The Middle East Channel

Palestinian Factions Hamas and Fatah Announce Reconciliation Deal

Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have signed a reconciliation deal aiming to end seven years of division. The accord came after talks Wednesday in Gaza and paves the way for a unity government within five weeks and parliamentary elections in six months. The move is the latest attempt to repair relations between the groups after previous deals were not implemented. The agreement has come less than a week ahead of the deadline for U.S. sponsored peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately denounced the deal saying Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas would have to choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Washington was "disappointed" with the deal, which she said could jeopardize peace efforts. Abbas said that a reconciliation agreement would contribute to negotiations with Israel. The United States has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, therefore a senior U.S. official noted Thursday that the United States would have to reconsider its annual $500 million in assistance to Palestinians if a unity government is formed.

Syria

The heads of five U.N. agencies have said that diplomatic efforts to end suffering caused by the over three-year war in Syria have failed. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused all parties in the conflict for "flagrant violations" of international law preventing the delivery of humanitarian aid to nearly 3.5 million civilians in need after a Security Council resolution passed in February demanded uninhibited access. Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported an air strike on a market in the village of Atareb in Aleppo province killed up to 25 people Thursday. The air raid came as part of a regime offensive that began in December 2013 targeting opposition-held areas in the province and the city of Aleppo.

Headlines

  • Iran's highest prison official Gholam Hossein Esmaili has been removed and transferred following protests by inmates' families accusing guards at Tehran's Evin prison of attacking a cellblock.
  • Saudi Arabia reported two more people have died from the MERS virus and 13 more cases have surfaced just days after the kingdom replaced its health minister.
  • A suicide car bomber killed at least 11 people and wounded 27 others in the Iraqi city of Hillah during Thursday morning's rush hour.
  • Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian accused Turkey of "utter denial" of the mass killings of Armenians during WWI marking the 99th anniversary of the massacres.
  • The militant group Ajnad Misr (Egypt's Soldiers) claimed responsibility for a car bombing that killed a police officer on Wednesday saying it was in retaliation for killings and arrests of Morsi supporters.

Arguments and Analysis

'Why Israel may need to rethink its assumptions on Palestinian unity' (Christa Case Bryant, The Christian Science Monitor)

"Israel's approach rests on two assumptions: that Mr. Abbas, who is also leader of Fatah, could enforce a peace deal without reconciling with Hamas; and that Hamas would never give up its stated intention to destroy Israel. Both may need rethinking. 

Abbas, elected eight years ago, has consistently marketed himself as a committed peacemaker who will show Palestinians it is better to negotiate than resort to violence. But two rounds of negotiations later, the Israeli settler population in the West Bank has grown by more than 60,000 or 22 percent, and talks with Israel have failed to deliver a single meaningful benefit to Abbas's constituency. 

His legitimacy is wearing dangerously thin, and he lacks the leverage to convince Palestinians to make the sacrifices necessary for lasting peace. Hamas could sabotage any deal he reaches with Israel by sending rockets into Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv."

'Of Transitology and Counter-Terror Targeting in Yemen' (Sheila Carapico, Muftah)

"The GCC and the United States are engaged in retrograde policies in Yemen. The American role is especially reactionary. Washington does not have a Yemen policy, much less a progressive vision for the country. Instead, American policies in the Peninsula privilege the permanence and prosperity of the GCC monarchies, notably the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations have regarded Yemen as a real place with real politics. Instead, they have bowed to the misogynist Saudi gerontocracy in treating Yemeni politics as a problem to be managed for the sake of Gulf stability. President Obama's visit with King Abdallah on March 28/29 is meant to reassure the House of Saud that Washington has its interests at heart."

'How Iran's Gadget Bloggers Became Victims of the Revolutionary Guard' (Danny O'Brien, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

"The Narenji team's treatment is another example of how technologists are targeted by governments worldwide as a result of their work. It doesn't matter if you're writing a blog about Android development or distributing anti-censorship proxies: to many governments, simply being well-known online or having a latent power to influence or change society through your technical knowledge can quickly turn you into an unacceptable threat to the social order.

