The Gaza ceasefire has been extended by another 24 hours

The Gaza ceasefire has been extended by another 24 hours

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to extend the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip by another 24 hours, mere minutes before the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was supposed to expire, in an effort to buy enough time to work out a more permanent peaceful solution to their conflict.

The agreement was reached yesterday as gaps on key issues continued to hinder the efforts to achieve a long-term deal between Israel and the armed groups that reside in the Gaza Strip, dominated by Hamas, which would allow the Palestinians in the region to receive aid and begin rebuilding after five weeks of on-and-off fighting.

The month-long war was put on hold more than a week ago when Egyptian leaders managed to secure a 72-hour truce, which was later extended by another five days, and was just extended by another 24 hours.  Palestinian officials claim that the latest extension would give both sides time “to complete the negotiations.”

Read more about the story at Reuters.

 

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have retaken the Mosul Dam

Iraqi and Kurdish forces have retaken the Mosul Dam

After two days of assistance by United States air strikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have successfully taken back control of the country’s largest dam from Islamic State militants, according to a military spokesman in Baghdad earlier today. The Islamic State, however, is denying this claim, insisting that it still controls the dam.

“Most of the dam is now in the hands of the Kurdish forces, with the Iraqi forces, and they are clearing some of those areas, making sure there are no planted bombs,” said Qubad Talabani, the deputy prime minister of the Kurdish regional government. “It has been a difficult, but successful operation so far.”

Government troops were unable to enter the facility due to booby traps which had been placed by the retreating militants, and fighting continued on the western bank of the lake that rests at the head of the Mosul Dam. However, government officials claim that the Islamic State militants were on the run after Iraqi special forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, aided by United States air support, launched their offensive.

The retaking of the strategically vital dam marks the first major victory for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces that are fighting the Islamic State militants since the United States began conducting air strikes earlier this month. This will be a significant boost for morale as the forces try to reclaim territory that was overrun by Islamic State militants in a blitz earlier this year.

Read more about the story at The Huffington Post.

 

 

Sunni leaders offer to support the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government

Sunni leaders offer to support the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government

Tribal leaders and clerics representing the minority Sunni population in Iraq have offered their support for Shi’ite prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi in order to contain sectarian bloodshed and combat an offensive by the Islamic State militants that threaten to tear the country apart, on the grounds that the new government respects the rights of the Sunni minorities.

Ali Hatem Suleiman suggested that the Sunnis would take up arms against the Islamic State militants in the same way that he and his comrades joined the United States and Shi’ite-led government forces to thwart an al Qaeda insurgency in Iraq that occurred between 2006 and 2009.

As Islamic State militants continue to slaughter, torture, and enslave innocent civilians across the country, especially minority groups, al-Abadi is faced with the daunting task of trying to prevent his country from tearing itself to shreds. A particularly troublesome area is the vast desert province of Anbar, which forms much of the country’s border with Syria, where Islamic State militants control vast swaths of territory.

Iraq has been plunged into its worst violence since the peak of the sectarian civil war that broke out in 2006, with Sunni fighters led by the Islamic State overrunning large portions of the western and northern portions of the country, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee for their lives. The situation has gotten so bad that the United States and Iraq’s European allies are gradually restarting their military involvement in the country.

Read more about the story at Al Jazeera.

 

Yazidi villagers reportedly massacred by IS militants

Yazidi villagers reportedly massacred by IS militants

Earlier today, Islamist State militants swarmed into the besieged Yazidi village of Kocho and began capturing and executing the civilians by the dozens Yazidis and Kurdish commanders are using this as a reminder that this ancient minority group is still in danger despite President Obama’s insistence that further intervention is not required on their behalf.

The village, which rests on the Sinjar plain, had suffered through a week-long siege in which the Islamic State militants demanded that the residents either convert to Islam or be executed. Once the militants swarmed into the city, all of the men were rounded up and executed, while the women and children were taken to an undisclosed location.

The alleged killings have come just one day after President Obama called off plans for a military evacuation of Yazidis who are trapped on Mount Sinjar, claiming that they were no longer at risk. At least 10 United States air strikes and supply drops have helped tens of thousands of Yazidis reach safety after they sought refuge on the mountain almost two weeks ago.

Yesterday, President Obama declared that efforts by the United States military had successfully broken the Islamic State siege on Mount Sinjar. A team of United States Special Forces and aid officials were dispatched to the mountain on Wednesday where they concluded that the intervention had pushed back the imminent threat to the lives of the Yazidi refugees.

