The shadowy commander of Iran’s Quds Force has a roster of his top Palestinian fighters. Their divisions, and their connections, are key to understanding Gaza.
Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force who is known as the point man for Iran’s military and covert operations outside its borders, publicly pledged support for Palestinian fighters on July 30.
(Reuters) – A week after the guns fell silent in the Gaza war, Israel and the Palestinians seem to have little appetite or incentive for a return to U.S.-sponsored peace and statehood talks that collapsed five months ago.
With conflicts raging in Ukraine, Iraq and Syria – and the future of the Gaza Strip largely uncharted by a broadbrush Egyptian-mediated ceasefire deal – world powers also are not rushing headlong into the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.
The parties themselves, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bickering governing coalition and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, are on a collision course over threatened Palestinian unilateral moves toward statehood and exploration of war crimes prosecution against Israel in the absence of direct talks.
Israel drew Palestinian and international criticism on Sunday by announcing a major appropriation of occupied land in the West Bank, the most significant such move in 30 years.
As head of a governing coalition divided over trading territory for peace, Netanyahu is now speaking, in amorphous terms, of an alternative route towards ending decades of conflict – a “new horizon” – or possible regional alliance with moderate Arab countries alarmed, like Israel, by radical Islam.
Closer to home and with the Gaza situation still in flux, there is nothing on the immediate horizon as far as peacemaking with Abbas is concerned, Israeli government sources said.
Under the Egyptian-brokered truce agreement, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to address complex issues such as Hamas’s demands for a Gaza seaport and the release of Palestinian prisoners via indirect talks starting within a month.
With the start of those negotiations still up in the air, Netanyahu wants to see whether Abbas takes over responsibility from Hamas for administering Gaza’s borders and that measures are taken to prevent the group from smuggling in weaponry.
Netanyahu, who appears to be weathering an approval rating plunge after the Gaza war ended without a clear victor, took a swipe at Abbas last week, summing up a conflict which the Palestinian leader persistently tried to bring to an end.
“Abu Mazen has to choose which side he is on,” Netanyahu told a news conference, using Abbas’s nickname.
The comment harked back to Israel’s decision in April to cut off peace talks with Abbas after he clinched a unity deal with Hamas, a bitter rival that had seized the Gaza Strip from his Fatah forces in 2007.
Those negotiations, on creating a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, were already going nowhere, with Palestinians pointing to expanding Israeli settlement on land they claim as their own and balking at Israel’s demand to recognize it as the Jewish homeland.
In an editorial laden with scepticism, Israel’s liberal Haaretz newspaper questioned whether “as in the past” Netanyahu’s remarks on casting a regional peace net, “are only empty slogans”.
Some of his cabinet ministers are also pressing Netanyahu to get moving on a wider track.
“We cannot and will not allow a situation whereby this ceasefire is the beginning of the countdown to the next round of fire. If we don’t take the diplomatic initiative, this is exactly what will happen,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid said.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in now-dormant talks with the Palestinians, said: “(Netanyahu) has to be put to the test on this.”
Livni, speaking on Israel Radio, said Israel should “create a front with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia – those countries threatened by all of those beheaders running around the region”.
But, she said, “they can cooperate with us only if there is a basic minimum of a peace process – dialogue with the moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority”.
In the past, Netanyahu has expressed little interest in embracing a regional peace plan, such as the 2002 Arab initiative that offered normalized ties with Israel if it withdrew fully from territory captured in a 1967 war.
But last year, he signaled in a speech to parliament a readiness to consider the proposal, raised at an Arab League summit 12 years ago, as long as it did not contain “edicts”.
Any land-for-peace moves would elicit even more dissent from right-wingers in his government who have been vocal over Netanyahu’s reluctance to heed their calls during the Gaza war for a full-scale invasion to crush Hamas.
For now, he appears to be in little danger of seeing his political partnerships unravel.
About a month into the war, 77 percent of Israelis surveyed in a Haaretz-Dialog poll described Netanyahu’s performance during the conflict as either good or excellent. That figure dropped to around 50 percent after the ceasefire was announced.
But the snap poll taken a day after the truce went into effect showed that despite his flagging popularity, he continued to top, by a wide margin, the list of politicians whom Israelis believed were most suited to lead them as prime minister.
Foreign Ministry official confirms that Israel has decided to pursue talks with ICC over its preliminary probe into last summer’s Gaza conflict • Decision a reversal of policy, as Israel has so far refused to cooperate with the ICC.
Israel has decided to pursue an open dialogue with the International Criminal Court in The Hague over its preliminary investigation into Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip last summer.
Thursday’s decision represents a reversal for Israel, as it has so far refused to cooperate with the ICC, a report in Haaretz newspaper said.
The report quoted an unnamed official as saying Israel will not cooperate with the ICC, but will relay its position that the court has no authority over the matter.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the report, but declined to elaborate on the steps Israel plans to take in the matter.
In May, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda urged Israel’s cooperation on the probe, saying she may be forced to decide whether to launch a full-scale investigation based on Palestinian allegations of war crimes.
The Palestinian Authority submitted evidenceof alleged Israeli war crimes to the ICC in late June, in an attempt to fast-track the international panel’s inquiry into last year’s Gaza conflict.
The ICC is currently conducting a preliminary investigation to determine whether to open a full-fledged war crimes probe. U.N. data suggest over 2,000 Palestinians, including more than 1,400 civilians, were killed in the conflict.
