JFP 7/26: Summers to Fed? NSA roll call; F16s to Egypt held; war backing hits new low

Just Foreign Policy News, July 26, 2013
Summers to Fed? NSA roll call; F16s to Egypt held; war backing hits new low

I) Actions and Featured Articles

Action: Don't let Larry Summers head the Fed!
Economist (and JFP board member) Dean Baker says: "Picking Larry Summers for Fed chair would be exactly the wrong message to send at the moment. Summers is one of the main architects of the policies that have given us the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It would be an especially bad signal to send when there is an outstanding pick already at the Fed serving as Vice-Chair, Janet Yellen." Sign our petition to President Obama: 18,000 have signed so far. List of good anti-Summers references at the link.
http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/dont-let-larry-summers?source=c.url&r_by=1135580

Roll Call of the NSA surveillance vote
Check to see if your Rep. voted yes. Thank them if they did, spank them if they didn't. Congress will revisit this issue on the intelligence authorization.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/24/amash-amendment-roll-call-vote_n_3648737.html

FCNL et al: No U.S. Military Intervention In Syria!
Joint petition initiated by FCNL, IPS, JFP, Peace Action, Peace & Justice Resource Center, UFPJ, USLAW, and WAND.
http://org.credoaction.com/petitions/no-u-s-military-intervention-in-syria

Video: Israeli forces shoot B'Tselem spokesperson during West Bank protest

B'Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli was shot in the leg from close range on Friday by Israeli forces while documenting the weekly protest in Nabi Saleh, as she has been doing for years. She issued a statement Saturday on her understanding of what happened.
http://972mag.com/btselem-spokesperson-injured-at-west-bank-protest-soldier-knowingly-shot-in-my-direction/76172/

Julie E. Taylor: Leave Hezbollah Alone!

Taylor argues that if the U.S. shifts its policy in Lebanon from "neutral" to "anti-Hizbullah," it could tip Lebanon into civil war. Taylor is a Middle East analyst at RAND.
http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/07/24/leave_hezbollah_alone

Summary:
U.S./Top News

1) The House approved a spending bill that would give the Pentagon about $600 billion next year, while narrowly killing a measure that targeted controversial NSA surveillance programs, Defense News reports. House members also approved a measure that would restrict funds for a possible US military mission in Syria. That measure would prohibit "the use of any funds with respect to military action in Syria to the extent such action would be inconsistent with the War Powers Resolution."

Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., who sponsored the amendment, described it as "a reminder" to Obama that if he opts to order military action in Syria, he must abide by laws that give Congress a say before he does so. Notably, Republicans and Democrats rose to support the amendment, many cautioning that a US mission in Syria could make things worse. Rep. Tim Rooney, R-Fla., said he wanted a stronger amendment that banned any US help to Syria's rebels. Radel and Rooney suggested Washington would be committing a blunder if it aided the rebels.

2) The top US military officer warned senators that taking military action in Syria was likely to escalate quickly and result in "unintended consequences", representing the most explicit uniformed opposition to deeper involvement in another war in the Middle East, the Guardian reported. Alluding to the costly, bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said that once the US got involved militarily in the Syrian civil war, "deeper involvement is hard to avoid." Arming and training the rebels would cost "$500m per year initially," require "several hundred to several thousand troops" and risk arming al-Qaida-aligned extremist forces amongst the rebels or "inadvertent association with war crimes due to vetting difficulties," Dempsey said.

3) UK Prime Minster David Cameron's admission that Britain will not be sending arms to Syria's rebels masks a major political defeat, writes Jonathan Steele in the Guardian. It's clear he has been forced into a U-turn by a large backbench revolt, including many from his own party. By a margin of 114 to one, Parliament demanded that the government put the issue to a Commons vote before sending any arms.

