Israel-Hamas truce talks ‘advanced’

Some hope of a de-escalation of ongoing hostilities between Israeli forces and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Reuters: Hamas says indirect Gaza truce talks with Israel ‘advanced’

U.N.- and Egyptian-mediated talks on a deal to tamp down tensions between Israel and the Gaza Strip are in “advanced stages”, a senior member of the Palestinian enclave’s dominant Islamist Hamas group said on Wednesday.

“We can say that actions led by the United Nations and Egypt are in advanced stages and we hope it could yield some good from them,” Khalil Al-Hayya, deputy Hamas chief in Gaza, told Al Jazeera television.

Neither Hamas nor Israel, which last fought a war in 2014, appears keen on another full-blown conflict. But public demands by either side for a detainee release by the other appear to have been a stumbling block in securing a long-term truce.

The remarks were echoed by a top Israeli lawmaker, suggesting a possible breakthrough after four months of confrontations and clashes that stirred mutual threats of war.

Avi Dichter, the committee of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, struck a cautiously upbeat note on Wednesday. “I very much hope that we are on the brink of a new day on the matter of Gaza,” he told reporters.

In return for calm in Gaza, Israeli officials said on Sunday they would reopen a commercial border terminal that had been shuttered in response to the fire damage, and expand a Palestinian fishing zone.

Netanyahu called off a trip to Colombia this week to attend to the Gaza truce talks, and was due to convene his decision-making security cabinet on Thursday to discuss the negotiations.

So there’s efforts being made and some hope of a calming down of a volatile and violent situation.

This is a long way from solving all the problems in Israel, but it’s a positive move and shows a willingness by both sides to avoid all out war.

Neither the United Nations nor Egypt have publicly detailed their proposals for Gaza, beyond saying they should bring extensive economic relief for its 2 million Palestinians, many of them plagued by unemployment and failing public utilities.

Good to see the UN trying to bring opponents together and resolve problems there. They usually get a lot of criticism and little credit.

Also good to see Egypt helping.

We don’t know how lucky we are

From Gezza:


More outrageous injustice from another of Trump’s repressive regime “good friends”

Egypt: Cairo court sentences 75 protesters to death

An Egyptian court has sentenced 75 people to death for participating in a 2013 protest against the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi.

Senior members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organisation were among those ordered executed by the Cairo Criminal Court on Saturday for their involvement with the sit-in demonstration at Rabaa Square in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

The rulings will be referred to Egypt’s chief Islamic legal authority, the Grand Mufti, for a non-binding opinion. Egyptian law requires any capital sentence to be referred to the Grand Mufti before any execution can take place.

The Mufti’s decision is rarely ignored by the courts. In 2014, the Mufti rejected a death sentence proposed for the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, who is part of the same case. Badie has since been sentenced to life in prison. A final verdict is expected by September 8.

More…
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/07/egypt-cairo-court-sentences-75-protesters-death-180728101431551.html

No member of the Egyptian military has even been investigated for the deaths of several hundred unarmed protesters murdered by the Army when its commander El-Sisi seized power. A Middle Eastern Egyptian political commentator on Aljazeera tv described the charges against many of those condemned to death by the heavily politicised Egyptian Court as “ludicrous”, with “no evidence to support them”, as frequently happens with political rivals & prisoners in Egyptian Courts.

I expect that the sentences will all be commuted to life imprisonment, although with Egyptian courts & maybe even the Mufti being simple extensions of the ruling repressive regime – like in most Middle Eastern countries it seems – who knows?

The commentator observed that the Egyptian Courts’ lack of respect for fair trials & the repressive government’s suppression of any questioning or dissent is only likely to continue – & possibly even increase – as El-Sisi is further emboldened by the uncritical, self-serving, ever-increasing, arms sales & support of the US, UK, & other Western European governments. Like Israel’s Netanyahu apartheid regime has been.
… … …

I agree entirely, I thought to myself. But, listening to him, I couldn’t help also thinking that, while I’m appalled at the lack of any evidence of our Western democratic notions of free speech & a fair trial in Egypt & other Middle Eastern countries, Egypt has an ongoing problem suppressing ISIS & other Islamic extremists, & there was a fairly high probability that the Courts under the democratically elected-rule of The Muslim Brotherhood would become increasingly theocratised, &, given how things are elsewhere in the ME, that Muslim attacks on, and repression of, non-Muslims or dissenters would very likely be as, or more, frequent than they have been under the El-Sisi regime.

And that thank my lucky stars I was so blimmin fortunate to have been born & to live in this country, at this time in its history. Where, here, we get to whinge & whine & snarl & scream abuse & hurl mud & sex toys (if we’re loopy enuf, or aggrieved enuf, & we’ve a mind to) at our governments or their representatives, & to protest about real & imaginary injustices – to our hearts’ content – without ever having to fear getting shot, or arbitrarily beaten up & arrested, at any time, for non-violent protest, by ruthless government-sponsored thugs & torturers.

And we also don’t have to worry that some well out-of-date, oppressive, misogynistic, intolerant, savage, inhumane, diabolically awful religion might alternatively determine what our laws and penalties – for example for ‘grievous offences’ like blasphemy, & homosexuality, & starving kids stealing a loaf of bread, & apostasy, or practising or converting to another deluded Abrahamic religion – or just rationality – should be.

