- A U.S.-backed ceasefire between Azerbaijan and Armenia that took effect Monday was broken only four minutes after it started.
- It’s unclear which side broke it, although evidence points to Azerbaijan, which has made substantial gains in the ongoing conflict.
- This is the third failed ceasefire, although neither side seems to have expected it to last very long. The last two were brokered by Russia.
- The combatants are supposed to meet Thursday for negotiations to resolve the conflict, but based on how things are going, that’s unlikely to happen.
Back to Square One
A ceasefire between Armenian and Azeri forces that was brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fell apart on Monday just four minutes after it started.
The ceasefire was agreed to by both parties and was first announced by U.S. President Donald Trump.
“Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to adhere to a ceasefire effective at midnight,” Trump tweeted Sunday.
The two countries are fighting over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, alongside a few neighboring regions with a heavy Armenian troop presence. The regions in question are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but features a majority ethnic Armenian population, who in ’92 formed a state called the Republic of Artsakh. Artsakh receives financial, commercial, developmental, and military ties with Armenia proper.
On September 27, tensions over the region broke out into open conflict after both sides accused the other of breaking a decades-long ceasefire. Major players in the region, like Turkey and Russia, each support different sides in the war. Turkey has provided material support to Azerbaijan, including drones and fighter jets. Russia provides Armenia with arms and anti-drone missile defense system; however, unlike Turkey Russia has consistently made efforts to negotiate a ceasefire.
Unfortunately, every Russian brokered ceasefire has similarly ended just minutes after starting, with each side blaming the other for breaking the agreement.
The U.S. brokered ceasefire seemed to have a good start, with Armenian President Nikol Pashinyan tweeting, “As agreed in Washington DC, with US mediation, the Armenian side will fully maintain the ceasefire starting from 8 a.m.”
U.S. Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) also spoke on behalf of local Armenian groups, writing “My colleagues in the Armenian Caucus have consistently called for the US to take decisive action holding Azerbaijan and Turkey accountable and bring an end to the bloodshed. I’m thankful @SecPompeo negotiated a ceasefire that hopefully holds and leads to an independent Artsakh.”
Many Armenians were correctly doubtful about how successful the ceasefire would be because of how all past ceasefires ended. Some online wrote things like, “Pres. Trump, since this humanitarian ceasefire like the previous two will likely not be observed by Azerbaijan, hope the US government has follow-up plans. Turkey is the main reason why this war is taking place, so sanctioning them would be the single most important act for peace.”
For their part, the Azeri perspective could be easily summed up with a tweet by a user that reflects the longheld grudge against Armenia for allegedly pushing ethnic Azeris out of Nagorno-Karabakh.
“Your proud team has not been able to save 1 million people for more than 30 years,” the user wrote. “The brutality of the Armenian government drove 1 million Azerbaijanis from the Azerbaijani lands in Karabakh. Now they are returning home. The only team you can be proud of is the Azerbaijani Army.”
It’s important to note that, it’s officially unclear who broke the ceasefire, with each side blaming the other for targeting and bombing civilian centers in Nagorno-Karabakh and neighboring Ganja, respectively.
News of the failed ceasefire quickly gained traction after Azeri Foreign minister Hikmet Hajiyev said, “Since 08.04 armed forces of Armenia started shelling Tartar region and its villages in violation of humanitarian ceasefire. As reported by MOD Azerbaijan armed forces of Armenia with artillery and mine launchers attacking our forces since 08.05“
Armenia disputes this, claiming that they are trying to maintain the ceasefire even though Azerbaijan is the one shelling cities in Artsakh. This back and forth over who broke the ceasefires have continued the he-said-she-said narrative of the conflict. Virtually every event is disputed by either side, and restrictions on journalists make it hard to verify information.
Armenia does largely allow journalists to many spots in the warzone, although with some restrictions. Azerbaijan, however, heavily restricts journalists, and clear answers from their side of the front are hard to obtain.