4) President Obama, in his first punitive response to the ouster of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt, has halted the delivery of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian Air Force, the New York Times reports. Officials said Obama wanted to send Egypt's military-led government a signal of American displeasure with the chaotic situation there, which has been marked by continued violence, the detention of Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a transition that has not included the Brotherhood.

5) The administration has concluded it is not legally required to determine whether the Egyptian military engineered a coup d'état in ousting President Morsi, a senior administration official said, a finding that will allow it to continue to funnel $1.5 billion in American aid to Egypt each year, the New York Times reports. A senior official said, "The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination."
"We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say," the official said.

The White House said it would continue to use financial aid as a lever to pressure Egypt's new government to move swiftly with a democratic transition. On Wednesday, the Pentagon delayed the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian Air Force to signal the administration's displeasure with the chaotic situation in Egypt. Such case-by-case decisions, the official said, would be the model for how the United States disbursed aid in the coming months.

Had the administration been forced to determine whether the events of July 3 in Cairo were a coup, it is difficult to see how it could have avoided that conclusion, the Times notes. Egypt's generals deposed Morsi; put him under arrest, along with other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood; and suspended the Constitution.

6) Only 28 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, the lowest number on record and clearly below the least-popular stretches of the Iraq war, the Washington Post reports. Overall support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan has dropped 11 percentage points since March. The drop in approval was matched by an 11-point increase, to 67 percent, in those who say the war has not been worth fighting. Declining support crosses demographic and party lines, with double-digit drops among men and women, whites and non-whites, Democrats, Republicans and independents. Public support for the Iraq war sunk to its lowest point - 33 percent - in November 2011, just a month before the final U.S. troop withdrawal.

7) Americans are fed up with the federal government collecting information on their phone calls, emails and Internet use, and they want curbs on what can be monitored, McClatchy reports. Fifty-six percent of adults surveyed thought the government had gone too far in its collection of personal data; seventy percent want regulations to limit what can be monitored to protect privacy.

Israel/Palestine
8) Egypt's post-coup government has imposed the toughest border restrictions on Gaza in years, sealing smuggling tunnels, blocking most passenger traffic and causing millions of dollars in economic losses, AP reports. The new Gaza border restrictions are tougher than any enforced by Morsi's pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, a foe of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Gaza residents.

Since Morsi's ouster, only those with foreign passports and medical patients have been allowed to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing, reducing the number of daily passengers from about 1,000 to 150. Gaza border official Maher Abu Sabha said there is a growing backlog, with about 10,000 passengers having signed up so far in July to leave Gaza and only a fraction actually getting out.

9) UN human rights chief Navi Pillay urged Israel to reconsider legislation that could lead to the demolition of Bedouin villages in the Negev, asserting that Israel was actively pursuing discriminatory policies by forcibly displacing its Arab citizens, the New York Times reports. The measure would likely result in the demolition of up to 35 Bedouin villages and the eviction of 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin Arabs from ancestral lands and homes, she said.

Iran
10) Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki told the Obama administration this month that Iran was interested in direct talks with the US on Iran's nuclear program, and said that Iraq was prepared to facilitate the negotiations, the New York Times reports. U.S. officials have said since the beginning of the Obama administration that they would be open to direct talks with Iran, the Times notes. Nonproliferation experts argue that it is difficult to make major headway in a committeelike forum like the P5+1, and that if progress is to be made, it will have to happen in private one-on-one discussions between Iranian officials and the Obama administration.

The State and Treasury Departments announced that the US was expanding the list of medical devices, like dialysis machines, that could be sold to Iran without a license, the Times notes. David Cohen, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that the move was intended to "accelerate trade" in these medical devices and address humanitarian needs in Iran. The announcement was seen by many observers as a good-will gesture before Rouhani prepares to take office in Tehran on Aug. 4.

