The Middle East Channel

Israelis and Palestinians Hold Indirect Talks in Cairo

Egyptian mediators are holding indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo as a 72-hour cease-fire enters its second day. An Egyptian official said, "It is still too early to talk about outcomes be we are optimistic." U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged the parties to use the truce to move toward broader negotiations focusing on the need for a two-state solution. The Palestinian representatives, who include members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Palestinian Authority, are looking for an end to the seven-year Israeli and Egyptian blockade on Gaza, while the Israelis are calling for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. The truce has been the longest to hold in about four weeks of fighting. The United Nations estimates 1,814 Palestinians have been killed, 72 percent of whom it said were civilians, while the Israeli military said it killed 900 combatants.

Syria-Lebanon

Fighting broke out between the Lebanese army and militants from al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State near the Lebanese border town of Arsal, despite a 24-hour cease-fire that came into effect Tuesday evening. A Lebanese security official said the cease-fire was still in place, but security forces were responding to violations. Saudi Arabia has offered $1 billion to the Lebanese army to bolster security efforts. Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported rebel shelling killed 16 people, including two children, in districts of the Syrian capital of Damascus. 

Headlines

  • Up to 40,000 civilians from the Iraqi minority Yazidi sect are trapped in the mountains after an Islamic State offensive overtaking the town of Sinjar during which 40 children were reported killed.
  • Israeli authorities reported they have arrested a Palestinian man, Hussam Qawasmeh, for suspected involvement in the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers on June 12.
  • Militants attacked a checkpoint in northern Egypt late Tuesday killing five policemen and sparking clashes during which security forces killed four of the attackers.

Arguments and Analysis

'A friend flees the horror of ISIS' (George Packer, The New Yorker)

"Karim heard that one young man from Sinuni had been executed by ISIS for no reason other than being Yazidi. A friend of Karim's was hiding in the mountains, running low on supplies, and out of battery power in his phone. Another friend, an Arab (‘He is not a religion guy, he's open-minded, it doesn't matter if you're Christian or Yazidi,' Karim said), had stayed in Sinjar and was trapped in his home. Now ISIS was going house to house, with information provided by locals, looking for Iraqi soldiers and police, for people with money, for Kurds. They had already taken away the friend's brother, a police officer. No one knows for sure how many people ISIS has killed since the attack on Sinjar. Karim heard that it is many hundreds.

Prince Tahseen Said, 'the world leader of the Yazidis,' has issued an appeal to Kurdish, Iraqi, Arab, and European leaders, as well as to Ban Ki-moon and Barack Obama. It reads: 'I ask for aid and to lend a hand and help the people of Sinjar areas and its affiliates and villages and complexes which are home to the people of the Yazidi religion. I invite [you] to assume [your] humanitarian and nationalistic responsibilities towards them and help them in their plight and the difficult conditions in which they live today.'"

'The One Place Where Israel and Hamas Are Communicating' (Debra Kamin, The Atlantic)

"Thanks to flimsy copyright laws in the region, Israeli and Palestinian television stations routinely tap into each other's transmissions and broadcast them to their viewers. Since Gazans and Israelis are barred from entering each other's territories, this swap of feeds often stands in for reporters on the ground. The news broadcasts-a fun-house mirror of Israeli television showing Palestinian television showing Israeli television-sometimes offer the only window into the reality of life on the other side.

Occasionally, the voyeurism becomes even more surreal. Yaari, one of Israel's most respected Arabists, often tries to strike up a conversation with the anchors in Gaza. Sometimes he succeeds."

'Rouhani Report Card: A Year of Diplomatic Breakthrough and Breakdown' (Suzanne Maloney, The Brookings Institution)

"If there had been any doubt about Hassan Rouhani's priorities prior to his inauguration as president a year ago this week, they were dispelled in the new executive's first press conference after assuming office. In that session, Rouhani declared with his trademark bluntness that 'we are ready to seriously and without wasting any time participate in serious negotiations,' adding that 'if other sides have the same notion, I am sure this issue will be solved in short time.'

Rouhani has not yet lived up to that ambitious assertion. But since taking the second most senior position in the Iranian government a year ago, his imprint on the country's foreign policy is evident, if incomplete: he has helped shape a more dynamic, outward-oriented Iran prepared to take modest risks to move beyond its disputes with old adversaries."

-- Mary Casey

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

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