- Western-backed Syrian opposition praises E.U.'s partial blacklisting of Hezbollah as "step in the right direction"
- Congress moves to maintain Egypt assistance as public turns against pro-Morsi demonstrators
- Israel offers to release "hardcore" prisoners to boost Kerry peace push, Palestinian officials downplay prospects
- NYT: Khamenei speech rejecting comprehensive talks "threw some cold water" on engagement efforts
What we’re watching today:
- The Western-backed Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the umbrella group fighting to overthrow the Bashar al-Assad regime, issued a statement today describing this week's European Union decision to blacklist Hezbollah's military wing as "a step in the right direction." The SNC urged more action against the Iran-backed Shiite group and called on the international community to try Hezbollah leaders for providing critical assistance to the Assad regime. Hezbollah's aid has allowed the Syrian army to steadily erode two years of rebel gains. The SNC's stance, which rejects the E.U.'s distinction between political and military Hezbollah officials, echoes statements made by Hezbollah leaders and assessments issued by the American intelligence community. Iran and Hezbollah both blasted the partial designation, with Hezbollah going so far as to threaten European interests. Reluctance within the E.U. to blacklisting the group was reportedly overcome after E.U. officials were presented with evidence that the bomb used in the July 2012 Burgas, Bulgaria bus bombing - in which five Israelis and a Bulgarian were killed - matched the signature of Hezbollah bombs discovered in locations as distant as Nazareth and Bangkok.
- The House of Representatives today unveiled a draft spending bill maintaining foreign aid to Egypt at $1.3 billion, brushing aside calls to eliminate assistance to Cairo in the aftermath of the army's removal of the country's former president Mohammed Morsi. The Egyptian military has been struggling to restore order to the country, as demonstrations in favor of Morsi continue to trigger violence both in the country's cities and in the increasingly anarchic Sinai Peninsula. At least nine people were killed today in violence surrounding the demonstrations in Cairo, while another two were killed in the Sinai Peninsula. The New York Times described "running battles with firearms, bottles and rocks near Tahrir Square in Cairo and on the edges of two protest sites that have been held by Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters for weeks." Meanwhile, a public opinion poll published by the Baseera Public Opinion Research Center found broad opposition to the demonstrators protesting in favor of Morsi.
- Israel has agreed to release "hardcore" Palestinian prisoners as part of Jerusalem's efforts to boost a peace initiative being pushed by Secretary of State John Kerry, though the concession may prove insufficient to overcome Palestinian opposition to renewing negotiations between the parties. Palestinian factions have resisted exhortations by President Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to talks, with some describing a return to negotiations as "political suicide." Abbas was one of several Palestinian officials yesterday and today who downplayed the prospects for Kerry's peace initiative. Palestinian officials are demanding that Israel agree in advance to a number of stipulations, and are demanding preemptive Israeli concessions on broad issues such as borders. Israeli officials for their part have called on Palestinian counterparts to return to negotiations without preconditions.
- The New York Times describes statements made this weekend by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that the outlet says "threw some cold water on recent efforts to reinvigorate diplomatic contacts between Iran and the United States." Khamenei described American diplomats as "unreliable and illogical," emphasizing that he did not trust them sufficiently to engage in comprehensive direct talks. Gesturing toward statements made by President-elect Hassan Rouhani promising outreach to the international community, Khamenei went further and stipulated that Iran would not modify its policies as a result of talks. The Supreme Leader, who controls Iran's foreign policy, had already preemptively banned presidential candidates in the June election from making concessions to the West should they win. The Times story outlining Iranian intransigence comes two days after the outlet published an editorial encouraging engagement with Iran and criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for skepticism regarding Iranian intentions.
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