Growing Global Conflicts: Finding Peace in A Restless World

On Monday of this week, as the death toll in Gaza rises to 175 after a week long Israeli airstrike offensive, the Israeli military said it downed a drone launched by militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel began the campaign against Hamas controlled Gaza last Tuesday in response to rocket fire from the densely populated territory. In total, the military has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes since then, while Palestinian militants have launched close to 1,000 rockets at Israel, Peter Enav reports (Israel Says It’s Downed Drone Along Southern Coast). The unmanned drone, which was shot down by Israel, represent a new level of sophistication for Hamas which has never admitted to having such a weapon. The Israeli military confirmed that the dsrone was shot down mid-flight by a Patriot surface to air missile along the southern Israeli coastline never Ashdod. Speaking under anonymity, a senior military official, said Israel was aware Hamas possessed drones and Israel has targets Hamas drone facilities in Gaza previously. In a media statement, Hamas alleges that three drones were launched into Israel on Monday with only one confirmed by Israel. According to Enav, drones refer to a range of unmanned aircraft from rudimentary to advanced with weapons or surveillance capabilities. Hamas said it has both intelligence and munitions drones. In addition, the group alleges that it lost contact with one drone and targets included the Israeli Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said,”Hamas is trying everything it can to produce some kind of achievement and it is crucial that we maintain our high state of readiness. The shooting down of a drone this morning by our air defense system is an example of their efforts to strike at us in any way possible.”

On Monday fighting continued as two Israeli airstrikes struck the southern city of Khan Younis killing four Palestinians and raising the death toll to at least 175 people killed including dozens of civilians, according to officials at European Hospital and the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. No Israelis have been killed in Hamas rocket fire, however, several people have been wounded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday, said the current operation could last a long time and the military is prepared for all possibilities including a Gaza ground invasion. The outbreak of violence followed the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an alleged revenge attack, along with Israeli raids against Hamas militants and infrastructure in West Bank. Though the killers of the Palestinian teenagers have been caught, the killer of the three teenagers has yet to be caught. Israeli leaders widely condemned the killing and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed those responsible would be brought to justice. Israel accuses Hamas of the killing and cracked down on the Islamic militants in the West Bank after the abduction of the teens causing Gaza to respond with rocket fire that led to the current round of fighting.

However since the fighting began, Netanyahu has come under international pressure to end the operation. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a ceasefire and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that America was ready to help restore calm. A key mediator between Israel and Hamas, Egypt continued to work to stop the conflict as Hamas has shown signs it would agree to a ceasefire if hundreds of arrested activist were freed as part of a truce. On the other hand, Netanyahu wants to show the Israeli public that he can succeed in degrading Hamas’s ability to strike Israeli targets before moving to a truce.

Unfortunately, Tuesday confirmed that Hamas has rejected Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire with Israel after the Israeli Cabinet accepted the plan squashing international efforts to end the fighting that’s killed 192 Palestinians and risking the lives of Israelis. The Associated Press reports, Israel accepts cease-fire to end Gaza conflict; Hamas calls proposal unacceptable,  that senior Israeli government officials now warn that Israeli will strike Gaza harder if Hamas does not accept the truce. The Egyptian proposal for a truce presented on late Monday called for a stop to the violence as of Tuesday morning followed by negotiations on easing the closure of Gaza’s borders which has been enforced by Israel and Egypt since Hams seized the territory in 2007. On conditions of anonymity, an Israeli official said, “As you know, the Cabinet has accepted the Egyptian proposal. If Hamas rejects it, Israel will continue and intensify its operations and Hamas will find itself totally isolated, including in the Arab world, which supports the proposal.” In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the proposal was not acceptable as Hamas officials are weary of promises from Egypt and Israel to ease the border blockade since the promise was part of the 2012 truce, which was broken due to a violent flare up. Referring to the 2012 truce, he said,” It’s not logical to ask people who are under aggression to cease fire and then later to negotiate terms that were not respected in the past by the Israelis.” The ease of the blockade is crucial to Hamas’ survival because the outbreak of fighting has left the militant group in serious financial woes  as the closure by Egypt has prevented cash and goods from being smuggled in across the Gaza-Egypt border.