Yemen
11) Yemeni authorities must respond to allegations that investigative journalist Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi' was ill-treated and arbitrarily imprisoned based on his work to reveal the U.S. military's role in a deadly 2009 attack, said Amnesty International following his release. "Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi' appeared to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for his legitimate work as a journalist. Shayi' was the first Yemeni journalist to allege U.S. involvement in a 2009 missile attack in Yemen's Abyan area which killed 41 local residents, including 21 children and 14 women. "Intense political pressure applied by the USA appeared to be a blatant attempt to override the judicial process in another country," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International.

Syria
12) Disillusioned by the Islamist twist that the "revolution" in Syria has taken, exhausted after more than two years of conflict and feeling that they are losing, growing numbers of rebels are signing up to a negotiated amnesty offered by the Assad regime, the Telegraph reports. At the same time, the families of retreating fighters have begun quietly moving back to government-controlled territory, seen as a safer place to live as the regime continues its intense military push against rebel-held areas. The move is a sign of the growing confidence of the regime, which has established a so-called "ministry of reconciliation" with the task of easing the way for former opponents to return to the government side.

Contents:
U.S./Top News

1) US House Approves Defense Spending Bill, Keeps NSA Surveillance Programs Alive
John T. Bennett, Defense News, Jul. 24, 2013
http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130724/DEFREG02/307240022/US-House-Approves-Defense-Spending-Bill-Keeps-NSA-Surveillance-Programs-Alive

Washington - The US House on Wednesday evening overwhelmingly approved a spending bill that would give the Pentagon about $600 billion next year, while narrowly killing a measure that targeted controversial NSA surveillance programs.

The chamber's 2014 defense appropriations bill, approved on a 315-109 vote, includes about $512.5 billion for the Pentagon's base budget and around $82 billion for overseas operations. The base budget figure is about $3 billion less than the White House requested.

Some of the most dramatic moments of the two days of floor debates came late Wednesday afternoon when the House addressed amendments to limit the National Security Agency's controversial spying program, place restrictions on US aid to Egypt, and put strings on dollars eligible for use to pay for a Syria military intervention.

Members sparred for nearly a half-hour over the most-anticipated amendment of the process, offered by tea party GOP Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and liberal Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, as well as other members.

Republicans bashed Republicans, further exposing a divide that began in 2010 between the parties' tea party privacy hawks and the old-school national security hawks. But Democrats joined the privacy side arguing for the Amash amendment; and in a twist, conservative Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., defended President Barack Obama's use of the NSA programs.

The chamber narrowly rejected the Amash measure after days of lobbying against the amendment by senior NSA leaders and White House officials by a vote of 217 against to 205 in favor. Eighty-three Democrats joined 134 Republicans in killing the amendment.

It proposed to end what it calls the "authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act," as well as proposing to bar the NSA and other agencies from "using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215."
[...]
Members approved, via voice vote, another Amash amendment focused on US aid dollars to Cairo. It mandates that no funds from the 2014 defense appropriations bill be used to pay for US military operations there or to support Egyptian "paramilitary operations," and is co-sponsored by Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla.

House members also approved, via a voice vote, a measure that would restrict funds for a possible US military mission in Syria when they vote on an amendment offered by Rep. Trey Radel, R-Ohio. [Clearly there was an editing error here - JFP.] That measure would prohibit "the use of any funds with respect to military action in Syria to the extent such action would be inconsistent with the War Powers Resolution."

Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., who sponsored the amendment, described it as "a reminder" to Obama that if he opts to order military action in Syria, he must abide by laws that give Congress a say before he does so.

Notably, Republicans and Democrats rose to support the amendment, many cautioning that a US mission in Syria could make things worse. Rep. Tim Rooney, R-Fla., said he wanted a stronger amendment that banned any US help to Syria's rebels.

Radel and Rooney suggested Washington would be committing a blunder if it aided the rebels.

GOP House members clashed with President Obama in 2010 over the Libya operation, claiming Obama ignored the decades-old law when he plunged American forces into that nation's civil conflict.

