August 2014

Aug  1  The 72-hour truce announced by the US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon began this morning at eight o'clock, EST, and ended 90 minutes later. Reuters reports that "Israel declared the ceasefire over ... saying Hamas militants breached the truce soon after it came in effect and apparently captured an Israeli officer while killing two other soldiers ... that 90 minutes into the truce, militants attacked soldiers searching for tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip used to infiltrate fighters into Israel." Palestinian families had begun to return to their devastated neighborhoods. Reuters reports hospital officials as saying that "Renewed Israeli shelling killed more than 50 Palestinians and wounded some 220."

Aug 4  Early yesterday Israel's military was tracking what it described as terrorists on a motorcycle. It fired just as the motorcycle was passing a UN school. Israel's military is aware of the locations of the UN schools. According to NBC News, if the shooter had waited a minute for the motorcycle to have moved farther on it would have spared the lives of civilians waiting just outside the gate of the school. At least ten Palestinians died. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack, calling it "a moral outrage and a criminal act."

Aug 4   Yesterday, Yahoo News reported that "farm runoff and sludge from sewage treatment plants have been building for more than a decade," Officials for the city of Toledo Ohio warned that tap water could cause vomiting, cramps and rashes, and "health officials advised children and those with weak immune systems to avoid showering or bathing in the water." Yesterday in Toledo the public bought up all the bottled water available in stores.

Aug 5  The Moscow Times reports President Putin's speech glorifying Tsar Nicholas II's decision on August 1, 1914, to go to war to help Russia's Slavic brothers, the Serbs. Other European leaders have spoken of the war as a tragedy. Putin instead appeals to Russian nationalism. Russia failed utterly to help the Serbs. (Russia entering the war produced disaster for the Serbs, who handled Austria-Hungary's attack well enough on their own but were done in by the Germans.) Putin describes Russia as having been on the verge of winning its war in 1916, a ludicrous claim, and he blames Russia's failure on those who were sowing dissention within Russia – the Bolsheviks for whom he worked for years as a KGB agent. The Moscow Times writes, "From remarks earlier this year, it is clear that Putin also blames the Bolsheviks for splitting up Russia's empire."

Aug 6  Most of Israel's ground forces have pulled out of Gaza. The cease-fire continues. Israel's Operation Protective Edge appears to be over. Israeli intelligence estimates that around 3,300 missiles were fired toward Israel, and Israel's Defense Force claims to have destroyed some 3,000 more, and it estimates that some 3,000 missiles remain in Gaza. At least a few Israelis are disappointed that Hamas has not been completely wiped out. The Times of Israel, reports that a military (IDF) assessment holds that the cost of reoccupation of the Gaza Strip and completely purging it of terror "would be hundreds of soldiers' lives, endangering peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and tens of billions of shekels per year," and that "severe disorder, riots and unrest would also be expected in the West Bank and among Israeli Arabs." Some cabinet ministers doubt the report and call it "pessimistic." The Times of Israel plays with the idea that Israel "might have won" this latest contest – the fourth since 2006, 2009 and 2012. The editors of Harretz (Israel's oldest daily newspaper) call of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lift the blockade, rebuild the Gaza Strip, recognize the Palestinian unity government and cooperate with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. The question why Israel doesn't end its occupation, dismissing it as an issue for its enemies while remaining free to defend itself militarily again if it must, remains. /// Just in from the Associated Press: Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu demands that Hamas disarm, or at least ensure that it cannot re-arm, before it considers opening Gaza's borders (closed since 2007).

Aug 6  In Saudi Arabia, men wishing to marry foreigners face tougher regulations. Police Director Major General Assaf al-Qurashii is reported as saying that men need the consent of the government obtained by submitting marriage applications through official channels.

Aug 7  Saudi Arabia in cooperation with France gives Lebanon one billion dollars to help the Lebanese army and national security forces fight the Sunni al-Qaeda linked "terrorists" who have seized the town of Arsal, near the border with Syria. With this money, Lebanon is expected to buy weapons from France.

Aug 7  The Times of Israel reports Prime Minister Netanyahu's claim, "that it would be a 'moral mistake' as well as a practical one to not take action against terrorists operating from mosques, schools and other civilian areas." Some of the comments from readers oppose Netanyahu. One of them complained: "They committed war crimes so we are permitted to commit war crimes." Another reader describes urban fighters as always fighting from civilian areas, the Polish Home Army having done it against the Germans and rebels doing it in Syria. "What are they supposed to do," he asks, "stand in an open field and wait for an airstrike?" One comment supporting Netanyahu's morality concept reads: "You are a disgrace to your own people," another says something about rats coming out of the sewer.

