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Today’s Top Stories
*** Breaking news *** Shortly before this roundup was published, there were reports of a bus explosion in Taba, just inside the Egyptian side of the border. Early reports say a number of Korean tourists and the Egyptian driver were killed and at least another dozen people were injured. Israeli officials say no Israelis were among the injured. More on the unfolding story at the Times of Israel and YNet.
1. Israelis should be buoyed to know that Western aid to Syrian rebels may indeed be bearing modest fruit in areas closest to the border. Now Lebanon‘s Michael Weiss explains:
An ongoing military operation, known evocatively as the Battle of Geneva Houran, has yielded a series of tactical rebel victories in the last fortnight as U.S.-financed and Saudi-purchased weapons have begun pouring across the Jordanian-Syrian border. Based on sources involved in the battle, the most that can be expected from it is a secure buffer zone that stretches from Deraa to Quneitra to parts of the southern Damascus countryside – a zone in which not only the regime’s military presence is minimized, but jihadist and Al-Qaeda elements are deterred.
2. An Al Qaida affiliate announced that it’s officially open for business in Gaza. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (referred to by its Arabic acronym, DAESH) posted a video. According to Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinians are panicked, but Hamas is skeptical.
Now that Al-Qaeda has begun operating in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas needs to consider the possibility that Palestinian unity would pave the way for the DAESH terrorists to move into the West Bank – an outcome U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his team need to take into consideration when they talk about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem on the pre-1967 lines.
3. Egypt’s reportedly launching a new offensive against Gaza’s smuggling tunnels. According to Maan News, the Egyptian army has already destroyed 10 tunnels and seven Rafah homes with the aim of creating a buffer zone.
The zone would potentially threaten dozens of homes in the city, which has been divided by the international border since the 1982 Camp David peace accord. Thousands were displaced in the early 2000s when Israel demolished homes to build a buffer zone on the Palestinian side.
More on the story at the Times of Israel. And the Christian Science Monitor looked at the impact of the tunnel closures on the Gaza economy, with a lot of numbers on the strip’s rising prices and unemployment rates.
4. Mideast Narratives Done In By Camels: I’m still wiping Andrew Brown’s oozing condescension off my computer.
Israel and the Palestinians
• UNESCO’s considering a Palestinian request to designate Battir’s ancient agricultural terraces as a World Heritage Site. The PA request came despite a commitment not to take unilateral moves in the UN during John Kerry’s peace push. The Jerusalem Post writes:
It is one of 41 worldwide sites the World Heritage Committee is expected to review and vote on when it meets in Doha, Qatar, from June 15 to 25 . . .
Separately, the World Heritage Committee is also expected to vote in June on an Israeli application to register the Beit Guvrin caves, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as a World Heritage Site.
• I’m glad BBC discovered terror. You can almost imagine a trembling editor casting anxious glances around the newsroom as he typed out this misspelled headline:
• Palestinian insiders told The Media Line that national reconcilation efforts are going nowhere, and that last week’s meeting between Hamas and Fatah personalities didn’t even address rapprochement.
• Sounds like Jedis for Israel:
• It says a lot about the Arab mindset that even an influential Saudi prince like Turki Bin Faisal has to explain his “contact” with Israelis at a recent international conference.
• For more commentary/analysis, see Robert Fulford (Israeli views on war and peace), Reuven Berko (European calls for Israeli “proportionality”), the Washington Post (Jordanian views of the peace process), Lisa Main and a Toronto Star staff-ed (both on Kerry’s framework agreement).
• Lebanon’s 10-month political gridlock came to a merciful end with the formation of a new cabinet headed by Prime Minister Tammam Salam. Reuters explains:
A caretaker government has run the country since former Prime Minister Najib Mikati resigned in March as parties aligned with the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement and a Sunni-led rival bloc pursued a power struggle exacerbated by their support for opposing sides in Syria’s almost three-year-old civil war . . .
[Salam] said he hoped the new government would allow Lebanon to hold presidential elections before President Michel Suleiman’s mandate expires in May and finally conduct parliamentary polls that were postponed last year due to the political impasse.
• This time, Al Qaida, not Israel, is the Grinch who stole Hezbollah’s martyrs’ day:
Rest O’ the Roundup
• Cool photo of a massive flock of starlings flying over Israel.
Photo | Flock of migrating starlings flies over the southern Israeli village of Tidhar (Oded Balilty/AP) pic.twitter.com/U2xLU5NE91
— Amy Feldtmann (@AmyFeldtmann) February 16, 2014
For more, see Thursday’s Israel Daily News Stream.