Middle East

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… March 2nd-March 9th, 2012.

  • At least 35 soldiers and some 14 suspected militants were reportedly killed in twin suicide bombings and ensuing clashes with al-Qaeda militants in southern Abyan Province in Yemen on Sunday, part of an upsurge of attacks since the Presidential election last month. On Monday, officials raised the death toll to at least 139 people, as clashes continued; and the new President vowed to pursue the militants to their last hiding place. By Tuesday, the death toll had risen to over 180 soldiers and at least 25 militants dead; with some 70 soldiers captured by militants. On Tuesday, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda announced that it attacked a US intelligence officer due to an increasing American military presence. On Thursday, an army officer and six of his bodyguards were reportedly killed in a shootout with rebels in the north of the country, where insurgents have snatched territory during anti-government protests. On Friday, the UN refugee agency reported that the country is facing a new wave of internal displacement, with tens of thousands of civilians fleeing tribal clashes in the north and fresh fighting between government troops and militants in the south; while air strikes on suspected positions of al Qaeda linked fighters in the south killed several militants.
  • Police in the United Arab Emirates reportedly arrested an activist after he criticized the security services for interfering with the lives of citizens, the latest step to limit political dissent in the country.
  • Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Bahrain on Friday to demand democratic reforms in the biggest protest yet. Riot police reportedly blocked the road and fired tear gas at rock-throwing protesters.
  • Around 8,000 students at a women’s university in Saudi Arabia demonstrated on Wednesday against a move by the university to keep cleaning crews away after accusing students of not doing enough to keep their areas tidy, resulting in the injuries of some 53 students after security forces dispersed them. The students declared on Friday they were planning to boycott classes the following day in response to the intervention by security forces.
  • Chatter on potential Israeli strikes on nuclear targets on Iran have reportedly never been higher, but some suggest it is all smoke-and-mirrors being used as a diplomatic weapon. AlertNet ran a report claiming that any strike on Iran would lead to an unleashing of horrible consequences, an opinion I strongly agree with. On Friday, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced once again that Israel reserved the right to defend itself against Iran and that global powers would be falling into a trap if they pursued talks with the country; while American President Obama said he would not hesitate to use military force against Iran if necessary to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weaponry and also admonished Israel for “too much loose talk of war”. On Monday, PM Netanyahu responded for American President Obama’s call for an end to “loose talk of war” by reiterating Israel’s “right to defend itself” during a meeting between the two at the White House and Obama reassured the PM that the US “will always have Israel’s back”; while a young Palestinian man throwing rocks at soldiers in the West Bank reportedly had his skull smashed by a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier. On Tuesday, the Atlantic ran an interesting article comparing the nuclear developments of both Israel and Iran over different time periods; while Hamas ruled out military support for Iran in any war with Israel; while two Palestinian children were reportedly killed when an abandoned ordnance exploded in the West Bank. On Wednesday, Israel reportedly cautiously welcomed the possible resumption of international talks on Iran’s nuclear program, but announced it will not abandon other options. On Thursday, Israel reportedly asked the US for advanced “bunker buster” bombs and refueling planes that could improve its ability to attack Iran’s alleged underground nuclear sites, something that White House press secretary denied was discussed; an Israeli soldier reportedly shot dead a Palestinian and wounded another who stabbed him, as troops carried out an arrest in West Bank; Israel announced it is training its troops to hunt below ground with robot probes and sniffer dogs fearing a surge in tunnel and bunker construction by Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Palestinian militants; while PM Netanyahu announced that Israel will give sanctions on Iran a chance to work and will not attack the country in the coming days or weeks. On Friday, Israeli air strikes reportedly killed 10 militants in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian gunmen fired more than two dozen rockets at the Jewish state, in the worst violent flare up in months; while a vehicle exploded in Gaza, killing at least two people.
  • A prominent human rights lawyer in Iran was sentenced to 18 years in prison by a revolutionary court for spreading anti-government propaganda, endangering national security and accepting an “illegal” human rights price that critics are saying is politically motivated, his daughter said on Sunday; while conservative rivals of President Ahmadinejad appeared to have extended their lead in the parliamentary election that reportedly had more than 64% turnout after nearly 90% of ballot boxes counted. On Monday, the head of the IAEA highlighted the ongoing serious concerns about a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear programme, adding that the country has tripled its monthly production of enriched uranium; while the Washington Post suggested that international sanctions on the country are starting to really hurt Iran (The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg responded with an interesting point that’s worth mentioning—that sanctions that harm civilians may be less humane than other military options). On Tuesday, Iran announced it will allow UN inspectors access to a secret military complex where the IAEA suspects secret atomic work has been carried out and the EU foreign policy chief wrote to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator to accept an offer to meet to discuss the country’s nuclear programme. On Wednesday, a post on Supreme Leader Khamenei’s Twitter account said that he had signed an executive order establishing the Cyberspace Council, appointing the President as its chair; while satellite images of a military facility reportedly show trucks and earth-moving vehicles at the site, which some are calling an indication of an attempted cleanup of radioactive traces possibly left by tests of a nuclear-weapons trigger. On Thursday, Supreme Leader Khamenei welcomed recent comments by American President Obama emphasizing diplomacy in regards to the country’s nuclear program; an American Air Force General discussed the use of a 30,000 pound bunker buster bomb designed to smash through 200 feet of concrete before exploding in possible clashes with Iran; while world powers said in a joint statement that proposed talks with Iran on the nuclear program must be “serious”, without preconditions, and should produce “concrete results”. On Friday, six world powers reportedly demanded Iran keep its promise to let international inspectors visit a military installation where the IAEA believes explosives tests geared to developing atomic bombs may have taken place, not ruling out that Iran may be trying to remove evidence from the site; American Secretary of State Clinton announced the US and South Korea were making progress in discussions on the implementation of new American sanctions on Iran, but stopped short of announcing any deal on a potential waiver; while the chairman of the American Senate Armed Services Committee called for a naval blockade of Iranian oil exports to be considered before resorting to air strikes against country for its nuclear program. An interesting article was released in this month’s Washington Monthly suggesting that “an Iran with a bomb would not be anywhere near as dangerous as most people assume, and a war to try to stop it from acquiring one would be less successful, and far more costly, than most people imagine”; while another article in the American Prospect discussed ways to keep the peace without regime change in the country. The Atlantic ran two articles discussing the chances of an American or Israeli war with Iran.
  • The Interior Ministry of Iraq asked authorities in the autonomous Kurdish region to arrest VP al-Hashimi and hand him over for a trial on Sunday on charges he was running death squads. On Monday, at least 27 people were reportedly killed in a wave of attacks in the western province of Anbar. On Tuesday, at least 13 people were reportedly killed and nearly two dozen others wounded in dual car-bomb and suicide attack in the northern town of Tal Afar.
  • Refugees International announced on Friday that desperate people fleeing the besieged city of Homs in Syria were being shot at as they tried to escape over the border into Lebanon, including shooting at children as young as 10 or 12 years old; while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 10 people were killed when security forces fired a mortar on an anti-government protest in the town of Rastan. On Saturday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm at report suggesting government forces are arbitrarily executing, imprisoning and torturing people in Homs; Turkey’s Foreign Minister accused the Assad regime of committing “war crimes”; Syrian army tanks deployed in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor to support forces and militiamen loyal to Assad who reportedly came under rebel attack after three pro-democracy demonstrators were killed; an explosion killed seven people and wounded several others in the southern town of Deraa; armed forces bombarded parts of Homs and allegedly blocked the Red Cross aid for a second day; while China urged the government and rebels to immediately end all acts of violence, especially against civilians and to start a dialogue.  On Sunday, the Red Cross again said it had been prevented from entering Baba Amr in Homs, but was instead delivering aid to a village near Homs where refuges were sheltering; armed forces allegedly renewed their assault on Homs, bombarding more areas and killing at least seven, including four children; Israel offered to assist international efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Syria without intervening directly; a senior Republican American Senator called for the arming of Syrian rebels through the Arab League and suggested the imposition of “no drive” and “no fly” zones against Syrian military forces; while reports suggested that Lebanon was bracing itself for the new influx of thousands of Syrian refugees crossed their border, claiming they  feared they would be slaughtered in their own homes as the government forces hunted down opponents in Homs. On Monday, the Saudi foreign minister asserted that Syrians have a right to take up arms and defend themselves in a rare news conference; China announced it will send an envoy to help ease the crisis; Canada announced it has closed its embassy in Syria and expanded its economic sanctions against the country; heavy fighting allegedly broke out between government and rebel forces in Deraa on the border with Jordan; Ban Ki-moon announced that relief chief Valerie Amos is set to arrive in the country for Wednesday to urge parties to the conflict to allow in humanitarian assistance; teams of Red Cross and Syrian Arab Red Crescent reportedly reached two neighbourhoods of Homs where they distributed food and blankets to civilians; secretly shot video footage was released by a British television station that allegedly shows Syrian patients being tortured by medical staff at a state-run hospital in Homs; while the International Crisis Group released a new report suggesting a plan for a negotiated transition in the country and the Center for American Progress released a new report discussing the challenges to ending the violence  in the country. On Tuesday, Assad again refused to allow aid into the destroyed suburb of Homs and reiterated his determination to fight “foreign-backed terrorism”; the UN announced it has footage similar to that aired by Britain’s Channel 4 television station purporting to show Syrian patients being tortured in hospital; while American President Obama said it was only a matter of time before Assad will leave office, but added that it was a mistake to think the US could take unilateral action there. On Wednesday, the UN humanitarian affairs chief visited parts of the neighbourhood of Baba Amr in Homs, finding it largely deserted and completely devastated.  On Thursday, the five permanent UN Security Council members and Morocco met behind closed doors to discuss a US drafted resolution urging an end to the crackdown on demonstrators; former UN Secretary-General Annan called for diplomatic solutions to the continued bloodshed, warning against arming the opposition; Lebanon’s foreign minister rebuffed a call by the American ambassador for their government to protect all Syrians who have fled across the border into Lebanese territory; Tunisia and Turkey announced that they are opposed to using outside military force to intervene in the country; the UN announced that it is readying food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria as part of a 90 day emergency contingency plan to help civilians; the bodies of 18 Baba Amr residents were reportedly found stabbed to death after security forces raided homes; security forces reportedly shot and wounded three mourners at a Damascus funeral for an army defector that turned into an anti-government protest; Assad reaffirmed his determination to go on fighting what he called “foreign-backed terrorism”; Russia accused Libya of running a training centre for Syrian rebels; the UN cultural agency UNESCO condemned Syria for its crackdown on protesters but did not expel Damascus from its human rights committee as some countries had demanded; a Russian diplomat said that Assad is battling al-Qaeda-backed “terrorists” including at least 15,000 foreign fighters who will seize towns across the country if government troops withdraw; Libya’s PM denied Russian accusations that his country was running camps to train and arm Syrian rebels, but expressed strong support for them; while US officials are reportedly finalizing plans to aid the internal and external opposition, stopping short of direct military assistance until the opposition unites but not removing the possibility of potentially military options. On Friday, five members of the Syrian armed forces, including at least two generals and a colonel, reportedly defected to Turkey; Syrian forces reportedly killed at least 54 people as they sought to quell anti-government demonstrations; tanks shelled on opposition districts in Homs, killing four and wounding scores more; security forces reportedly killed one civilian in a residential neighbourhood in Damascus as they tried to put down an act of civil disobedience; Germany urged Russia to change its policy towards Syria and back a UN resolution condemning Damascus; France announced it cannot accept a UN Security Council resolution that would assign responsibility for the violence equally to the government and its opponents; UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos arrived in Turkey following her trip to Syria to visit the camps for Syrian refugees; China said it will send another envoy to the Middle East and France to discuss the Syrian crisis; while an UN-Arab League envoy with Koffi Annan prepared to meet with President Assad the following day.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 24th-March 2nd, 2012.

