Friday, August 15, 2014

Conflicting Reports From Ukraine, Quick Guide To Israel, Gaza, The U.S. And The Faux-Ceasefire

It Begins: Ukraine Troops Destroy Part Of 'Armed' Russian Convoy

Reuters reports,
Ukrainian artillery destroyed a "significant" part of a Russian armoured column that crossed into Ukraine during the night, President Petro Poroshenko told British Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday,according to the presidential website.

Separately, a Ukrainian military spokesman said Ukrainian forces had tracked the Russian armoured column as soon as it crossed onto Ukrainian soil."Appropriate actions were undertaken and a part of it no longer exists," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists.

We await Putin's response...

While the white trucks came to a halt well short of Ukraine's border, a different Russian convoy did cross into Ukrainian territory late on Thursday evening.

The Guardian saw a column of 23 armoured personnel carriers, supported by fuel trucks and other logistics vehicles with official Russian military plates, travelling towards the border near the Russian town of Donetsk.

After pausing by the side of the road until nightfall, the convoy crossed into Ukrainian territory, using a rough dirt track and clearly crossing through a gap in a barbed wire fence that demarcates the border.Armed men were visible in the gloom by the border fence as the column moved into Ukraine.

Kiev has lost control of its side of the border in this area.

The trucks are unlikely to represent a full-scale official Russian invasion, and it was unclear how far they planned to travel inside Ukrainian territory and how long they would stay. But it was incontrovertible evidence of what Ukraine has long claimed – that Russian troops are active inside its borders.


The armoured column seen by the Guardian appeared to be further evidence of Russia's incursions, which the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

Russia’s Defense Ministry has denied Kiev’s report that it “destroyed the Russian military column” which allegedly crossed into Ukraine, saying that no such column ever existed.
No Russian military column that allegedly crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border at night or during the day ever existed,” said Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry.
The best scenario would be, the official said, if it was a “phantom” that the Ukrainian military destroyed“rather than refugees or their own servicemen.”
“Such statements – based on fantasies, or journalists’ assumptions, to be precise – should not be subject for a serious discussion by top officials of any country,” Konashenkov said.
The Defense Ministry’s comment comes shortly after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announcedthat his country’s artillery had destroyed a “significant” number of Russian military vehicles that allegedly crossed into Ukraine on Thursday night. Reports of the alleged incident had appeared in several Ukrainian and Western media outlets.
Earlier on Friday Russia’s Security Service (FSB) also denied the reports. Border guards have been deployed to provide security near the frontier, but they operate only on the Russian side, the FSB said.
The mobile military teams “operate strictly within the territory of the Russian Federation,” a spokesperson for the FSB Border Guard Service in Rostov region told RT on Friday.
Russia has stepped up security measures on its border with Ukraine as local residents are under constant threat because of “regular cross-border shelling” and an increased number of “mass border crossings” by the Ukrainian military, he explained. For that reason, FSB mobile border guards’ teams have been created.

Although the White House could not confirm or deny the reports and is still trying to get more information, spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden warned that Russia "has no right to do it."
Earlier, several foreign news agencies caused quite a stir, reporting that a convoy of Russian military vehicles had crossed into Ukraine overnight.
The reports triggered criticism from NATO and some European states.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen referred to the alleged incident as to “a Russian incursion” that they “saw.”
Last night we saw a Russian incursion, a crossing of the Ukrainian border,” he said Friday, adding that “it is a clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.”
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said he was “very alarmed by the reports.”

In an article published by The Guardian, reporter Shaun Walker said he “saw a column of 23 armored personnel carriers, supported by fuel trucks and other logistics vehicles with official Russian military plates, traveling [toward] the border near the Russian town of Donetsk.” Late on Thursday the convoy “crossed into Ukrainian territory,” he said. However, no photographic or video evidence of the incident was presented either in his article or in his Twitter feed. The photograph published with the text was taken on Russian territory.
The Telegraph also reported that “at least 23” Russian vehicles had crossed into Ukraine. The report is accompanied by a video also filmed on Russian territory.
It’s a “big question” why two foreign journalists in a war zone “seeing something that should be a very dramatic story haven’t got a mobile phone to take pictures of this,” Neil Clark, journalist and broadcaster, noted to RT.