Aug 8  Hamas rejects Israel's willingness to open Gaza's borders in exchange for Hamas disarming. A text message from Hamas' military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said there would be no extension of the 72-hour cease-fire if there was no agreement to permanently lift the blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt. This morning the 72-hours expired and Hamas fired more rockets. Israel retaliated with air strikes in Gaza, the IDF saying that it is striking "terrorist sites." The IDF this morning entered the war crime argument, describing every rocket fired into Israel as a war crime because each is aimed at civilians.

Aug 9  Hamas proclaims it will make no concessions to Israel. "The resistance will continue... The occupier's intransigence will get it nowhere," says Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhum, according to the Times of Israel. The Israeli military describes a total of 70 rockets fired toward Israel since the truce yesterday, and Israel is described as striking more than 30 targets in Gaza since then. Israel isn't about to end its occupation as Hamas demands, and Hamas isn't about to disarm, leaving Israel to disarm Hamas bit by bit with military force. Yesterday a distraught elderly Gazan asked, "Why shouldn't we fire rocket at Israel? Look at what they are doing to our children!" Nobody was seen replying: because sending rockets is mere emotional satisfaction and aggravating our problem with Israel. How many in Gaza oppose Hamas firing its rockets again is difficult to find. A poll in mid-July descrbed by the Washington Institute describes 73 percent of Gazans holding that "Palestinians should adopt 'proposals for (nonviolent) popular resistance against the occupation.'"

Aug 10  President Obama has announced his intention to protect the 700,000 Yazidis in northern Iraq. These are a Kurdish speaking people who practice an ancient religion associated with Zoroastrianism and reviled by ISIS militants who view them as devil worshippers. The Huffington Post headlines that "at lead 500 Yazidis have been killed by ISIS ... women and children ... buried alive... hundreds of women kidnapped." Yazidis have fled to desert mountain top and are said to number 40,000. Obama has ordered airdrops of water and food for them, and he has authorized airstrikes against ISIS which took place two days ago. Yesterday, President Obama said it would "take some time" to help Iraq overcome its ISIS problem and to stabilize. He promised that he would not put any boots on the ground in Iraq. The airstrikes and humanitarian air drops might have to continue for months, he has said. Two of Obama's hawkish Republican critics, Senators McCain and Graham, complain that he has no vision and that his intervention won't defeat ISIS. William Saletan writes for Slate that they are are wrong. "ISIS will destroy itself. We don't have to stamp out ISIS, because its growth is inherently limited. It picks too many fights and alienates too many people."

Aug 12  The temporary Israel-Hamas truce holds for the second day. Hamas is reported as willing to have forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas police Gaza's Rafah border crossing to Egypt – a first since Gaza took power in Gaza in 2007. It's the Palestinian Authority (PA) Israel wants to deal with, and the PA is on the side of Hamas in its view of a solution to the crisis: an end to Israel's occupation of Gaza. Peter Beinart, who is working for Haaretz and CNN, describes Prime Minister Netanyahu as saying three weeks ago that Israel will require permanent, or "at least indefinite military control" of the West Bank, which means no independent Palestinian state. "In fact," says Beinart, "that's consistent with what we know about what he said in the private negotiations under Kerry." Beinart says that with this lack of a conceivable path toward a two-state solution, "you have no political strategy against Hamas."

Aug 13  Walgreens has decided not to shift its headquarters overseas, which would have cut the amount of US taxes it pays. Today, Katrina vanden Heuval writes in the Washington Post that the "rather unpatriotic move" was rejected after a backlash that included "petitions signed by several hundred thousand people, protests at Walgreens stores, and even rumblings of a consumer boycott." Vanden Heuval estimates that Walgreens' latest decision means the US government won't lose $4 billion in tax revenue. She mentions Americans for Tax Fairness having participated in the opposition to Walgreens' move overseas. She criticizes Congress "which allows and, indeed, provides an incentive for bad behavior" and a "plethora of popular corporated tax-dodging tactics... loopholes that those who can afford the best tax lawyers – such as corporations – can game the system and win."