In a surprising move, more than 40 Republicans joined Democrats Wednesday to cut the House Appropriations Committees' Overseas Contingency Operations funding level by $3.5 billion. The panel's war-funding amount topped $85 billion. The bipartisan amendment passed 215-206.

The Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee has yet to even mark up its version of the legislation. Any eventual differences between the two bills would have to be ironed out by a conference committee before the final version could go to Obama.
[...]

2) US military intervention in Syria would create 'unintended consequences'
General Martin Dempsey, top military officer, warns senators that each option under consideration would be costly and uncertain
Spencer Ackerman, Guardian, Monday 22 July 2013 17.56 EDT
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/22/us-military-intervention-syria

Washington - The top US military officer warned senators on Monday that taking military action to stop the bloodshed in Syria was likely to escalate quickly and result in "unintended consequences", representing the most explicit uniformed opposition to deeper involvement in another war in the Middle East.

Alluding to the costly, bloody occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said that once the US got involved militarily in the Syrian civil war, which the UN estimates to have killed about 93,000 people, "deeper involvement is hard to avoid".

"We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state," Dempsey wrote to senators John McCain and Carl Levin on Monday. "We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action."
[...]
Arming and training the rebels, the least-riskiest option, would cost "$500m per year initially", require "several hundred to several thousand troops" and risk arming al-Qaida-aligned extremist forces amongst the rebels or "inadvertent association with war crimes due to vetting difficulties".

Limited air strikes would require "hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines, and other enablers", with costs running "in the billions", to achieve little more than a "significant degradation of regime capabilities and an increase in regime desertions". Dempsey warned that Assad's regime could withstand the strikes.

A no-fly zone, McCain's preferred option, would require "require hundreds of ground and sea-based aircraft, intelligence and electronic warfare support, and enablers for refueling and communications", Dempsey wrote, costing up to $1bn per month. He added: "It may also fail to reduce the violence or shift the momentum because the regime relies overwhelmingly on surface fires – mortars, artillery, and missiles."

Even a limited no-fly zone, to establish what former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter termed a "no-kill zone", would cost "over $1bn a month," Dempsey assessed, due to the requirement of "thousands of US ground forces" to maintain it, even outside Syria.
[...]

3) MPs were right to vote against arming Syria's rebels
Cameron's U-turn was forced by a backbench victory that should be celebrated – all the more so for going against Washington
Jonathan Steele, Guardian, Wednesday 24 July 2013
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jul/24/mps-vote-against-arming-syria-rebels

You would not know it from most news reports, but David Cameron's weekend admission that Britain will not be sending arms to Syria's rebels masks a major political defeat. The prime minister gave no reason, but it's clear he has been forced into a U-turn by a large backbench revolt, including many from his own party.

A backbench-promoted debate that prominently featured the tenacious John Baron (one of the 15 Tory MPs who voted against the Iraq war) and Peter Hain, a former Labour minister who once handled Middle Eastern issues, ended with a stunning rebuke to the government. By a margin of 114 to one, they demanded that the government put the issue to a Commons vote before sending any arms. William Hague was forced to promise this would be done.

This rare backbench victory should be celebrated. Seeing the chaos of post-Gaddafi Libya, many MPs were stung by the fact that Britain took military action there in 2011 without coming to parliament first. Others were guided by the bitter experience of the Iraq war. They know now that, although prior consent was sought and obtained from MPs on Iraq in March 2003, it was achieved on the basis of false evidence and "sexed-up" intelligence.

But it was not just the issue of prior consent that underlaid the recent Commons vote on Syria. Most of the 114 who challenged the government are against arming the rebels on principle, for fear of launching a new arms race that would increase the killing in Syria, or because they fear British weapons would end up in jihadi hands.