Is there a ceasefire?

Senior Fatah and Egyptian officials said late Wednesday, Aug. 14, that negotiators in Cairo had agreed to a five-day truce, extending the previous 72-hour ceasefire. But neither Hamas nor Israeli officials themselves have formally acknowledged this deal, nor do they seem inclined to do so. In short, no, there is no truce.

What’s with the split between Obama and Netanyahu?

The dispute between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is nothing new: it has been bubbling since Obama took office in 2009. As reports emerge that the White House blocked a transfer of Hellfire missiles to the IDF during Gaza operations, Obama is accusing Netanyahu of attempting to bypass his office by looking to allies in Congress for support. This, too, is old news, as Netanyahu’s predecessors also used the US legislature to circumvent the will of US presidents.
But the Netanyahu-Obama split has taken on a novel spin in that, only twice before, was Washington denied a say in an Israeli military campaign.
In 1956, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion teamed up with Britain and France for an attack on Egypt behind the US’ back. In 1981, it was Menachem Begin who defied Washington when he ordered the successful bombardment of an Iraqi nuclear reactor near Baghdad.

So who are Israel’s allies for the Gaza operation?

Now it is Netanyahu’s turn to swim against the American tide. His actions have a more comprehensive impact than those of prime ministers’ past. Not only is he standing in opposition to the Obama administration’s ingrained  policy of avoiding military force, he’s also working closely with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi to counter the US Mid East policy departure that hinges on Obama’s understanding with Iran. This new Israel-Saudi-Egypt alliance has pushed US off the regional center stage and sidelined its efforts to bring the Gaza conflict to an end.

Why doesn’t’ Washington go for Egypt and Saudi Arabia?

For the US, crossing Saudi Arabia and Egypt is tricky. But publicly lambasting Netanyahu and Israel is par for the course. Viewed through this lens, the press “leak” to the Wall Street Journal on the blocked missile supply makes perfect sense.
At the same time, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt share the same beef against the administration for working closely with Iran. Obama’s cohorts in Baghdad are colluding with Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei under the guise of battling the extremist Islamic State (IS, formerly IS) slashing its way through Iraq. The two powers plan to resolve Iraq’s crisis to their own benefit. To this end, Obama has granted Iran its rubber stamp and the status of a regional superpower - even before it inks a deal on a nuclear accord, which
Saudi Arabia and Israel, in particular, fear will turn out to be inimical to their strategic interests and national security.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia hit back by sending Sisi to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday August 12 in Sochi. They are inviting him to join the new alliance. It is too soon to say how far Netanyahu is willing to go in this direction.

Is Operation Protective Edge Over?

The answer is a resounding “no!” Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon, would be content to end the war. They've been trying to do this from the operation’s second day, July 8, but are finding that an exit strategy keeps on slipping ever further from their grasp. The two Israeli leaders got themselves into a mess by taking it for granted that they could reap the success of a war against terrorists with a deal at the negotiating table, so falling into the same error as Obama.
Thanks to these early missteps, the fighting is sliding into an on-again, off-again war of attrition, with scattered occasional rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli reprisals. We haven’t yet seen the end of this war, and it will change form as time goes on.
 Meanwhile, Thursday, 500 trucks loaded with food, medicines and other essentials rolled through the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip, continuing the supplies that never faltered in the course of the month-long IDF operation. This fits the general ambivalence of the Netanyahu government’s style of warfare.
Another round of talks has been scheduled to take place in Cairo next week.

The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Friday, August 15, the 39th day of Operation Protective Edge. A five-day truce began amid rocket fire midnight Wednesday, but held through Thursday and Friday. An Egyptian newspaper published details of Cairo’s 11-point ceasefire offer, and accounts varied on whether Hamas and Israel were close to clinching a deal or whether differences remained too great. Israel’s negotiators are due back in Cairo Saturday night, amid news of an 11-point Egyptian ceasefire proposal.