Progress of the War
If a side stood to gain something from breaking a ceasefire, it’d probably be Azerbaijan. They have made huge gains towards gaining control of Nagorno-Karabakh. Even though both sides actively seek to play up their gains and diminish their losses, satellite images and alleged geolocation data show that Azeri forces are now in large parts of southern Nagorno-Karabakh.
Initial claims about geolocation date were disputed, however, on October 27, Armenian forces announced they were making strategic retreats from cities in southern Artsakh in an effort to consolidate forces and avoid unnecessary loses; however, they stressed these were minor setbacks.
This indeed may be a minor setback because other information indicates that while Azeri forces may have made some large gains, they also are having trouble holding the territory and may have suffered untenable losses for it.
Azeri losses are notoriously hard to confirm, but to date they have stated that 65 civillians have lost their lives in the conflict to date.
Armenia claims to have inflicted over 6,000 military casualties on Azeri forces since the conflict began. Officially, 900 soldiers and civilians have been killed on the Armenian side since the conflict began. Although doctors in Stepanakert, while speaking to The Daily Beast, say that over 1,000 soldiers have died, with an additional 300-400 civilian deaths.
Both sides are due to meet again on Thursday with members of the Minsk Group, which is co-chaired by the U.S., France, and Russia, in order to try and find a resolution to the conflict.
See What Others Are Saying: (The Hill) (ABC News) (The Daily Beast)
Chinese Billionaire Sun Dawu Arrested, Businesses Seized by Communist Party
- Chinese authorities announced on Wednesday that billionaire Sun Dawu is facing 25 years in prison over a range of charges, including disturbing public order, illegal mining, encroachment on state farmland, obstructing public services, and illegal fundraising.
- Sun owns a number of companies based on rural industries and has long been an advocate for rural workers and landowners. His communes for workers have been described as “utopian.”
- However, his advocacy has made him a target, especially after he began quarreling with local state-owned enterprises over land rights.
- Sun was arrested along with 19 others, most of whom were family, and according to his legal team, his company is now being run by Communist Party representatives.
China Targets Billionaire
Sun Dawu, one of China’s most outspoken businessmen and rural worker advocates, could face 25 years in prison if convicted on a wide range of charges at a court hearing that is believed to take place next week, his legal team said on Monday.
Sun is accused of provoking trouble and disturbing public order, illegal mining, encroachment on state farmland, obstructing public service, and illegal fundraising, among other charges, according to documents released Wednesday from prosecutors in Gaobeidian, a city in Hebei province.
Prosecutors also charged 19 other people with similar crimes, many of whom took Sun’s side in a November land dispute between Sun’s companies and state-owned enterprises. According to South China Morning Post, who spoke with a source on Sun’s legal team, prosecutors are asking that Sun’s eldest son receive a 16 years sentence and that Sun’s brother be handed an 11-year sentence.
Sun’s legal team appealed to Dang Xiaolong, the Communist Party secretary of Baoding, to reconsider the cases.
“If this case is not properly resolved, it would not be just a setback of Sun Dawu,” the letter said, adding that the charges against Sun could have a chilling effect on private business owners in China and could mar this year’s centennial celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party, which are meant to highlight how far the party has come.
Too Vocal a Critic
China, as of late, has been cracking down on billionaires and reigning in their power – especially if they’ve been known to be outspoken critics. Jack Ma noticeably fled from the public eye after scrutiny from state authorities, although he has managed to avoid any charges.
Sun, on the other hand, has been far more vocal in his criticisms of the party. He’s known for having extremely loyal employees and often uses them to push back against local party policies and officials; which could constitute the use of a gang and further exacerbate problems for his defense. His workers are so loyal because Sun is known for building large communes for them with above-standard housing, along with free education, groceries, daycares, and healthcare for employees and their families.
