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.

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