The Middle East Channel

Mediators Work to Extend Israeli-Palestinian Cease-Fire

Egyptian mediators have continued indirect talks with Israeli and Palestinian delegations in Cairo as a 72-hour cease-fire nears its end. Israel has expressed willingness to extend the truce under its current terms passed the Friday morning deadline. However, one Hamas leader said there has been no agreement on an extension, while another said there would be no extension unless Israel meets some of its demands. The still appear to be wide gaps between the parties with the Palestinians calling for an end to the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza, while Israel is pushing for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian official said he did not expect Hamas to accept Israel's demand that it disarm. Meanwhile, business leaders are assessing the damage in Gaza caused by the four-week conflict, exacerbating already dire economic conditions.

Iraq

Militants led by the Islamic State have continued an offensive in northern Iraq, expanding territorial gains Thursday near the Kurdish region. Kurdish pesh merga forces have been battling over control of towns west of the regional capital of Erbil. The Islamic State reported it had overtaken 15 towns, the Mosul dam, and a military base since the weekend. However, Kurdish officials claim their forces maintain control of the dam. Witnesses reported the predominantly Christian towns of Tilkaif and Al Kwair, as well as Iraq's largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, were seized by militants. The United Nations reported 200,000 people had fled fighting. Tens of thousands of people from the Yazidi community were forced to leave the town of Sinjar as it was seized over the weekend and fled to the surrounding mountains. According to the United Nations, some have been rescued over the past 24 hours, though many are in urgent need of water, food, and medical care.

Headlines  

  • A cease-fire between the Lebanese army and militants in the town of Arsal near the Syrian border has been extended, after fighters freed a number of soldiers, though 22 are believed to be missing.
  • Senior U.S. and Iranian officials will hold nuclear talks in Geneva Thursday after six world powers and Tehran agreed to extend negotiations on a comprehensive agreement until Nov. 24.
  • The Yemeni army has reported it has killed 25 suspected al Qaeda militants in two days of clashes in the city of Seiyoun in Hadramout province.

Arguments and Analysis

'Opposition backers strengthen jihadists by shunning moderate Islamists' (Hassan Hassan, The National)

"A series of events inside the country appears to have put the ball in the opposition backers' court, especially in the Gulf. Earlier this week, 18 of the rebels' major fighting groups issued a statement of unity, called wa'tasimo, or 'work in solidarity'. The signatories represent the rebels' different inclinations, from seculars to religious moderates, and exclude radical groups such as Ahrar Al Sham and Jabhat Al Nusra. What is particularly interesting is that the groups are supported by various backers - namely Saudi Arabia and Qatar - who often pit these groups against each other.

The rivalry among the opposition's backers has undermined the rebels' unity and led to catastrophic infighting. Support for certain moderate groups was conditioned on refusal to include or even work with certain Islamist groups. Some of these moderate groups have received advanced weapons, while other groups have suffered from a policy of financial blockade. This, along with the fighting with the ­Islamic State, is an important factor behind the flaking of large rebel alliances."

'Turkey wakes up to Islamic State threat' (Orhan Kemal Ceniz, Al Monitor)

"Turkey's serious troubles with IS are obviously not only about its citizens held hostage in Mosul but also the threat posed by the organization to the country's security. The impression that Turkey is tolerating IS militants endangers the peace process in Turkey as IS attacks against Syrian and Iraqi Kurds escalate. IS has become a major threat to Turkey's security and stability." 

-- Mary Casey

MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

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