As of Tuesday afternoon, in Gaza, the death toll now stands at 194 people killed with 1,400 wounded so far making it the deadliest conflict between Israel and Hamas in over five years. Israel resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza on Tuesday and warned that the Islamic militant group will pay the price for not accepting the Egyptian truce plan and unleashing rocket fire at the Jewish state killing one Israeli. According to Karin Laub and Aron Heller,  Israel: Hamas to pay price for its ‘no’ to truce, Hamas does not consider Egypt’s current ruler a fair broker, who ousted the Hamas friendly government in Cairo a year ago. Hamas will continue to fight as it has little to lose, while a truce on unfavorable terms could weaken the grip on the Gaza Strip, a territory it seized in 2007. Reaffirming this stance, Gaza militants fired more than 120 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel on Tuesday with more than 40 rockets hitting in a few minutes and causing the first Israeli death since the beginning of the offensive. In a TV response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated,”Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision. When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire.” After holding fire for six hours, the Israeli air force opened fired launching 33 strikes from midafternoon. In Washington, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Israel had the right to defend itself, but would not want to see a ground invasion. Hamas officials rejected the plan on Tuesday noting they weren’t consulted by Cairo and see the truce as an ultimatum to Hamas from Israel and Egypt. A top Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told the Lebanese TV channel Al-Mayadeen: “The siege on Gaza must be broken, and the people of Gaza should live freely like other people of the world. There should be a new equation so that we will not have a war on Gaza every two years.” In addition, Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas leader in Gaza, had this to say: “Mediation to end this aggression needs to come from different countries, and the guarantees should be given by different countries in order to commit the occupation (Israel) to what any future agreement might say.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ main political rival, was to meet Wednesday in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and then fly to Turkey for high-level talks. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been under a lot of pressure from his Cabinet and the ruling Likud Party to launch a ground offensive to end the rocket fire. He faced intense criticism from the right over agreeing to the Egyptian truce plan.

On Monday, according to Barbara Surk’s article, Heavy Clashes Between Hezbollah And Syrian Rebels Leave Many Dead, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human right said militants from the Islamic State took over territory from a rival al-Qaida linked Nusra Front group near the border of Iraq. The march by militants of the IS on the city of Deir el-Zour brings them closer to a showdown with Bashar Assad’s forces. The group recently captured cities and towns in northern Iraq and merged them with territory under its control in eastern Syria. Assad’s forces still control half of Deir el-Zour city, however no fighting between his troops and the extremist group have been reported. The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 following peaceful protest against Assad’s rule that turned into armed revolts after opposition supporter took up weapons to fight a brutal government crackdown. The situation dissolved in to civil war in which Islamic extremists with hard line al-Qaida ideologies have played a prominent role among fighters leading to the dampening of support from the West. On Monday, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution authorizing cross border delivery of food and aid to Syrians in rebel held areas without government approval. The article explains: ” The resolution expressed ‘grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria’ and deplored the fact that its previous demands for humanitarian access ‘have not been heeded’ by the Syrian government and opposition fighters.” The council adopted a resolution in February for aid, but monthly reports from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on its implementation paint a dire picture. According to Surk: “Just hours before the resolutions was adopted, 13 Syrian Red Crescent trucks loaded with 1,000 parcels crossed into the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh, which has been besieged by government troops for more than two years, causing widespread hunger-related illness and death among its residents. In Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus that has been under government siege for over a year, U.N. aid workers were not allowed to distribute aid on Monday, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement, adding that 18,000 civilians remain trapped there in desperate need of food and medicine. The interruption follows a week of sustained food distribution in Yarmouk during which the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees in the Middle East distributed food parcels to 3,316 families, Gunness said.”

