Gaza Ceasefire Holding, Libya on the Brink of Collaspe, Islamic State Advances, New Challenges for Syria, and All While Ukraine and Russia Hurl Accusations

https://i1.wp.com/media.cagle.com/78/2014/08/14/152343_600.jpghttps://i0.wp.com/media.cagle.com/114/2011/03/21/90797_600.jpg https://i1.wp.com/www.irdc.ir/UserUpload/Image/Non-Lethal%20Aids%20to%20Terrorists%20in%20Syria.jpghttp://cmsimg.indystar.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/bilde?Site=BG&Date=20140305&Category=OPINION09&ArtNo=303050063&Ref=AR&MaxW=640&Border=0&q=80&Cartoonist-Gary-Varvel-Response-Putin-s-invasion-Ukraine

Officials on Tuesday from Hamas and Islamic Jihad , the main groups in Gaza, said a deal had been reached with Israel to end the seven week war that killed 2,000 Palestinians, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub report, Palestinian officials: cease-fire made with Israel. Ziad Nakhala, a senior Islamic Jihad officials, said the deal included an open ended cease fire, an Israeli agreement to ease the blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the territory and talks on more complex issues, such as Hamas’ demand to build an airport and a seaport for Gaza, would begin in a month. According to Palestinian health officials and the United Nations, the Gaza war this round killed 2,133 Palestinians and wounded more than 11,000, while the Unite Nations estimates 17,000 homes were destroyed leaving 100,000 homeless. The Israeli side had 68 deaths with only four being civilians. Later the same day, both Egyptian state television and the state news agency MENA announced officially the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that began at 7p.m. local time, the Associate Press reported, Egypt state media announces Gaza war cease-fire. Hamas declared victory and celebratory gunfire erupted across Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a long rival of Hamas, will likely play a key role in the new border deal for Gaza as he is expected to regain a foothold under the Egyptian brokered deal after losing it to Hamas in 2007. In this scenario, Abbas forces will be posted at Gaza’s border crossings to allay fears by Israel and Egypt about renewed attempts by Hamas to smuggle weapons. On Tuesday night, Abbas in a televised address said a permanent solution to the conflict with Israel is needed: “What’s next? Gaza has been subjected to three wars. Shall we expect another war in a year or two? Until when will this issue be without a solution? Today, I’m going to give the Palestinian leadership my vision for a solution and after that we will continue consultations with the international community. This vision must be clear and well defined and we are not going to an open-ended negotiation.” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a news conference at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital: “We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance.” In Washington, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki told journalists: “We view this as an opportunity, not a certainty. Today’s agreement comes after many hours and days of negotiations and discussions. But certainly there’s a long road ahead. And we’re aware of that and we’re going into this eyes wide open.” On Wednesday, the Associate Press reports, Gaza cease-fire holds as sides weigh gains, the Israeli military said there were no reports of violations since the ceasefire went into effect at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not put the ceasefire to a vote in his cabinet because of opposition from ministers who wanted to continue fighting. Political commentator and critic of Netanyahu, Nahum Barnea, wrote in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: “Israelis expected a leader, a statesman who knows what he wants to achieve, someone who makes decisions and engages in a sincere and real dialogue with his public. Instead they received a slick spokesman and very little else.” In Gaza, life regains some normalcy as civilians returned to their homes and utility crews hurried to fix electrical and water infrastructure issues.