Whatever criticisms might be justifiably levelled at the failings of our Justice system, at least critics & political activists here are subject to the law & fairness & natural justice. And those people who our goverments do sometimes try & harass – thru the Courts, via an implausibly deniable wink to the police senior hierarchy, or thru other government agencies unquestioningly doing their political masters’ bidding – they seem to always end up having their democratic rights respected & reaffirmed, compensation often being ordered, & the agencies who stepped out of line – or outside their legal boundaries to try & silence, intimidate, or punish them – being strongly censured by our Courts.

The famous philosopher, Frederick Dagg, put it thus:
“We don’t know how lucky we are, boy. We don’t know how lucky we are.”

Well … Yes, we do, Frederick. And we should never forget it. And it’s up to every one of us to make sure it stays that way.

Mosque attack in Egypt

The blight of terrorism continues.

Independent:  Egypt mosque attack: Death toll rises to 235, the deadliest terrorist atrocity in the country’s modern history

The death toll in a militant attack on a mosque in Egypt’s north Sinai region has risen to 235, Egyptian state television reported, quoting the public prosecutor.

Militants targeted members of Egypt’s security forces attending Friday prayers at the Al Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, near Arish city.

They opened fire from four off-road vehicles on worshippers inside the mosque during the sermon, blocking off escape routes from the area by blowing up cars and leaving the burning wrecks blocking the roads, three police officers on the scene said.

Resident Ashraf el-Hefny said many of the victims were workers at a nearby salt firm who had come for Friday services at the mosque, which had contained some 300 worshippers.

Targeting innocent people at prayer is a crap sort of thing to do.

President Sissi condemned the extremist attack on a mosque in the troubled Sinai Peninsula, calling it “criminal” and “cowardly” and expressing condolences to the victims and their families.

Cowards.

Complicating Middle East split

Five Middle East countries have severed ties with Qatar, complicating an already very complex situation there, and and making things awkward for the US which has a major military base there.

NY Times: 5 Arab States Break Ties With Qatar, Complicating U.S. Coalition-Building

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed all ties with Qatar

early Monday, in a renewal of a four-year effort to isolate it and in a sign of a new boldness after a visit to the region by President Trump.

In an abrupt and surprising move, the five Arab states not only suspended diplomatic relations, as they have in the past, but also cut off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar. All but Egypt, which has many thousands of people working there, ordered their citizens to leave the country.

Qatar, like other monarchies in the Persian Gulf, is a close ally of Washington, and it hosts a major American military base that commands the United States-led air campaign against the Islamic State.

As such, the feud among regional allies threatens to stress the operations of the American-led coalition and complicate efforts in the region to confront Iran — but could also be a heavy blow to Tehran’s regional ambitions, if Qatar is forced to sever ties.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson offered to broker the impasse on Monday in the hope of preserving the Trump administration’s efforts to create broad coalitions against Iran and terrorist groups in the Middle East.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand may be little more than some time out from difficult and complex issues elsewhere in the world.

The severing of all connections by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen created an immediate crisis for Qatar. Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave their posts in Bahrain, while Qatari citizens were allotted two weeks to depart Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia said it was taking the action to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.” The Foreign Ministry of Qatar released a statement saying the action had “no basis in fact” and was “unjustified.”

The Iranian government criticized the Saudi-led action against Qatar in a diplomatically worded rebuke. “Neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on his Twitter account. “Coercion is never the solution,” Mr. Zarif said. “Dialogue is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan.”

Why make this move, and why now?

It was not immediately clear why the five countries decided to take this action now. Last month, Qatar’s state news media published comments attributed to the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, referring to tension with Washington over Iran policy and saying Mr. Trump might not be in power for long. Qatar denied the comments, saying it had been the victim of a “cybercrime.”

But most analysts pointed to President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

But the move also creates potential complications for the United States — raising questions about whether the Trump administration knew it was happening; if they understood the pitfalls; if they attempted to counter it and could not.

Everything is a complication in the Middle East.

In another indication of how the Trump visit may have emboldened Gulf monarchies, Bahrain has cracked down on opposition from its Shiite majority over the last two weeks.

In international affairs even the best intentions rarely achieve their aims without at least some adverse reactions and effects.

Its actions are a study in contradictions. Qatar has good relations with Iran, but hosts the American air base, is helping to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and supports insurgents against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Tehran. And yet, the Qatari emir once gave Mr. Assad an Airbus plane.

Home to some Israeli officials, Qatar has also given refuge to Khaled Mashal, a leader of Hamas, the hard-line Islamist group in Gaza that advocates the destruction of Israel.

Tensions had been building for years, beginning with Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and through the broadcasts of the Pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera, which Qatar funds.

Qatar’s rivals have also faulted it for condoning fund-raising for militant Islamist groups fighting in Syria, although several of the other Sunni-led monarchies in the region have played similar roles.

So the US has a military base that it uses to fight ISIS in a country that allegedly supports fund raising for ISIS.

Qatar’s opponents have recently added a third allegation to those grievances: that it is conspiring with their regional rival, Iran.

In his visit to the Middle East Trump named Iran as the main enemy of peace in the Middle East.

However the crisis is resolved, if at all, Mr. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who appeared in their first joint news conference, in Sydney, Australia, after talks with their Australian counterparts, insisted that it would not undermine the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Tillerson will visit New Zealand today. I doubt whether political protests against Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord – see Futile protest against US climate stance – will be very high on Tillerson’s list of concerns.