While the Middle East deals with numerous conflicts between governments and militants with different ideologies, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday continues his verbal assault on Russia accusing military staff officers of fighting with separatists in eastern Ukraine and using a newly developed Russian missile system against government forces. According to Reuters’ article,  Ukraine’s President Poroshenko Says Russian Officers Fight Alongside Separatists, Poroshenko made his accusations as he was speaking to security chiefs at an emergency meeting after a weekend of Ukrainian air strikes on rebel position near the Russian border and charges by Moscow that Kiev killed a Russian man with cross border shell. After three months of fighting, several hundred Ukrainian servicemen, civilians and rebels have been killed as the fighting and war of words between Moscow and Kiev intensifies. As Poroshenko on Sunday accused Russia of movement of heavy military equipment into the country, he added: “Information has … been confirmed that Russian staff officers are taking part in military operations against Ukrainian forces.” Accusing Russia of escalating fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions, National and Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists: “In the past 24 hours, deployment of (Russian) units and military equipment across the border from the Sumy and Luhansk border points was noticed. The Russian Federation continues to build up troops on the border. The (rebel) fighters systematically fire mortar and shoot into Russian territory which killed a Russian citizen.”

As Ukraine and the Middle East struggle to find a common ground, top U.S. and Iranian diplomats came together Monday for nuclear talks. The talks of U.S. and Iran were further complicated as both sides are fighting proxy wars in Israel, Gaza and Syria. However, both are talking cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan, while negotiating the decrease in the Islamic republic’s uranium and plutonium programs.  According to Bradely Klapper and Goerge Jahn, Kerry And Top Iranian Diplomat To Hold In-Depth Nuclear Talks Days Before Deadline, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif talked for two hours Monday in a second day of talks in Vienna and again in the afternoon hoping to meet Sunday’s initial deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Kerry told U.S. Embassy staff in Vienna that: “We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran’s program. It is a really tough negotiation.” In addition, both men talked about Afghanistan which Kerry visited before Vienna to broker a power sharing agreement between rival presidential candidates and a full audit of election ballots. Both men were in agreement that the mediation was extremely important for the Afghan people and echoed thr need for unity. However the two countries remain divided when it comes to the current Israeli Palestine conflict with Iran being the main benefactor for Hamas and alleged source of its new drone capacity, while Washington provides billions in aid each year to Israel. Nonetheless, the talks focused on nuclear matters. Monday’s talk came a day after failed talks between Britain, France and Germany with Iran on uranium enrichment and other issues standing in the way of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the end of nuclear sanction on Tehran. Under a six month interim agreement in effect since January, world powers and Iran have until July 20 to conclude a final deal. The interim agreement does allow for an additional six month period for negotiation which seem likely. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Iran has defied the expectation of some, but has yet to make the necessary decisions to prove the world its intentions are peaceful. Iranian hardliners oppose any concession by President Hassan Rouhani’s government, while U.S. lawmakers threaten to shoot down any agreement that would allow Iran to keep some enrichment capacity.

The Human Cost of Conflicts and Wars

On Friday, protestors stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Ankara holding Palestinian flags to protest against the attacks on Gaza by Israel who allege the attacks are in response to rocket fire from Gaza. According to the Associated Press, Israel strikes mosque as death toll tops 120, the UN’s human rights office said that Israel could be violating the laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza where the death toll from Israeli strikes have risen to 100. Israel has alleged that the Islamic group Hamas and other Palestinian militants deliberately placed military installations in populated areas of Gaza as part of its defense by using civilians as human shields. Palestinian Officials on Saturday reported that the death toll has now reached 120 after an Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled killing two women. In response, the Israeli military alleged the mosque concealed rockets similar to the ones used during the five day offensive and is looking into claims that other sites were hit. The problem no facing Israel is how to orchestrate a ground invasion in the region with such a densely populated Gaza Strip  and immense danger to civilians.

