian officials accused the Israeli Defense Forces of breaching the unilaterally declared ceasefire almost immediately, by bombing a house in Gaza city [Al Jazeera]. Just ahead of the ceasefire, an Israeli airstrike killed a militant leader of the Islamic Jihad group, a close ally of Hamas [Wall Street Journal’s Sudarsan Raghavan et al].

Yesterday, an Israeli airstrike beside a UN school in Gaza killed at least 10 Palestinian civilians who were sheltering there [New York Times’ Sudarsan Raghavan and Griff Witte].

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack as “yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law” which constitutes a “moral outrage and a criminal act” [UN News Centre]. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki described the attacks as “disgraceful,” saying that the U.S. was “appalled” by the shelling. Ambassador Samantha Power, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN, described the attack as “horrifying.” And White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said that the Obama administration “can’t condone” the shelling of the UN school in Gaza, stressing that “this is why the cease-fire is so important” [The Hill’s Tim Devaney].

The New York Times (Ben Hubbard and Jodi Rudoren) discusses the shelling of UN premises in Gaza, drawing attention to indications that “Israeli troops paid little heed to warnings to safeguard such sites and may have unleashed weapons inappropriate for urban areas.”

Following the collapse of a ceasefire last Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told the White House “not to ever second guess me again” on the matter [Associated Press].

Texas Gov. Rick Perry criticized the Obama administration for leaving “any air between us and Israel,” suggesting that U.S. support has not been strong enough [Politico’s Eric Bradner].

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has deplored a recent increase in anti-Semitic attacks since the start of the Gaza conflict, stating that the conflict should not act as a pretext for prejudice [UN News Centre].

CNN (Holly Yan et al) hosts an exclusive interview with Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ political leader who lives in Qatar. Sudarsan Raghavan [Washington Post] writes about Mohammed Deif, the top commander of Hamas’ military wing, describing him as “elusive”.

Glenn Greenwald [The Intercept] writes that secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden indicate the “indispensable, direct involvement of the U.S. government and its key allies in Israeli aggression against its neighbours.”

And in a related development, Spiegel is reporting that Israeli intelligence and “at least one other intelligence service” eavesdropped on the telephone conversations of Secretary of State John Kerry during the Middle East peace talks last year, according to multiple intelligence service sources.

Senate-CIA dispute

The Washington Post (Katie Zezima) reports on the mixed reaction of lawmakers on the Sunday shows in the wake of the internal CIA report that concluded that agency employees improperly searched computers of Senate staffers. On CBS’ “Face the Nation” (Bob Schieffer), Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss rejected calls for CIA Director John Brennan’s resignation, stating that Brennan “did not have all the facts” until the agency’s investigation. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers said that the spying was “wrong,” but that there is no “conspiracy notion” and that it should not be extrapolated that “every CIA officer was operating under this culture of lawlessness” [CNN’s “State of the Union” with Candy Crowley]. And Sen. Angus King said he was not calling for Brennan’s resignation, but said that he was “pretty skeptical right now because it has really undermined the trust between the committee” [CNN’s “State of the Union”].

On Friday, Sen. Rand Paul called for John Brennan to be “relieved of his post,” adding to the calls for resignation from Sens. Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich, although President Obama said Brennan had his “full confidence” [The Hill’s Julian Hattem].

Meanwhile, Jason Leopold [Vice News] reports that the committee’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 practices is unlikely to be released anytime soon as the report summary, following the multi-agency declassification review, contains “significant redactions.” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein said on Friday that the committee will need “additional time to understand the basis for these redactions and determine their justification.” Over at Just Security, Marty Lederman discusses the likely next steps for the redacted report summary now that it is back in the hands of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Russia and Ukraine

A U.S. military official told CNN (Barbara Starr) that an American spy plane avoided an incident with the Russian military last month, only a day after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The plane was forced to enter Swedish airspace without that country’s permission as it sought to evade interception by the Russian military.

Russia has announced new military exercises near the Ukrainian border, involving bombers and fighter jets, according to Interfax news agency [Reuters].

Intense fighting continued yesterday on the outskirts of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine renewing their calls for assistance from Moscow [Associated Press].

Anton Troianovski and Philip Shishkin [Wall Street Journal] report on the civilian lives claimed by the conflict in eastern Ukraine, with residents increasingly being caught in the military’s struggle to reclaim the rebel strongholds. The Washington Post (Carol Morello) covers how the heavy fighting over the past three months, and particularly in the last few weeks, is “taking a toll on the Ukrainian military.”

