The Middle East Channel

Israel and Gaza See Tenuous Calm as U.N. Calls For Cease-Fire

The Gaza Strip has seen relative calm Monday and rocket fire into Israel sharply dropped as the United Nations and United States called for a cease-fire. On Sunday, Hamas said it wanted a 24-hour truce for Monday's Eid al-Fitr holiday. The U.N. Security Council issued a statement calling for "all parties to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire into the Eid period and beyond." The Israeli army reported one rocket had been fired Monday morning at Ashkelon. The Israeli military struck three targets in Gaza and continued efforts to destroy tunnels from Gaza into Israeli territory. Israel's security cabinet met early Monday to debate cease-fire proposals or a possible escalation of the Gaza offensive. Israel and Hamas observed a temporary humanitarian truce on Saturday, but fighting resumed on Sunday. An estimated 1,036 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed since the Israeli operation began on July 8, and Israel reported 43 soldiers and three civilians have died. 

Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared at a Damascus mosque for Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of Ramadan. Clashes have intensified between Assad's troops and Islamic State fighters, and the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported about 1,240 pro-government forces have been killed in the past 10 days. Opposition activists and Syrian state media reported the Syrian army recaptured the Shaer gas field in Palmyra that was seized by the Islamic State earlier in July. However, a source from the Islamic State said its fighters withdrew after seizing tanks and rockets and destroying the fields' equipment.

Headlines

  • Violent clashes in Libya killed at least 50 people over the weekend and sparked the United States to evacuate its embassy, additionally rocket fire hit an oil tank igniting a massive fire.
  • Shiite militiamen have released Sunni president of Baghdad's provincial council, Riyadh al-Adhadh, and his bodyguards after abducting them in the Iraqi capital late Friday.
  • A British teacher kidnapped in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in February has been freed.

Arguments and Analysis

'Voices from Libya's armed struggle' (Borzou Daragahi, Financial Times)

"Libya's political divide is now so pronounced that eastern and western Tripoli have come under different unofficial jurisdictions.

Haftar supporters and allied militias from Zintan control the western half of the Libyan capital while Islamists are in charge in the east.

The highway leading to the airport that cuts through the city serves as a green line.

When ferocious fighting broke out between the western and eastern militias over control of the country's airport, the battle left dozens dead and badly damaged dozens of aircraft.

While some Libyans refuse to entertain the notion of the country descending into all-out armed confrontation, others feel there is little holding back the warring camps from widening their conflict."

'The Perils of Jordan's Informal Sector' (José Ciro Martínez, The Majalla)

"Since the violent escalation of Syria's conflict in the spring of 2011, Jordan has maintained a generous 'open-door' policy. This has helped prevent a broader humanitarian disaster, but at a great cost to the country's own citizens, as well as its budget. One recent study by think tank Konrad Adenauer Stiftung on the socioeconomic impact of the refugees on Jordan estimates the cost of the Syrian refugee crisis on the Jordanian economy to be somewhere between 11.5 billion-13 billion dinars (16 billion-18 billion dollars) during 2012-2014. There are undoubtedly certain under-publicized benefits accruing from the refugee influx. Wealthy Syrians have invested in the retail sector, spent on real estate, and increased the eligible labor pool for Jordanian businesses. The estimated aggregate benefit of the Syrian crisis on the Jordanian economy stands somewhere between 7.2 billion-7.9 billion dinars (10 billion-11 billion dollars) during 2012-2014. But the benefits accrue largely to private businesses. The government and vulnerable segments of the Jordanian population, on the other hand, are bearing the full brunt of the cost."

-- Mary Casey

DAVID BUIMOVITCH/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Kerry Proposes Cease-Fire Plan as Protests Erupt in the West Bank

An estimated 10,000 Palestinians gathered in the West Bank Thursday to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Clashes broke out between Israeli soldiers and demonstrators, and three Palestinians were reported killed and up to 200 wounded. Blasts at a U.N. school, which was being used as a shelter, in Gaza's northern city of Beit Hanoun killed an estimated 16 people Thursday. On Friday, Israeli airstrikes hit 30 houses in Gaza, reportedly killing the head of Islamic Jihad's media operations. In the past 18 days of fighting, an estimated 819 Palestinians have been killed, mostly civilians. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in negotiations in Cairo, has proposed an initiative to end hostilities. The initiative would begin with a weeklong cease-fire, starting Sunday, though Israeli troops would be permitted to remain in Gaza throughout the truce. During that time, Egypt would mediate negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

Syria

The United Nations has for the first time sent a humanitarian aid convoy into Syria across the Turkish border. The move came after a U.N. Security Council resolution on July 14 that authorized U.N. humanitarian aid deliveries to be transported across four border crossings, in Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan, without the consent of the Syrian government. Meanwhile, the Jordanian air force shot down an unidentified drone Friday near the northeastern border city of Mafraq. This was the first such incident reported by Jordanian authorities since the conflict began in Syria in March 2011.

Headlines

  • Iran has arrested four journalists, of whom three are Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post Tehran correspondent Jason Rezaian.
  • French authorities are investigating Thursday's Air Algerie flight crash, which left no survivors, though the interior minister said the incident could have been linked to weather conditions.
  • Iraqi parliamentarians elected Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum president meanwhile militants from the Islamic State destroyed the shrines of two Muslim and Christian prophets in Mosul.

Arguments and Analysis

'How the U.S. Lost Leverage in Iraq' (Steven Simon, Middle East Institute)

"Reflecting on this turbulent time, it is relatively easy to see why U.S. options for responding to the ISIS surge are so meager.  Without a large-scale troop presence on the ground in Iraq, securing the population is not really possible. This, in turn, suggests that peeling away ordinary Iraqis from insurgents would be quite a challenge.  The ideological framework and depth of commitment among core ISIS members further implies that efforts to coopt them would be unavailing.  Finally, there is the inescapable relevance of Casey's insight regarding the Maliki government: that, in important ways, it acts like yet another sectarian faction rather than as a government in search of broad legitimacy.

The Obama Administration, therefore, will likely be constrained to actions on the margin:  collecting intelligence (mostly for targeting purposes), weakening ISIS through decapitating attacks, strengthening reliable units in the Iraqi armed forces, stepping up arms transfers, and strengthening vulnerable allies, like Jordan.  If the Iraqi political process develops in a way that produces more inclusive policies, then U.S. options will broaden.  In the meantime, what you see is what you get."

'Sisi's Economic Call to Arms' (Tom Rollins, Sada)

"To a large degree, Sisi's ability to enact major subsidy cuts with little unrest demonstrates how the government has, with some success, reclaimed leftist language to frame its reforms, remarketing austerity policies as inclusive, beneficial, and progressive. It seems Sisi learned a lesson from President Anwar Sadat's attempt at a more radical overhaul of the subsidies system in 1977. Back then, the reforms sparked the infamous 'Bread Riots' and brought Egyptians to a stand-off with the army. The government has been lauded for its comparatively measured introduction of subsidy reform in 2014. However, this reflects more a wariness of Sadat's sudden, shock-therapy economics than any genuinely progressive reforms made by Sisi that might both complement subsidy reforms and protect the poor at the same time."

-- Mary Casey

ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images