- Palestinian negotiators impose new conditions on Kerry peace initiative, threaten to boycott talks
- Hezbollah spokesman: "Everyone knows that Hezbollah's political and military wings are one and the same," threatens E.U. with "repercussions" over blacklisting
- NYT: "Tens of thousands of flag-waving people" respond to army call for anti-violence demonstrations
- Turkish authorities release falcon suspected of being Israeli spy after bird cleared by X-ray exams
What we’re watching today:
- Palestinian officials have imposed further preconditions that they are demanding Israel fulfill before they will sit down for peace talks scheduled to begin next week in Washington, according to a Palestinian source "close to the negotiations" who spoke to the left-leaning Israeli outlet Ha'aretz. The source explained that while Israel had already made a variety of concessions - including reportedly agreeing to the controversial demand that negotiations begin from Israel's 1949 armistice lines - Palestinian negotiators were also insisting on the release of over 100 so-called pre-Oslo prisoners jailed for attacking Israelis, including some with Israeli citizenship. The meetings in Washington are preliminary in nature, and are aimed at setting the agenda for future negotiations. Palestinian officials nonetheless throughout the week downplayed prospects for their success. Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said that many "sticking points" remained before they could progress, while Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a top Palestinian Authority spokesman, emphasized that any peace deal with Israel would only bind the Palestinians temporarily.
- The European Union has begun implementing its unanimous decision, made earlier this week, to blacklist Hezbollah's "military wing" as a terror organization. The E.U.'s Official Journal - a record of the bloc's decisions and how they are implemented - added the "Hezbollah Military Wing" to its list of individuals and groups affiliated with terrorist activity. For its part Hezbollah threatened Europe with "repercussions" to be decided by the Iran-backed terror group's leadership. Meanwhile analysis turned to the usefulness and sustainability of the distinction that the E.U. had made between Hezbollah's "military" and "political" wings. Hezbollah officials have consistently declared that no distinction exists. The point was reiterated Thursday by Hezbollah international relations official Ammar Moussawi, who declared after a meeting with E.U. officials that "[e]veryone knows that Hezbollah’s political and military wings are one and the same." Washington Institute scholars Matthew Levitt and Jonathan Prohov yesterday described the E.U.'s policy as based on "a political distinction of convenience," and quoted Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah flatly declaring "we don't have a military wing and a political one." Meanwhile new details emerged regarding Hezbollah's terror activities in Europe. A Canadian outlet reported that Hezbollah wired almost $100,000 to the two men who Bulgaria yesterday identified as suspects in the July 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria bus bombing that killed six people.
- Rival rallies between Egyptian opponents and supporters of former President Mohammed Morsi are set to take place throughout the dayFriday and have already claimed two lives, as prosecutors moved to file formal charges against Morsi for conspiring with the Palestinian terror group Hamas to foment violence in Egypt. The Egyptian military removed the Muslim Brotherhood-linked former president from power, in the aftermath of mass anti-government protests calling for his Islamist-oriented administration to step aside. Morsi's Islamist supporters quickly vowed indefinite protests as violence broke out, and clashes erupted earlier this week, marked by "running battles with firearms, bottles and rocks." General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on Egyptians to stage anti-violence rallies. The New York Times described the scene at a Cairo rally, where "tens of thousands of flag-waving people in Tahrir Square cheered the military takeover, with many in the crowd holding up posters of the general who ousted Mr. Morsi." The AFP quoted Morsi supporters, some declaring they will march peacefully and others shouting "we will kill everyone who kills our freedom... we will die in this place to secure [Morsi's] return."