The Economist considers that in light of the latest sanctions against Russia, “[t]he cost of Vladimir Putin’s gamble in Ukraine is going up,” but notes that he “shows no sign of changing course.”

The German government has revoked authorization for the delivery of a field exercise simulator to the Russian military “in light of EU sanctions,” according to the country’s Economy Ministry [Associated Press]. And a low-cost Russian state carrier, Dobrolet, said on Sunday that it would suspend all flights due to the sanctions imposed by the EU [New York Times’ Andrew Roth and Neil MacFarquhar].

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has told NATO leaders that the alliance must review its relationship with Russia, as “part of a broader action plan that enables us to respond more quickly to any threat against any member of the alliance, including when we have little warning” [Wall Street Journal’s Nicholas Winning].

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Igor Ivanov and Malcolm Rifkind warn of the “risk of a [n]ew Cold War” and discuss ways to manage and control the situation.

Iraq and Syria

The New York Times (Tim Arango) reports that Sunni extremists have seized three towns in northern Iraq from Kurdish control following fierce clashes on Sunday. CNN (Alan Duke and Hamdi Alkhshali) reports that ISIS has also taken control of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam in the fighting.

In a press statement, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that ISIS attacks in the country’s north demonstrate that “this terrorist organization is a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region, and the international community.”

The Wall Street Journal (Robert Wall) reports that German airline Lufthansa said yesterday that it would resume flights into Iraqi Kurdistan, while making sure not to pass over areas controlled by Islamic rebels.

Jacob Siegel [The Daily Beast] writes about the “brewing battle for Baghdad” and the efforts within the capital to resist the threat of ISIS to the city.

Terrence McCoy [Washington Post] discusses the rise and spread of the Islamic State, quoting a defense expert from the Council of Foreign Relations as saying it “now controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations.”

The Associated Press reports that thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees were forced to flee from an eastern border town in Lebanon today as the town was overrun by militants crossing the border from Syria. At least 11 Lebanese soldiers have been killed and 13 are reported as missing.

Meanwhile, airstrikes and rocket attacks by the Assad regime on suburbs of the Syrian capital of Damascus killed at least 50 people yesterday, said opposition activists [Wall Street Journal’s Sam Dagher].

Libya

The New York Times (David D. Kirkpatrick and Suliman Ali Zway) reports that a British Navy ship evacuated roughly 100 British citizens from Tripoli on Sunday amid reports that 25 Libyans were killed in fighting between rival militia groups.

The Libyan government expressed concern yesterday that the eight fuel tanks set ablaze by fighting in the country’s capital are a threat to humanitarian and environmental conditions, as firefighters were prevented from tackling the fire by heavy militia fighting [Wall Street Journal’s Summer Said].

Other Developments

In a press conference on Friday, President Obama tackled the treatment of prisoners post-9/11, admitting that “we crossed a line” and “tortured some folks” and adding that “we did some things that were contrary to our values.”

The Miami Herald (Carol Rosenberg) reports that Guantánamo prosecutors are challenging the military judge’s order to try alleged 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al Shibh in a separate trial from the joint trial of the other four accused conspirators.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan discusses the first U.S-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington this week, suggesting a number of steps that the U.S. could take to help Africa achieve its potential, stating “there can be no long-term development without security and no long-term security without development.”

Robert H. Scales and Douglas Ollivant [Washington Post] discuss the new face of global terrorism, cautioning that “as terrorist groups turn into armies, pairing their fanatical dedication with newly acquired tactical skills, renewed intervention might generate casualties on a new scale.”

Reuters reports that a Pakistani religious leader and two guards were killed today when a bomb exploded during a religious celebration at a shrine in the northwest of the country, according to police.

A civilian vigilante group’s uprising against Boko Haram in Nigeria has reportedly backfired, with many of the Islamic insurgency’s recent attacks directed at the civilian population [Wall Street Journal’s Drew Hinshaw].

The New York Times (Carlotta Gall) reports that disputes over the Afghan presidential election results flared again on Sunday as campaign aides of Abdullah Abdullah accused one of President Hamid Karzai’s vice presidents of fraud.

A bomb hidden in piles of garbage in the Somali capital of Mogadishu killed three street cleaners yesterday, said a Somali police officer [Associated Press].

CNN (Joe Sterling and Josh Levs) writes that the Chinese state media said that nearly 100 people were gunned down by police during an attack last week, most of whom were “terrorists.”

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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