Aug 14  Yesterday a five-day cease-fire extension was agreed to in Cairo. There was news also of a few rockets fired from Gaza but no damage or injuries. For a while it looked as though Israel was not going to retaliate, but they did, with air strikes. Hamas denied that they fired the rockets, and today the five-day truce is still on. The Times of Israel describes focus of the talks in Cairo as likely to be the blockade: the restriction of goods that enter and leave Gaza. The paper goes on to say that Gaza needs cement to rebuild but Israelis fear that it could be used "for nefarious purposes," as in tunnel building. Other sources speak of Israel holding the blockade necessary to prevent arms smuggling. We hear little if anything about the ineffectiveness of the blockade, in place since 2007, in preventing rocketry. Meanwhile, senior Hamas negotiator Khalil al-Haya is reported as optimistic about the Cairo talks and says that he is not intererested in more destruction or bloodshed "for our people."

Aug 15  The banana company Chiquita rejects a takeover bid by Brazil's Cutrale and Safra groups, saying the offer from Brazil was "inadequate." Chiquita says it is sticking to its plan to merge with the European fruit seller Fyffes. This, BBC News points out, would "allow Chiquita to avoid higher US taxes by relocating its statutory headquarters to Ireland."

Aug 15  Egypt floats an 11-point ceasefire proposal, its main points: Israel will halt all attacks on Gaza; Palestinians will stop all attacks on Israel and build no tunnels into Israel; Gaza's borders will open, including a transfer of goods between Gaza and the West Bank; buffer zones in northern Gaza will be eliminated in steps beginning January 2015; fishing off the Gaza coast will immediately be extended to 6 miles and will be gradually extended to 12 miles. These moves are to be done with coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The response by Hamas is reported as varied, with some saying Hamas is ready to accept and others complaining that the Egyptian proposal gives Hamas nothing. Yesterday demonstrators in Tel Aviv were calling for "no revenge" and an end to their country's attacks on Gaza alongside others who were carrying signs calling for the obliteration of Hamas. According to the Times of Israel, protesters carried signs with slogans such as "Even one rocket is too many," "We love the IDF," and "Conquer Gaza now!" Civility and respect were maintained between the hawks and doves. Also yesterday, Israel's Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said negotiations would only serve to empower Hamas. Israel's secular leftist Social Democratic party, Meretz, supports a negotiated settlement with Palestinians and the dismantling of most Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It has only 6 of the 120 seats in parliament. Israel's Labor Party, the party of former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, is also considered left-of-center and associated with the peace process, and they hold only 15 seats in parliament.

Aug 17  In Israel a wedding between a Jewish woman and an Arab man is taking place today. A group opposed to assimilation, Lehava, is ordered by a judge to protest no closer than 200 meters from the wedding hall. Lehava opposed Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli marrying Leonardo DiCaprio, and it has denounced Mark Zuckerberg's marriage to Priscilla Chan. Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, expresses his support for the couple "to get married and to exercise their freedoms in a democratic state," and he adds that "Not everyone has to rejoice about their happy occasion, but everyone must respect it." Last week, Lehava director Bentzi Gopstein accused the bride-to-be of "marrying the enemy while the nation is at war."

Aug 18  The wedding for the Tel Aviv couple was joyful yesterday, while everybody but the police and some news people ignored the several hundred demonstrators who were kept at the prescribed distance.

Aug 18  Nine days ago a white policeman in Ferguson Missouri fired six rounds at an unarmed 18-year-old black male, MIchael Brown, reported to have his hands in the air. Protests followed and a few found opportunity to destroy property and loot, which the Brown family and President Obama have condemned. The local police brought out Iraq-war style military equipment and offended people with their aggressive response. The community is predominately black and the Ferguson police are predominately white. Black police officers were brought in, state troopers took over and midnight curfews were declared. Yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Andrea Mitchell asked the governor of Missouri, Jay Nixon, "Why has a full week elapsed, and we still do not know anything? The public wants answers to what happened between Michael Brown and the white officer who shot and killed him." This morning, Reuters News describes the Missouri national guard having been "called in as the chaos continues."