“The sole mission of the airstrikes was to protect the people on the mountain, not to free anyone outside the mountain,” said Murad Ismael, a Yazidi activist based in Washington.

Read more about the story at BBC.

Situation in Gaza is tense, but talks continue and the truce holds

Situation in Gaza is tense, but talks continue and the truce holds

As the clock ticks down to the deadline of the current 72-hour truce in the Gaza Strip, negotiators in Cairo have addressed the issue of Israel’s blockade in Gaza. If Israeli and Palestinian negotiators don’t agree on a permanent ceasefire, or at least accept an extension to the current truce, then they run the risk or resuming more than a month of fighting in Gaza.

On Wednesday morning, Palestinian officials said that Egypt’s proposal calls for Israel to ease parts of its blockade on the Gaza Strip which would bring some relief to the territory. However, it leaves key areas of the disagreement, particularly Israel’s demand that Hamas be disarmed and Hamas’ demand that Israel fully lift the blockade, to later negotiations.

It would have a very significant impact on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip if both sides were to accept the proposal, as it would make it much easier for people and supplies to cross over to the West Bank. The economy in Gaza has taken a major blow because of the blockade that was imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt after Hamas took control of the region back in 2007.

According to the Associated Press:

“A member of the Palestinian delegation said that in Monday’s talks, Israel had offered a number of concrete measures aimed at improving life for Gaza’s 1.8 million residents, including an increase in the number of daily goods trucks crossing into the territory from Israel, and the free transfer of funds by the Palestinian Authority to Hamas-affiliated government employees in Gaza.

“Also included in the purported Israeli package, the official said, was an easing in transit conditions between Gaza and the West Bank and an eventual quadrupling of the sea area in which Gaza fishing vessels are permitted to operate. The official said that Israel was tying continuing Palestinian demands for the opening of a Gaza sea and airport to a verified cessation of smuggling, development and manufacture of weapons in the territory.”

Read more about the story at Reuters.

UK plans to send RAF Tornado jets to northern Iraq

UK plans to send RAF Tornado jets to northern Iraq

The United Kingdom has announced that a “small number” of Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado jets to the skies above northern Iraq for use as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets in order to help with the humanitarian effort that is currently taking place around Mount Sinjar, near the border of Syria.

The United Kingdom Ministry of Defense (MOD) declined to discuss operational details, but it’s very likely that the RAF Tornados will be operating out of the Akrotiri RAF base in Cyprus, the same base from which a C-130 transport aircraft was recently launched in order to provide airdrops to refugees in Iraq.

A spokesperson for the MOD clarified that the jets, which are expected to be deployed sometime within the next few days, “would not be used in a combat role”. The RAF Tornados will be equipped with advanced imaging equipment that will help the United Kingdom determine how many people are trapped on Mount Sinjar, as well as where their exact locations are, in order to best provide them with the support that they so desperately need.

When asked about the possibility of the United Kingdom taking military action in Iraq, a Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said, “I don’t think that’s necessary at this time. We are talking about a humanitarian intervention.” He said he does not “envisage a combat role at the present time.”

These comments come as a Conservative MP by the name of Andrew Rosindell has been calling for the United Kingdom to join the United States in conducting airstrikes on Islamic State targets, saying “I strongly believe that we should carry out immediate targeted air strikes to hold back attacks by Islamist insurgents; whilst making humanitarian aid drops to support groups fleeing from persecution”.

Read more about the story at BBC.

Ukraine stops Russian humanitarian convoy from crossing the border

Ukraine stops Russian humanitarian convoy from crossing the border

A convoy of 280 Russian trucks packed with aid began heading towards eastern Ukraine earlier today, however, the Ukrainian government said that it would not allow the mission to cross the border because it isn’t being coordinated by the international Red Cross and could be a covert Russian military operation.

The neutral Red Cross agency clarified that it had no information on what the trucks were carrying or where they were headed. This has made Ukraine and its allies in the West concerned that Russia could potentially use the initiative as a pretext for sending its troops into territory that is held by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

Television and news agencies in Russia reported that over 2,000 tons of aid was being sent to Ukraine, where fighting between the Ukrainian government’s forces and pro-Russian separatists has, according to a United Nations reports, claimed the lives of more than 1,300 people since the fighting began earlier this year.

