This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… January 25th-February 3rd, 2012.

  • The Guardian ran a special report on the mistreatment of Palestinian children locked in Israel’s military justice system; allegations that many vehemently denied. Last Wednesday, an Israeli military court ordered Hamas MP Aziz Dweik, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament to be held without trial for six months for no specifically reported reasons; while the Palestinian President said that low-level dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians about a future border had ended without breakthrough. On Friday, Azerbaijan claimed that it had foiled an alleged Iranian assassination plot against the Israeli ambassador to Baku, although Iran denied complicity instead calling it a US and Israel-staged show. On Sunday, Israeli PM Netanyahu said that exploratory talks aimed at re-launching negotiations ended in deadlock, expressing his pessimism on the prospect of peace talks and Palestinian leaders blaming Israel for the failure; the Israeli military announced that a long-flight Heron TP drone crashed in the central region on a routine experimental flight; the Israeli defense minister announced that they will soon begin clearing thousands of mines in the southern desert area; while Jordan’s King Abdullah II told the visiting Hamas politburo chief that Jordan will continue to support the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. On Thursday, Palestinian protesters reportedly threw shoes and other objects at the UN Secretary-General’s visiting convoy; while Israel announced it must exploit its offensive capabilities in the battle against its enemies, most specifically Iran, and disrupt their nuclear ambitions.
  • Last Monday it was reported that Russia allegedly signed a contract to sell $550 million worth of Yak-130 combat jets to Syria, despite the EU arms embargo. On Tuesday, the state news agency reported that the government had agreed to extend the Arab League observer mission mandate by one month; while the Gulf Arab states announced that they were going to withdrawing from their observer mission. On Wednesday, the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Idlib was shot dead in unclear circumstances. On Thursday, government loyalist militiamen reportedly killed 14 members of a Sunni family in Homs, including 8 children aged 8 months to 9 years old; while the Arab League chief called upon the government to stop further acts of violence against “defenceless civilians”’. On Friday, the leader of Palestine’s Hamas announced they had effectively abandoned their Damascus headquarters; dozens of Syrians allegedly broke into the Syrian embassy in Cairo to protest the government’s bloody crackdown; at least 10 people were reportedly killed in Aleppo after pro-democracy demonstrations erupted; insurgents said they were holding seven Iranians hostages and that they would not release them until the government freed a rebel army officer and stops military operations in Homs; Oman’s Foreign Minister reportedly said that Arabs will not agree to foreign military intervention in Syria, stressing that the only way to resolve the crisis was through an Arab League peace plan; Russia stressed that they were against approving an externally engineered regime change; the head of the Arab League monitoring mission announced that violence had risen significantly in recent weeks in the country; several reports were released of a two-day massacre that killed some 74 people in a residential area in Homs; while UNICEF reported that at least 384 children had so far been killed and nearly the same number have been jailed in the 10-month uprising. On Saturday, at least 12 people were reportedly killed in a bombardment of suburbs of Damascus that have fallen under rebel control; the bodies of 17 men arrested by government forces were allegedly found dumped in the streets after being shot in the head;  state media reported that seven soldiers were killed in an ambush as they rode in a bus near Damascus; the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission within the country because of worsening violence, a move the government said it regretted; while the League announced it would take an Arab peace plan to the UN Security Council next week. On Sunday, government forces reportedly killed at least 33 people in a town near the Lebanese border in an attack to dislodge army defectors and insurgents; other forces killed at least 5 civilians (some say as many as 19)in the suburb area of Damascus; Iran called upon President al-Assad to hold free elections and allow multiple political parties to operate in the country, but that he must be given time to implement these reforms; while the Arab League chief headed to New York hoping to win support from the UN Security Council for a plan to end violence in Syria that calls upon al-Assad to step down. On Monday, street battles raged with clashes between rebel fighters and government troops, with at least 19 civilians believed killed; western governments were pushing for a new resolution on Syria and demanding countries decide where they stand, with US Secretary of State Clinton saying the UN Security Council “must act” to end al-Assad’s regime’s crackdown on the population; while the government allegedly agreed to take part in Moscow-mediated talks aimed at halting the current crisis, although a senior member of the opposition said that they hadn’t received an invitation from Moscow and that they would refuse it anyway. On Tuesday, China announced that it opposed the use of force to resolve the crisis in Syria, because it violates basic norms “guiding international relations”; while a battle loomed in the UN with the Arab League and western nations pushing the Security Council to act on an Arab Peace plan that would force al-Assad from power; security forces reportedly killed some 10 people and wounded 15 after bombarding a building in the town of Rastan; while Reuters reported on the growing sectarian nature of the Syrian population.  On Wednesday, Russia was facing intensive pressure from western and Arab governments to not veto a UN resolution calling on President al-Assad to step-down from power that was delayed until the following week; the Free Syria Army reportedly put Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on notice for backing the Assad regime; some 36 people were allegedly killed in Wadi Barada near the Lebanese border in shelling and sniper attacks and some 70 people killed overall country wide; while the Atlantic ran an article about the dangers of military intervention.  On Thursday, the Russian Deputy Defense Minister said that it will not stop selling weapons to the al-Assad regime.
