This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… December 3rd- 9th, 2011.

  • At least 25 people were killed in Syria on Saturday in clashes between security forces and military defectors; while police arrested blogger Razan Ghazzawi on the Syrian-Jordanian border on her way to a press freedom workshop in Amman. On Sunday, the Arab League gave Syria yet another deadline of 24 hours to accept international observers or face further sanctions; at least a dozen secret police reportedly defected from an intelligence compound; some 40 people were reported killed; and the US and Turkey announced they were reviewing how to help Syria if pro-democracy protests drive al-Assad from power. On Monday, the government said it would agree to allow Arab League observers into the country, but placed a number of conditions, including a cancellation of the economic sanctions, though the Arab League rebuffed the demands; while the government performed live-fire military exercises involving long-range missiles, armoured units and helicopters. On Tuesday, reports listed at least 50 people killed in the city of Homs killed in the past 24 hours, with dozens of bodies lining the streets; while the government said it blocked 35 “armed terrorists” from entering the country after a clash on the border with Turkey. On Wednesday, President al-Assad insisted that documented cases of killings, torture and other maltreatment are being carried out by individuals outside his control in an interview with Barbara Walters; while the US said that its intelligence community is quietly but closely monitoring the status of the country’s large chemical-weapons stockpile in fear that they could be used to quell continued political protests or be diverted to extremist groups within the region. On Thursday, pro-democracy activists launched a civil disobedience campaign with plans to stage sit-ins at work and close universities; activists reported that at least 13 people were killed by security forces across the country; and that a pipeline carrying oil from the east to a refinery in Homs was set on fire. On Friday, some 18 people were reported killed by government troops in Homs province and at least 24 across the country, including the deaths of several children; while those in Benish have taken to fighting back army tanks with light arms; and the UN Security Council agreed on France’s request for a closed-door briefing on the country’s troubles, overcoming Russian, Chinese and Brazilian resistance. Turkey announced that it cannot stand by and watch if the crackdown puts security in the region at risk, though it has no desire to interfere.
  • On Saturday, France moved to temporarily downsize its embassy in Tehran, Iran following last week’s storming of the British embassy; while the US said it had launched a “virtual Iranian embassy” in an effort to engage with the government, a move the Iranian officials allegedly blocked less than a day later. On Sunday, a top Iranian cleric criticized the storming of the embassy, calling it “illegal”; while the armed forces claimed they had brought down an unmanned US spy plane, said to be a “prized stealth unmanned aerial drone, the RQ-170 Sentinel” that violated Iranian airspace after controllers lost contact with it. On Thursday, Iranian state television aired video footage showing the US spy aircraft that appeared to be largely undamaged. The Atlantic suggested that an escalating covert war with the West is already under way against Iran and that the Iran Reduction Act of 2011 that is working its way through the US legal channels would outlaw all diplomatic conduct with Iran; though Israeli Defence Minister Barak played down the speculation, saying sanctions and threat of military strikes were still the way to curb the nuclear program. On Friday, US President Obama repeated that his country is considering all options regarding Iran and will work with US allies to prevent the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon; while Iran filed a formal complaint to the UN over the US drone, condemning what it calls increased “provocative and covert actions” against the country.
  • A new report given to a high-level advisory group in Saudi Arabia on Saturday claims that allowing women to drive could encourage premarital sex. The suggestion is that driving will allow greater mixing of genders and could promote sex. The Saudi woman who made international headlines in September for driving and was then condemned to 10 lashes only to be pardoned by the King, will apparently be lashed after all unless she wins a legal appeal in mid-December. The prince leading a pro-reform Saudi newspaper announced on Sunday that despite changes to press laws being touted as restrictive, the local media environment is growing more open. On Wednesday, Germany denied reports that it had agreed to export 270 Leopard battle tanks to the country, despite reports of a secret deal.