Since at least Wednesday, Sun’s companies, as well as the community facilities for the workers, have been run by Communist Party representatives. If Sun is convicted, it’s likely that his properties and companies will all be turned over to the state.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (NYT) (South China Morning Post)
Israel-Hamas Fighting Continues To Escalate as Tensions Take Over Social Media
- Fighting between Israel and Hamas forces within the Gaza strip escalated into Thursday, as both sides have continued rocket attacks and airstrikes, killing nearly 100 and injuring hundreds more.
- Many fear the violence could turn into a ground war as Israeli forces gather on the border. At the same time, Israel is experiencing domestic conflict as angry Arab and Jewish citizens clash in the streets.
- Numerous celebrities have spoken out about the fighting, though all faced criticism regardless of whether they shared pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, or neutral stances that called for peace.
- The backlash highlights how divisive and complicated the over 70-year conflict between Israel and Palestine is.
Escalating Every Day
The situation between Israel and Palestine has dramatically escalated over the last two days, and as of Thursday morning, nearly people 100 are dead across both sides.
Hamas officials at the Gaza Ministry of Health claim that over 480 people have been wounded and 83 Palestinians have died in the conflict. That includes 17 children and at least one top commander, although Israel claims to have killed almost only militants and at least 10 top commanders. In Israel, six Israelis and one Indian national have died while dozens of others were wounded.
On top of the conflict with Gaza, Israel is also facing some of its most violent confrontations in decades between Jewish and Arab citizens. There have been reports of angry Arabs setting vehicles, a restaurant, and a synagogue ablaze. Meanwhile, in other communities, ultra-nationalist Jewish residents enacted their own violence by vandalizing Arab-owned cars.
In addition to this, there have also been accusations of what are described as lynchings by both groups.
Most Arab protesters deny that they are targeting Israelis as a whole, but instead are aiming at the ultra-nationalist, ultra-conservative Jewish communities that make up the vast majority of the Israeli settler movement. These same settler groups are using the Israeli government to force Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, which is one of the catalysts for recent events.
“How hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”
As with any situation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opinions are extremely divided. Some appeared to want to show support for their homeland while still having empathy for everyone involved, such as actress Gal Gadot who tweeted, “My heart breaks. My country is at war. I worry for my family, my friends. I worry for my people.”
“This is a vicious cycle that has been on for far too long. Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation, our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families, I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we could live side by side in peace. I pray for better days.”
The post was widely criticized, with users suggesting that calling the ongoing fighting a “war” implied some kind of power balance. That power imbalance was particularly highlighted in a video by late-night host Trevor Noah. In it, he pointed out that trying to get to “who’s wrong” is a wasted effort, and no matter what, important context will always be left out.
“Like just set aside motives and intentions and just look at technology alone. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. They can crush Gaza like that,” he added. “Not to mention one of the most powerful defense systems in the world. You shoot a rocket at them and it’s probably not going to do anything because of its defense system.”
“But I just want to ask an honest question here. If you are in a fight where the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”
Noah’s stance was a little more nuanced than many online, as he seemed to imply that Israel should have the ability to at least respond in some way to Hamas’ rocket strikes. Figures such as Bella Hadid didn’t agree. She painted the situation as more black and white, posting an image to Instagram that has one person asking if the conflict was over religion. The other person in the image responds, “They are not ‘fighting,’ Israelis are the oppressors and Palestinians are the oppressed and the situation is about anything but religion.”
That post has led others to use the same format to argue that Bella’s take is a reductionist argument that leaves out any context about the situation that is far more complex than it portrays.
For example, many noted that Bella discounts the importance of religion in the conflict, even though it’s always been a pillar and facet of identity that has helped fuel it. Her sister Gigi also posted about what’s going on, advocating that people look at this from the lens of human rights, as Israel has long been accused of being a de facto apartheid state that unfairly treats Palestinians.
Then there were those like Rihanna who took a “middle-of-the-road” approach. She wrote, “My heart is breaking with the violence I’m seeing displayed between Israel and Palestine!”