In taking this view backbenchers are following the instincts of the majority of British citizens. A recent Opinium/Observer poll found that only 24% supported giving weapons or military supplies to Syria's rebels. Britons have learnt the lesson of the disastrous British interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The same poll found that about 60% now oppose both wars.
[...]
US public opinion is firmly against arming Syria's rebels – a Huffington Post/YouGov poll last month found only 19% in favour of sending them weapons, while 53% were against. Even though a narrow majority of Americans believe Syrian forces have used chemical weapons in the conflict, most of this group is still opposed to sending weapons to the other side. Two other US polls had similar findings.
[...]

4) U.S., in Sign of Displeasure, Halts F-16 Delivery to Egypt
Mark Landler and Thom Shanker, New York Times, July 24, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/25/world/middleeast/us-halts-delivery-of-f-16-fighters-to-egypt-in-sign-of-disapproval.html

Washington - President Obama, in his first punitive response to the ouster of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt, has halted the delivery of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian Air Force.

Mr. Obama, administration officials said, wanted to send Egypt's military-led government a signal of American displeasure with the chaotic situation there, which has been marked by continued violence, the detention of Mr. Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a transition that has not included the Brotherhood.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel relayed the decision to Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the head of Egypt's military, a senior official said, and did not say when the Pentagon might reschedule the delivery. "Given the current situation in Egypt, we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s," the Pentagon press secretary, George Little, said Wednesday. He did not cite any specific actions by the Egyptian military.

The White House emphasized that the decision did not have implications for $1.5 billion in American aid to Egypt, which it has said it does not want to cut off for now. The administration is reviewing that aid but has scrupulously avoided referring to Mr. Morsi's ouster as a coup d'état, which could force its suspension on legal grounds.

In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Morsi's ouster, the administration said it did not plan to halt the F-16 shipment. But officials said they were disturbed by how events have unfolded since then. Holding up planes is a modest, but unmistakable, symbol of that concern - "an inside fastball to the military," in the words of a Pentagon official.

"We've been very clear with the military: we understand this is a difficult situation but we want things to get back on track," said a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the diplomatic sensitivities of the decision. "Trying to break the neck of the Brotherhood is not going to be good for Egypt or for the region."
[...]

5) Aid to Egypt Can Keep Flowing, Despite Overthrow, White House Decides
Mark Landler, New York Times, July 25, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/world/middleeast/aid-to-egypt-can-keep-flowing-despite-overthrow-white-house-decides.html

Washington - The Obama administration has concluded it is not legally required to determine whether the Egyptian military engineered a coup d'état in ousting President Mohamed Morsi, a senior administration official said Thursday, a finding that will allow it to continue to funnel $1.5 billion in American aid to Egypt each year.

The legal opinion, submitted to the White House by lawyers from the State Department and other agencies, amounts to an escape hatch for President Obama and his advisers, who had concluded that cutting off financial assistance could destabilize Egypt at an already fragile moment and would pose a threat to neighbors like Israel.

The senior official did not describe the legal reasoning behind the finding, saying only, "The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination."

"We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say," the official said.

News of the administration's legal determination began circulating on Capitol Hill after a deputy secretary of state, William J. Burns, briefed House and Senate members in closed-door sessions earlier on Thursday.

The White House said it would continue to use financial aid as a lever to pressure Egypt's new government to move swiftly with a democratic transition. On Wednesday, the Pentagon delayed the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian Air Force to signal the administration's displeasure with the chaotic situation in Egypt.

Such case-by-case decisions, the official said, would be the model for how the United States disbursed aid in the coming months. The administration might also "reprogram" assistance to promote a transition, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the White House's internal deliberations.

"We will work with the Congress to determine how best to continue assistance to Egypt in a manner that encourages Egypt's interim government to quickly and responsibly transition back to a stable, democratic, inclusive, civilian-led government that addresses the needs and respects the rights and freedoms of all its people," the official said.

Had the administration been forced to determine whether the tumultuous events of July 3 in Cairo were a coup d'etat, it is difficult to see how it could have avoided that conclusion.