  • On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a report citing that dozens of Ethiopian Christians were facing deportation from Saudi Arabia after authorities raided a private prayer service in Jeddah, charging them with “illicit mingling” that prohibits unrelated men and women from mingling in public. A government-run newspaper reported that for the first time women would be allowed to attend soccer matches in a new stadium to be built in the country that would include a family section with private cabins and balconies.
  • On Thursday, a snap election was called in Kuwait for a fourth parliament in less than six years, with the Islamist-led opposition heavily favored to win. The elections were called by the country’s ruler in December after he dissolved the chamber in response to political deadlock. The UN also released more than $1 billion in Iraqi compensation to the country, in the latest payment of a war reparation scheme that began in 1994.
  • On Wednesday, an UN-backed tribunal announced it would try in absentia four Hezbollah suspects they indicted over the 2005 killing of Lebanon’s former PM al-Hariri. Hezbollah has denied any role in the bombing and has said it would refuse to allow any of the suspects to be arrested.
  • On Sunday, President Saleh of Yemen arrived in the US for a short-term visit to receive medical treatment; while gunmen reportedly attacked an office of the electoral committee in a southern province, wounding two soldiers. On Tuesday, at least 12 al-Qaeda militants were reportedly killed in a drone strike in the south; at least three al-Qaeda militants were killed in a clash with government soldiers outside Radda; and the newly appointed information minister escaped an assassination attempt as he was leaving government headquarters in Sanaa. On Wednesday, local tribesman who kidnapped six foreign aid workers in a tourist area announced that they would release their hostages on Thursday in exchange for the release of a political prisoner held by authorities.
  • On Friday, at least one person was reportedly killed and dozens injured in clashes between protesters and security forces in Shia villages outside the capital of Bahrain. On Sunday, the interior minister called for tougher penalties for attacks on security forces following a rise in sectarian violence. On Monday, anti-government protesters again clashed with security forces, demonstrating after a teenager died last week in police custody. On Tuesday, fourteen jailed opposition figures reportedly went on a hunger strike, demanding an end to the political crackdown, unfair trials and the release of all prisoners of conscience.
  • Last Monday, experts from the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced that they would be visiting Iran in the upcoming week in an effort to resolve outstanding issues with the country’s nuclear programme; while the EU imposed an oil ban and financial restrictions on the country with the goal of containing their nuclear ambitions, a move Iran called “psychological warfare”. Iranian officials threatened to stop the West from importing oil from the Gulf by closing the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation and the UK threatened to send their HMS Argyll warship flotilla through the Strait in response. On Thursday, President Ahmadinejad said that the government was ready to sit down with world powers for talks on its alleged nuclear ambitions. On Friday, Iran warned it may halt its oil exports to Europe in the upcoming week in response to their sanctions; and the IAEA announced that it was including two senior weapons experts on its upcoming mission in hopes that they could illicit information from officials about alleged atomic arms. On Saturday, American Pentagon war planners concluded that their largest conventional bomb isn’t yet capable of destroying Iran’s most heavily fortified underground facilities and vowed to step up efforts to make it more powerful. On Sunday, IAEA nuclear inspectors arrived in the country; while Iranian lawmakers delayed taking action on a proposed bill to immediately cut oil deliveries to the EU, warning the European bloc that their move could drive oil prices as high as $150 (US) a barrel. On Monday, Reuters reported that Iranian traffickers trying to dodge an embargo are smuggling weapons on container ships owned by certain European countries that imposed the sanctions; the Defense Minister announced that Iran has developed laser-guided artillery rounds capable of hitting moving targets at a distance of up to 20 km; and the Foreign Minister offered to extend the IAEA’s visit and expressed optimism that their findings would help ease tensions over the country’s nuclear program. On Tuesday, Iran reportedly completed a “constructive” round of talks with the IAEA, with future meetings planned. On Wednesday, the IAEA announced it would hold a second round of talks with Iran over their nuclear program on February 21st and 22nd.
