Bahrain

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… 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.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… December 16th-23rd, 2011.

  • On Saturday, the Sunni-backed bloc suspended its participation in Iraq’s Parliament after accusing PM al-Maliki’s Shi’ite led government of concentrating power. On Sunday, the last of the US combat troops in Iraq crossed the border into Kuwait after nearly nine years of war, and handed over the last remaining prisoner in their custody; while a sticky bomb wounded a woman in central Kirkuk; bombs planted near the house of a judge wounded his son and two of his neighbours in southern Kirkuk; gunmen killed a man near his home in western Mosul; and a sticky bomb attached to a car wounded the drive and two others in Mussayab. On Monday, the government issued an arrest warrant  for the country’s Vice President, citing antiterrorism laws; gunmen in a speeding car opened fire at an army checkpoint, killing one soldier in Mosul; gunmen killed a grocer while he was shopping in Mosul; police wounded a wanted man after a foot chase in western Mosul; a roadside bomb went off near a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims, wounding three in Balad; gunmen in a speeding car used silenced weapons to wound two Sunni Sahwa militia members in their vehicle in Kirkuk; and gunmen using silenced weapons opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding two policemen in Mosul. On Tuesday, two leading members of the largest and most powerful Sunni tribe in Iraq warned of imminent sectarian chaos, claiming that the government is promoting an anti-Sunni agenda.  On Wednesday, PM al-Maliki warned of problems if Kurdish authorities in the north refuse to hand over Vice President Tariq al-Hasimi for trial on terrorism charges, a charge al-Hasimi vehemently denies as he told journalists he will not return to Baghdad to face trial, but would be willing to go before court in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region; a sticky bomb attached to the car carrying a Sunni Sahwa militia member killed him in Abu Ghraib; a gunman carrying a silence weapon opened fire at a local mayor, wounding him in a market in Baquba; two sticky bombs attached to cars carrying a judge and his son killed the judge and his guard and wounded his son and two pedestrians in Kirkuk; and gunmen in a car opened fire at a police checkpoint, wounding two policemen in Samarra.  On Thursday, at least 63 people died and more than 170 people were injured in 12 bombings across Baghdad, leaving some concerned that the pullout of American troops has left massive instability; gunmen using silenced weapons killed a local bodyguard in Baquba; police found the body of a young man with gunshot wounds to the head in western Mosul; a sticky bomb seriously wounded an off-duty policeman in central Mosul; a roadside bomb wounded a woman in western Mosul; gunmen opened fire on a police checkpoint , seriously wounding a policeman in Mosul; gunmen stormed a house, killing a family of five in Baquba; police found the body of a man with a slit throat in Kirkuk; a roadside bomb went off near a crowd of Sunni Sahwa members, wounding three in Jurf al-Sakhar; gunmen attacked a Sunni Sahwa checkpoint, wounding two in Mussayab; and gunmen killed a woman in a market in Mosul. Some analysts mentioned that although the US have officially marked the end to the war in Iraq, it leaves behind the world’s largest embassy, a large mission from the State Department and thousands of armed private military contractors, as well as holds a massive database full of retinal scans, thumb prints and other biometric data identifying millions of Iraqis.
  • On Sunday, the opposition in Syria claimed that at least six army soldiers had been killed in clashes with deserters in Homs, amid heavy shelling by government forces. On Monday, Syria signed an Arab League initiative to allow Arab observers into the country, with an advance team of seven officials arriving on Thursday to lay the groundwork for monitors to implement their peace plan; a move the United States said they were skeptical of, citing past broken promises. On Tuesday, the army was reportedly hunting down deserters near the northern city of Idlib after troops killed over a hundred deserters who had fled the base. On Wednesday, loyalist forces were accused of killing at least 160 defecting soldiers, civilians and anti-government activists over the past three days, while the UN estimated that more than 5,000 people have been killed since March; and five Iranian technicians working on a power plant project in the country were reportedly abducted by an unidentified group of people. On Thursday, a British human rights group Avaaz said it had evidence that more than 6,237 deaths of civilians and security forces had occurred, at least 600 under torture, and 400 of them children; with the government announcing that more than 2,000 of its security forces had been killed in the unrest. On Friday, two explosions rocked Damascus, killing more than 40 people and injuring more than 150. Some analysts were concerned that the US was gearing up to take action in the country after it released an unusually strong statement calling upon al-Assad to step down.