- Turkish authorities have released a bird that officials had accused of being an Israeli spy, after forcing the animal to undergo X-ray tests at a university hospital and discovering that it was not carrying any surveillance or communications equipment with which it could transmit intelligence to handlers in the Jewish state. Reports of the kestrel's release were carried today in Turkish media outlets, and the Milliyet newspaper carried a front-page image of the X-ray results under a the headline "Israeli agent." The kestrel is a monogamous raptor and, unusual for falcons, is subject to sexual dimorphism, with plumage often differing between males and females. It had been captured and turned over to authorities by villagers because of a metal band attached to its foot with the words "24311 Tel Avivunia Israel," likely a tracking ID placed by Israeli scientists or conservationists. The incident echoes another from last year, in which a Turkish counterterrorism unit became involved after a dead European bee-eater with a ring stamped "Israel" was turned in by villagers for having unusually large nostrils potentially embedded with Israeli electronic devices. Accusations of Israeli spy birds have also been raised in Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
- E.U. partially designates Hezbollah as terror organization
- Syrian army mows down scores of opposition fighters
- Sinai chaos erupts as attacks on police, army escalate
- Top Palestinian official: Still many "sticking points" before return to peace talks
What we’re watching today:
- The European Union on Monday officially designated the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The blacklisting comes just over a year after the July 2012 bus bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria that killed five Israelis and a Bulgarian, and which Bulgarian investigators linked to the Iran-backed terror group. A Cypriot court subsequently convicted a confessed Hezbollah operative on terror-related charges, and the combination of the Bulgarian investigation and the Cypriot conviction brought significant pressure on the E.U. to formally acknowledge that a group that conducts terrorism on E.U. soil is indeed a terrorist organization for E.U. purposes. The bloc distinguished between Hezbollah's military wing and political wing, and only blacklisted the military wing. Focus and analysis will now shift toward the degree to which that separation is sustainable or accurate. Hezbollah does not recognize the distinction. Hezbollah's Deputy Secretary-General Naim Qassem gave a speech in 2012 in which he declared that "we don't have a military wing and a political one," echoing comments he made in 2009 to the effect that the "same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions." U.S. counterterrorism specialists have concluded that Hezbollah simply isn't structured that way, and the U.S. intelligence community has determined [PDF] that the group's organizational structure "combines political, social, paramilitary, and terrorist elements."
- Scores of rebel fighters were killed Sunday near Damascus, underscoring concerns that the momentum in the conflict has shifted in favor of the Bashar al-Assad regime. At least 75 opposition fighters were killed by regime forces, which - with significant support from the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah - have made substantial progress in rolling back two years of opposition gains. Meanwhile reports emerged that the Syrian military used chemical weapons against Palestinians in a Damascus refugee camp over the weekend. Opposition officials said that 22 people died in the attack on the camp, which was also attacked last December. The Syrian military has long leveraged its air assets to battle against the rebels. Observers have emphasized that, to be effective, Western lethal assistance to the opposition would have to be provided with an eye on degrading those assets.
- At least six Egyptians were killed on Monday in a string of attacks carried out against police stations and army checkpoints in the Sinai Peninsula. Two policemen and two army officers were among the dead. Over the weekend gunmen killed four security officials in separate attacks in the northern city of el-Arish, and earlier Monday at least six people – five policemen and one civilian – were wounded in an attack on a security camp near Rafah. Violence in the increasingly anarchic territory has spiked since the removal from power of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi earlier this month, and Egyptian security officials have linked the uptick to supporters of Morsi and his Islamist Muslim Brotherhood-linked government. The Egyptian army blames the Iran-backed terror group Hamas for the much of the violence, accusing the group of maintaining tunnels between the Sinai and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip through which jihadists move personnel and weapons.
- A top Palestinian official on Sunday rejected reports that Palestinian factions had agreed to return to U.S.-mediated negotiations with Israel, telling Palestinian radio that direct talks were "conditioned on many clarifications." Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a leading figure involved in the peace initiative being pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry, went on to emphasize that there are a number of remaining "sticking points," despite declarations by State officials that the path had been cleared for renewed negotiations. Palestinian conditions have consistently stymied talks and led to tensions between the State Department and the Palestinian Authority (PA). PA President Mahmoud Abbas was still struggling to secure support for Kerry's initiative as late as last Thursday. His Fatah faction's rival Hamas condemned him for "succumbing to American extortion."