Popular but apolitical bloggers like Narenji's also risk being caught in internecine battles over which they have no control. Iranian political experts we've spoken to consider that Narenji's arrest by the local Kermani Revolutionary Guard may be a deliberate response by local radicals against the Rouhani administration's encouragement of tech entrepreneurs: a signal that makes clear that Tehran should not go too far in its moderation. Narenji's high visibility may not have given them protection against the Revolutionary Guard; rather, it may have made them more of a target."

-- Mary Casey

SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

U.S. Will Deliver Apache Helicopters to Egypt, Easing Aid Restrictions

The United States has announced it will deliver 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt, easing a partial suspension of aid imposed after the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. According to the Pentagon, the helicopters will aid in Egypt's "counter-terrorism" operations in the Sinai Peninsula to "counter extremists who threaten U.S., Egyptian, and Israeli security." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Egypt had upheld "its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty" and as such had met the criteria for the United States to resume some aid. However, according to a U.S. official, military equipment other than the Apaches would remain on hold. Kerry noted that he was not yet able to verify that Egypt was taking measures toward a democratic transition, and called for free and fair elections and urged Egypt to ease restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and the media.  

Syria

Member of Parliament Maher Abdul-Hafiz Hajjar registered on Wednesday to run in Syria's presidential election, the first to field a bid to oppose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Assad has not yet announced his candidacy, but has suggested he would seek re-election, and is widely expected to win. The United Nations is renewing a December 2013 appeal for $6.5 billion for humanitarian aid for Syria has saying it has received pledges totaling only $1.2 billion. U.N. agencies said the crisis in Syria is affecting at least 9.3 million people. Meanwhile, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it is investigating claims that chlorine gas was used in an attack earlier in April on the rebel-held village of Kfar Zeita. The allegations overshadowed an OPCW report Tuesday that nearly 90 percent of Syria's chemical weapons have been exported, with only a few shipments remaining. 

Headlines

  • Lebanon's parliament failed to elect a president in the first round of voting Wednesday with leading candidate Samir Geagea receiving far less than the required two-thirds majority.
  • A senior Egyptian police officer was killed by a car bomb Wednesday in a Cairo suburb meanwhile another officer was shot and killed in a raid in Alexandria.
  • A United Nations committee has not taken action on the refusal of the United States to grant a visa to Tehran's selected ambassador to the U.N. despite a request from Iran.
  • The trial of three Al Jazeera journalists was adjourned until May 3 after prosecutors played audio and video recordings many of which were unintelligible.

Arguments and Analysis

'Human rights: Egypt's black holes' (Borzou Daragahi Financial Times)

"Egyptian and international human rights advocates say that Mr Abdul-Samiyeh disappeared into a vast network of clandestine detention centres and camps that are in effect black sites unacknowledged by the government. Rights groups say the facilities, long in existence, have swelled in size and number since security forces began rounding up dissidents after the July 3 military coup that ousted Mohamed Morsi, the country's Islamist president.

Neither ministry would respond to requests for information about facilities such as Azouly, the existence of which they officially deny. But Azouly is thought to be one among perhaps dozens of undeclared detention sites used by security forces to hold, interrogate and torture thousands of political opponents swept up from antimilitary demonstrations, homes and offices. Detainees have mostly been Morsi supporters or suspected members of his now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organisation and its allies. But they also include leftists opposed to the post-coup government installed by Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the former army general who is now running for president."

'Bahrain's disappearing moderates' (Elizabeth Dickinson, Al Monitor)

"Yet, among the biggest loser from the rising violence in Bahrain is the moderate Shiite political opposition, Al Wefaq, which is struggling to craft its response. It has not supported the violent tactics of groups such as the more radical February 14 Youth Coalition, to the disappointment of some in their antigovernment constituency. Yet, they have also not condemned the attacks adamantly enough to satisfy many of their critics at home and abroad."

-- Mary Casey

Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images