  • At least 28 people were reportedly killed in clashes on Saturday between government troops and opposition forces in Syria as the Red Cross continued efforts to evacuate civilians from the city of Homs; while at least 89 people were reportedly killed nationwide. On Sunday, the ICRC said that Syrian authorities had still not responded to a request for a ceasefire to allow the wounded to be evacuated from the Baba Amro district in Homs. On Monday, activists reported the deaths of more than 125 people across the country, just hours after the state television announced that an overwhelming majority of voters (some 89.4%) agreed to a new constitution, though the UN announced that it was “unlikely to be credible”; the shelling of Homs continued; the EU agreed to new sanctions against the country, targeting the central bank, seven cabinet ministers, prohibiting trade in gold and other precious metals with state institutions and a ban on cargo flights from the country; the ambulances of the Arab Red Crescent reportedly evacuated three people from the Baba Amro district of Homs; activists reported the discovery of at least 62 people near the city of Homs; and the Qatari PM called upon the international community to provide arms to the rebels. On Tuesday, the UN human rights chief announced that the situation in the country is “dire” and called upon the government to declare an immediate “humanitarian cease-fire”; a UN official said that Syrian forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians, or more than 100 a day; Paul Conroy, a Sunday Times photographer was reportedly evacuated from Homs, though many other journalists, including Edith Bouvier, remained trapped. On Wednesday, Libya announced it will donate $100 million in humanitarian aid to the opposition and allow them to open an office in Tripoli; 13 Syrian activists were reportedly killed in the process of helping wounded foreign journalists trapped in Homs escape; heavy fighting broke out near the main rebel stronghold of Baba Amro in Homs as Syrian troops began a ground assault; UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs announced she was denied in her repeated requests to visit the country; and Reuters ran an article on the “path of death” smuggling route that is fueling the rebels.  On Thursday, a top US official for the Middle East says the “tipping point” in the country must come “quickly”; the UN Security Council called upon the government to grant UN humanitarian chief Amos “immediate and unhindered access” to the country; the Syrian National Council formed a military council, which it says will act as a clearing house for anyone offering it arms; the rebels defending Baba Amro said they faced at least 7,000 government troops; Kuwait’s Parliament said it would support the rebel Free Syria Army  and called upon the Kuwaiti government to cut ties with Assad; Ban Ki-moon and the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons expressed their concern at the possibility that Syria may have chemical weapons; security forces reportedly opened fire on an anti-government demonstration in Damascus, injuring five young men; Russia’s Putin announced he had no special relationship with President Assad and that Syrians should decide who should rule their country; American journalist Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were allegedly buried in Homs where they were killed 8 days prior; government troops started to advance on Homs, after weeks of bombardment by tanks and fighters; and the Free Syrian Army announced they had withdrawn from the Baba Amr district of Homs. On Friday, Syrian authorities reportedly blocked the Red Cross from entering the Baba Amr district of Homs, despite receiving permission from the government to send a convoy with seven truckloads of aid; Human Rights Watch said that new satellite imagery and eyewitness accounts reveal that bombardment of the Baba Amr neighbourhood has inflicted widespread destruction; Ban Ki-moon underlined the need for concerted action to end the crisis, lamenting that the international community has thus far failed in its responsibility to stop the bloodshed; while two French journalists, including Edith Bouvier, were safely evacuated from Homs to Lebanon. Some interesting articles were published, one calling for the world to prepare to arm the Syrian rebels (a position I personally strongly disagree with—after all, arming opposition groups has had soo much success in the past *sarcasm*); another questioning the morality of any foreign intervention within the country; one talking about the logistics of intervention; and another one questioning the world’s inconsistency on foreign intervention into conflicts.
  • At least 25 people were reportedly killed in a car bomb attack outside the gate of a Presidential compound in south Yemen on Saturday, hours after the new President was sworn in; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated the new President after he took his oath of office in Parliament. On Wednesday, an al-Qaeda linked group threatened to unleash a torrent of attacks unless the government pulled its forces back from a contested southern city of Zinjibar. On Thursday, rival units of the military briefly traded fire outside the residence of the newly elected President, with no reported casualties.
  • At least 8 people were reportedly killed in violence in Iraq on Wednesday, after a car bomb exploded in a shopping area in southeastern Baghdad, unknown gunmen shot at a car in Mosul and a car bomb exploded in the city of Kirkuk; the main Sunni Muslim insurgent groups rejected laying down their arms to join the political process and announced they will keep fighting to topple the “occupation government”. On Thursday, a student shot and killed an American teacher at a private Christian school in the autonomous Kurdish region, then attempted suicide and was taken to a mental hospital; while Human Rights Watch criticized Iraqi authorities for using “repressive means” to muzzle peaceful protests after last week’s demonstrations to mark the one-year anniversary of protests against widespread corruption, poor basic services and high unemployment. Reuters reported that militants killed 151 Iraqi civilians and members of the security forces in February, showing that daily bombings and shootings remain persistent fact of life despite the withdrawal of US forces in December.
  • The government of Bahrain announced on Sunday that almost all the verdicts issued by military courts against people involved in pro-democracy protest movements crushed by the state last year were now being handled by civilian courts. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a new report on unfair trails in military and civilian courts in the country. On Thursday, authorities imposed restrictions on groups trying to monitor reforms and asked UN investigators into torture to postpone their scheduled trip.
  • A Palestinian man reportedly died after being shot in clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank on Saturday. On Monday, a Palestinian women, released by Israel in a prisoner swap last year, but re-arrested earlier this month and held without charge, is reportedly on a hunger strike to protest her treatment, just a week after the Israeli government struck a deal with another prisoner on a hunger strike. On Tuesday, the UN political chief called upon Israeli and Palestinian leaders to get serious about overcoming the current impasse, noting that talks that began last month have stalled and the situation on the ground in West Bank and Gaza remains dangerous. On Wednesday, Israeli troops reportedly raided two private Palestinian television stations in the West Bank, seizing transmitters and other equipment on the grounds that they “interfered with legal broadcasters and aircraft communications”.
  • American intelligence analysts suggested on Friday that they continued to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb despite a new report from the IAEA about an accelerated uranium enrichment program. On Saturday, the IAEA claimed that Iran had yet to give an explanation over a small quantity of uranium metal missing from a research site; while SWIFT, the world’s biggest electronic banking system, announced it is ready to block the country’s central bank from using its network to transfer funds. On Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministers announced he expects talks with the international community over the controversial nuclear program and is confident they will continue, also condemning the production of atomic weaponry as a “great sin”; while Human Rights Watch claimed that authorities are “dramatically” escalating their crackdown on freedom of expression ahead of the parliamentary elections. On Wednesday, Hezbollah said that an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear programme would set the Middle East ablaze, possibly drag in the US and unleash a conflict beyond their control; while Iranian authorities offered Pakistan 80,000 barrels of oil per day on a three-month deferred payment plan in an attempt to soften the impact of Western sanctions and ease some of Pakistan’s energy needs. On Thursday, the Atlantic ran an article claiming that bombing Iran would mean also invading Iran and all that this would entail; Israel announced that it would soon test-fire a ballistic interceptor missile, hoping to avoid stoking war tensions with Iran; an opinion poll showed that a wide majority of Israelis either oppose a strike on Iran or would favour an attack only if it was carried out with US agreement; while Israel pressed American President Obama for an explicit threat of military action against Iran if sanctions fail and their nuclear programme advances beyond specified “red lines”. On Friday, Iranian semi-official Mehr news agency reported that the sister of President Ahmadinejad failed to win a Parliamentary seat and early returns were showing conservative rivals of Ahmadinejad elected in many other constituencies; several other sites wrote articles about the parliamentary elections that reportedly had a “record” turnout; Iran’s ambassador to Moscow complained that a Russian state-controlled bank shut down the accounts of Iranian embassy personnel, the Russian Foreign Ministry thought may be a consequence of EU and US sanctions; American President Obama warned that he is not bluffing about attacking Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but that a premature attack would do more harm than good; while Israeli PM Netanyahu says his country will not draw any “red lines” for action regarding Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 17th-24th, 2012.