  • Last Thursday, at least 13 people were reportedly killed in two bomb attacks south of Baghdad, Iraq; and at least 3 people were killed and five others wounded in a bomb attack in Kirkuk. Last Friday, a suicide bomber killed some 31 people near a Shi’ite funeral procession in Baghdad; gunmen shot dead two policemen at their checkpoint in southeastern Baghdad; gunmen killed an electrician in western Mosul; and gunmen killed an off-duty soldier and a civil servant in Mosul. On Saturday, gunmen opened fire on the house of a government-backed militia member, killing his wife and daughter in Garma; gunmen killed a man and his wife after storming their house in Sinjar; a bomb planted near a playground went off killing one and wounding six others in Ghazaliya; a civilian was killed and his brother wounded in a sticky bomb attack in Mahaweel; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire and killed a civilian near his house in Tuz Khurmato; a sticky bomb attached to a policeman’s car exploded and wounded a passer-by in Tuz Khurmato; and a sticky bomb attached to a soldier’s car wounded a soldier and a passer-by in Tuz Khurmato. On Sunday, a secular bloc in parliament that won the most seats in the March 2010 vote said it will end a boycott of parliament that began in mid-December; gunmen opened fire at a security checkpoint, wounding two government-backed militia members in Baquba; a sticky bomb attached to a police officer’s car wounded him in Baquba; a sticky bomb attached to a civilian’s car killed him in Muqdadiya; two policemen were wounded as they tried to defuse a roadside bomb in Tuz Khurmato; a roadside bomb went off near a minibus, killing one person and wounding nine others in Baghdad; gunmen stormed the house of a national reconciliation official, wounding him and killing a guest near Samarra; and four insurgents were killed as they were transferring bombs in Baquba. On Monday, a bomb planted in front of a police official’s house exploded, wounding a member of his family east of Baghdad; a bomb blast damaged the house of a court official in central Baquba, with no injuries; a roadside bomb went off near a police patrol in central Baquba, killing one policeman and wounding three others; a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb at a police checkpoint, killing three policemen and wounding three other people, including a civilian in central Baquba; gunmen killed a policeman and his father in a drive-by in western Mosul; gunmen shot dead a government worker near his house in western Mosul; a militant was killed and a soldier wounded when the army clashed with gunmen in western Mosul; a soldier was wounded and a smuggler killed when border forces clashed with a group of smugglers near the border in Rabia; a roadside bomb went off near an army convoy and wounded one soldier in southern Baquba; and a police officer was killed and another wounded when a suspected militant threw a hand grenade during a raid in central Basra. On Tuesday, gunmen in a car opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding a policeman and a civilian in Muqdadiya; a roadside bomb went off at a checkpoint, wounding two government-backed militia members in southern Baghdad; two roadside bombs exploded and wounded an off-duty policeman and his son near Mosul; a sticky bomb attached to a car wounded an off-duty policeman in eastern Mosul; a sticky bomb attached to a car carrying an off-duty army colonel wounded him in northern Baghdad; and a sticky bomb attached to a car carrying a police lieutenant-colonel wounded him in Shirqat. On Wednesday, a roadside bomb at a police patrol wounded three policemen and three civilians in western Baghdad; a member of parliament escaped injury in a roadside bomb attack near his convoy, though two of his bodyguards and three passers-by were wounded in southeaster Baghdad; gunmen in a speeding car killed a government-backed militia member in Muqdadiya; gunmen shot dead a grocery store owner inside his shop in Buhriz; the Justice Ministry reportedly executed 17 convicted criminals in one day; while the Health Ministry reported a total of 99 civilians, 31 police and 21 soldiers killed in January, though Reuters tallied more than 350 people killed in January, including nearly 290 civilians.

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