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Major Hezbollah Leader Assassinated in Beirut

Plus with Kerry arriving to the region, peace talks are on the ropes

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A Lebanese photographer takes pictures in the garage where Hassan al-Laqis, a senior commander for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, was gunned down outside his home, in south Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013.(AP)

If you’re nurturing the hope that 2014 will be different and better than 2013, don’t look east. While many would welcome the news of the demise of Hassane Laqees, a senior Hezbollah figure thought to be one of the terrorist organization’s arms and technology chiefs, the context of it (with Lebanon in the foreground of the civil war next door in Syria) speaks to a reality that a quieter time is not quickly approaching.

Hezbollah did not say how he was killed but accused “the Israeli enemy” of targeting him and said Israel would have to “bear all the responsibility and ramifications of this vile crime.” Israeli officials denied involvement.

At the same time, memorial images circulated on social media showing him against a backdrop of the Sayida Zeinab shrine near Damascus, in Syria, framing his death as part of the conflict there. And a previously unknown group calling itself the Free Sunnis of Baalbek, a town in the Bekaa Valley where Hezbollah support is strong, claimed responsibility for the killing.

Descriptions of Laqees’ activity center on his activity between Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran and define his loss as a major one. Amos Harel posits that if Hezbollah concludes that Israel really is behind the killing, retaliation can be expected.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry will arrive in the region tonight as another round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians take place. If you think that it’s good that the two sides are still at the table, perhaps consider that the negotiations at this point seem to be total lip service to the nine-month framework set for the talks. Also, there’s this: The two Palestinian negotiations, Mohammed Ishtayeh and Saeb Erekat, have resigned after threatening to do so several times.

Abbas refused to accept the resignation letters. Since those letters were submitted a month ago, several rounds of talks have been held, including one last week.

Despite having officially resigned, Erekat said he would see the current round of negotiations through, whereas Ishtayeh insisted on his resignation.

Ishtayeh also offered that the differences remaining between the two sides “block any possibility of a peace deal.” This is not heartening for a negotiator to say. He also called the United States “unbalanced” as a mediator. Last week, Khaled Abu Toameh wrote this of the resignations:

Palestinians understand that the “resignations” are manly aimed at prompting the US and Western countries to to exert pressure on Israel to make concessions to the PLO. The threats to quit are also intended to send a message to the Palestinian public, which long ago lost confidence in the PLO negotiators’ performance, that Erekat and his colleagues are “playing tough” with Israel.

In the meantime, there’s also a blog that tabulating Erekat’s endless cycle of resignations over the years. It’s a pretty lengthy list. This may be tragedy dressed as comedy, but it’s certainly not aided by the fact that some of the recent resignations have been spurred by an Israeli announcement of new settlements.

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Major Hezbollah Leader Assassinated in Beirut

Plus with Kerry arriving to the region, peace talks are on the ropes

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