- 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."
- Clashes Erupt after Muslim Brotherhood supporters flood streets for "Friday of Rejection"
- Reuters: Egyptians reject accusations of "coup"
- Islamists stage deadly wave of attacks against security forces in Sinai Peninsula
- Gulf nations announce coordinated sanctions against Hezbollah over terror activities, fighting in Syria
What we’re watching today:
- Supporters of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi were reportedly shot and killed today trying to break into the military facility where the Islamist official has been placed in "preventative" detention by Egyptian military authorities. The army quickly denied reports that the demonstrators had been shot by Egyptian troops, emphasizing that the soldiers were armed only with blank rounds and tear gas, while reports of casualties ranged from one to three dead and many injured. The protest outside the Cairo barracks came in the aftermath of the Muslim Brotherhood calling for mass national marches - part of what the group dubbed a "Friday of Rejection" - to show support for Morsi. In another incident near Cairo, one man was killed and another seven injured in an attack on a police station. Liberals and others opposed to Morsi's rule, who last week organized mass protests that eventually led the army to oust the Islamist leader, called on Egyptian citizens to march in counter-demonstrations. Clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents began almost immediately after the army's actions Wednesday, with exchanges of fire that night in front of Cairo University killing at least 18 and people injuring another 360. Fears continue to deepen that the political clashes will not only escalate but take on sectarian dimensions. Violence near Luxor today saw a Copt attacked and injured after a Muslim man had been killed, while 23 homes belonging to Copts were reportedly burned to the ground.
- Reuters reports on popular sentiment inside Egypt - ranging from young demonstrators in Tahrir Square to elements of "polite, liberal society" - rejecting assertions that the army's moves against the country's former president Mohammed Morsi constituted a "coup." The outlet quotes a 19-year-old student flatly denying the characterization, and instead asserting that "this was our new revolution... Our president was very bad. The army are our brothers." The army's actions came in the aftermath of what were likely the largest national protests in human history, prompting some Egyptian officials to describe the ouster as a "popular impeachment." The administration of President Barack Obama has been pointedly careful to avoid accusing the army of having conducted a coup. At stake are U.S. laws that would cut off assistance to Egypt in the aftermath of a coup, a step that would endanger long-standing military ties between the two countries. Such ties have long been considered central to promoting U.S. influence in the region.
- Islamists launched a series of attacks early Friday against Egyptian security forces stationed in the Sinai Peninsula, deepening fears that supporters of former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi would respond to his removal from power by escalating violence in the increasingly anarchic territory. One soldier was killed and two more were wounded in an attack on a police station near the Rafah area, along the border between the Egypt and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Egypt responded by shutting down the Rafah crossing until further notice. The army has taken similar steps in the past after attacks, both as routine security measures and to punish Hamas, which it blames for maintaining the tunnels that permit jihadists to move materials and personnel from the Gaza Strip into the Sinai. At least four other security checkpoints in the area have been attacked since early Friday morning, and Egyptian state media reported that Islamist gunmen also attacked the El Arish airport in the region.
- Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials have reportedly reached a consensus on measures to take against Hezbollah, after deputy interior ministers from the six member states met in Riyadh yesterday to coordinate moves against the Iran-backed terror group. New sanctions will reportedly target "assets, individuals, corporates, visas and residency." Arab nations have become increasingly vocal in demanding international action against the Shiite organization, which they blame for conducting terrorism on their soil and assisting Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime in massacring Sunnis at the behest of Tehran. GCC nations this week called for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting over the Syrian regime's offensive on the city of Homs and regarding the presence of Hezbollah in Syria, a request that was quickly blocked by Russia. Analysts have emphasized, however, that even unilateral GCC action against Hezbollah and Lebanon "could suffocate the country."
Jerusalem, Aug. 10 – Last weekend’s terrorist attack in which Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border police has opened a serious rift between Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood leader and Iran-backed Palestinian terror groups in Gaza.
Egypt on Friday demanded that Hamas officials hand over three senior member of the Army of Islam terror group after Egyptian officials discovered one of the terrorists it had killed had belonged previously to the terror group. Hamas, armed and financed by Iran, controls the Gaza Strip and is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. There was no word on whether the organization would comply with the Egyptian demand.
The move came a day after Egypt demanded Gaza hand over three senior members of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz A-Din al-Qassam Brigades, for their involvement in the terrorist attack. The terrorists struck an Egyptian border post, killed the soldiers and then commandeered two vehicles and crashed through the Israeli border aiming to blow themselves up and cause massive casualties. They were halted by Israeli forces who called in air support.
Egypt said it had killed 60 terrorists in response to the attack, highlighting the growing lawlessness of the Sinai Peninsula.
The Arabic daily A-sharq Al-Awsat reported that Egypt sought the arrest of Army of Islam head Mumtaz Dormush and two of his deputies. Dormush is believed to have had a part in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006.
The Palestinian Maan New Agency reported that Egypt temporarily opened the Rafah border crossing to Gaza for two days, Friday and Saturday, but has set no date for its return to normal operations. However people involved in the tunnel trade under Gaza's border with Egypt said the underground network was broadly operating again after Egypt destroyed several tunnels in the attack's aftermath.
As his first major national security issue, last weekend’s attack was a rude awakening for Egypt’s newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, who comes out of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political tradition of deep hostility toward Israel and shares an ideological affiliation with Hamas.
The ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 created a power vacuum in Sinai that was quickly filled by jihadists. According to Michael Herzog of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, they joined local Bedouin, many of whom felt alienated from the central government and hoped to improve economic conditions in their underdeveloped region through activities such as cross-border smuggling.
These Bedouin, especially those in the northeast and the mountainous central areas, are well armed and increasingly influenced by extreme Islamist ideology. They cooperate closely with Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups from Gaza, which have established a foothold in Sinai by recruiting local tribesmen for various operations.