While Gaza seems on the mend, Libya seems to be on the verge of collapse as weeks of fighting escalated in Libya this weekend when anti-government fighters secured control of the country’s main airport in the capital of Tripoli, Eline Gordts reports, How Libya Became A Country On The Brink Of Collapse. A group of pro-government fighter from the curt of Zintan controlled the airport after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2001, however Saturday, a collation of Islamist fighters from Misrata called Operation Dawn pushed them out. Only three years ago, the two fought together side by side against Gaddafi forces, but now the two groups are locked in a vicious fight for economic and political control pushing the country toward collapse. The current violence is the most intense since 2011 starting after the country’s parliamentary elections in June when members of the outgoing Islamist dominated parliament lost the vote to liberal and federalist candidates. The Islamist and their backers would not recognize the newly elected body forcing the new MPs to move the parliament from the capital to the eastern city of Tobruk out of fear of safety. The Islamists victory in Tripoli this weekend has led to demands on Monday for the old parliament to be reinstated and calls for their own prime minister to be elected causing the country to have two rival leaders and assemblies backed by armed factions. The Libyan army has few national troops it can rely on forcing it to turn to local militias to secure key sites, but these militias have their own agenda and allegiance ultimately lies with their commanders. Washington Post’s Frederic Wehrey explains the divide between groups, according to Gordts: “There’s a political divide between Islamists and liberals, a regional divide between fighters from the city of Misrata and Zintan, and a divide between the old order and those who consider themselves revolutionaries.” Libya’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdel Aziz told the Guardian on Monday that Operation Dawn is stronger and better armed than the government making it impossible for the government to safeguard key institutions. On Monday, American officials told the New York Times that attacks on Islamist fighters last week were by Egyptian and the United Arab Emirates’ planes, nut both countries deny involvement in the strikes. The article explains: “Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt one year ago, the new Egyptian government, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc exerting influence in countries around the region to roll back what they see as a competing threat from Islamists. Arrayed against them are the Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, backed by friendly governments in Turkey and Qatar, that sprang forward amid the Arab Spring revolts.” Meanwhile, civilians in the capital are facing dire conditions as violence in Tripoli lead to gangs of armed men burning and destroying the homes of government supporters with entire neighborhood being leveled. A the beginning of August, 5,000 to 6,000 people cross into Tunisia each day forcing authorities to close the border, while international organizations pulled employees out of Libya and many countries closed their diplomatic posts due to violence. According to Bradley Klapper and Maggie Michael, Officials: Egypt, UAE behind airstrikes in Libya, a joint statement from the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy expressed concerns over the recent attack saying “outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition.” Newly appointed U.N. convoy to Libya headed by diplomat Bernardino Leon said only an inclusive political process with all Libyans represented in parliament, government and other state institutions can get “Libya get out of chaos.”

While Israel was granted a temporary reprieve from fighting in Gaza, another battle seems to be spilling over into the country from the Syrian border. Islamic State militants, an offshoot of al-Qaida, executed Syrian army soldiers and took hostages after capturing an air base in northeast Syria near Ragga city on Sunday, posting pictures on the Internet and on Twitter by supporters on Wednesday, Reuters reports, ISIS executes soldiers, takes hostages at Syria base. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports after five days of fighting at the base cost more than 500 lives with 346 Islamic State fighters and 170 members of security forces dead. According to the Associated Press, Syrian rebels seize border crossing with Israel, Syrian rebels, including fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, took control of a frontier crossing with Israel in the Golan Heights on Wednesday after heavy clashes with President Bashar Assad’s forces leaving 20 Syrian soldiers dead, The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said reports. Fighting also took place in the towns of Jaba, Tal Kroum and Rawadi in Quneitra province. Gen. Ibrahim Jbawi, the spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s southern front, as well as the Local Coordination Committees activist group, also confirmed the rebel gains. Israel’s military said an officer stationed in Golan Heights was wounded by errant fire Wednesday from the Syrian side of the frontier as it appeared that the heavy fighting from Syria had spilled over with large clouds of smoke could be seen in the distance. Israel has avoided taking sides in the war, but has responded to the violence across its border, according to the military, by targeting two Syrian army positions that were confirmed hits. Israel says it holds the Syrian government responsible for any violence that comes out of the territory.

