The Middle East Channel

Israel Withdraws Troops From Gaza as Cease-Fire Begins

Israel and Palestinian factions, including Hamas, agreed late on Monday to an Egyptian proposal for a 72-hour cease-fire. The truce came into effect at 8:00 a.m. local time on Tuesday. Israel has withdrawn its ground troops, according to the military, to "defensive positions outside the Gaza Strip." The Israeli military claimed it has destroyed 32 tunnels into Israel, killed "approximately 900 militants in combat," and destroyed 3,000 rockets. Israel is expected to send a delegation to Cairo to join Palestinians for negotiations on a longer-term end to hostilities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is calling for the demilitarization of Gaza. Beyond the withdrawal of Israeli forces, Palestinians are demanding an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza and the release of prisoners, including Palestinians detained in the West Bank during Israeli raids following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. In nearly a month of fighting, an estimated 1,865 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed, according to Gaza officials. Israel has reported 64 soldiers and three civilians have been killed. Additionally, Palestinian militants have launched over 3,300 rockets and mortar bombs into Israel.

Syria-Lebanon

Two Lebanese soldiers were killed overnight in the Lebanese town of Arsal near the Syrian border. An estimated 16 soldiers and 50 militants have been killed in four days of fighting between the Lebanese army and fighters from al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State. On Tuesday, a Future Movement official reported progress had made toward ending fighting saying that, after negotiations, militants had agreed to hand over three soldiers and gradually withdraw forces. Additionally, clashes broke out in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli Monday night and gunmen attacked a bus carrying soldiers, wounding seven people, on Tuesday.

Headlines  

  • Libya's new parliament convened at the eastern port of Tobruk for its first session Monday electing a speaker while fighting continued between militias in Tripoli and Benghazi.
  • Iraq has offered air support to Kurdish forces battling Sunni militants after Islamic State-allied fighters overtook territory in the north.
  • Turkish police have detained at least 25 police officers in a second wave of arrests over allegations of illegally wiretapping Prime Minister Erdogan and other officials.
  • Egypt plans to construct a new Suez Canal alongside the existing 145-year-old channel in a $4 billion project estimated to be completed in five years. 

Arguments and Analysis 

'Is Israel's blockade worth fighting for?' (Michael Robbins and Amaney Jamal, The Washington Post

"Weakening Hamas is one of the key reasons for maintaining the controversial blockade of Gaza. Hamas says that there will be no truce without a lifting of the blockade, while Israel's central demand is a disarming of the Gaza Strip. What do we really know about the effectiveness of the blockade in achieving this aim? Has the blockade of Gaza in fact substantially weakened Hamas?

Not really. The available evidence demonstrates that at least in terms of Palestinian public opinion, Hamas is now stronger than when these policies went into effect."

'A Rush for the Exits in Libya' (Wayne White, LobeLog)

"The withdrawal of American and most other foreign missions from Libya has left its people more alone than ever before. Legitimate political authority and much of the economy has been seriously damaged. Despite temporary successes, none of the militias or Libyan army units flailing away at each other have scored enough gains to alter the overall situation. The international community should attempt to coax the leading players in this mess to assemble at a foreign venue where enough differences might be hashed out to dampen the raging violence and chaos." 

'Never ask me about peace again' (Asmaa al-Ghoul, Al Monitor)

"My father's brother, Ismail al-Ghoul, 60, was not a member of Hamas. His wife, Khadra, 62, was not a militant of Hamas. Their sons, Wael, 35, and Mohammed, 32, were not combatants for Hamas. Their daughters, Hanadi, 28, and Asmaa, 22, were not operatives for Hamas, nor were my cousin Wael's children, Ismail, 11, Malak, 5, and baby Mustafa, only 24 days old, members of Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or Fatah. Yet, they all died in the Israeli shelling that targeted their home at 6:20 a.m. on Sunday morning."

-- Mary Casey

THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Israel Announces Seven-Hour Cease-Fire Following Strike on U.N. School

Israel announced a seven-hour humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza following an airstrike near a U.N. school that killed 10 Palestinians and wounded an estimated 35 others. State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the United States was "appalled" by the shelling of the school, which was being used as a shelter for around 3,000 displaced persons, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Sunday's strike "a moral outrage and a criminal act." The Israeli military said it was targeting three militants riding past the school on a motorcycle. Following the strike, Israel announced a "temporary humanitarian window" which would begin at 10:00 a.m. local time on Monday to allow for the entry of aid into Gaza. An Israeli defense official said it would apply everywhere except the southern town of Rafah, where three Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush Friday while they were destroying tunnels, including Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, who was originally believed to have been seized by militants. Palestinians have accused Israel of breaking its own cease-fire after the military bombed the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, killing a young girl and wounding 29 others. Prior to the cease-fire, an Israeli airstrike reportedly killed senior commander of Islamic Jihad Danyal Mansour. In nearly four weeks of fighting, the Palestinian Ministry of Health reported 1,822 Palestinians, mostly civilians have been killed and 9,370 others have been wounded. Additionally, Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians. Israel reported 55 rockets were fired from Gaza on Sunday.

Syria-Iraq

The United Nations has warned that about 200,000 people, mostly from the minority Yazidi community, have been forced to flee as militants led by the Islamic State seized three Kurdish-majority towns in northern Iraq. Sunni militants overtook Sinjar, Zuma, and Wana, as well as an oil field and the Mosul Dam, the country's largest dam, which provides most of Mosul's electricity. Fighters from the Islamic State were reportedly also involved in clashes with the Lebanese army in and around the Lebanese town of Arsal, near the border with Syria. Fighting erupted Saturday between the Lebanese army and fighters from the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front after soldiers detained a suspected Syrian Islamist rebel commander. Meanwhile, tribesmen forced Islamic State fighters out of three villages in Syria's oil rich Ashara region.

Headlines  

  • An estimated 22 people were killed Sunday as clashes between rival militias continued over control of the international airport in Libya's capital of Tripoli.
  • Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan staged his last major rally in an Istanbul suburb Sunday one week before presidential elections, which he is widely expected to win.

Arguments and Analysis

'Hamas's Chances' (Nathan Thrall, London Review of Books)

"The current war in Gaza was not one Israel or Hamas sought. But both had no doubt that a new confrontation would come. The 21 November 2012 ceasefire that ended an eight-day-long exchange of Gazan rocket fire and Israeli aerial bombardment was never implemented. It stipulated that all Palestinian factions in Gaza would stop hostilities against Israel, that Israel would end attacks against Gaza by land, sea and air - including the 'targeting of individuals' (assassinations, typically by drone-fired missile) - and that the closure of Gaza would essentially end as a result of Israel's 'opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas'. An additional clause noted that 'other matters as may be requested shall be addressed,' a reference to private commitments by Egypt and the US to help thwart weapons smuggling into Gaza, though Hamas has denied this interpretation of the clause."

-- Mary Casey

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images