Responding to days of antigovernment demonstrations, Egypt's generals deposed Mr. Morsi; put him under arrest, along with other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood; and suspended the Constitution.
[...]

6) Many Americans say Afghan war isn't worth fighting
Karen DeYoung and Scott Clement, Washington Post, July 26 http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/many-americans-say-afghan-war-isnt-worth-fighting/2013/07/25/d0447d44-f559-11e2-aa2e-4088616498b4_story.html

Only 28 percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has been worth fighting, the lowest number on record and clearly below the least-popular stretches of the Iraq war, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Overall support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan has dropped 11 percentage points since March, a precipitous fall during a period marked by tension between U.S. officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a spring and summer resurgence in Taliban attacks, and the failure of ballyhooed peace talks with insurgents to get off the ground.

The drop in approval was matched by an 11-point increase, to 67 percent, in those who say the war has not been worth fighting.

The numbers come as Congress has moved to cut President Obama's budget request for operations in Afghanistan, and the administration is reportedly leaving open the possibility of withdrawing all troops by the end of next year, when combat forces are scheduled to pull out.

Declining support crosses demographic and party lines, with double-digit drops among men and women, whites and non-whites, Democrats, Republicans and independents.

While Republicans generally remain more supportive than Democrats, their approval has collapsed at a faster rate in recent years.

Fewer than half of Americans - 43 percent - say that the Afghan war has contributed to long-term U.S. security, the first time that number has dipped below 50 percent in the past four years. While a majority of Republicans - 55 percent - see the war's contribution more favorably than other political groups, the current number is down considerably from 70 percent in 2010.
[...]
Public support for the Iraq war sunk to its lowest point - 33 percent - in November 2011, just a month before the final U.S. troop withdrawal.

7) Poll: Back off the snooping, public tells Washington
David Lightman, McClatchy, Wed, Jul. 24, 2013
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/24/197535/poll-back-off-the-snooping-public.html

Washington - Americans are fed up with the federal government collecting information on their phone calls, emails and Internet use, and they want curbs on what can be monitored, majorities say in a new McClatchy-Marist poll.

The July 15-18 survey also found widespread opposition to the Insider Threat Program revealed in a recent McClatchy story, a sweeping, unprecedented Obama administration initiative that has federal employees and contractors watching for "high-risk persons or behaviors" among co-workers.

"Privacy still counts, and federal employees snooping on each other, that's out of bounds," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll.
[...]
The Insider Threat Program is laid out in documents reviewed recently by McClatchy that showed some agencies are using the authority to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any data, not only classified material. McClatchy also found that millions of federal employees and contractors are being told to watch for suspicious activity among co-workers.

Failing to report such behavior could mean serious penalties, including criminal charges, and leaks to the media are equated with espionage.

Enough, says the public. By a 2-to-1 margin, they declared that having federal employees track each other is going too far. The strong concern crosses all party lines, age, race and income groups.

Fifty-six percent of the 1,204 adults surveyed thought the government had gone too far in its collection of personal data, while a third said the effort was needed. Seventy percent want regulations to limit what can be monitored to protect privacy, while more than a quarter regard the programs as part of life in the digital age.
[...]

Israel/Palestine
8) Egypt imposes toughest Gaza restrictions in years
Ibrahim Barzak and Mohammed Daraghmeh, Associated Press, July 24, 2013
http://news.yahoo.com/egypt-imposes-toughest-gaza-restrictions-years-200017177.html

Gaza City, Gaza Strip - Egypt's new government has imposed the toughest border restrictions on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in years, sealing smuggling tunnels, blocking most passenger traffic and causing millions of dollars in economic losses.

Some in Hamas fear the movement is being swept up in the same Egyptian military campaign that earlier this month toppled the country's democratically elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi - like the Gaza rulers part of the region's Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt's military has said the Gaza restrictions are part of its security crackdown in the Sinai Peninsula and has not suggested it is trying to weaken the Hamas government or bring it down in the process.