While war rages on in the region, an independent U.N. commission on Wednesday said that the Syrian government has likely used chlorine gas to attack civilians and the Islamic State group fighting them has committed crimes against humanity with attacks on civilians in two provinces, John Heilprin reports, UN Panel: Crimes Against Humanity Spread In Syria, Including Possible Gas Attack. The commission said government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad used a chemical agent likely chlorine on civilians in northern Syrian villages eight times in April. Commission member Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai professor who investigated human rights in North Korea, said: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the chlorine has been dropped, particularly in barrel bombs from helicopters belonging to the government authorities. So the finger points there.” The commission also said the widespread and systematic killings of civilians by the Islamic State, which controls large parts of north and eastern Syria, have also committed crimes against humanity in Iraq and Syria where the group has carved out their caliphate. One disturbing fact was the large training camps where children mostly 14 and older are recruited and trained to fight along side adult Islamic State fighters. Commission member Carl del Ponte, a Swiss former war crimes prosecutor, said: “In Syria, it’s total impunity. Crimes are committed each day, from all parties, and nobody’s dealing with the criminal responsibility for those crimes.” Heilprin explains: “The report, based on 480 interviews and documentary material, cited dozens of documented public executions in Aleppo and Raqqa during the bloody and complex Syrian civil war that the U.N. says has killed more than 190,000 people since 2011. Crowds of people including children have reportedly watched as the group’s fighters pronounce mostly adult men guilty of violating religious laws and then behead them or shoot them in the head at close range. The purpose, according to the commission, is ‘to instill terror among the population, ensuring submission to its authority.’ But the commission also emphasized that Assad’s government forces continue to perpetrate crimes against humanity through massacres and systematic murder, torture, rape and disappearances. And it said other factions fighting Assad’s government are also committing massacres and war crimes.” Zeina Karam reports, Syria Suffers Record Death Toll, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said about 1,240 soldiers and other Assad loyalist have been killed in the past 10 days in northern Syria. Despite the war, Assad was re-elected last month in a vote confined to government controlled areas and dismissed by the opposition and its Western allies as a sham. He was sworn in on July 16 and declared victory praising his supporters for “defeating the dirty war” against Syria. The government losses followed shortly after his speech when fighters from the Islamic State group attacked army positions in northern and central Syria capturing a government controlled gas field and two major air bases in three different provinces this past week.

While the Middle East has collapse into chaos with cross border fighting, Ukraine and Russia trade accusations about alleged men in green crossing from Russia into Ukraine. Maria Tsvetkova reports, Heavily Armed ‘Men In Green’ Enter East Ukrainian Villages, heavily armed strangers with Russian accents have appeared in an eastern Ukrainian village arousing suspicions despite Moscow’s denial. Two witness told Reuters on Tuesday that dozens of men entered the village over the weekend and set up a road block and carrying military ration packs marked with Russian writing. The men had white arm bands similar to the ones worn by 10 men captured by Ukrainian forces few miles away and were identified as Russian paratroopers on Tuesday. Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said in a Twitter post: “The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counter-offensive may be underway.” A resident of the town said the military vehicles had their identifying marks painted over with white circles adding: “The people at the new checkpoint, they were polite military men wearing green. Definitely not Ukrainian. They’re definitely not from around here.” Another witness, Alexei, who was in Kolosky Monday, said the men told residents that they came to protect them. In addition, he and a friend counted what they said was 38 armored personnel carriers, 2 fueling trucks and numerous military transport vehicles full of people in Kolosky and the immediate vicinity. Both sides said they first saw military hardware in Sunday including anti-aircraft systems and artillery guns. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine met late Tuesday for their first bilateral talks in Minsk. The talks came as Ukraine captured 10 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine and shelling spread to a new front in the southeast. Nataliya Vasilyeva and Peter Leonard report, Putin sits down with Ukrainian president for talks, Poroshenko said the purpose of the visit was to find political compromise and promised that the interests of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine would be taken into account, while Putin concentrated on Ukraine’s decision to sign an association agreement with the 28 nation EU that would result in losses for Russia who would then be forced to protect its economy. Ukraine is set to ratify the agreement in September. Regarding the fighting in the east, Putin said the conflict “could not be solved by further escalation of the military scenario without taking into account the vital interests of the southeast of the country and without a peaceful dialogue of its representatives.” Poroshenko is unlikely to agree with Russia’s demand to federalize Ukraine, but would consider giving the regions some expanded powers.