  • On Saturday, Iraq’s PM announced that a bombing last week inside the fortified Green Zone was an assassination attempt on him; gunmen broke into a house, killing two men in southern Mosul; a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed three in Iskandaraiya; gunmen in a car killed one person in western Mosul; a gunman was killed in a fire exchange with the Iraqi army in northern Mosul; two bombs wounded three in Baquba; a roadside bomb targeting a Shi’ite procession wounded seven, including two policemen in western Baghdad; at least one person was killed and 12 others wounded when three roadside bombs exploded in Kirkuk; and rioters burned dozens of alcohol shops and damaged several hotels in the Kurdistan region after a religious leader criticised the sale of alcohol.  On Sunday, it was reported that the US military paid tribal fighters with cash to help provide a safe exit from Iraq along the southern highway to Kuwait; a roadside bomb went off near a joint army/police checkpoint, killing one soldier and wounding three soldiers and one policeman in western Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded five people in eastern Baghdad; a bomb killed two men and wounded one woman in southern Kirkuk; gunmen in a car shot at another vehicle carrying a police officer, killing him and wounding two others near Mosul; gunmen broke into a funeral, killing one man and the attacker and wounding a woman and a child in Mosul; and gunmen wounded an army Brigadier General and killed his wife in his car in northeastern Baghdad. On Tuesday, a Katyusha rocket landed at the Kurdistan Democratic Party headquarters northwest of Baghdad, wounding one; a roadside bomb killed a policeman and wounded another in Baquba; a member of the Kurdish security forces was wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Mosul; and two mortar rounds landed near a Shi’ite mosque, killing one and wounding eight in Kirkuk;  the final 8,000 US troops prepared to leave before the end of the month; and the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the targeting of media by supporters of various political factions in Kurdistan after several had been attacked and arrested over the previous week. On Wednesday, gunmen killed a police officer near his house in Falluja; a sticky bomb killed an oil company employee in Kirkuk; a roadside bomb wounded a senior official at state-run Iraqi Railways Company in Kirkuk; a roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded three others in their vehicle in Abu Ghraib; gunmen killed a lawyer in Mosul; a sticky bomb wounded an employee of the Ministry of National Security along with two others south of Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded a man in Jurf al-Sakhar; gunmen opened fire at a car carrying an off-duty Kurdish peshmerga soldier, killing him in Kirkuk; and militants bombed electrical transmission towers and lines across the country, cutting power to several cities and towns and killing a policeman and wounding two others. On Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Gyorgy Busztin of Hungary to succeed Jerzy Skuratowicz of Poland as his Deputy Special Representative for the country, focusing on political, electoral and constitutional support; a roadside bomb wounded a tribal leader in Muqdadiya; a sticky bomb killed a government employee at the citizenship department and his cousin in Muqdadiya; and gunmen killed a member of a government-backed militia in front of his house and wounded one of his guards in Baquba.
  • Representatives of Fatah and Hamas met in Gaza, Palestine on Sunday to push the implementation of a stalled reconciliation deal. On Wednesday, Israeli forces and members of the Islamic Jihad clashed in the Gaza Strip, killing one alleged gunman and wounding another in air force attacks. On Thursday, an Israeli air strike on a car killed two alleged fighters who were “planning an attack on Israeli civilians” and wounded two other men in Gaza. On Friday, an Israeli air strike reportedly killed a Gazan civilian and wounded at least 12 others, including seven children when it hit a home next to a militant training ground; and Palestinian militants responded by firing 11 rockets into Israel, with no casualties.
  • On Sunday, Israeli PM Netanyahu called upon Egypt’s future rulers to preserve their peace treaty after Islamists took the head of the country in the first round of elections. On Wednesday, former President Moshe Katsav headed to prison to begin serving a seven-year term for rape.
  • At least 17 people were killed over three days of shelling in Taiz, Yemen over the weekend. On Sunday, two more people died in artillery fire in Taiz; while the government agreed upon a team of officials to oversee the military to end the fighting and return the forces to the barracks. On Monday, forces loyal to Saleh reportedly shot dead one woman and wounded six others when they opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Taiz. On Wednesday, a national unity government was officially formed to take over from Saleh-backed ministers; while reports warned of a serious humanitarian situation exploding within the city of Taiz.
  • The government of Bahrain has hired UK’s John Yates, who resigned from his senior police post earlier this year over a scandal, to oversee reforms in their police force. On Sunday, a bomb placed under a vehicle exploded near the British embassy in Manama, causing no casualties. On Wednesday, protesters said that police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators trying to take back the site of the Pearl roundabout, during the marking of Ashoura, with one death and numerous injuries. The protesting and clashes continued throughout the week.
  • Oman has decided to raze a roundabout made into a hub for protesters earlier this year, apparently to ease traffic problems and avoid accidents.
  • On Tuesday, the leader of Hezbollah, Nasrallah made a rare public appearance in Lebanon to mark the Shi’ite festival of Ashoura and announced that his group was building its arsenal. On Friday, a roadside bomb exploded near a UN peacekeeping patrol in the southern city of Tyre, wounding several French soldiers and civilians. No group has yet taken responsibility for the attack.
  • The ruler of Kuwait dissolved the Parliament on Tuesday less than a week after he named a new PM, citing “deteriorating conditions” amid an increasingly bitter political showdown over alleged high-level corruption. Elections must be held within 60 days, complicating the US defence department’s plans to station thousands of soldiers evacuating from Iraq.

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