  • On Saturday, a Palestinian was killed and at least two others injured by Israeli gunfire in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, Israel reportedly released 550 Palestinian prisoners in the second stage of a deal with Hamas; while Hamas confirmed it will shift away from violent attacks on Israel as part of a rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority. On Tuesday, all the regional and political groupings on the UN Security Council criticised Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories and pointed their fingers at the US for refusing to condemn the settlement building, saying the continued settlement threaten chances of a future Palestinian state; while a senior UN official warned that the realization of a two-State solution has not advanced. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council agreed to extend the mandate of the peacekeeping force monitoring the ceasefire between Israel and Syria in the Golan Heights for another six months; while rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a unified government to be sworn in by the end of January.
  • On Thursday, the United Arab Emirates were reported as revoking the citizenship of six men over alleged security concerns, though the men say they are being unjustly targeted for their political views.
  • On Saturday, the Intelligence Ministry of Iran said it had arrested an Iranian-American man working for the American CIA, and later he was seen on a state tv program “confessing” to his alleged “mission” to infiltrate the intelligence ministry. On Tuesday, the government says it invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit for talks and would be ready to discuss concerns over its disputed atomic ambitions, a move the agency welcomed; while the US state department called upon Iran to release the American man arrested in Tehran and accused of being a CIA spy. . On Thursday, Iran reportedly blocked access to a British government website aimed at Iranian audiences, the latest in the escalating tensions between the two countries.
  • On Sunday, a dissident army general in Yemen said he backed a peace accord signed last month to pull the country away from the brink of war, while officials reported the deaths of ten militants in attacks by government forces in the south. On Tuesday, soldiers battled al-Qaeda-linked fighters outside the city of Zinjibar, killing at least sixteen fighters and four soldiers, with intensive artillery shelling took place in the city overnight; while mobile operator Sabafon said that its facilities had come under repeated attack by state forces because of its chairman’s support for anti-government protests. On Wednesday, the UN envoy in the country announced that outgoing President Saleh was in need of medical treatment that will require him to leave the country; while clashes between an ultraconservative group and former Shi’ite rebels in the north reportedly killed nearly 200 people over the last few weeks. On Thursday, thousands of people marched toward the capital to demand President Saleh face trial for killing protesters during the 11 months of demonstrations against him and to denounce the new government for sparing him prosecution. On Friday, loyalists reportedly attacked demonstrators gathered south of the capital, while seven soldiers and three militants were killed near Zinjibar in an ambush by al-Qaeda suspects.
  • On Sunday, security forces in Bahrain dispersed several hundred Shia demonstrators who gathered outside Manama for the fourth day in a row. On Tuesday, Zainab al-Khawaja, daughter of a prominent activist who was detained last week during anti-government demonstrations, was released pending trial.
  • Clashes broke out between armed factions in the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon on Sunday, after the bodyguard of an official was killed. The clash at Ain el-Hilweh resulted in an unknown number of injuries.
  • On Sunday, Kuwait’s ruler called for an early Parliamentary election for February 2nd, nearly two weeks after he dissolved the chamber in a power struggle that had paralyzed the country’s politics. On Monday, riot police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse hundreds of stateless Arabs who staged a protest to pres the government to grant them citizenship rights.

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… December 10th-17th, 2011.

  • The Atlantic published an article highlighting the 10 biggest Middle East Stories of 2011.
  • American Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich again spoke out against Palestine this week, calling them “terrorists” who teach terrorism in schools during a candidate debate, a move that Palestinian leaders said was inviting more conflict in the Middle East. A senior official at the Arab League called the statement racist and a cheap stunt to get votes. Over the weekend a Palestinian protester died after being struck in the face by a tear-gas canister launched from mere meters away by an Israeli soldier, with further clashes taking place between mourners at his funeral and soldiers on Sunday. On Sunday, Israel closed a wooden walkway to Jerusalem’s holiest site Haram al-Sharif over fears of a fire or collapse risk, sparking Palestinian anger with Hamas calling the move a declaration of religious war (it was later reopened); while the Israeli settlement council gave final approval for the building of 40 new houses in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli Cabinet also voted unanimously to finance a $160 million program to stop the flow of illegal African migrants by stepping up construction of a border fence and detention centre. On Tuesday, dozens of extremist Jewish settlers broke into an army base in the West Bank and lit fires, damaged vehicles and threw stones at a senior officer; just hours after another group took over an abandoned building in a closed military zone on the Jordanian border; the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris while President Abbas attended a ceremony; while a new report by Defence for Children International claimed that Israel had shot at children on at least 28 occasions while gathering building materials like gravel or working by the fence between March 26, 2010 and October 3, 2011. On Wednesday, Iceland formally recognized Palestine as an independent state and established diplomatic relations with it; the UN and its diplomatic partners underlined their appeal to Israel and Palestine to create an atmosphere conducive to the resumption of stalled peace talks; tens of thousands of Gazans took to the street for an anniversary rally for the ruling Hamas; while a Palestinian mosque near Ramallah was set on fire by people thought to be Jewish settlers, after Israeli forces tore down structures in a settler outpost built without government approval.  The PM vowed to take action to halt the growing number of extremist incidents. On Thursday, the American Congress proposed a new legislation that would allow economic aid to Palestine to continue next year only as long as the country is not admitted as a state into any more UN organizations; while Israel said it was unifying its special forces under one command to help it strike countries like Iran. Amnesty International issued a joint press release announcing that there have been a record number of unlawful demolitions by the Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank over the past year, displacing a record number of Palestinian families.