Past predications that Gazans fed up with the daily hardships of life under blockade will rise up against Hamas have not materialized.

However, the new Gaza border restrictions are tougher than any enforced by Morsi's pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, a foe of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Gaza residents and Hamas officials.
[...]
"It's getting worse every day," Gaza City taxi driver Khaled Jaradeh said of the shortage of cheap Egyptian fuel caused by the closure. Jaradeh was waiting in a slow-moving line outside a gas station, with about 30 cars in front of him. "Even when Mubarak was president, we used to get fuel through the tunnels," Jaradeh said.
[...]
After Morsi was elected Egypt's president last year, he eased some of the border restrictions, though he did not open Gaza's only gate to the world as wide as Hamas had hoped.

Still, during Morsi's yearlong rule, cheap fuel and building materials from Egypt flowed relatively freely via the Sinai through border smuggling tunnels into Gaza, bypassing Israeli restrictions on certain imports to the territory. Aboveground, most Gazans were able to cross into Egypt after years of strict travel restrictions.

All that changed when the Egyptian military deposed Morsi after millions took the streets in protest against the president and his Brotherhood backers.

Since his ouster, only those with foreign passports and medical patients have been allowed to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing, reducing the number of daily passengers from about 1,000 to 150. Gaza border official Maher Abu Sabha said there is a growing backlog, with about 10,000 passengers having signed up so far in July to leave Gaza and only a fraction actually getting out.
[...]

9) Israeli Land Measure Called Discriminatory
Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, July 25, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/world/middleeast/un-official-asks-israel-to-reconsider-bill-on-bedouins.html

Geneva - The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, urged Israel to reconsider legislation that could lead to the demolition of Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, asserting that Israel was actively pursuing discriminatory policies by forcibly displacing its Arab citizens.

"I am alarmed that this bill, which seeks to legitimize forcible displacement and dispossession of indigenous Bedouin communities in the Negev, is being pushed through the Knesset," Ms. Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement released in Geneva on Thursday. The measure would likely result in the demolition of up to 35 Bedouin villages and the eviction of 30,000 to 40,000 Bedouin Arabs from ancestral lands and homes, she said.
[...]

Iran
10) Iran Is Said to Want Direct Talks With U.S. on Nuclear Program
Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, July 26, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/26/world/middleeast/iran-is-said-to-want-direct-talks-with-us-on-nuclear-program.html

Washington - Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq told the Obama administration this month that Iran was interested in direct talks with the United States on Iran's nuclear program, and said that Iraq was prepared to facilitate the negotiations, Western officials said Thursday.

In a meeting in early July with the American ambassador in Baghdad, Mr. Maliki suggested that he was relaying a message from Iranian officials and asserted that Hassan Rouhani, Iran's incoming president, would be serious about any discussions with the United States, according to accounts of the meeting.

Although Mr. Maliki indicated that he had been in touch with confidants of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, he did not disclose precisely whom he was dealing with on the Iranian side. Some Western officials remain uncertain whether Iran's leaders have sought to use Iraq as a conduit or whether the idea is mainly Mr. Maliki's initiative.

State Department officials declined to comment on Mr. Maliki's move or what steps the United States might have taken in response. American officials have said since the beginning of the Obama administration that they would be open to direct talks with Iran.
[...]
In a separate move on Thursday, the State and Treasury Departments announced that the United States was expanding the list of medical devices, like dialysis machines, that could be sold to Iran without a license. In a conference call with reporters, David Cohen, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said that the move was intended to "accelerate trade" in these medical devices and address humanitarian needs in Iran. The announcement was also seen by many observers as a good-will gesture before Mr. Rouhani prepares to take office in Tehran on Aug. 4.
[...]
For years, the United States and its partners - Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - have met on and off with Iranian officials in a dialogue that has become known as the "P5 plus 1" talks. Nonproliferation experts continue to argue that it is difficult to make major headway in such a committeelike forum, and that if progress is to be made, it will have to happen in private one-on-one discussions between Iranian officials and the Obama administration.
[...]