  • China announced on Friday that it had yet to receive a formal invitation to a meeting of international powers in Tunis next week to discuss the crisis in Syria; the government reportedly blocked a premiere live stream website, Bambuser, that has been used by dissidents to upload streaming video of conditions in the country in real time; thousands of Israeli Arabs reportedly demonstrated against Assad, calling for him to step down; an award-winning “New York Times” correspondent died in the country from an apparent asthma attack; NATO’s Secretary General said that the they have no intention of intervening in Syria, even if the UN mandate was changed to protect civilians; three pro-democracy protesters were allegedly killed by security forces during protests; security forces renewed a bombardment of opposition strongholds in Homs and attacks on rebels in Deraa; while the government of Venezuela allegedly supplied diesel to the country, undermining Western sanctions. On Saturday, security forces reportedly fired live ammunition to break up an anti-government protest in Damascus, killing at least one person; China said it backs President Assad’s plans for a referendum to end the violence; and Iraq announced it was reinforcing security along its Syrian border to stop the flow of arms and smuggling. On Sunday, gunmen reportedly staged an ambush that killed a senior state prosecutor and judge in an opposition-dominated northern region; a leading Chinese newspaper accused western countries of stirring civil war in Syria and that their calls for Assad to step down could provoke a “large-scale civil war” that might demand foreign intervention; Egypt announced it was recalling its ambassador to Damascus; an insider in the Syrian regime said it is “disintegrating” under the weight of international sanctions; and AP reported a troop build up in Homs. On Monday, members of the EU announced they will likely adopt fresh sanctions against the Syrian President in the coming week; the International Committee of the Red Cross said it is negotiating with Syrian forces and opposition fighters on a daily two-hour ceasefire to bring life-saving aid to civilians the hardest hit by the conflict; security forces reportedly injured four youth when they fired live ammunition at a night demonstration in Damascus. On Tuesday, the US said it will consider taking “additional measures” to end the bloodshed in Syria if an international outcry and a strengthened sanctions regime do not convince the government to stop the crackdown on the opposition; Russia said it will not attend a Western-backed international conference in Tunis about the crisis because it only supported the opposition cause; security forces reportedly killed at least 33 civilians in army raids on villages in northern Idlib province; and government forces reportedly continued to bombard the city of Homs, killing at least 63 people. On Wednesday, a veteran Sunday Times correspondent and a French photographer were reportedly killed in Syria, along with some 80 others as security forces rained rockets and bombs on opposition-held neighbourhoods in Homs, increasing the foreign pressure on Assad; security forces and militiamen loyal to Assad allegedly chased, captured and then shot dead 27 young men in three northern villages; two Islamist militant groups in Iraq rejected a call by al Qaeda to aid Syrian rebels in their revolt, saying sending weaponry and fighters across the border would only worsen the conflict; the main opposition Syrian National Council said it wants a minimum of 3 points of safe passage for life-saving aid supplies to enter the country; a main opposition group called upon Syrians to boycott an upcoming referendum on a new constitution, calling it an attempt to cover up the crackdown; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told Russian President Medvedev that any dialogue about the crisis in Syria would lead nowhere; the Information Ministry reportedly told foreign journalists that are illegally inside the country that they should report to the government, as they allegedly had no knowledge of the entrance of the two foreign journalists who were killed in Homs; France called upon the Syrian government to immediately halt the military onslaught of Homs and allow safe access for medical aid; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked the UN relief chief to visit the country to assess the humanitarian situation. On Thursday, security forces reportedly lined up and shot dead 13 men and boys from one extended family after raiding the village of Kfartoun in Hama province; three people were killed in shelling in the village of Soubin; a French journalist who was badly injured in a recent attack in Homs issued a video plea for help to cross the Lebanese border; the UN accused the Syrian regime of “crimes against humanity”, including the use of snipers against small children, and drew up a list of senior officials who should face investigation; China announced it would not accept an invitation to discuss the crisis in Syria with other world powers during the “Friends of Syria” conference on Friday in Tunisia; several attendees of the Friends of Syria group announced they would seek tougher measures, including a possible economic “stranglehold” on the Syrian government. On Friday, representatives from more than 70 nations gathered in Tunis for the “Friends of Syria” conference aimed at finding ways to end the bloodshed, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar reportedly pushing for more forceful intervention against Assad including supplying weapons to rebels; pro-Assad protesters rallied outside the conference in Tunis; EU diplomats named seven Syrian ministers to be targeted with new sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes on the ministers of health, education, presidential affairs, communications and technology, industry, oil and mineral resources, and transport, with more sanctions expected to be issued on Monday; US Secretary of State Clinton called upon Syria to agree to a cease-fire and criticised Russia and China for siding with Assad; while the Syrian Arab Red Crescent began evacuating wounded or sick women and children from the Baba Amro district of Homs, in what is being called “a first step forward”.
  • Police and anti-government protesters clashed in Bahrain on Thursday, with two policemen reportedly severely injured in a petrol bomb attack. Two Western activists were detained for leading a women’s protest on Friday, while police suppressed the protests with water cannons and armoured vehicles. On Monday, police again used water cannons and tear gas to break up a march chanting anti-government slogans following a funeral. On Wednesday, Sunni Muslims warned the government at a rally of some 20,000 people, against entering a dialogue with Shi’ite-led opposition parties, instead urging them to focus on security.
  • Government forces in Yemen reportedly detained 10 al Qaeda linked fighters on Friday; while oil pipeline workers returned to work after a 10-day strike which had shut down oil exports. On Monday, an explosion rocked a polling station in Aden and was followed by gunfire that killed one soldier and injured another; while the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda confirmed the death of a senior leader who officials say died in a bloody family feud. The country went to the polls on Tuesday, with the Vice-President as the only candidate in polls that are reported to have a high turnout despite calls for a boycott by the opposition and deadly violence in the south. Reuters ran an article outlining the high-ranking members of Saleh’s family who still have positions in security and military roles or influential positions in the business community. On Wednesday, vote counting was underway  to confirm the current VP as the new leader, amid violence that killed at least 10 people across the country’s south; while the Security Council welcomed the holding of elections and encouraged leaders to move on to the next stage of transition. On Thursday, troops reportedly opened fire on a rally by southern secessionists opposed to the Presidential elections, killing one protester and wounding three others; while outgoing President Saleh, who had been receiving medical treatment in the US, left the country headed for an unknown destination. On Friday, Al Jazeera ran a report about the cost of rebuilding the country in the wake of Saleh’s departure, a price the country can ill afford.
