News Roundup and Notes: April 24, 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.

Ukraine

The Kyiv Post reports that five pro-Russian separatists have been killed and one wounded, as the government’s anti-terror operations continues in eastern Ukraine. Earlier today, Ukrainian forces repelled an attack on a military base in the city of Artemivsk, while troops regained control of the city council building in Mariupol, which had been under rebel control since April 13. The Guardian (Mark Tran) has live updates on the latest developments in Ukraine.

Speaking in Tokyo, President Obama said Russia was not abiding by “the spirit or the letter” of last week’s Geneva agreement on Ukraine, and warned that the U.S. had “teed up” additional sanctions against Russia [The Hill’s Justin Sink]. Obama acknowledged, however, that “additional sanctions may not change Putin’s calculus.”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki expressed “deep concern” about the kidnapping of U.S. citizen and journalist, Simon Ostrovsky, “reportedly at the hands of pro-Russian separatists.” Psaki said the U.S. has asked Russia to use its influence to secure the immediate release of all hostages.

The Federal Aviation Administration is banning U.S. airlines from flying in a portion of Crimea and its surrounding waters, which the agency says is necessary to “prevent a potential hazard to persons and aircraft engaged in such flight operations” [Politico’s Kevin Robillard].

The New York Times (Steven Erlanger) notes that NATO’s Eastern European members “are growing increasingly nervous about Russia’s moves and the alliance’s ability, or even willingness, to counter them.” Dutch fighter jets intercepted Russian military aircraft that entered Dutch airspace yesterday, in “a fairly routine action,” but one that comes amid increased tensions between NATO members and Russia, reports CNN (Lindsay Isaac and Greg Botelho).

Drones in Yemen

According to a Yemeni media report, the Yemeni government has already made condolence payments of around $55,866 to the families of victims of at least one of the U.S. drone strikes in the country last weekend [Reprieve]. Reprieve notes that it is “unclear whether the money ultimately derives from U.S. sources, which heavily fund Yemen’s counterterrorism programme.”

Israel-Palestine

Rival Palestinian groups, Fatah and Hamas have concluded “a milestone reconciliation pact,” under which the groups will “form a national consensus government in five weeks—after seven years of operating under separate administrations” [Al Jazeera]. Following the announcement, Israel cancelled a negotiating session with Palestine scheduled for last night, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that “whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace.” The New York Times (Jodi Rudoren and Michael R. Gordon), Wall Street Journal (Ahmed Abuhamda and Nicholas Casey) and Washington Post (Ruth Eglash and Anne Gearan) have more details.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the deal “could seriously complicate” peace efforts and that the announcement “raises concerns about our efforts to extend the negotiations.” Psaki also said that any Palestinian reconciliation agreement “must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties.”

And a senior U.S. official said today that the U.S. would have to reconsider its assistance to the Palestinians if the Palestinian Liberation Organization forms a government together with Hamas, which the U.S. lists as a terrorist organization [Reuters].

Meanwhile, Haaretz (Barak Ravid) is reporting that according to Israeli Foreign Ministry intelligence, “Palestinian reconciliation is far from implementation … [and] that the gaps between Hamas and Fatah are still far too wide.”

Syria

NPR (Tom Bowman and Alice Fordham) reports that the U.S. is “quietly ramping up aid” to moderate rebels in Syria “under a growing secret program run by the CIA in Jordan.” According to sources, this operation could be “supplemented by a more public effort in the coming months involving American military trainers.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report to the Security Council blames all parties in Syria’s civil war of “flagrant violations” of international law over aid delivery, and asks the Security Council to take action [BBC].

The heads of five UN agencies coordinating humanitarian relief in Syria have issued a statement noting that “[t]hus far, diplomatic efforts designed to end years of suffering have failed” [UN News Centre]. While calling for greater action, the leaders say the humanitarian situation “deteriorates day after day … [and] the worst days seem to yet to come.”

UK’s counter-terrorism officers are planning to make a plea to Muslim women to dissuade family members from joining the fight in Syria [The Guardian’s Vikram Dodd and Sandra Laville]. The scheme, due to be announced later today, has come under some criticism.

A senior al-Qaeda member, Sanafi al Nasr, has relocated to Syria, according to counter-terrorism analysts and social media, reports Fox News (Catherine Herridge).

Meanwhile, a Syrian lawmaker has registered as a candidate for Syria’s June 3 presidential election; he is the “first official contender” in a race that President Bashar al-Assad is expected to win [Associated Press].