Israel can manage without US Hellfire missiles, says former Netanyahu adviser

Former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, says Israel is strong enough to fight Hamas in Gaza without US Hellfire missiles and does not rule out having to reconquer the Palestinian enclave.
Amidror says that “a little perspective is needed” when talking about the latest alleged crisis in Israel-US relations, since Israel receives up to $1 billion in US military aid every year. All of Israel’s fighter planes, he tells Israel Radio, as well as some of our precise weaponry, are made in the US.

Some 80 members of Iraq's Yazidi minority have been massacred by Islamic State militants in a village in Iraq's north, Kurdish officials said.
“They arrived in vehicles and they started their killing this afternoon,” senior Kurdish official Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters.“We believe it's because of their creed: convert or be killed.”
In addition to the murders, local women were kidnapped from the village, another Kurdish official source told Reuters. A local Yazidi lawmaker confirmed the information.
According to BasNews, a Kurdish website, it was the Yazidi minority village of Kojo some 20 km south of Sinjar that came under attack by the Islamic State (former ISIS) radicals.
BasNews reports that around 80 men – the village’s whole male population – was slaughtered, while all the women were kidnapped.
The killings in the village lasted for about an hour, according to eyewitness reports, based on the testimony of Yazidi MP Mahama Khalil who spoke to survivors. Apparently, the massacre followed a five day ultimatum to convert to Islam or die.
“[An IS fighter] told me that the Islamic State had spent five days trying to persuade villagers to convert to Islam and that a long lecture was delivered about the subject today,” Reuters quotes a man from a neighbouring village as saying. “He then said the men were gathered and shot dead. The women and girls were probably taken to Tal Afar because that is where the foreign fighters are.”

Last week it was reported that extremists from the Islamic State killed at least 500 people, including women and children, Iraqi officials said. Some of the victims were buried alive.
The threat posed by the militant offensive sent an estimated 130,000 of Iraqis, many of them Yazidis, fleeing for their lives. They were seeking refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Kurd militias have been battling with the Islamic State for weeks.
Around 40,000 Yazidis according to UN estimates have been stranded in several locations on Mount Sinjar in north of Iraq, where food and water are scarce.

The group of neighbors surveyed the destruction wreaked on their residential complex by Israeli bombardment, with building after building flattened or punctured by shells. The men then began to voice something almost never heard out loud in Gaza: criticism of its Hamas rulers.

Exhausted by a month of pounding by Israel's military - on top of seven years of stifling closure of the tiny Mediterranean coastal strip - they questioned Hamas' handling of the crisis and the wisdom of repeatedly going to war with Israel.

"We do not want to be bombarded every two or three years. We want to lead a good life: Sleep well, drink well and eat well," said Ziad Rizk, a 37-year-old father of two, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He stared at the damaged apartment building where he lived. His sofa and a blue baby carriage were perched precariously on a tilting concrete slab that was his floor.

Significantly, a Hamas rally last week attracted 2,000-3,000 people, a low number compared to its routinely massive rallies, particularly considering it was held at a time when the group is at war with Israel.

Their grumbling is in part born from Gaza's increasing economic hardship. Unemployment runs at around 50 percent. The Hamas government owes workers several months' back pay. The 7-year blockade by Israel and Egypt has choked businesses and jobs.

Even as they shared their views with the AP, they hedged their opinions. They never, for example, expressed a desire to see Hamas removed from power or abandon armed struggle against Israel. They have no love for Israel, though older members of the community fondly remembered the days when they commuted to Israel for day jobs that put food on the table.

Visible not far away were green fields and trees across the border in Israel. An Israeli train sped by. They could easily see across the border because, they said, Israel several years ago tore down a nearby orchard on the Gaza side that was impeding its soldiers' view in.

"Look at what they have," the 27-year-old Kafarnah said. "Why can't we live like that too?"

His friend, a school teacher who also lost his home, delivered a more pointed criticism of Hamas.

"We have put up with a great deal. They take us to war, fire rockets on Israel from outside our homes and invite destruction to our homes. Fine, but now what?" said the green-eyed teacher in his late 20s, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation.

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