US president Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since either took office yesterday in Washington. They discussed the middle east peace process and security in the region, but in subsequent public statements there was little sign of a major breakthrough.
The toD verdict: The talks seem to have fundamentally failed to reinvigorate what Obama called the "stalled" progress in the middle eastern peace process. Throughout their public meeting, the two statesmen were seemingly at cross-purposes. While Obama again called for a two state solution, Netanyahu only expressed a desire to "start peace negotiations with the Palestinians" and for Palestinians to "govern themselves", continuing his aversion to the words "Palestinian state". Obama's demands that "settlements have to be stopped" also went unanswered and there was little sign that Netanyahu's Israel would take the "difficult steps" the US claims are necessary.
Accordingly, the talks were coldly received by Palestinian parties. A Hamas spokesman decried Obama's apparently tough call for Israel to halt settlement expansion and commit to a two state solution as an attempt "to deceive the world". Statements by Fatah negotiator Saeb Erekat were predictably less confrontational but equally pessimistic, arguing Israeli policy made impossible a fully functioning Palestinian state.
If the talks heralded a single breakthrough it was Obama's indication that he was setting a deadline of the end of the year for talks with Iran. To date, and much to the annoyance of hawks at home and in Israel, Obama has not imposed strict conditions or a time-limit on his offer to negotiate with Iran. By propelling the Iranian threat to the forefront of the US-Israeli relationship, the Nethanyu government may succeed in deflecting criticism of its policies in the occupied territories. Defence Minister Ehud Barak was accordingly critical of calls for a two state solution, which he said would not stop Iran.
Government and Tamil Tigers dispute LTTE leader's death
Following their proclamation of victory in a decades-long civil war yesterday, Sri Lankan forces have broadcast video footage they claim shows the corpse of Tamil Tigers leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in an attempt to end disputed claims as to whether he was in fact killed. A Sri Lankan military spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara, said the authorities were "100 percent positive" it was Prabhakaran. However the LTTE's diplomatic representative Selvarasa Pathmanathan had earlier claimed that their "beloved leader is alive and safe".
The news of the LTTE's defeat was met with protest in London where around 5,000 protestors broke out from the centre of Parliament Square and disrupted traffic on the busy junction. Three police and five protestors were hospitalised during violent clashes, which saw ten protestors arrested.
Pakistani forces close on Taliban Swat capital
The Pakistani army has made further advances into Taliban controlled regions of the Swat Valley. Street battles raged in the towns of Matta and Kanju, the latter only miles away from the Taliban stronghold of Mingora, the principal city in the region. General Nadeem Ahmed, head of the government's refugee Support Group, optimistically predicted the return of some of the 1,400,000 people displaced by the conflict.
Human Rights Watch criticised Taliban tactics in their defence of the city, accusing them of laying landmines to prevent the escape of around 10,000 civilians in Mingora in an attempt to deter army raids on the city. The NGO also accused the Pakistani government, who claim they will not use heavy weapons in densely populated areas, of taking "insufficient precautionary measures" to prevent the loss of civilian life during recent operations.
ICC begins trial of Sudanese rebel leader
Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, a Sudanese rebel leader who turned himself in to the International Criminal Court, appeared at The Hague on war crimes charges relating to the killing of twelve African Union peacekeepers in Darfur. He is the first suspect from the Darfur conflict to be tried by the court, and used his appearance to increase pressure on Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir to also face trial. Since the ICC issued a warrant for his arrest in April, Bashir, charged with genocide and war crimes, has defiantly flouted the ruling.
Military offensive escalates in Niger Delta
The Nigerian Joint Task Force, at war with militants in the country's oil rich delta region, claimed to have overrun an important Iroko militant camp. Rebel groups meanwhile argued this was only part of a "cat and mouse" game with the army, which had indiscriminately targeted civilians from the Delta's indigenous Ijaw people. The army faced criticism from the Ijaw National Congress for the alleged killing of 1,000 civilians during its campaigns to free oil workers taken hostage by the militants. The Director of Defence Information Colonel Chris Jemitola denied the accusations and defended the necessity of the operations against militants who targeted "innocent civilians". Recent unrest in the Delta helped push crude oil prices up five per cent on the New York exchange on Monday.
Officials discuss anti-piracy strategy
A two day conference in Kuala Lumpur has brought together notable military and diplomatic figures to help combat the scourge of piracy. French national security advisor Captain Christophe Pipolo called for an economic stimulus to rejeuvenate Somalia's fishing industry and thus provide alternative incomes to piracy. Echoing Pipolo's warning that the "answer is neither at sea nor military but on land", Captain Christopher Chambers, the director of the international Combined Maritime Forces, reiterated the necessity of a "stable Somalia". Further proposals issued at the conference centred on investing in Somali security forces to help build a robust coast guard and land-based police force.
Ethiopian troops re-enter Somalia as Islamists close on capital
Claims that Ethiopian forces are re-entering Somalia two years after their departure under a UN ceasefire have emerged from the country's borderlands. While the Addis Ababa government upheld their right to carry out operations on Somali territory, communications minister Ermias Legesse denied Ethiopian troops had crossed the border.
If verified, the incursion suggests Ethiopia might be planning to bolster Somali government forces and help secure Mogadishu from an escalating Islamist offensive. Hizbul Islam fighters seized the town of Mahady on Monday after the government lost control of the town of Jowhar to the militant group Al-Shabab on Sunday.
With renewed fighting comes the prospect of the flight of many more refugees from the country. Over 270,000 Somalis are already inadequately provided for in refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya, a situation decried by Medicins Sans Frontiers representatives in the country as "scandalous".