Aug 19  Yesterday, President Obama complained about "a small minority" in Ferguson, Missouri, undermining peaceful protest by fomenting violence. One of the many putting in an appearance in Ferguson yesterday was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who complained that blacks have been "locked out of the economy," which some interpreted as his offering an excuse for rioting. This morning's headline in the Huffington Post reads: "CLASH." There were "fresh clashes" last night. "Police fired several rounds of tear gas into the crowd after a small number of protesters reportedly threw bottles at the officers. Shots were fired, and the cops ordered everyone without media credentials to disperse." Again yesterday there were reports on the News Hour of hostility between peaceful protesters and those who are not peaceful. The violent appear in tv clips displaying in the street a mix of glee and anger at the police. The police describe themselves as obliged to maintain peace and to protect property. The police for sure are not going to tolerate being attacked with stones, fire bombs, other objects and especially being shot at. They see a part of their job as defending themselves. Meanwhile, in the Untied States the common view is that non-violence is the way to go in expressing grievances and that violence is not productive. Demonstrations, like war, are political expressions, but the United States has an aberrant minority viewed as "crazies" who are attracted to demonstrations driven by other than a sound political strategy.

Aug 20  Yesterday Egypt urged restraint concerning the unrest in Ferguson. Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, has also raised the flag of human rights, describing events in Ferguson as more oppression by the US. Also yesterday someone made the news saying violent protest in Ferguson was necessary in order to attract attention, that otherwise the problem would be ignored. This morning's news is of the police in Ferguson saying that last night they arrested 47 mostly for failure to disperse and, that protests were "mostly peaceful."

Aug 20  Talks in Cairo have ended with Israel unwilling to give Gaza its freedom until Hamas disarms and Hamas saying it won't disarm until Israel ends its occupation. If they had discussed simultaneity it didn't make the news. With this, yesterday Hamas sent more rockets into Israel and Israel retaliated with air strikes. Nineteen more Palestinians are reported killed, and Hamas reports that the wife and child of its military commander, Mohammed Deif, were killed.

Aug 20  This morning's top story on BBC News: the US, UK and France "voice abhorrence at the apparent beheading of American journalist James Foley" by an ISIS militant in Syria. Foley is described as having been "'A brave and tireless journalist."' The beheading is reported as retaliation for US airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq.

Aug 21  The US ignores an ISIS threat to execute another American should the US launch more air strikes. US Navy airplanes and drones hit ISIS positions near the city of Mosul in Iraq, helping Kurdish and Baghdad government forces. The New York Times reports that before beheading the American journalist James Foley, ISIS demanded that the US provide a multimillion-dollar ransom for his release, and the NYT adds that "several European countries ... have funneled millions to the terror group to spare the lives of their citizens," but the US refused to pay. Reuters writes this morning that a US military attempt to rescue Foley and other Americans in Syria "earlier this summer" failed because, according to the Pentagon, the hostages were "not present at the targeted location."

Aug 22  In Gaza today, responding to Israel executing by air strikes three of its leaders, Hamas activists grabbed seven who were leaving Gaza's largest mosque and shot them, after shouting that "This is the final moment of the Zionist enemy collaborators." Also this morning, a Gaza security official said that eleven suspected informers were killed at the Gaza City police headquarters, noting that the dead had been sentenced by Gaza courts. The Times of Israel this morning informed its readers that "Israel's intelligence services rely, in part, on informers to pinpoint the whereabouts of Hamas leaders." Precisely what happened wasn't described in the media, but today some of us are reminded that sometimes during wars ordinary people might fail to differentiate between an actual act of espionage and merely not conforming to wartime group-think.

Aug 24   A week-ago, Rand Corporation, a think-tank, described IS as "sophisticated, strategic, financially savvy and building structures that could survive for years to come." It added that IS "currently brings in more than $1 million a day in revenue and is now the richest terrorist group on the planet." Contrary to some claims, IS gets no support from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis have been fighting jihadist fundamentalism for years. It has denounced IS, and four days ago its Grand Mufti described IS and al-Qaeda as "enemy number one" of Islam. Qatar denies supporting IS. Its foreign minister says his country is repelled by IS views, violent methods and ambitions. Unlike the Assad regime in Syria, which has Russia and Iran for support, IS has no state as a friend. Al Qaeda in Yemen has announced its support, people are buying its oil and wheat at bargain prices, and ransom money is going to iS from France, Italy and elsewhere. As Rand Corporation claims, it could survive for years to come. This could be despite periodic airstrikes by the United States – about 100 so far. Boots on the ground worn by Kurdish forces and soldiers of the Baghdad government are not expected to destroy the Islamic State soon. Today retired General John Allien says a "comprehensive approach" is required that includes the US employing "special operations." (New York Times map of IS controlled territory)

Aug 25  Foreign ministers in the Saudi city of Jeddah pledge a unified stance against extremist ideology in the Arab world. With the Saudi minister were ministers from Qatar, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. These states have been hostile to the Assad regime in Syria, viewed as engaging in state terrorism. Syria sees benefit in hostility toward the Sunni extremists, ISIS, and Assad's foreign minister today announces that Syria is "ready" to work with the international community, including the United States, to combat terrorism.