Israeli Citizens Flee the Border, Ukraine Faces New Challenges, and New Threats to U.S. Security

https://i2.wp.com/media.cagle.com/38/2013/06/18/133350_600.jpghttps://i1.wp.com/mapleleafweb.com/files/cartoon/mar1302.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i80.photobucket.com/albums/j186/DonaldDouglas/American/Obama-syria-cartoon-650x462_zps2cf894cb.png

Tens of thousands of Israelis are fleeing their homes near the border of Gaza as fear and frustration grow in a war between Israel and Hamas that appears to have no end in site. The government on Monday has offered assistance in the first large scale voluntary evacuation in the eight week war with the school year fast approaching, Ian Deitch reports, Gaza attacks triggers Israeli exodus from border. Officials estimate 70 percent of the 40,000 inhabitants of the farming communities along the Gaza border have left including hundreds on Monday. According to Gaza officials, the fighting has killed 2,100 Palestinians, leveled thousands of buildings and left tens of thousands displaced. The death toll on the Israeli side has remained low due to air raid sirens, bomb shelters and the Iron Dome missile defense system. In a TV interview Sunday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said, “It is their right to leave, and we will assist them with temporary solutions. The state of Israel will not run away from terror organizations. It fights terror organizations.” Israeli education officials said the children will be absorbed into areas schools, but Tamir Idan, a regional council head in southern Israel, said schools will not open next week if rocket fire persists. The fighting in Gaza has caused more disruption to students as officials have delayed the start of classes which should of started on Sunday.The Israeli military said it carried out 65 airstrikes Monday, while the Palestinian militants fired more than 100 rockets into Israel. Palestinian health officials said seven people were killed, while one Israeli was wounded by Palestinian fire.

On Tuesday, meanwhile in Ukraine, Ukrainian military reportedly captured a group of Russian paratroopers who crossed into Ukrainian territory on a mission, but Moscow claims they ended up there by mistake, Andrei Makhovsky and Alessandra Prentice report, Ukraine Releases Footage Of Captured Russian Soldiers. In addition, the military reports pro-Russian separatist forces were shelling the town of Novoazovsk and buildings were ablaze with 12 Ukrainian soldiers killed and 19 wounded in the past 24 hours, according to military spokesman Andriy Lysenko. Earlier, the security services released video footage claiming that it shows testimonies from Russian paratroopers detained by the Ukrainian government forces while fighting with pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine. The video provides the strongest evidence so far to back up claims by Kiev that Russia is involved in the conflict and the intensified fighting in the east overshadowed the meeting of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in the Belarussian capital Minsk. Russia denies giving military help and a Russian defense source, quoted by RIA Novosti, said the servicemen had strayed into Ukrainian territory by mistake during border patrol. Lysenko in a briefing stated, “It wasn’t a mistake, but a special mission they were carrying out.” In the footage posted to Kiev’s Anti-Terrorist Operation Facebook page, one of the soldiers who identified himself as Ivan Milchakov listed his personal details including the name of the paratroop regiment based in the Russian Town of Kostroma. In the video, he said: “I did not see where we crossed the border. They just told us we were going on a 70-kilometer march over three days. Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We’ve come as cannon fodder.” Another man named Sergeant Aleksei Generalov said: “Stop sending in our boys. Why? This is not our war. And if we weren’t here, none of this would have happened. They would have sorted things out with the government themselves.” Social network pages appear to corroborate the men’s story that they are active in the Russian military. The Russian soldiers were detained with personal documents and weapons near Amvrosiyivka in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian state security service reports. Lysenko said Russian Mi-24 helicopters has fired on a border post Monday killing four border guards, while rebel forces backed by an armored column allegedly moved across the border from Russia attacked Novoazovsk on Monday aiming to open up a new front. In a Facebook post, Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said: “Officially they are on military exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality they are involved in military aggression against Ukraine.” The same day, Tuesday, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine sat down for talks meeting fact to face for the first time since June to discuss the fighting that has engulfed Ukraine’s east. Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, Putin sits down with Ukrainian president for talks, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. As talks began, Poroshenko said: “The fate of my country and Europe is being decided here in Minsk today. The interests of Donbass (eastern Ukraine) have been and will be taken into account.” Opening the meeting, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko urged both sides to “discard political ambitions and not to seek political dividend.” Ukraine wants the rebels to hand back the territory they captured in eastern Ukraine, while Putin wants to retain leverage over the mostly Russian speaking region so Ukraine does not join NATO or the European Union. THe fighting in eastern Ukraine began in April and has killed 2,000 people, 726 Ukrainian servicemen and forced 340,000 to flee, according to the U.N.