  • Police announced on Friday that they had found the bullet-riddled body of a man in his twenties floating in a river northwest of Kirkuk, Iraq; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on a man and his son, wounding both in Mandili; a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded two policemen near Muqdadiya; gunmen opened fire on an off-duty policeman near his home, killing him near Khalis; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire on a police patrol, killing two officers in southern Baghdad; gunmen in a car opened fire on a police lieutenant colonel and his driver, killing both in Tikrit; and a sticky bomb attached to a car wounded a farmer near Hawija. On Saturday, authorities began evacuating an initial batch of 400 Iranian dissidents from Camp Ashraf to a transit camp near the airport in Baghdad; gunmen killed two off-duty soldiers in separate attacks in western Mosul; a mortar round killed one civilians in eastern Mosul; a bomb attached to a car wounded three people in Falluja; gunmen opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding one policeman in Falluja; police found the body of a man who had been handcuffed and shot in southern Kirkuk; and police found the body of an unidentified man who was killed by the explosion of a roadside bomb he was trying to plant in Hawija. On Sunday, a suicide bomber reportedly killed 16 people and wounded some 26 in a crowd of police recruits leaving their academy in eastern Baghdad. On Monday, a sticky bomb attached to a police lieutenant colonel’s car exploded, seriously wounding him in Tuz Khurmato; gunmen stormed a house killing a tribal leader in the southern outskirts of Falluja; a sticky bomb attached to a former civil defense lieutenant’s car exploded, killing him and seriously wounding two others in Jalawla; a sticky bomb attached to an off-duty police lieutenant’s car exploded, killing him and seriously wounding another policeman in Ramadi; while judges ordered one of the two VPs be tried for terrorism, a move the accused dismissed as “black comedy”. On Wednesday, a bomb near a policeman’s house exploded, wounding his wife and child in Baquba; a roadside bomb wounded one civilian in western Mosul, and gunmen shot dead a civilian in eastern Mosul. On Thursday, at least 28 separate bombings were reported across the country, killing over 49 people and wounding at least 280 people, many of them security forces; while there were at least 6 attacks by gunmen, mostly at security checkpoint,  killing some 18, and wounding at least 31 people.
  • The United States and the EU expressed cautious optimism on Friday over prospects that Iran  may be willing to engage major powers in new talks; President Ahmadinejad blamed foreign powers for “all the problems” in the region through their interference; two Iranian naval ships sailed through the Suez Canal with permission of Egyptian authorities; officials in key parts of the American Obama administration are increasingly convinced that sanctions will not deter Iran from nuclear ambitions and that the US will be left with “no option” but to launch an attack on the country, or watch Israel do so; two articles in the Atlantic discussed the warmongering media frenzy over Iran; and Israel blamed Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah of plotting attacks against Israelis and Jews worldwide, a claim Hezbollah leader Nasrallah vehemently denied. On Saturday, Britain’s foreign minister warned that any attack on Iran would carry huge costs, including leading to a new cold war; American General Martin Dempsey also warned against military strikes against Iran; the Israeli Defense Minister said a nuclear-armed Iran could trigger an arms race in the Middle East and that nations should impose “crippling” sanctions on them to force the end to their nuclear ambitions; while a Vienna-based diplomat announced that Iran may be poised to expand its nuclear program at an underground site near the city of Qom. On Sunday, Iran’s oil ministry announced it had stopped selling crude oil to British and French companies in retaliation for the EU sanctions. On Monday, inspectors from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency arrived in the country for two days of talks about the Iranian nuclear program; the Iranian media reported that two of their navy ships docked in the Syrian port of Tartous on a mission to provide training to Syrian naval forces; Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s outlook on the West appears to dim the hopes for any future nuclear deal; several European countries announced they have stopped buying Iranian oil, while others announced they would be cutting back on their purchases; authorities reportedly faced a second and more extensive disruption of Internet access; and Common Dreams published a report highlighting the hypocrisy of condemning Iran for its alleged connection to the assassinations in Tbilisi, New Delhi and Bangkok while not doing the same to the assassinations of Iranian scientists allegedly ordered by Israel. On Tuesday, the EU’s foreign policy chief renewed calls for Iranian authorities to halt the execution of an Iranian man with Canadian residency for “designing and moderating adult-content websites” that contravene the country’s laws; the two Iranian warships were reported to have passed south through the Suez Canal after a brief stop in the Syrian port of Tartus; the Iranian body that vets election hopefuls reportedly approved 3,444 candidates to run in the March 2nd parliamentary polls; authorities announced they expect to hold more talks with the IAEA; while a five-member group of UN atomic energy watchdog experts continued their talks on Iran’s nuclear programme. The Christian Science Monitor ran a report detailing what would happen if Iran did have a nuclear bomb. On Wednesday, the IAEA team declared their mission in Iran a disappointment as they were unable to visit a military site at Parchin; Russia warned that an attack on Iran would lead to a catastrophe; Supreme Leader Khamenei offered new assurances that his country is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons, even while a report, allegedly out of Iran, of the wife of an assassinated nuclear scientist who said her husband’s ultimate goal was the annihilation of Israel; Israel said it believes that within 2-3 years Iran will have intercontinental missiles able to hit the US; and the Atlantic ran a piece suggesting that a pre-emptive attack on Iran may actually ensure they get nuclear weaponry, if they don’t already have it.  On Thursday, a weeklong election campaign began for the March 2nd parliamentary polls, with analysts predicting a comfortable victory for the ruling conservative faction loyal to Ayatollah Khamanei. On Friday, Russian PM Putin accused the west of seeking “regime change” in Iran under the guise of trying to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, during a tour of Iranian nuclear research centre; while the IAEA reportedly claimed that Iran has dramatically accelerated its production of enriched uranium in recent months and is refusing to cooperate with an investigation of evidence that it may have worked on designing a bomb.
  • Several thousand Palestinians reportedly rallied in Gaza and the West Bank on Friday in support of the jailed Islamic Jihad leader who has been on a hunger strike protest for a 63rd day against his detention by Israel; while reports suggested that a sustainable energy program in a rural area of the West Bank was being threatened by Israeli authorities. On Saturday, at least two Palestinian were wounded in an Israeli air strike on southern Gaza City, allegedly in retaliation for several rockets fired into southern Israel the day before. On Tuesday, the Palestinian prisoner whose life was in danger after he went on a hunger strike for 66 days, agreed to eat after a deal was struck for him to be released at the end of a four-month period of detention. On Wednesday, the top UN envoy for the Middle East peace process described Israel’s announcement that it had given approval to a large number of new settlement units deep inside occupied Palestinian territory; while members of Hamas endorsed a unity government with the Palestinian authority, taking on a more moderate position that reportedly presents a serious challenge to Israel and raises the states in any future peace process. On Friday, Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Muslim worshippers near the al-Aqsa mosque for the third time this week, reportedly sparked by fears that far-right Israeli activists were planning to enter Muslim-controlled areas at the site; while the UN committee on Palestine rights voiced alarm over the recent Israeli decision to build more than 500 new homes in a settlement inside occupied Palestinian territory and to retroactively “legalize” some 200 settlement units built earlier without permit.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 10th-17th, 2012.

