from Middle East Matters and Middle East Program

This Week: Israel-Hamas Fighting Intensifies and Islamists capture Benghazi

July 31, 2014

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United States

Diplomacy and International Institutions


Palestinian Territories

Political Movements

Significant Developments

Israel-Hamas. The Israeli government ordered the call up of 16,000 additional reserve soldiers today in the fourth week of Hamas-Israeli fighting in Gaza. A joint Fatah-Hamas delegation reportedly arrived in Cairo this morning to discuss possible cease-fire agreements with Egyptian officials. A small Israeli delegation arrived in Cairo yesterday for similar discussions. So far, some 1,360 Palestinians and 59 Israelis have died as a result of Hamas-Israel fighting which shows no sign of abating. For more on the Obama administration and the Gaza crisis, see the U.S. Foreign Policy section below.

Libya. Ansar al-Sharia, Libya’s Islamist militia group, announced that it had captured Benghazi last night and declared an “Islamic Emirate” there. Khalifa Hiftar, the former army general who earlier this year launched a campaign to clear the city of Islamist militants, denied the claims. A coalition of Islamist fighters and rebel militiamen seized the Libyan army’s main base in Benghazi on Tuesday, following a fight that killed at least 30 and led Libyan special forces to flee the camp. Militias fighting for control of Tripoli’s airport yesterday agreed to a two-hour ceasefire to allow firefighters to quell the growing blaze at a nearby fuel depot. Two fuel tankers at the depot had been hit over the weekend. French, British, German, and American nationals were evacuated from Libya this week while thousands of Libyans fled to neighboring Tunisia amid the intensified fighting.

U.S. Foreign Policy

Israel. The White House today condemned the recent shelling of a UN school in Gaza, calling it "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible." White House officials said that there was little doubt that Israeli artillery had hit the United Nations school in Gaza that killed 16 Palestinians and injured many more. The United States also condemned those responsible for hiding weapons in UN facilities in Gaza. President Barack Obama called Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and, according to the White House readout of the call, “made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.” The call also followed strong U.S.-Israeli recriminations over Secretary of State Kerry’s draft peace proposal last week. Meanwhile, the Pentagon confirmed that the U.S. Defense Department resupplied Israel’s stock of ammunition from its War Reserve Stockpile in Israel. On Sunday, the United States backed a UN Security Council presidential statement calling for an “immediate and unconditional cease-fire.”

Syria. Moner Mohammad Abusalha, the American who carried out a suicide bombing in Syria in May, returned to the United States after training with the al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front, the New York Times reported today. A video released on Monday by al-Nusra shows Abusalha declaring “You think that you killed Osama bin Laden. You did nothing. You sent him to [heaven].” U.S. and European officials expressed concern about the training and possible return home of thousands of their radicalized citizens from Syria.

Human Rights Watch accused the Syrian regime yesterday of continuing to indiscriminately target civilians with high explosive barrel bombs. In February, the UN Security Council passed a resolution in February ordering all parties to halt the use of such explosives. Meanwhile, the Islamic Front claimed responsibility for bombings in Aleppo tunnels on Tuesday night that killed at least 13 government soldiers.

While We Were Looking Elsewhere

Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced plans yesterday to allocate $858 million to aid Iraqi citizens internally displaced by the offensive waged by the Islamic State. Pentagon officials yesterday confirmed approval of a $700 million deal to send an additional 5,000 Hellfire missiles to Iraq to help the government fight the insurgency. Meanwhile, Maliki’s own party, Dawa, began discussions on possible alternative ministers on Sunday, after issuing a statement on Saturday urging politicians not to cling to their offices.

Yemen. Protests broke out in Yemen yesterday following the government’s announcement of a decision to raise fuel prices. The move to ease energy related government subsidies came in response to IMF pressure in loan discussions. Yemen reportedly spent about $3 billion on energy subsidies last year, nearly a third of state revenue.

Tunisia. Defense Ministry officials confirmed yesterday the resignation of General Mohammed Salah al-Hamedi, commander of the army’s land forces. Hamedi submitted his resignation on July 23, less than a week after two attacks by militants on army checkpoints, which killed 15 soldiers. The Tunisian military has been fighting al-Qaeda linked militants in the country for months.