- Top Hamas figure: Palestinian president "is not telling them the truth" in assuring West over Palestinian unity government
Reuters on Tuesday conveyed remarks made by Mahmoud Al-Zahar - a former Hamas foreign minister who the outlet described as one of the terror group's "most influential voices" - emphasizing that Hamas would maintain its commitment to the eradication of Israel in the aftermath of a recently revealed unity agreement with the rival Palestinian Fatah faction, and that the Palestinian government envisioned by the agreement would follow that rejectionist stance. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas had earlier in the week declared that the unity cabinet would remain under his political and ideological control, and that he would ensure that it recognized Israel, fulfilled binding Palestinian treaty obligations, and renounced violence. The announcements - aimed at meeting international demands stretching back almost a decade that any such government accept those three Quartet conditions - were widely carried by international, Arab, and Israeli media outlets. The remarks prompted some diplomats to criticize the Israelis for having misread the situation, amid moves by Jerusalem to suspend talks pending the actual formation of the new Palestinian cabinet. Zahar belittled Abbas's assertions, telling Reuters that "Abbas is not telling them the truth [when he] says 'this is my government'... it is not his government" and that the Fatah leader's statements about the new cabinet accepting Israel were hollow. Zahar suggested that the promises were efforts "to minimize the pressure" that Abbas is feeling from the West and to "guarantee that U.S. financial support will continue." Meanwhile lawmakers on Tuesday advanced legislation that would cut off aid to the PA in the aftermath of the unity announcement, absent assurances that the PA had met a host of conditions including the Quartet conditions. The new bills advanced language that has existed in one form or another in U.S. law since at least 2006.
Iran is reportedly set to bust through oil sale caps set by the interim Joint Plan of Action (JPA) for the sixth straight month, according to a report published late Tuesday by Reuters assessing that the Islamic republic will have managed to send abroad an average of 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude exports in April. The JPA permits Iran only 1 million bpd's, a level that Tehran has thus far exceeded every single month since the announcement of the deal. Reuters wrote up the April numbers under the headline "Iran's oil exports fall in April, closer to Western limits," a gesture toward administration assurances that Iranian energy exports will very shortly crash to such a degree that - by the end of the JPA's six-month negotiating period - the average figure for exports will indeed converge on Iran's permitted limits. Observers have expressed skepticism that the White House will have robust diplomatic options should those predictions prove over-optimistic, and have worried that in the meantime Western negotiating leverage is steadily eroding as Iran's economy improves and it reestablishes trade channels to outside markets. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Russia was seeking to create and then shore up exactly such channels, and that Moscow and Tehran had that weekend held talks aimed at making progress on "over $10 billion worth in electricity deals." The New York Times described the development as the "second significant economic collaboration under negotiation between the two countries that could undercut the efficacy of the sanctions on Iran," the first being a sanctions-busting $20 billion oil-for-goods deal. The news came on the heels of revelations that Iran and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq had just locked in an agreement under which they would trade natural gas for crude oil, and which would see the construction of at least two pipelines.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to impose "an arms embargo on Syria’s government, as well as on any groups implicated in widespread or systematic human rights abuses," generally citing a surge in the deployment of so-called "barrel bombs" by the Bashar al-Assad regime and specifically describing two such attacks "on clearly marked official hospitals." The use of the helicopter-deployed IEDs - which are packed with explosives and shrapnel, and can level entire buildings with a single hit - had long ago been condemned as "barbaric" by Secretary of State John Kerry and as a "war crime" by British Foreign Secretary William Hague. The Syrian regime's Iranian backers, for their part, have celebrated the effectiveness of the weapons, and last December a Twitter account associated with Iran's Revolutionary Guards reportedly posted that "the easiest way to send infidels to hell is through [the] 'barrel of death'." Activists had in recent days sought to call attention to an increase in the tempo of barrel bomb attacks. Syrian forces had killed hundreds in the country's third largest city of Homs - where rebels were said to be making a "last desperate stand" - and in its largest population center, Aleppo. Reports that emerged regarding the Aleppo attacks, which included a strike on what Agence France-Presse (AFP) described as "clearly a market" filled with civilians, conveyed "scenes of chaos, with bodies lying amid mounds of grey rubble." Tuesday separately saw at least 60 people killed in attacks across Homs and Damascus.
A recent announcement from a top Turkish official - in which Science, Industry, and Technology Minister Fikri Isik declared that Ankara will begin indigenously producing weapons in order to circumvent potential import restrictions from supplier countries - has left "Western diplomats and military officials... puzzled" over Turkey's intentions, according to a report on the speech by Hurriyet Daily News. Isik had given a speech in which he outlined a plan by Turkey to create a "national" factory that will produce "warheads, airplane bombs[,] and [600 tons of] plastic explosives," with the initiative supposed to be completed within the year. The impetus for the new facility, Isik explained, came from Turkish concerns that the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) - which imposes import and export conditions on certain materials, and to which Ankara has been a party since 1997 - makes it more difficult for the Turks to build the weapons that they want. A NATO defense attache based in Ankara told Hurriyet that "the minister's statement is not clear for many reasons" and emphasized that "if Turkey is planning to bypass the MTCR... that would be worrying.” A Brussels-based NATO ambassador worried that "we are not sure what kind of ammunition Turkey intends to produce at this new factory, and why it hopes to bypass the MTCR." Hurriyet also spoke with a Turkey specialist who noted that Isik's remarks "can be interpreted in a way that Turkey may be targeting to exceed the limits specified in the treaty." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have increasingly found themselves at odds with counterparts in fellow NATO countries. Plans to purchase missile defense assets from a Chinese company - the integration of which has been described as the equivalent of introducing a hostile virus into NATO's command and control infrastructure - have progressed despite vociferous criticism from top NATO officials. AKP officials have been unreceptive to Western calls to put off the deal, and last October Erdogan lashed out at critics of the sale. Top executives from European and U.S. defense firms this month traveled to lobby Turkish firms against the move, explaining that it would severely constrain future security cooperation.