NYV television showed hundreds of white trucks gathering at a depot outside of Russia’s capital, and claimed that the trucks were carrying everything from baby food to sleeping bags. A Russian Orthodox priest was seen sprinkling holy water on the trucks, some of which were decorated with a red cross, before the convoy departed.

However, a spokesman for the National Security and Defense Council in Ukraine, Andriy Lysenko, said that the Ukrainian government would not allow the convoy to cross the border. “This convoy is not a certified convoy. It is not certified by the International Committee of the Red Cross,” Lysenko said, speaking through a translator.

Read more about the story at The Guardian.

 

48 reported dead after civilian airplane crash in Iran

48 reported dead after civilian airplane crash in Iran

A civilian airliner in Iran crashed on Sunday shortly after it took off from the Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) said that all of the passengers and crew had been killed in the crash and that their bodies were being transferred to the coroner’s office.

The plane was an Iran-140, a twin-engine turboprop plane based on the Ukrainian Antonov An-140 regional plane and is generally used for short domestic flights. These planes are assembled in Iran under license, and this particular plane was owned by Sepahan Airlines.

The plane was headed towards the eastern city of Tabas when it plummeted into the Azadi neighborhood, west of central Tehran, and just narrowly avoided a residential area for military families. This is just the latest in a series of airplane crashes that have plagued Iran in recent times, due in large part to aging machinery and poor maintenance.

All Iranian airlines are currently low on spare cash, and as a result, maintenance has suffered greatly. Sanctions from the United States are preventing Iran from updating its American-made aircraft and make it very difficult to acquire spare parts or airplanes from Europe. Because of this, the country has come to rely on Russian aircraft, several of which are Societ-era airplanes that are difficult to get parts for.

Read more about the story at Reuters.

 

 

Senior British Foreign Office minister resigns over Gaza policies

Senior British Foreign Office minister resigns over Gaza policies

Sayeeda Warsi took to Twitter yesterday morning to announce that she is resigning from her position as a senior British Foreign Office minister in responds to the United Kingdom government’s “morally indefensible” policies on the crisis in the Gaza Strip. This makes Warsi the first minister to resign in opposition to policy in over four years.

From Warsi’s resignation letter: “My view has been that our policy in relation to the Middle East Peace Process generally but more recently our approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible, is not in Britain’s national interest and will have a long term detrimental impact on our reputation internationally and domestically.”

“Particularly as the Minister with responsibility for the United Nations, The International Criminal Court and Human Rights I believe our approach in relation to the current conflict is neither consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for International Justice. In many ways the absence of the experience and expertise of colleagues like Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve has over the last few weeks become very apparent,” she said in her resignation letter.

Yesterday, Warsi told the Huffington Post, “Our decision not to recognize Palestinian statehood at the U.N. in November 2012 placed us on the wrong side of history and is something I deeply regret not speaking out against at the time.”

United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed his disappointment at Warsi’s decision to resign, but has reaffirmed, “Our policy has always been consistently clear: we support a negotiated two state solution as the only way to resolve this conflict once and for all and to allow Israelis and Palestinians to live safely in peace.”

Read more about the story at BBC.

 

 

Two hours in and the Gaza ceasefire is already over

Two hours in and the Gaza ceasefire is already over

The 72-hour-long humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, which was agreed upon by both Israel and Hamas, has collapsed after just two hours. The ceasefire ended when Hamas reportedly captured an Israeli soldier, to which the Israeli military responded with a fierce round of shelling that left more than 50 Palestinians dead.

United States Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the 72-hour ceasefire yesterday. The agreement was the most ambitious attempt yet to try and bring the conflict, which has lasted more than three weeks, to a peaceful close.

The ceasefire was followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo in an attempt to find a more long-term solution. Egyptian officials said that the invitation to negotiations still dtoodm but Palestinian representatives decided to ask that it be postponed until the weekend in order to allow a new truce to be reached.

The Israeli military claims that within two hours of the ceasefire starting, militants attacked Israeli soldiers who were searching for underground tunnels in the southern part of the Gaza Strip that were being used to infiltrate Israeli territory.

“Out of a tunnel access point or several, terrorists came out of the ground. At least one was a suicide terrorist who detonated himself. There was an exchange of fire,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Two of the soldiers were killed. “The initial indication suggests that a soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

When asked if the ceasefire was now over, Lerner replied: Yes. We are continuing our activities on the ground.” He said Israeli forces were mounting an “extensive effort” to locate the soldier.

Read more about the story at Al Jazeera.