  • A new report in the Atlantic this week suggests that a barely perceptible shift occurred in recent months that make the possibility of Israel attacking Iran’s nuclear sites more possible, as the benefits outweigh the costs. NBC reported last week that Israel used an Iranian opposition group, designated as terrorist group by the United States, to carry out much-publicized assassinations of Iranian scientists. On Friday, China announced it would be sending a senior official to the country for talks on their nuclear program; ; while the PM of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip arrived in Tehran for a three day visit to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. On Saturday, President Ahmadinejad addressed tens of thousands of supporters in Freedom Square, saying that the country will soon announce “very important” achievements in the nuclear field. On Sunday, a Palestinian prisoner being held without charge who has been on a hunger strike for more than 8 weeks is reportedly being kept shackled to a hospital bed, despite warnings that he may be close to death. On Monday, Israeli PM Netanyahu accused Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah of being behind twin attacks on Israeli targets in India and Georgia that injured four people; the Iranian media reported that President Ahmadinejad’s press advisor was sentenced to six months in jail for insulting Supreme Leader Khamenei; China urged authorities to do more to end the standoff over its disputed nuclear program; while the international community accused authorities of misleading them with their claims to have abandoned the death penalty for juvenile offenders and execution by stoning of those convicted of adultery. On Tuesday, Israel again accused Iran of being behind three blasts in Bangkok, Thailand that injured some five people. On Wednesday, authorities unveiled their nuclear progress, claiming their success in manufacturing fuel rods and advanced centrifuges and also indicated that they were on the verge of imposing an oil embargo on European countries in retaliation for their sanctions; Thailand arrested two Iranians charging them with plotting the recent bomb attack in Bangkok and linking them to recent attacks in India and Georgia; while Israeli PM Netanyahu said that Iranian “terror activities” must be halted. On Wednesday, Russia said global powers must work harder to win concessions from Iran over its nuclear programme; Iranian authorities denied any role in Tuesday’s bomb blasts in Thailand, while Thai police held three Iranian nationals in connection; Iranian authorities also told world powers they were ready to resume stalled nuclear talks at the “earliest” opportunity; the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Iran’s main intelligence organization, accusing it of supporting terrorist groups, committing human rights abuses and backing the Syrian government’s crackdown on citizens; Israel’s defense minister dismissed Iran’s announcements of major nuclear advancements as exaggerations; and Iranian censors allegedly blocked access to a number of news websites sympathetic to President Ahmadinejad ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in March.
  • State-run media in Syria reported that at least 28 people were killed on Friday and 200 others injured in two car-bomb explosions perpetrated by “armed terrorist gangs” in Aleppo; Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister said that Assad’s assurance to Russian officials that he will hold a constitutional referendum means that the opposition now “bears full responsibility” for ending the violence there; a firefight broke out in a poor district of Damascus between loyalist forces and rebels; and the EU foreign policy chief called on Russia to reconsider its position on Syria after last week’s veto on Syrian violence. A video uploaded to YouTube on Saturday allegedly shows an anti-aircraft tank firing directly into an urban neighbourhood in the city of Douma; Syrian forces reportedly continued their bombardment of districts of the city of Homs, killing some 10 people; security forces entered the besieged town of Zabandani near the Lebanese border after agreeing to a ceasefire with rebels; authorities told Libya and Tunisia to close their embassies in Damascus within 72 hours; while the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that gunmen had assassinated an army general in Damascus.  Security forces reportedly eased their week-long bombardment of Homs with only sporadic shelling on Sunday and let a few families leave opposition districts while thousands of protesters crowded the streets overnight; Tunisia announced it would host a meeting of the “Friends of Syria” which seeks to build an international agreement on how to end violence in the country on February 24th; the Arab League reportedly wants the UN to form a joint peacekeeping force and appoint a special Arab envoy to try and end the violence, a move Russia made clear it would not support; al-Qaeda’s leader called for the ousting of Assad and urged all Muslims to help the rebels; while the head of the Arab League’s observer mission to Syria resigned during a meeting of ministers in Cairo. On Monday, authorities flatly rejected the call by the Arab League to deploy peacekeepers in the country, while Britain said no western troops could be involved in such a mission; British PM Cameron and French President Sarkozy announced that they will be meeting in Paris on Friday to discuss a possible increase in help to the rebels, including giving them military advice; Russia allegedly signaled a new-found willingness to consider international intervention when it abandoned its absolute defence of the Syrian regime and announced that it does not rule out its participation in a potential UN peacekeeping mission as long as there was a ceasefire between government and opposition forces first; security forces reportedly resumed their offensive by shelling areas of Homs and Rastan and storming areas near Damascus; and the UN human rights chief warned that failure by the UN to take action has emboldened the Assad regime to mount an all-out assault on his opponents and accused the government of an “indiscriminate attack” on civilians and other grave human rights violations.  On Tuesday, government forces again clashed with protesters across the country, with some 20 people killed; and government troops shelled the city of Homs for a 10th day, killing at least 7 people and wounding more than 20; Arab officials confirmed that regional governments would be ready to arm the resistance if bloodshed did not cease; while France announced it had created an emergency fund for aid agencies helping the Syrian people. On Wednesday, President Assad ordered a referendum on a new constitution to be held on February 26th with a parliamentary election to be held within 90 days of the constitution’s approval; Syrian forces reportedly launched an offensive on the city of Hama, bombarding residential neighbourhoods with armoured reinforcements; Egypt called for change in the country that met the demands of the people, but ruled out supporting a military intervention into Syrian territory; an Arab delegation dismissed Russian amendments aimed at weakening a draft UN General Assembly resolution plan to get President Assad to step down as unacceptable;   while Libya invited the Syrian opposition National Council to open an office in Tripoli. On Thursday, the UN General Assembly strongly condemned the continued “widespread and systematic” human rights violations by the Syrian authorities and demanded that the government immediately cease all violence and protect its people; at least 22 people were reportedly killed in a military assault on opposition strongholds and several activists were arrested; the American embassy in Damascus posted a supposed satellite image of an oil pipeline fire in Homs to make a statement on China and Russia’s vetoes of a UN resolution demanding Assad step down; while the Director of American National Intelligence blamed the Iraqi al-Qaeda for a series of recent bombings against Syrian government targets.
  • Police in Bahrain reportedly used force to break up a peaceful anti-government march in the capital on Saturday, using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse hundreds of protesters and arresting two American rights activists. On Sunday, King Hamad dismissed the country’s opposition movement as disunited and said the threat of Iran had compelled him to call in foreign troops to crush last year’s uprising. On Monday, security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades at protesters trying to occupy a landmark roundabout in the capital ahead of the one-year anniversary of the uprising. On Tuesday, the Guardian reported that Britain has continued to sell arms worth more than 1 million pounds to the country despite continuing political unrest, including gun silencers, weapons sights, rifles, artillery and components for military training aircraft; while a massive police presence in the capital kept protesters from gathering in Pearl Roundabout to mark the one-year anniversary, arresting at least 30 people. On Wednesday, more than 120 protesters were reportedly wounded in clashes with police.
  • Security forces in Saudi Arabia reportedly shot one person dead and injured three others during an anti-government demonstration in the Eastern Province on Friday.
  • Thousands of people rallied in the capital Sanaa in Yemen on Friday to back a single-candidate Presidential election planned later this month. On Sunday, militants in the south said they had executed three men for giving the US information used to carry out drone strikes in the area; while southern separatists set fire to a tent camp housing anti-government protesters in Aden in opposition to an election this month to replace outgoing President Saleh. On Tuesday, the Nation ran an article on how American plans in Yemen are backfiring. On Thursday, security officials announced that a leading al-Qaeda operative had been killed in a family dispute that left at least 16 other tribesmen dead; while militants reportedly shot dead five people, including a military officer and regional head of the country’s election committee in al-Baydah province.
  • A roadside bomb targeted an army patrol, wounding three soldiers on Friday night in Abu Ghraib, Iraq. On Saturday, a car bomb went off targeting a police convoy, wounding the police station chief and at least three other policemen in Mahaweel; while gunmen shot dead a teacher in front of his house northeast of Baghdad. On Sunday, Turkish warplanes carried out air strikes on suspected Kurdish militant targets in the north; a sticky bomb killed a gas station manager and his driver in Baiji; a roadside bomb went off and wounded two soldiers in Baquba; a roadside bomb wounded three people in central Baghdad; and another roadside bomb blew up and wounded six people, including three policemen in northern Baghdad. On Monday, a sticky bomb attack wounded a teacher and two other passengers in his car in Kirkuk; another sticky bomb wounded a police captain in Kirkuk; and a sticky bomb attack wounded a government-backed Sahwa militiaman in Muqdadiya. On Tuesday, a car bomb explosion killed two people, including one soldier and wounded 14 others in Mosul; gunmen opened fire from a car, wounding an off-duty security officer in Kirkuk; a roadside bomb near a police patrol killed one civilian and wounded six others, including three policemen in eastern Baghdad; police found the body of a strangled woman in Baquba; and police said they found the decayed bodies of two men buried in 2006 near Baquba after an insurgent confessed to the killing and revealed the burial place. On Wednesday, gunmen wearing army uniforms attacked a policeman’s house using grenades and machineguns, killing his wife and two daughters and wounding him seriously in Jurf al-Sakhar; while a roadside bomb wounded two people in Baquba. On Thursday, an investigation panel said that death squads under the command of the Sunni Vice President were behind years of fatal attacks on security officials and Shi’ite pilgrims, a claim the VP denied as a smear campaign to consolidate power; while the leader of the exiled Iranian opposition group called the Mujahedin-e Khalq agreed to start relocating residents of the long disputed dissident camp Ashraf after receiving assurances from the US about their safety.
  • The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process called upon Israel to do everything in its power to preserve the health of a Palestinian detainee reportedly close to death on a hunger strike on Friday. Hundreds of other Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails reportedly joined in on the hunger strike, and Human Rights Watch called upon Israel to “immediately charge or release him” on Saturday; while a Palestinian in Gaza died after being wounded during a series of Israeli airstrikes. On Monday, Israel rejected an appeal by the prisoner on a hunger strike, prompting a furious reaction from the Issa Qaraqa, the Palestinian Authority’s prisoner affairs minister, who said the rejection was tantamount to murder; while Israeli embassies in Georgia and India were targeted by bomb strikes that Israel is blaming on Iran, who has denied any involvement. On Tuesday, the Gaza Strip’s only power station has reportedly been shut down, cutting already problematic electricity flows in the area by almost two-thirds, allowing each household only six hours of electricity at a time.
  • Two people were reportedly killed and several soldiers and others wounded in Tripoli, Lebanon on Saturday as supporters and opponents of Syria’s al-Assad fought in the street.

