- 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."