While there are no fatalities reported in Israel from rocket fire, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra confirmed the death toll from Israeli strikes at over 120 and more than 920 wounded. Though the breakdown of casualties is not clear and Hamas militants have been hit hard, dozens of the dead are civilians. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Saturday that the Israeli people should prepare for several more days of fighting making it clear that the offensive shows no signs of ceasing anytime soon. Hamas said Israel struck a pair of mosques in its offensive, however, the claim along with Israel’s claim could not be confirmed. A Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar, had this to say: “The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much is it hostile to Islam. This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier.” The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it struck stating Hamas hid rockets next to another religious site and civilian homes. In addition, they said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups regularly use this tactic to endanger its own civilians. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman explains,”Hamas terrorists systematically exploit and choose to put Palestinians in Gaza in harm’s way and continue to locate their positions among civilian areas and mosques, proving once more their disregard for human life and holy sites.”

Israel’s military, the Associate Press reports, has struck more than 1,100 targets including rocket launchers, command centers and weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, while Gaza officials said the strikes, in addition to hitting the home for the disabled and the mosques, have hit affiliated charities and banks. The “Iron Dome,” a U.S. funded, Israeli developed rocket defense system, has intercepted more than a 130 rockets from Gaza preventing any fatalities and only a handful of Israelis have been wounded. As a precaution, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv has relocated personnel to Beersheba. The frequent rocket fire, particularly in southern communities, has disrupted daily life with most people staying indoors, television channels airing non-stop coverage of the violence and radio broadcasts being interrupted by air raid siren warnings. Meanwhile, at the border of Gaza and Israel, Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

However, recently, Israel has come under international pressure to halt its offensive due to the growing casualties in Gaza, the Associate Press reports. With the United States and Europeans leaders defending Israel’s actions, the United Nations has expressed its concern over civilian deaths in Gaza and anti-Israel protests in Europe. In the West Bank, Hamas supporters clashed with Israeli troops over the Gaza offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has requested an emergency meeting with the Arab League and Arab foreign ministers that will happen in Cairo Monday to discuss the continued offensive and measures to urge the international community to pressure Israel. In New York, the United Nations Security Council called unanimously for a ceasefire, even though there are no signs of stopping from Israel nor Gaza.

Even with international pressures for a cease fire, Israel has widened its range of targets to civilian institution with alleged Hamas ties and deployed troops inside Gaza early on Sunday to raid a rocket launching site, according to Khaled Khazziha and Mohammed Daraghmeh, Israel troops briefly raid Gaza as offensive rages. The death toll now stands at more than 156 Palestinians killed. Four Israeli soldiers were hurt during the brief incursion to destroy rocket sites in norther Gaza, but returned to Israeli territory the military confirmed. Even though this was the first time Israeli ground troops entered Gaza in the current offensive, the military did say the operation was carried out by special forces and was not the beginning of a broad ground invasion. In a move to broaden the conflict, Israel fired into Lebanon late Saturday in response to two rockets fired into norther Israel. No injuries or damages reported, however Israel fears Lebanese militant groups may try to open a second front.

Critics say Israel’s heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, “this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well.”But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following Israeli warnings.At the United Nations, a Security Council statement approved by all 15 members called for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm, and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.The statement also called for “the re-institution of the November 2012 cease-fire,” which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.