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.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… November 24th- December 2nd, 2011

  • On Wednesday, President Saleh of Yemen signed an agreement to end his 33 year rule in exchange for immunity from prosecution from Saudi Arabia, officially handing over power to his Vice President al-Hadi; a move the UN Security Council welcomed. On Thursday, thousands took to the streets in the capital when alleged pro-government gunmen opened fire, killing five people in Sanaa, while the army reportedly killed 17 Islamists in the south. Cracks are said to be emerging between the anti-Saleh camps, potentially leading to further violence. On Friday, heavy fighting reportedly broke out in Sanaa between security forces and army defectors, with at least two killed. On Saturday, President Saleh returned to the country, amid confusion over his continued role in the country’s politics. Saleh’s son and three nephews still hold powerful posts in the security services and Saleh himself will retain the title of President until an election can be held, though his responsibilities and privileges are unclear. Al-Hadi issued a statement setting February 21st for the election of an interim President, in which he appears to be the only real candidate.  On Monday, Nobel peace laureate Tawakkul Karman urged the ICC prosecutor to launch an investigation into the violent crackdown on dissent in the country, though Yemen has not signed the Rome Statute to the ICC. Police and plain-clothed pro-government forces reportedly shot and wounded three protesters on Monday in the southeast; while the VP named opposition leader Mohammed Basindwa as the country’s new interim PM. On Wednesday, fighting between Shi’ite rebels and Sunni Islamists wounded at least 26 people in northern Yemen. At least 13 people were killed during violent clashes between loyalist forces and dissident tribesmen in Taiz on Thursday; while Yemen’s opposition announced that it agreed to the lineup of an interim government with outgoing President Saleh’s party. On Friday, at least 3 people were killed again in Taiz, with residents blaming government troops for shelling the city from surrounding mountains as thousands gathered for an anti-government rally.
  • Some 15 people were allegedly killed as armoured vehicles stormed a rural area in Homs province, Syria on Thursday, while Arab foreign ministers gave the government until Friday to sign a protocol admitting international observers into the country or face sanctions. On Friday, the military vowed to “cut every evil hand that targets Syrian blood”, while missing the Arab League’s deadline. Violent protests continued, with as many as 19 people killed. On Saturday the Arab League met to discuss what measures to take, potentially including a cut to commercial ties with Syria and a freezing of all its assets, while some 27 civilians were reportedly killed by security forces in Homs and Qusayr and army deserters killed 12 soldiers in an attack on a convoy in the north. The Syrian government denounced the sanctions as “economic war” and hinted at retaliation. The UN humanitarian coordinator said that “humanitarian corridors” to help civilians affected by the current unrest are not justified, though on Monday the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria officially reported that Syrian troops have committed “crimes against humanity” including the murder of hundreds of children and thousands of adults, torture and rape. On Wednesday, Turkey said it had suspended all financial credit dealings with Syria and frozen all Syrian government assets; the Syrian government announced that it had released 912 prisoners detained for involvement in protests; and seven soldiers were killed by army renegades and six civilians were shot dead in fighting between security forces and defectors. On Thursday, the EU imposed tougher sanctions on Syria’s oil and financial sectors and added 11 entities and 12 people to the EU blacklist in response to the government’s violent crackdown on dissent.  On Friday, the UN’s top human rights body appointed a special investigator to probe abuses in Syria in an emergency session of the group, while the UN’s human rights chief called for the situation to be referred to the ICC amid a series of large protests calling for the international community to establish buffer zones to protect civilians; Russia reportedly delivered $300 million worth of anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria’s regime; and French authorities have announced they will be increasing security for Syrian opposition members in France who have come under threat in recent days.
  • The PM in Lebanon has threatened to resign unless his government agrees to pay Lebanon’s share of funding for the UN backed court investigation of the killing of al-Hariri, which indicted four Hezbollah members in the attack. Hezbollah has denied any role in the killing. Hezbollah has enough votes to block any decision and has previously stated it will oppose the funding. On Tuesday, several rockets reportedly fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel, with no immediate casualties; the first in months across the turbulent border.  Israel responded by firing several missiles into the southern Lebanese town of Ayta Shaab. On Wednesday, politicians announced that they had reached a deal to fund the UN backed court investigating the al-Hariri killing through the Higher Organization for Aid, the country’s natural disaster and humanitarian relief fund.
  • At least 9 people were killed and another 40 wounded after three bombs exploded in Basra, Iraq on Thursday; a bomb wounded five in Ramadi; gunmen killed a village mayor in Jalawla; gunmen opening fire at an Iraqi army checkpoint killed one soldier in eastern Mosul; gunmen shot dead a government worker south of Mosul; an Iraqi soldier was killed and another wounded in clashes between insurgents and an army patrol in Baaj; and three bombs exploded at the house of a member of a government backed militia, wounding two in Mussayab. On Friday, gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms kidnapped a policeman and his son in front of their house in Qaim; and one person was wounded in a bomb attack on their home in Jbela. On Saturday, at least 15 people were killed in bomb attacks in central Iraq and Baghdad; gunmen attacked a farm belonging to a Mayor, killing one guard and wounding the mayor in Dour; and a roadside bomb killed an insurgent in Baquba. On Monday, a suicide car bomb exploded outside a jail north of Baghdad killing at least 19 people and injuring some 20; a mortar exploded in the carpark of the Iraqi parliament inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, killing at least one and wounding six; a roadside bomb wounded two north of Baghdad; a bomb exploded at a security checkpoint, killing a policeman and wounding another in Shirqat; and two people were killed by a sticky bomb attack in western Baghdad. On Wednesday, the PM signaled he was open to the eventual return of American troops as trainers, even after the last soldiers depart the country at the end of the year; a militant was killed trying to plant a roadside bomb in Mosul; police found the skeleton of a civilian who was kidnapped in 2008 and shot in the head in Mosul; a sticky bomb attack killed the driver of a car in Kirkuk; gunmen raided a house and killed a fortune teller, his wife, son and two guests in Samarra; and a roadside bomb wounded a shepherd in Udhaim.. On Thursday, a car bomb killed 10 people and injured more than 20 in Khalis, while assailants stormed the home of an anti-al-Qaeda leader, killing 8 in the same town; police said they found the bodies of two men who had been handcuffed, burned and shot in Hashimiya; a roadside bomb in Hilla killed one civilian; police found the beheaded body of Sheikh Zaalan in Haditha; seven policemen were wounded in three roadside bombs in Taji; Iraq’s minister of environment escaped an assassination attempt by a roadside bomb that wounded four in Taji; and gunmen stormed the houses of Sahwa militiamen, killing 8 in Buhriz. American soldiers are leaving by the hundreds each day, with only 13,000 troops left in the country and the majority to be gone by the end of 2011, nearly nine years after invading. The Victory Base Complex, the US nerve centre for the Iraq war was handed over to Iraq’s government on Friday.
  • Palestinian Authority President Abbas met with exiled Hamas leader Mashal in Cairo on Thursday to discuss reconciliation efforts between the two parties. The leaders agreed to hold elections in May 2012 and to release certain political prisoners being held on both sides. The Palestinian Authority may be in serious financial difficulty as Israel is refusing to transfer tax and customs payments that account for two-thirds of its revenue in opposition to the PA’s recent policy of pursuing UN membership and the renewed talks with Hamas. Around 153,000 employees of the PA will not be paid if Israel continues to withhold the money, a move that will be felt by one-third of Palestinians who depend on the salaries of public sector workers, including security personnel. The minister of national economy said that the move was basically an act of war on the PA, as Israel is obliged to pass on the tax revenue under the terms of the 1993 Oslo accords. On Tuesday, Iceland became the latest country to recognize the Palestinian Territories as an independent state; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the need for the establishment of a Palestinian State. On Wednesday, Israel agreed to transfer about $100 million for the owed tax and customs payments, saying that the conditions had since been met.
  • Jordan appears to be attempting to replace Egypt as the bridge between Israel and the Arab world, playing host to the Israeli President. Analysts said the President’s visit seemed to be part of the Jordanian king’s effort to increase his regional role as well as a message to Palestinians that they can not avoid negotiations with Israel.
  • A report released on Wednesday by an independent commission investigating the uprising in Bahrain has suggested that security forces used excessive force, including torture and the extraction of forced confessions against detainees arrested in the crackdown of protests earlier this year. The King formally set up a national commission to “follow up and implement” the report’s recommendations on Saturday, which five opposition groups are refusing to participate in. On Thursday evening, clashes between police and protesters erupted, following the funeral of a local man who was allegedly killed when police jeeps drove him off the road. On Tuesday, the King replaced the head of the state security apparatus as a response to the inquiry into rights abuses during the crackdown on Arab Spring protests.
  • Twelve alleged American CIA agents, operating in coordination with Israel’s Mossad and other regional agencies, were reportedly arrested in Iran on the 23rd of November. The US and its allies suspect Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, a charge Iran denies. Iran’s Parliament then voted to expel the British ambassador to the country in retaliation for fresh sanctions imposed over the nuclear program earlier this month. France and other EU nations are expected to unveil more sanctions against Iran next Thursday. A mob of students stormed the British diplomatic sites in Tehran on Tuesday in response. On Saturday, Iran announced that it would target NATO’s missile defence system in Turkey if the US or Israel attacks. On Monday, an unknown explosion was heard in Isfahan, with conflicting reports of whether or not it came from the local nuclear facilities. By Tuesday, the blast was being reported as occurring at a missile base and that it killed some 17 Revolutionary Guards.  On Wednesday, British foreign secretary William Hague ordered the expulsion of Iranian diplomats from the UK and announced it was closing its embassy in Tehran; while Germany recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultation. On Thursday, European Union foreign ministers beefed up their sanctions against Iran at a meeting in Brussels in response to a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, including assets freezing and travel bans on 180 Iranians and entities.
  • A court in the United Arab Emirates sentenced five political freedoms activists to prison terms of up to three years on Sunday after they signed an online petition demanding political reforms. Many see the rulings as an attempt to snuff out any sign of dissent; however, the five then received Presidential pardons and were released on Monday.
  • Two people were killed and six wounded in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday in an exchange of gunfire between security forces and alleged “criminals serving a foreign power”. Small scale protests have taken place in the Eastern province, but have been kept in check by armed riot police and checkpoints. Local activists accuse the police of firing on demonstrators over the past week, killing at least three.  A report released on Thursday by Amnesty International described a proposed internal security law that could see peaceful acts of dissent be prosecuted as a terrorist crime as “draconian and abusive”; while another report by the organization accused the government of repression that saw hundreds of people arrested without charge or trial after the Arab Spring.
  • Kuwait’s cabinet resigned on Monday after protesters and opposition deputies demanded the PM step down amid allegations of corruption. Many opposition members are hoping that the emir will accept the resignations and dissolve parliament in order to assure fair elections. On Wednesday, the emir named a new PM, Defense Minister Sheik Jaber al Hamad al Sabah.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… June 24th-30th, 2011.