Aug 25 Comedian John Oliver appeared on television last night mocking the way internet websites hype news in order to build traffic. The Raw Story reports today that he was directing his humor at the Huffington Post.

Aug 26  President Obama authorizes surveillance flights over Syria, described by some as a first step toward US air strikes there against ISIS. Meanwhile, regarding military action against ISIS and the view of ISIS as a threat, Harvard scholar Stephen Walt, appearing on the NewsHour, says ISIS is a "bunch of very bad guys" but their threat to the United States "has been greatly exaggerated" and "to believe that we can go in again with airpower primarily and some special forces and eliminate this problem is fanciful." He says ISIS "has maybe 20,000 fighters, no air force, no navy, basically lightly armed infantry" and have been able to expand only in stateless areas. A different view comes from Oklahoma's Senator Inhofe on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is advocating intervention and saying ISIS is "crazy" and is "rapidly developing a method of blowing up a major US city, and people just can't believe that's happening."

Aug 27  Yesterday people in Gaza paraded with a lot of cheering and smiles in giddy celebration of an ambiguous "open-ended ceasefire" agreement brokered in Cairo. Hamas has been damaged, 2,143 Palestinians have been killed, more than 11,000 wounded and 100,000 made homeless in the fifty-day war. Hamas justifies itself by claiming victory. Others claim the agreement was made because of exhaustion, and it is said that Hamas didn't want to spend all of its rockets. The agreement states that Israel will ease restrictions on goods entering Gaza, on humanitarian aid and construction materials, and Israel will expand the offshore area open to Palestinian fishermen to six nautical miles. Israel's Prime Minister Netanhayu is being criticized by people who want Hamas destroyed. A rift is reported in his coalition. His approval rating, at 82 percent before the war, is now said to be at 38 percent. Israel has lost 64 soldiers in the conflict, and Israelis are concerned that another military move into Gaza would kill many more of its soldiers.

Aug 28  Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the ten Russian paratroopers captured in Ukraine had probably strayed across the border "by accident." Pro-Russian rebels have taken the town of Novoazovsk and are threatening the port city of Mariupol. Ukraine Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk says Russia has "unleashed a war in Europe." President Poroshenko says he will initiate an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the crisis.

Aug 28  A US citizen, 33-year-old Douglas McCain, has been reported killed while fighting for ISIS in Syria. Some are trying to describe why he joined ISIS. An article in the Washington Post describes him as having been a "goof ball" in highschool. Between ages 19 and 27 he accumulated nine misdemeanor convictions. Then he had a religious conversion and found meaning in life. The conversion was to Islam. On the News Hour yesterday a woman in a headscarf, Humera Khan, was interviewed. She is the executive director of Muflehun, a think tank that focuses on countering violent extremism. The intensity of new converts was mentioned, and Khan spoke of such men having only a shallow knowledge of Islam and wanting to prove themselves with "good deeds" and looking for "a sort of like shortcut to heaven." A tweeted New Republic article by Mehdi Hasan, dated August 22, describes jihadist newbies buying the book Koran for Dummies. Hasan writes that "the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement."

Aug 29  At the UN, in response to an accusation of Russia invading Ukraine, the Russian minister says the West doesn't understand its "close relations" with that country. Meanwhile, the Ukraine government, centered in Kiev, is fighting to establish order and its legitimate authority against a separatist minority of ethnic Russians. UIkraine is a democracy and the rebels would have a voice in the Ukraine's local and central government, but they prefer armed rebellion. As reported today in the Moscow Times, President Putin compares the Kiev government's effort with "the events of the World War II, when German fascist... occupants surrounded our cities." Half the comments to the paper regarding Putin are derisive. Also today, "heavy fighting" is reported near Mariupol, Ukraine's port city on the Azov Sea, with pro-Russian forces trying to capture the city and government troops defending.

July 2014  | September 2014     

Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.