“I can’t bare to see it! Innocent Israeli and Palestinian children are hiding in bomb shelters…. There needs to be some kind of resolve! WE are sadly watching innocent people fall victim to notions by government and extremists, and this cycle needs to be broken!”
Pro-Palestinian users were quick to jump at her post, writing things like, “rihanna is giving such “all lives matter energy.” I’m disappointed. It’s not a conflict!! It’s one sided.”
As the outrage online continues, so does the fighting, with both Israel and Gaza firing at each other. There are reports that Israel is building up ground forces across from Gaza, and that the situation may escalate dramatically as at least three rockets were launched into Israel from southern Lebanon, a stronghold of the Islamist group Hezbollah.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Al-Jazeera) (The Independent)
Hamas and Israel Exchange Deadly Strikes Over Conflicts at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah
- Tensions between Israel and Palestine have risen dramatically over the last month since Israel restricted access to al-Aqsa mosque, along with other religious and traditional sites during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.
- On top of this, there are ongoing clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families out of their homes despite a 1956 agreement that stated they could keep their homes after three years.
- The two situations have jointly fueled weeks of massive protests in Jerusalem, leading to hundreds of injuries.
- Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum to Israel to stop its actions. When the deadline passed Monday night, it launched over 400 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with its own airstrikes.
Actions at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah Fuel Anger
Dozens were killed across Israel and the Gaza Strip between Monday and Tuesday after both sides conducted airstrikes over rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians in Jerusalem.
At play are two unique situations that have led to Palestinians becoming particularly frustrated at what they feel is unjust treatment by Israel. The first is what Palestinians describe as Israeli restrictions on religious and cultural practices during Ramadan. The other is the looming evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem.
The religious clashes began about a month ago at the start of Ramadan when Israeli security forces put up barriers to stop people from hanging out at the Damascus Gate, a popular spot during the holiest month in Islam.
The situation was made worse when Israel imposed a 10,000 person limit on prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The 10,000 person limit meant tens of thousands of Palestinians were turned away or forcibly removed in a series of raids into the mosque and compound, the most recent of which caused a fire in a tree in the area.
Israel tried to de-escalate the ongoing protests by removing the barriers at the Damascus Gate to little avail.
Sheikh Jarrah: Microcosm for Entire Conflict
On top of the situation at the al-Aqsa compound, there have also been also large demonstrations over evictions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The area was developed in the ’50s by Jordan when it controlled that part of Jerusalem as part of an agreement with Israel. Part of that agreement was that the families living there would be allowed to keep the homes after three years. Jordan eventually lost control of Sheikh Jarrah and seven decades later an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to leave their homes.
The court agreed with the accusation that the homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land and should be returned to Jewish residents. In turn, Israeli settlers moved into the area and entered homes with families still living inside — a move that has been described as little more than blatant theft.
The evictions at Sheikh Jarrah have led to weeks of massive protests and this past weekend was no different with hundreds of injuries across both sides.
The entire situation was supposed to be settled, at least legally, during a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, but that was postponed until an unknown date, leaving many to feel like the situation won’t be resolved and fueling further protests.
Hamas Issues Ultimatum
In response to all of this, Hamas and its territory of the Gaza Strip decided to issue an ultimatum for Israel to leave the al-Aqsa Mosque complex and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or it would launch rockets. When that failed to happen at 6 p.m. on Monday, Hamas launched a massive attack of over 400 rockets into Israel. Many fell short or were stopped by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
However, some did find their targets and injured at least 10 Israelis and killing two. Israel responded by conducting airstrikes against Gaza, reportedly killing 26. Both sides have continued to bombard the other through the last 36 hours with promises to escalate the situation further.
Over the next few days, it’s likely that the death tolls will rise and the bloodshed will be used as its own excuse to continue the violent cycle that the region has been locked in since the middle of the 20th century.