  • A court in Oman sentenced 55 people to prison on Tuesday for taking part in protests demanding jobs. The accused were found guilty of offences including robbery, unlawful gathering, and vanalising government departments. The protests happened between March and May.
  • Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon announced last Friday that two of its members have confessed to working for the CIA, but that they had not compromised the group or its military capabilities. Nasrallah accused the US of working on Israel’s behalf, though the US embassy denied all allegations. On Thursday, the UN backed court investigating the 2005 assassination of former PM Hariri delivered four arrest warrants, though the names of the accused were not yet released. Many suggest that they may name senior Hezbollah members.
  • On Thursday, it was announced that an ally of President Ahmadinejad, made deputy foreign minister last week in Iran, had been arrested, accused of corruption and forced to quit after protest by parliamentarians; and US, British and French calls for the release of a UN report detailing alleged sanctions violations was prevented from being published by Russia and China. On Saturday, Ayatollah Khamenei accused the US of supporting terrorism, pointing to the US drone strikes that have killed many across Pakistan and Afghanistan and alleging that the US, Israel and Europe are the worst culprits of terrorism around the world. On Tuesday, Britain’s foreign secretary announced that Iran had conducted covert tests of ballistic missiles alonside a 10 day program of public military maneuvers. Iran responded by announcing that their missiles can target US bases in the Persian Gulf and any part of Israeli territory.
  • On Thursday, three bombs killed at least 23 people and wounded over 100 after they exploded in a busy market in southwest Baghdad, Iraq; two people were killed and 10 wounded in a bomb exlosion in south Baghdad; a roadside bomb in north-eastern Baghdad wounded three guards; a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi army patrol killed two military personnel south of Mosul; gunmen killed a civilian near his house in eastern Mosul; a sticky bomb wounded the driver of a minibus in Kirkuk; an Iraqi soldier was wounded by a flashlight stuffed with explosives southwest of Kirkuk; and gunmen shot and wounded an employee of Sunni Endowment, an organization charged with managing Sunni religious sites in Taji. On Friday, gunmen killed a policeman and his wife in the house in Baiji; a pediatrician was kidnapped from a clinic in Kirkuk; a international finance expert working as a contractor for USAID was killed in a roadside bomb attack that wounded two others in Baghdad. On Saturday, Iraqi police defused a small bomb near an oil well northwest of Kirkuk; gunmen shot and wounded an off-duty soldier in Kirkuk; gunmen opened fire at an Iraqi security checkpoint, killing two soldiers in Mosul; gunmen shot dead an employee of the Electricity Ministry in southeastern Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded two civilians in northeastern Baghdad; three Iraqi military counter-terrorism troops and a suspected al-Qaeda militant were killed in a shootout in Baiji; and gunmen shot dead a policeman in west-central Baghdad. On Sunday, two US service members were killed in northern Iraq; gunmen killed an Iraqi soldier and wounded another at an army checkpoint in western Mosul; a militant was killed while planting a roadside bomb northwest of Baghdad; oner person was killed in a bomb explosion near Hilla; at least 12 were wounded and two possibly killed in a suicide bomb attack at a police station north of Baghdad; a bicycle loaded with explosives wounded two security guards and two civilians near Kirkuk; a sticky bomb killed a police lieutenant colonel north of Baghdad; and an Iraqi court sentenced the wife of a slain al-Qaeda leader to life in prison for her rold in aiding insurgents’ activities. On Monday, a sticky bomb was dismantled by experts before it exploded in Abu Ghraib; a roadside bomb wounded three in Baquba; a car bomb killed three and wounded four policemen near Mosul; and gunmen shot dead a man in his car in eastern Mosul. On Tuesday, a roadside bomb wounded the mayor of Baquba and two of his guards; a sticky bomb killed a government-backed Sunni militia leader in Abu Ghraib; and police found the body of an unidentified man near Kirkuk. On Wednesday, three US soldiers were reportedly killed in southern Iraq, making June the deadliest month for Americans in the country in two years.
  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon voiced concern on Thursday about the long prison sentences of activists and opposition leaders in Bahrain following earlier protests, while the military court said it would move all the protest-linked trials, alleged to involve at least 400 people, it had not started to civilian court. On Friday, a top Shi’ite cleric said that a national dialogue due to start the following week looked set to fail. On Tuesday, the government announced that Saudi Arabia would withdraw most of its security forces from the country, where they had helped quell protests in March. On Wednesady, the king ordered an independent fact-finding mission to establish whether protesters’ human rights were abused during the crackdown earlier this year, though some suspect that the declaration is intended to exonerate rulers and allow them to continue abuses on opposition supporters. University of Bahrain students were recently told that they could face expulsion if they don’t sign a loyalty pledge to the King and are appealing to human rights group to take up their close.
  • Dozens marched wearing white shrouds in eastern Saudi Arabia, demanding basic rights and the release of prisoners. The activists are said to have suspended protests in April following government promises to start a dialogue and free detainees. On Wednesday, at least five Saudi women were taken into custody accused of defying the men-only driving rule and a senior Saudi diplomat warned that if Iran comes close to developing a nuclear weapon, that would compel Saudi Arabia to possibly do the same.
  • The UN announced on Friday that it would be sending human rights investigators for a 10 day mission to Yemen the following week to access the situation after months of unrest; while the Security Council finally came to an unanimous statement after two months of disagreement that voiced its “grave concern” at the situation; tens of thousands protested in Sanaa in opposition of the President; a car bomb killed five in Aden; and Yemen’s Interior Ministry published the names of 43 members of the opposition that it accused of blowing up oil pipelines and attacks on power stations, causing a fuel crisis and power cuts. On Saturday, authorities detained the director of a prison for questioning over the escape of 63 al Qaeda inmates earlier in the week. On Sunday, it was announced that President Saleh would soon be well enough to return to Yemen and that he would make a media appearance within a couple days while tens of thousands marched in Sanaa against him and three soldiers were killed in clashes with jihadist militants in Zinjibar. On Monday, security forces said they had foiled a planned al Qaeda attack in Aden, capturing six insurgents and that President Saleh was expected to speak on state tv on Tuesday. On Tuesday, government officials announced that they may launch a military operation to secure and repair its main oil pipeline that has been shut since mid-March. On Wednesday, at least four people were killed and 12 others wounded after a Yemeni air force jet mistakenly bombed a bus transporting civilians in a southern city; fighters in Zinjibar reportedly took over a football stadium, attacking government troops and killing at least 26 troops and 17 fighters; the PM announced that President Saleh was so severely injured in the assassination attemp that it is uncertain when he will return, while more than 300 government soldiers reportedly defected.
  • Palestinian protesters in the West Bank rammed a bulldozer on Friday, days after the Israeli army said it would finally comply with a four-year old court order to reposition the fence that keeps the Palestinians from accessing farmland. Israel has built a concrete wall several hundred metres back from the fence, which is set to become the new barrier. On Tuesday, Israeli troops began to dismantle part of the barrier after years of violent weekly protests, but protesters say the move falls short of their demands and still leaves the Palestinians without access to some 50 acres of their land. The World Court in the Hague ruled the barrier was illegal in 2004. Israel also deployed an Iron Dome Rocket interceptor near Haifa on Tuesday, highlighting it possible use in any future hostilities with Lebanon. US Secretary Clinton warned activists against plans to send a new aid flotilla to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza, saying it was “irresponsible and provocative” and that there were better ways of getting assistance in to Gaza. Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman said the activists were seeking “confrontation and blood” and that there were “hard core of terror activists” among the participants, thought the US participants announced on their website that their intentions were peaceful and that they would set sail without weapons or threat of force. The flotilla will include European MPs, a former CIA analyst a Holocaust survivor, professors and authors. The Israeli government warned journalists that they could be banned from entering the country for 10 years if they travel aboard the aid flotilla and that they would have their equipment seized, though some questioned the constitutionality of the warning. Later in the week, activists claimed that Israel had sabotaged a second ship that was to go with the flotilla. On Sunday, a powerful explosion ripped a 2 metre hole through the wall surrounding the UN building, with no reports of casualties in Gaza City. On Monday, Palestinian delegates announced their intentions to do rounds of nearly a dozen countries who have not yet endorsed recognition for the Palestinian state at the UN. On Wednesday, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a first draft law requiring Palestinians whose homes are destroyed by Israeli forces to pay the government for the demolition costs. On Friday, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel group was detained in London while on a speaking tour for allegedly entering the country illegally, despite the organization’s insistence that he entered through formal and legal channels.
  • On Friday, it was reported that police snipers in Syria shot dead at least three protesters in Damascus, though other reports suggested that at least 15 were killed and some 200 arrested as thousands demonstrated in the city. State news reported that tens of thousands demonstrated in Damascus in support of Assad’s comprehensive reform process. On Saturday, it was reported that security forces shot dead five civilians during funerals which turned into protests and that other people were killed during home raids. On Sunday, the military was reportedly moving on border towns near the Turkish and Lebanese borders. On Monday, some 200 regime critics and intellectuals were to meet in Damascus to discuss strategies for a peaceful transition to democracy, which the US announced as “progress”. On Tuesday, exiled Syrian opposition figures urged Russia to withdraw its support for Assad and try to persuade him to resign, while Syrian tanks reportedly shelled a hill region in the northwest and many were arbitrarily arrested in Raqqa province. On Thursday, it was reported that a two-day seige in the northwestern area of Jabal al-Zawiya resulted in at least 19 deaths.