Yemen
11) Yemeni Investigative Journalist Finally Set Free, but Serious Issues Remain
Amnesty International, July 24, 2013
http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/news-item/yemeni-investigative-journalist-finally-set-free-but-serious-issues-remain

New York – The Yemeni authorities must respond to allegations that investigative journalist Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi' was ill-treated and arbitrarily imprisoned based on his work to reveal the U.S. military's role in a deadly 2009 attack, said Amnesty International following his release on Tuesday. Shayi' was finally set free following international pressure, but is still under a two-year travel ban.

"Abdul Ilah Haydar Shayi' appeared to be a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for his legitimate work as a journalist. Having released him, the Yemeni authorities must now conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the 2009 attack which he helped expose," said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa director at Amnesty International. "Both the Yemeni and U.S. authorities have some serious questions to answer regarding this case. His allegations of ill-treatment must also be investigated."

Shayi' was the first Yemeni journalist to allege U.S. involvement in a 2009 missile attack in Yemen's Abyan area which killed 41 local residents, including 21 children and 14 women. Shortly after the attack – which used internationally banned cluster munitions – he wrote articles and spoke to news channel Al Jazeera and newspapers.

He was arrested at his home in the Yemeni capital Sana'a in August 2010. On January 18, 2011, he was sentenced to five years in prison for having links to al Qaeda – allegations stemming from interviews he conducted with members of the armed group for his journalistic work. Several weeks after his trial, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh issued an order to free him, but it was not carried out after U.S. President Barack Obama expressed concern over the journalist's release.

"Ever since his arrest and trial, there were strong indications that the journalist was being targeted because of his work," said Luther. "Intense political pressure applied by the USA appeared to be a blatant attempt to override the judicial process in another country."

The Yemeni government claimed the missile attack targeted a "terrorist training camp" in al-Ma'jala, in the southern area of Abyan. A Yemeni parliamentary committee was formed to investigate the incident and told Amnesty International in 2010 that they found no evidence of such a camp.

The committee urged the Yemeni government to open a judicial investigation into the attack and bring those responsible for killings of the "innocent" to justice, but no investigation is known to have been carried out. The government subsequently apologized to the victims' families, describing the killings as a "mistake" during an operation that was meant to target al Qaeda militants.

Amnesty International obtained photographs which suggested that the attack used a U.S.-manufactured cruise missile that carried cluster munitions and in May 2010, wrote to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates requesting information about the involvement of U.S. forces, but has yet to receive a response. A leaked diplomatic cable later corroborated the finding that the U.S. military carried out the attack.
[...]

Syria
12) Syria: disillusioned rebels drift back to take Assad amnesty
Hundreds of men who took up arms against President Bashar al-Assad are defecting back to the government side, The Telegraph has learnt.
Ruth Sherlock, Telegraph, 23 Jul 2013
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10198632/Syria-disillusioned-rebels-drift-back-to-take-Assad-amnesty.html

Beirut - Disillusioned by the Islamist twist that the "revolution" in Syria has taken, exhausted after more than two years of conflict and feeling that they are losing, growing numbers of rebels are signing up to a negotiated amnesty offered by the Assad regime.

At the same time, the families of retreating fighters have begun quietly moving back to government-controlled territory, seen as a safer place to live as the regime continues its intense military push against rebel-held areas.

The move is a sign of the growing confidence of the regime, which has established a so-called "ministry of reconciliation" with the task of easing the way for former opponents to return to the government side.

Ali Haider, the minister in charge, said: "Our message is, 'if you really want to defend the Syrian people, put down your weapons and come and defend Syria in the right way, through dialogue'."

Mr Haider, who has a reputation as a moderate within the regime, has established a system in which opposition fighters give up their weapons in exchange for safe passage to government-held areas.
[...]

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