While internationally Ukraine has faced many challenges and criticism from rivals and allies, internal conflict has forced Poroshenko to dissolve parliament and call for new elections to take place quickly. Jim Heintz reports, Ukrainian president dissolves parliament, Ukraine’s president on Monday announced in a statement via his website that he has dissolved parliament and called for early elections on October 26. He said the move was in coherence with the Ukrainian constitution commenting that the ruling coalition collapsed several weeks ago. Poroshenko stated: “Many deputies who are in the Rada (parliament) are direct sponsors or accomplices, that is to say allies of the militant separatists….I have decided to prematurely end the authority of parliament.” Under the law, the election must be held within 60 days of the decree being published.

Back in the Middle East, the Associated Press reported, The US has begun surveillance flights over Syria, the White House and U.S. officials have announce surveillance flights over Syria following President Barack Obama approval, but has yet to approve military actions inside Syria due to lack of intelligence on the militants. Pentagon officials have drafted potential options for the president that include airstrikes, while one official said the administration needs reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights important to obtain data. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday the U.S. wants more clarity on the militants in Syria. Dempsey explained: “Clearly the picture we have of ISIS on the Iraqi side is a more refined picture. The existence and activities of ISIS on the Syrian side, we have … some insights into that but we certainly want to have more insights into that as we craft a way forward.” The U.S. began launching strikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this month with Obama citing the threat to American personnel in the country and the humanitarian crisis in the north, while top Pentagon officials said the only way the threat from militants can be eliminated is to attack the group in Syria as well. The president has tried to avoid getting involved in Syria’s long standing bloody civil war, however, due to the execution of American journalist James Foley in Syria and the group threatening to kill other U.S. citizens held in Syria, the president has changed his tune. Dempsey said the U.S. has been meeting with allies in the region to help develop a better understanding of the threat and believes those talks are setting “the conditions for some kind of coalition to form.” Dempsey believes key allies in the region will join the U.S. in quashing the Islamic State group including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Prior to the airstrikes in Iraq, the U.S. had already stepped up air surveillance of the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this year. In addition the administration run some surveillance missions over Syria when an attempted mission to rescue Foley and other U.S. hostages failed earlier this summer. A top Syrian official said Monday any U.S. airstrikes without consent from Syria would be considered an aggression. Speaking in Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters his government is ready to cooperate and coordinate with any side including the U.S. or join any regional or international alliance against the Islamic group. However, any action taken would be coordinated with the Syrian government adding: “Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression.” He said Damascus has long warned of the threat of terrorism and the need to cut off resources and funding, but no one listened. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the west will “have to choose what is more important: to change the regime and satisfy personal antipathies with the risk that the situation will crumble, or find pragmatic ways to join efforts against the common threat, which is the same for all of us – terrorism.” Moscow and Damascus have been close allies for decades providing it will weapons and funding to help support Assad through the current conflict. Mustafa Alani, the director of the security and defense department at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva, said: “The Syrian government is trying to say they are on the same side as the international community. The old claim from Day 1 that the Syrians have tried to make is that they are fighting pure terrorism. There’s no revolution, no rebels, no opposition. I don’t see this sort of call being acceptable, especially on the regional level. The Americans might find themselves forced to cooperate under the table with the Syrians. But I don’t think Arab countries will accept Syria as a member of the club fighting the Islamic State.” Referring to the failed attempt at rescuing U.S. citizens held by the militant group, al-Moallem said: “Had there been prior coordination that operation would not have failed.” The minister did condemn the killing of James Foley, but asked: “Has the West ever condemned the massacres by the Islamic State … against our armed forces or citizens?”