UPDATE:

  • I only just found this article– so I’m adding it after the fact. There were allegations this week that prison guards in Iran were giving out condoms to criminals in jail and encouraging them to systematically rape young opposition activists. Iranian officials ignored the allegations and have previously denied any claims of rape inside jails.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… June 17th-23rd, 2011

Hello, hope all is well!

Sorry, several of the This Week in Conflict reports are a little late this week, as I have been without power or Internet since Tuesday, one of the side-effects of living in a conflict zone. As such, stories are only updated until Tuesday evening. I will try to keep to a consistent posting schedule, as much as my access to the Internet allows me.

Peace!

Rebecca

 

This Week in Conflict is now being divided up!

Here is the new schedule:

This Week in the World of Conflict – posted on Mondays

This Week in African Conflict- posted on Tuesdays

This Week in Asian Conflict – posted on Wednesdays (includes Oceania and Australia)

This Week in Conflict in the Americas – posted on Thursdays

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict – posted on Fridays

This Week in European Conflict – posted on Saturdays

Please submit any reports or stories of conflict around the world to apeaceofconflict@gmail.com or write in the comments below. Here’s a summary of what happened this week in the Middle East:

  • Bahrain announced on Saturday that it was preparing to lift a ban on the country’s second largest opposition party, ahead of a national dialogue in an effort to ease the political crisis. The group, Waad, was shut down in April amid a crackdown by security forces on pro-democracy protests. On Monday, it was reported that 20 Bahraini doctors on trial for taking part in anti-government protests were tortured into making false confessions as they came back into the courtroom. The doctors are accused of taking over the country’s biggest hospital to use as a base to try and overthrow the regime, but many suspect their real crime is speaking out to the international media when the government began a violent suppression of protesters at the end of March.
  • On Saturday, armed men killed an army colonel in north-eastern Baghdad, Iraq; armed men killed a municipality employee in eastern Baghdad; armed men opened fire on a policeman and seriously wounded him in central Baghdad; gunmen shot dead a government-backed militia member in Kirkuk; and a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol wounded three policemen and one civilian in Baquba. On Sunday, the Iraqi parliamentary speaker told reporters that the amount of Iraqi development fund money unaccounted for by the US is $18.7 billion, more than three times what has been previously reported.  On Monday, gunmen killed a local leader in his home near Baquba; gunmen kidnapped an ophthalmologist from his home in central Kirkuk; seven were wounded when a French embassy convoy was hit by a make-shift bomb in central Baghdad; gunmen shot dead a policeman at a checkpoint in southern Baghdad; a parked car bomb killed one civilian and wounded four others, including two policemen in northern Baghdad; two roadside bombs wounded two civilians in southern Baghdad; a roadside bomb wounded three, including a policeman in west-central Baghdad; a roadside bomb killed two boys and wounded three from the same family in east Mosul; and gunmen shot dead a man in front of his home in eastern Mosul. The Security Council is set to present a report on the situation of children and armed conflict in Iraq covering the period January 2008-December 2010. On Tuesday, two car bombs killed more than 20 and wounded more than 30 in central Iraq.
  • A rally in support of anti-government protesters in Syria triggered deadly sectarian clashes between rival gunmen in northern Lebanon on Friday. Between four and seven people are thought to be killed and at least 48 wounded.
  • A scheduled meeting aimed at reaching consensus over a new reconciliation government between Palestinian President Abbas and Hamas leader Meshaal was postponed. Fatah officials said continued disagreements meant the talks had been postponed indefinitely. Turkish pro-Palestinian activists announced on Friday that another aid flotilla will sail for Gaza this month, defying an Israeli blockade, but without the Mavi Marmara that suffered damage when it was stormed Israeli commandos a year ago. Israeli military officials warned that they would use force if necessary to prevent the boats from breaking the blockade. The Palestinian Rights Committee approved the agenda of its upcoming June 28-9 Brussels meeting on advancing the Middle East peace process on Monday, as well as on unemployment and access restriction in occupied territories.
  • Israel has authorized the construction of 1,200 new homes and 18 badly needed schools for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in what would be one of the largest housing projects in years.  On Tuesday, Israel’s defence minister said that despite the upheaval in the Arab world, Israel should push forward with negotiations that would restart long-stalled peace talks.
  • More than 100 influential religious clerics and leaders are calling for Presidential elections in Yemen. The petition demands the ouster of President Saleh and new elections within 60 days. On Monday, tens of thousands again took to the streets in the capital, demanding the President’s son, who commands the elite Presidential Guard, leave the country; while government forces reportedly killed one militant and wounded two others in clashes in Aden. On Tuesday, nearly 2,000 Ethiopian migrants trapped in Yemen were being evacuated according to the International Organization for Migration.
  • On Friday, security forces in Syria reportedly shot dead two demonstrators in the eastern provincial capital as they ripped posters of President al-Assad down off the walls of an army garage; while 16 others were shot dead as Syrian forces fired on protesters who rallied across the country, including 8 in Homs, one in Aleepo, and three  in Damascus. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended that the Security Council extend the mandate of the UN forces monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights for six more months. On Saturday, Syrian troops reportedly backed by tanks and heavy machine gun fire swept into a village near the Turkish border, cutting food supplies for nearly 2,000 refugees. On Monday, President al-Assad gave a speech in which he promised to hold a national dialogue, but blamed unrest on a foreign conspiracy carried out by saboteurs and extremists. Protesters took to the streets in response, denouncing the speech they said did not meet popular demands; Turkish President Gul said that the speech was “not enough”, adding that Assad should transform the country into a multi-party system; while Russia emphasized its opposition to the UN resolution condemning the Syrian crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and urged the opposition to sit down with the government for talks on reform. On Tuesday, Assad issued a new Presidential pardon for prisoners, as tens of thousands reportedly took to the street to support him and clashed with opponents in three cities, resulting in the death of seven people by security forces. The UN refugee agency reportedly found the north-western town of Jisr al-Shugour and surrounding villages to be virtually empty of inhabitants during a brief visit to the area.

Disrespect for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human rights abuses run rampant in many parts of the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is often considered one of the strictest religious states and largest human rights abusers in the world. Despite this reputation, Saudi Arabia announced it would be sponsoring a discussion at the UN on religious tolerance starting November 12, 2008. Islam is the official religion in Saudi Arabia, with law requiring all citizens to be Muslim, and strictly prohibiting any non-Muslim worship, dress or goods which contradict Islam. Non-Muslims risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes torture or even death for these crimes. Customs officials routinely open mail and shipments to search for contraband, which includes Bibles or non-Muslim religious materials. Women face incredible discrimination in law, with what has been called a “gender apartheid” system. By law, two women’s testimony is equal to one man’s in court. They are not allowed to drive a car, a bicycle or a motorbike, or be in a car with a non-related male. They are not allowed to vote, have separate buses, entrances, booths or areas in restaurants. They face more difficult and stringent divorce procedures, separate workplaces, and a law which permits polygyny for men. Women are to wear an abaya or headscarf or face possible arrest. Virtual slavery exists in Saudi Arabia, often South Asian “maids” lured with promises of high pay. These abuses are all in contradiction to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and are continually ignored by international governments who make no real move to sanction the government for its abuses.

 

Israel is another major human-rights abusing government in the Middle East. Despite having a majority self-identified secular population (51%), Israel is also a strict religious state. Civil marriage is forbidden in Israel and taxes fund religious seminaries whose students avoid military service. The Israeli army routinely blockades humanitarian aid to occupied territory, worsening an already desperate situation. Israeli authorities restrict movements of the population, including refusing to grant permission for fatally ill children and their parent(s) to enter East Jerusalem for treatments not available in the Gaza strip. They have also been accused of forcibly evicting asylum-seekers and migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia without an appeals process, sending many of these people back to torture, abuse or death. The authorities have locked down Gaza and cut it off from the outside world, even forbidding students to leave the country for educational purposes granted by international scholarships.

 

The list of abuses is incredibly extensive, but clouded with much propaganda. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was drafted in 1948 as a statement of objectives to be pursued by governments, and in these 60 years since signing, little progress has been made in ensuring the ratification of these basic human rights universally. Saudi Arabia was one of the abstaining countries from the signing of the UDHR, and Israel had not yet formed, but even signing states (such as Canada) have ignored aspects they find contrary to their practices. The UDHR is an important document that needs to be reviewed by the international community and should be a basis for international laws to protect the people of the world. These declarations and conventions are useless unless they have enforcement and ratification capabilities. International institutions such as the UN need to be restructured so that human rights abuses will actually be punished, and so that progress can be made towards positive peace in the world.


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