US-mediated talks opened Oct. 14 between Israel and Lebanon, aimed at resolving the long-standing maritime border dispute between the two countries. At issue in the talks, held in Lebanon's coastal border town of Naqoura, is an 860-square-kilometer patch of the Mediterranean Sea where each side lays territorial claim. The conflict stems from differing demarcation methods: Israel marks the border as being at a 90-degree angle to the land border, while Lebanon marks it as a continuation of the land borderline. The issue grew more pressing with the discovery of abundant hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean's Levant Basin. Lebanon, which sought to pursue gas drilling off its coast, submitted its demarcation of the maritime borders to the UN a decade ago, claiming this area as within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Israel called this an infringement of its rights, and submitted its own version of the border demarcation to the UN.
In a meeting hosted by the Yazidi autonomous territory of Ezidikhan in northern Iraq last month, representatives of tribal peoples and ethnic minorities from across the Middle East and North Africa agreed on a framework for a region-wide alliance of stateless nations struggling for self-determination and autonomy. The meeting at the Ezidikhan seat of Shingal (also rendered Sinjar) was attended by representatives of the Mandaeans and Zoroastrians as well as Yazidis. Messages of support were also sent by the Shabaks of Iraq, Ahwazi Arabs of Iran, Berbers of Libya, and Palestinian Bedouins residing in the state of Israel. Delegates announced formation of a Confederation of Indigenous Nations of the Middle East open to all stateless peoples of the region. "We are are expecting even more indigenous nations to sign on," said Ezidikhan Minister of Justice Nallein Sowilo. She noted that the Kawliya and Yarsanis, whose territory is divided between Iraq and Iran, have also expressed interest in joining. "We are all natural allies. That is why we call this an alliance of First Peoples. We represent the Middle East's ancient heritage of ethnic and religious diversity."
An Israeli court sentenced a Jewish settler to life in prison plus 20 years on Sept. 14 for murdering a Palestinian family in a 2015 firebomb attack on their home in the occupied West Bank. The district court determined that Amiram Ben-Uliel led a racially-motivated attack on the Dawabsheh home in Duma village, and spray-painted the terms "Revenge" and "Long Live the Messiah" on the home's walls in Hebrew alongside a depiction of the Star of David. The attack killed Saad Dawabsheh, 32, and Riham Dawabsheh, 27, along with their 18-month-old son, Ali. Then four–year–old Ahmed Dawabsheh was the only family member to survive the attack, with severe burns. Judge Ruth Lorch stated that Ben-Uliel did not commit "a reckless act" in "a spontaneous manner," but acted in a "meticulously planned" manner "stemm[ing] from racism and an extremist ideology."
On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."
The Supreme Court of Israel ruled Aug. 27 that a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank had been built on land that was privately owned by Palestinians, and as a result, the settlement had to be removed. The case involved the settlement of Mitzpe Kramim, an outpost in the Jordan Valley built 20 years ago. The settlers claimed that they had been granted authority to build there by the Israeli government. Palestinian plaintiffs filed suit in 2011, arguing that they were the legal owners of the land and the construction that had been undertaken by the settlers was illegal. They asked that the buildings be evacuated.
So, a banner with the phrase "THE JEWS WANT A RACE WAR" was hung from an overpass above the heavily trafficked Interstate 405 in Los Angeles on Aug. 22. As JTA reports, an accompanying banner plugged the perpetrators' website, Goyimtv.com. The site prominently displays a video of their followers standing on the overpass with the banners. Verbiage on the site also reads: "All members of the community and wider society should be treated as equals with the same rights, regardless of their race, age, sex, religion, political beliefs, or any other immutable attribute or self assigned designation UNLESS YOU'RE A JEW or THE SHABBOS EQUIVALENT." This appears to be a reference to the phrase "Shabbos goy," originally meaning a non-Jew who carries out certain tasks that religious Jews are barred from doing on the Sabbath, but now taken up the radical right to mean a dupe of the Jews.
To nobody's surprise, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's bloc won a majority of seats in the country's parliamentary election, dismissed as a farce by the exiled opposition. Assad's "National Unity" list won 177 seats in the 250-member parliament, the electoral commission announced July 22. As in the presidential elections that just as predictably confirmed Assad's hold on the presidency in 2014, millions of people displaced by the war were not able to vote. "Simply put, these are illegitimate elections. The regime chose the candidates, even the independent ones, and they elected them," said Yahya al-Aridi, a member of the opposition committee at UN peace talks in Geneva. "The people in Syria did not have the freedom to vote... This was a theater play by the regime." (Al Jazeera, DW)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on June 29 called on Israel to halt its efforts to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Israel plans to annex settlements in the West Bank, as well as areas of the Jordan Valley, in the coming days. Bachelet said that, regardless of how much land Israel tries to annex, such a move is illegal. She added that while the consequences of annexation would be hard to predict, "they are likely to be disastrous for the Palestinians, for Israel itself, and for the wider region."