Two Israeli citizens are being held in Gaza, at least one probably by the militant Hamas movement, Israel says.
Avraham Mangisto, of Ethiopian origin, went into the Palestinian territory of his own accord last September and has been missing since then, officials say.
An Israeli Arab is also being held in Gaza, the defence ministry says. Hamas has not commented on either case.
An Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured and held by Hamas in Gaza for five years before being freed in 2011.
Israeli defence officials say they have appealed to international and regional bodies to help clarify Mr Mangisto’s situation and are demanding his immediate release.
“According to credible intelligence, Mangisto is being held against his will by Hamas,” a defence ministry statement said.
“Israel will continue to pursue the release and return of the citizen to Israel,” it added.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said it was a “painful situation” and that he was in contact with Mr Mangisto’s family.
“This is a humanitarian issue, and we expect those holding him to behave accordingly and return him in good health,” he said.
The Associated Press quoted an unnamed official as saying it was unclear why the 28-year-old went into Gaza but that he was believed to be mentally unstable.
Israeli media said Mr Mangisto, from Ashkelon, had breached the heavily-guarded security fence between Israel and Gaza.
Local media said the Israeli Arab being held in Gaza was a Bedouin from Israel’s southern Negev desert. His name has not been released.
The defence ministry said he had crossed into Gaza several times before.
The two cases were cleared for publication on Thursday after a court lifted a gagging order.
In 2006, Sgt Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid by Hamas, triggering a crisis which was only resolved years later in a controversial exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Avi Dichter returns to Likud after brief hiatus, says he supports peace deal – but also that Israel should defang Gaza.
Former Minister and Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) leader Avi Dichter will be returning to politics, Walla! News reports Monday – this time, running in the Likud primaries, to be held on Wednesday.
Dichter returns to politics after leaving Kadima in 2012 to join Likud, and after briefly serving until March 2013 as Home Front Command Minister at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s request during the 19th Knesset.
Despite Netanyahu’s support, Dichter did not manage to get enough votes from party members to formally join the Likud party during the last elections, falling short by 380 votes for the threshold.
Now, he says, he is taking stock of past experiences in his cautious return to the political scene. He explained that while last time, he launched a six-week campaign to woo members’ support for his Likud candidacy, he has been systematically building support throughout several “headquarters” throughout the country ahead of the 2015 elections.
Dichter explained that he identifies with the Right, but not the “extreme Right,” as he puts it, and believes that Likud must remain “Center-Right” in order to remain the ruling party and to build a coalition for the 20th Knesset.
When asked what “Center-Right” entails, he dodged the question slightly, but did note that, in his view, it includes acceptance of the idea of “Two States for Two Peoples.”
“Any intelligent person realizes that a one-state solution with the six million Jews and seven million non-Jews – mostly Muslims – is irresponsible,” Dichter stated to Walla!. “It is to set for ourselves a reality which is clearly unreasonable.” Dichter added that Netanyahu takes this view as well.
Following the theme of a grand plan for the Middle East, the former Shin Bet leader added that Gaza must be demilitarized – and that if the international community does not step in to do so, Israel must do so itself.
“Gaza is a terrorist entity controlled by Hamas, a terrorist organization, no matter what the European Union says,” he explained. “They have no idea what Hamas is.”
“We will have to disarm Gaza,” he continued. “Destruction of the terrorist infrastructure is something that will have to happen. Either the Egyptians and the Palestinian Authority will do this, or the time will come for Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield in Gaza. This is something you need to plan – it’s not something you do in response to rocket fire. We cannot leave it like it is.”
Dichter added that in his view, the Nation-State or Jewish State Law – the law blamed with bringing down the 19th Knesset – will eventually pass. The former Minister was the first to introduce his own version of the law, with Netanyahu’s blessing, as a Kadima MK during the 18th Knesset.
Italy (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Saturday the spate of conflicts around the globe today were effectively a “piecemeal” Third World War, condemning the arms trade and “plotters of terrorism” sowing death and destruction.
“Humanity needs to weep and this is the time to weep,” Francis said in the homily of a Mass during a visit to Italy’s largest war memorial, a large, Fascist-era monument where more than 100,000 soldiers who died in World War One are buried.
The pope began his brief visit to northern Italy by first praying in a nearby, separate cemetery for some 15,000 soldiers from five nations of the Austro-Hungarian empire which were on the losing side of the Great War that broke out 100 years ago.
“War is madness,” he said in his homily before the massive, sloping granite memorial, made of 22 steps on the side of hill with three crosses at the top.
“Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction,” he said.
In the past few months, Francis has made repeated appeals for an end to conflicts in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Gaza and parts of Africa.
“War is irrational; its only plan is to bring destruction: it seeks to grow by destroying,” he said. “Greed, intolerance, the lust for power. These motives underlie the decision to go to war and they are too often justified by an ideology …,” he said.
Last month the pope, who has often condemned the concept of war in God’s name, said it would be legitimate for the international community to use force to stop “unjust aggression” by Islamic State militants who have killed or displaced thousands of people in Iraq and Syria, many of them Christians.
In his homily, read at a somber service to thousands of people braving the rain and which included the hauntingly funereal sound of a solitary bugle, Francis condemned “plotters of terrorism” but did not elaborate.