While Israel faces international criticism for his possible human right’s violations, on Saturday, the Human Rights Watch alleges that Iraqi security forces and government affiliated militias have unlawfully executed 255 prisoners over the past month in apparent revenge for killings by Islamic State fighters. According to Reuters’ Stephen Addison, Iraqi Forces Executed 255 Prisoners: Human Rights Watch, the group claims the killings took place in six Iraqi towns and villages since June 9 and at least eight of the dead are under 18. On the groups website, the groups says that the killing took place while the Iraqi forces were fleeing from Islamic State militants and other armed groups. In addition, most of the security forces and militias are Shiite, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni. HRW said,”The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by (Islamic State).” The Islamic State was formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The militants have never hid the face that mass executions of their prisoners occurred. Days after they began sweeping through norther cities last month, they released videos showing their masked fighters machine gunning captive government soldiers in shallow graves, Addison reports. In addition, Addison states, “HRW said it has statements from witnesses, security forces and government officials indicating Iraqi soldiers or police, pro-government Shi’ite militias, or combinations of the three had extrajudicially executed prisoners, in nearly all cases by shooting them….(HRW) has documented five of Sunni prisoners between June 9 and 21 in Mosul and Tal Afar in northern Nineveh province, in Baaquba and Jumarkhe in eastern Diyala province, and in Rawa in western Anbar province. It said residents and activists those areas believed Iraqi security forces and militias killed Sunni prisoners released by Islamic State, to stop them joining the rebellion and in revenge for the killings of government troops.” Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director believes the actions of the government are “an outrageous violation of international law” adding that “While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of (Islamic State), it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces.”

On Saturday, the same day that Israel and Iraq had accusations of human right’s violations and international law, Ukrainian war planes attacked separatists along the broad front causing huge losses according to Kiev, after President Petro Poroshenko said that many will pay for a deadly missile attack on Ukrainian forces. According to Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets, Ukrainian Fighter Jets Pound Rebels, a military spokesman confirmed that jets struck at the epicenter of the battle against the rebels near the Russian border. The planes targeted positions where high powered Grad missiles were fired by separatists on an army motorized brigade that killed 23 servicemen Friday. The warplanes also struck near Donetsk, the east’s main town where rebels have dug in, destroying a powerful fighter base near Dzerzhinsk, a spokesman for the anti-terrorist operation, Andriy Lysenko, said. Lysenko told reporters, “According to preliminary assessment, Ukrainian pilots … killed about 500 (rebel) fighters and damaged two armored transporters.” In addition, an earlier attack on a base near Perevalsk, two tanks, 10 armored vehicles and 500 rebel fighters were destroyed. However, Luhansk based separatists, referring to the Peravalsk attack, said,”There were no volunteers (rebels) where the Ukrainian aviation was active yesterday.” So far, Lysenko reports, during Friday evening and throughout Saturday, five Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 16 overflights by Ukrainian fighter jets have taken place.

The increasing violence require now more than ever a need for diplomacy to end the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. Since the ousting of the Moscow backed president in February and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, more than 200 Ukrainian servicemen have died and hundreds of civilians and rebels have died also. The United States and the EU have brought sanctions against Russian businesses as Ukrainian government claims Moscow has aided in the conflict and turned a blind eye to military equipment and Russian fighters crossing its border. On Saturday, the EU targeted 11 Ukrainian separatist leaders with travel bans and asset freezes without new sanctions on Russian business in order to avoid antagonizing its main energy supplier. Lysenko explained, “The situation on the border is very difficult because there is a strip of border there which has been turned into the epicenter of confrontation. This is because this is a part of the border through which the Russian terrorists are trying to bring in military equipment and arms. Ukrainian forces are there to cover that part. If the Ukrainian unit pulls out of there then columns of military equipment will start to flow on to Ukrainian territory again.” Poroshenko, urged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to use a sense of proportion in actions against separatists, had talked on Friday with Donetsk mayor Aleksander Lukyanchenko on the issue. Meanwhile,  western allies and Russia are pushing for a new meeting of the contact group involving separatist leaders to negotiate an end to the crisis. Poroshenko has proposed various venues for these talks to take place, but has said he will not repeat a 10 day unilateral ceasefire by government forces like the one that ended June 30. The rational is due to the fact, the Ukrainian government alleges that rebels repeatedly violated the ceasefire and more than 20 Ukrainian servicemen were killed while it was enforced.