from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

This Week: ISIS Beheading, Jerusalem Carnage, and Gulf Reconciliation

November 19, 2014

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Significant Developments

ISIS. ISIS released video footage on Sunday claiming responsibility for the beheading of American aid worker Peter Kassig. President Barack Obama confirmed the death of the American hostage and called the beheading “an act of pure evil.” A National Security Council spokesperson announced on Monday that Obama had ordered a comprehensive review over the summer of how the United States government addresses the issue of releasing hostages. In a report released on Monday, a panel of experts urged the UN Security Council to order states to capture oil trucks entering and exiting parts of Iraq and Syria controlled by Islamist groups, and to impose a global freeze on the sale of antiquities from Iraq and Syria. The measure would be aimed at cutting off crucial sources of funding from ISIS and al-Nusra. The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the topic when it meets today.

Israel-Palestine.Two Palestinians killed four worshippers, three of them rabbis, and wounded five more congregants praying Tuesday morning in a synagogue in an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood in West Jerusalem. Israeli security forces shot dead the two attackers. Two police officers were shot and one died of his injuries late Tuesday evening.Three of the victims held dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, while the fourth held British-Israeli citizenship. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “respond with a heavy hand to the brutal murder of Jews who came to pray.” The Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning the killings. Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masri called the attack “heroic and a natural reaction to Zionist criminality against our people and our holy places.” President Barack Obama released a statement condemning the terrorist attack and called on the Israelis and Palestinians to lower tensions after violence has surged in Jerusalem in the past month.

Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain decided to return their ambassadors to Qatar after a surprise meeting by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Sunday night in Riyadh. The Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini governments recalled their ambassadors from Doha last March after accusing Qatar of interfering in their domestic affairs and of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiya warned the Obama administration on Sunday that U.S.-led airstrikes alone are increasingly being viewed by Sunnis in the Middle East as “helping Assad.” He called on the United States to expedite the training and arming of moderate Syrian rebels. President Barack Obama, speaking at the G-20 summit in Australia on Sunday, said that the United States will not work with the Assad regime. However, when pressed, Obama said that he is not currently considering policy options to remove Assad either.

US Foreign Policy

Iraq. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Baghdad on Saturday for his first visit since the start of the U.S.-led military campaign against ISIS. Dempsey told Reuters that he wanted “to get a sense from our side about how our contribution is going.” Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced on Sunday that the Pentagon would accelerate the mission to train Iraqi troops against ISIS and that special operation forces were beginning the training in Iraq’s Anbar province.

Iran. The last round of nuclear negotiations before the November 24 deadline began between Iran and the P5+1 countries in Vienna on Tuesday. Secretary of State John Kerry called it a “critical week,” while Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made it clear that Iran would be “resisting excessive demands.”

Saudi Arabia. Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, Saudi Arabia’s national guard minister, visited the United States on Tuesday to meet with President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. According to the Saudi Press Agency, the minister is scheduled to discuss “joint cooperation between the two countries, especially the development of Saudi National Guard forces systems in the field of armament and training.”

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Egypt. The Egyptian army announced on Monday that it plans on doubling the size of the buffer zone with Gaza in the town of Rafah, after discovering smuggling tunnels that were longer than expected. The announcement reflects the Egyptian government’s increased concern about the threat of attacks by Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, Egypt’s most prominent militant group. On Friday, the terrorist organization released footage of its October 24 attack on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula in its first formal claim of responsibility for the attack that killed 31 soldiers. The extremist group also promoted its affiliation with ISIS in the video, calling themselves the “Sinai Province,” after pledging allegiance to the group last week.

UAE. The United Arab Emirates released a list of more than 80 designated terrorist organizations on Saturday. The list includes the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The UAE also designated two American organizations--the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society--that the United States does not officially consider terror groups. Anyone found to be participating in or encouraging the activities of the organizations listed by the Emirati government could be sentenced to capital punishment or fines of up to $27 million, under an anti-terrorism law promulgated last August.

Lebanon. The Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal reported on Tuesday that Lebanon agreed to a Jabhat al-Nusra’s prisoner exchange proposal. Al-Nusra has held twenty-seven Lebanese servicemen since August and has proposed to release each serviceman in exchange for five prisoners detained in Lebanon and for fifty women detained in Syria. The Lebanese mediators responsible were concerned that this proposal would require cooperation from the Syrian regime, but “official sources” within the Lebanese government are reportedly investigating the possibility of negotiating with the Syrian government.

Yemen. Sadeq Mansur, assistant secretary general of Yemen’s Sunni Al Islah party, was killed in a car bomb on Tuesday in Taez. No party has claimed responsibility so far. Supporters of Al Islah have been resisting Houthi fighters.

Libya. UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon announced this morning that opposing factions in Libya have agreed to a twelve hour ceasefire on humanitarian grounds, effective immediately. The truce, which according to Leon is a “much needed reprieve from violence,” will enable humanitarian workers such as the Red Crescent to evacuate civilians and remove bodies from combat areas. It remains unclear whether the parties actually ceased to fight after the truce was announced.

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