Afghanistan

An Afghan policeman opened fire at a hospital run by a U.S. charity in Kabul this morning, killing three U.S. citizens, “in the latest incident targeting the dwindling expatriate community [in the city],” reports the Wall Street Journal (Margherita Stancati and Ehsanullah Amiri).

Reuters (Missy Ryan) reports that the White House is planning to provide Congress with a dossier on approximately 50 non-Afghan detainees in Parwan, a U.S. military prison north of Kabul. The dossier could provide lawmakers with a more nuanced look at the secretive detention center and its detainees.

The Washington Post (Joshua Partlow) covers the possible return of Abdurrashid Dostum to Afghan politics. Dostum, a vice presidential candidate for one of the frontrunners in the election race, Ashraf Ghani, is a former warlord who fought alongside U.S. Special Forces to overthrow the Taliban in 2001, but subsequently antagonized the U.S. with his “brutal, reckless behavior.”

Military commissions

Miami Herald (Carol Rosenberg) reports that Army Col. James L. Pohl., presiding in the al Nashiri pre-trial hearings, said the trial of suspected USS Cole bomber could last nine months to a year.

The Associated Press (Ben Fox and Stephen Braun) covers how “[t]he planned release of portions of the Senate report on the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques could add to the legal complications facing the long-delayed U.S. military tribunals of terrorist suspects at [Guantánamo Bay].”

President Obama’s Asia tour

Speaking at a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, President Obama emphasized that the U.S.’s treaty obligations to Japan covered the disputed islands in the East China Sea, but said it would be “a profound mistake to continue to see escalation around this issue, instead of dialogue” [Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin].

Meanwhile, a senior Chinese naval officer has said China will not necessarily observe the new code for naval encounters in contested areas of the East and South China seas [Wall Street Journal’s Jeremy Page]. The code of conduct was approved earlier this week by 21 Western Pacific naval powers, including China, Japan and the U.S.

Other developments

The New York Times (Mark Mazzetti) reports that an FBI informant “coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan.”

A new report from a Senate oversight panel finds that the Department of Homeland Security’s former acting inspector general, Charles K. Edwards “altered and delayed investigations at the request of senior administration officials, compromising his independent role,” reports the Washington Post (Carol D. Leonning).

CNN (Scott Bronstein and Drew Griffin) reports that at least 40 veterans have died after being placed on a secret waiting list for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health care system. The list was designed by Veterans Affairs managers in Phoenix who were trying to conceal the fact that 1,400 to 1,6000 veterans were being forced to wait months to receive medical attention.

Eli Lake [The Daily Beast] writes that al-Qaeda member, Ibrahim Ali Abu Bakr Tantoush, has taken control of a secret training camp on the Libyan coastline, set up by the U.S. “to train terror-hunters [but] has instead become a haven for terrorists,”  according to local media reports, online jihadist forums, and U.S. officials.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has informed his Egyptian counterpart of the administration’s decision to send Egypt 10 Apache helicopters, but said the U.S. is “not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition” in the country.

The Washington Post (Craig Whitlock) notes that Capt. Gregory McWheter, a former commander of the Navy’s acrobatic fighter squadron known as the Blue Angels, has been relieved following allegations that he allowed hazing, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination within his team of pilots.

The Washington Post editorial board comments on the recent intelligence directive on media contacts. The board argues that “[a]t a time when U.S. intelligence agencies need to regain the confidence and support of the American people, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, is taking a huge backward step.”

Diplomats have told Reuters (Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols) that Russia and China have blocked a U.S. and France-led proposal to impose UN sanctions on the Central African Republic’s former president, Francois Bozize, and two others linked to the conflict.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and France have called upon the Security Council to consider sanctions against those responsible for the escalating violence in South Sudan [Al Jazeera]. U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power said:

The Associated Press (Stan Lehman) reports that following revelations of being subject to NSA surveillance, Brazillian President Dilma Rousseff has ratified a bill that will guarantee Internet privacy and place limits on the metadata that can be collected from Internet users in Brazil.

Al Jazeera’s Asad Hashim reports that jets belonging to Pakistan attacked rebel bases near the Afghan border, a day after the government attempted to re-engage the Pakistani Taliban in peace talks in Islamabad.

The top UN envoy in Somalia said the UN “has no intention to withdraw from Somalia” and said “it’s important that the international community and partners maintain their interest in Somalia and increase, if at all possible, some of the resources” [UN News Centre].

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

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