  • On Saturday, the new national unity government was sworn-in in Yemen and will lead the country for a three-month transitional period, after which President Saleh is expected to formally step down after 33 years in power. On Monday, at least 16 prisoners, including al-Qaeda members escaped from a prison in the south. A day later, the interior minister announced that hundreds of protesters detained by authorities would be released. On Friday, the UN special envoy to the country announced that the government has taken new measures to restore peace and stability including instructions that roadblocks be removed, soldiers return to their barracks and militias go back to their villages.
  • On Sunday, at least 10 people (some say at least 20) were reportedly killed in clashes across Syria as opposition activists called a general strike; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he holds President al-Assad responsible for all that has happened in the country and the UN human rights chief warned that the country was moving close to a full civil war, appealing for observers to be allowed to enter. On Monday, fierce clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors spread to new areas killing some 13 on the day of local elections, amid fears the conflict was now spiraling towards civil war. On Tuesday, a reported 35 people were killed by security forces; some eight soldiers died in an ambush outside of Hama; while the UN human rights chief estimates the death toll for the past nine months of protest has now surpassed 5,000. On Wednesday, rebels claimed to have killed 27 members of the security forces in clashes that killed some 12 civilians, including a seven year old; clashes across the country killed a reported 26 civilians; while Human Rights Watch named 74 senior officials and commanders for investigation for crimes against humanity, alleging that army commanders ordered troops to halt protests “by all means necessary” and often gave explicit instructions to fire on demonstrators. On Thursday, Russia surprised all after it circulated a UN Security Council resolution condemning violence by both the government and the opposition, but stop short of mentioning sanctions, which France said it considered “unacceptable”. On Friday, potentially hundreds of thousands protested to demand action by the Arab League, who indefinitely postponed a meeting on the crisis because of divisions over how to stop the bloodshed. Security forces are said to have opened fire, killing at least 17 people.
  • On Sunday, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Iran said that his country would not return the American surveillance drone captured last week, but indicated willingness to reach a deal. On Monday, state TV reported that local experts were in the final stages of recovering data from the drone that would be used in a lawsuit against the US and claimed that they had the capability to reproduce the drone through reverse engineering. On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said that US President Obama should apologize for sending the drone into Iranian territory rather than asking for it back after it was seized; while Iran reportedly indicted 15 people on charges of spying for the US and Israel. On Wednesday, officials announced their plans to put a series of foreign spy drones it claims to have obtained, including four Israeli and three US unmanned craft on display for foreign ambassadors based in Tehran and local journalists. Many analysts are concerned about rising tensions between Iran and the West. On Saturday, the foreign minister told Turkey that threats by Iranian political figures to strike Turkish missile defenses in case of an attack do not represent the official policy.
  • On Saturday, gunmen attacked a police checkpoint in Baghdad, Iraq, killing one and wounding another; gunmen killed a taxi driver in Mosul; a roadside bomb wounded two policemen near their patrol in western Mosul; three rockets landed in or near the US military’s Kalsu base, wounding three; gunmen wearing police uniforms attacked the house of a construction worker, wounding him and his son north of Hilla; a sticky bomb attacked killed an employee of a state-run North Oil Company in eastern Kirkuk; another sticky bomb wounded an off-duty Iraqi army officer in southeastern Kirkuk; and gunmen kidnapped four government employees in Dhuluiya. On Sunday, a sticky bomb killed a Ministry of Education official in Baghdad; gunmen in a car killed the head doctor at Mosul’s central morgue near his house; a sticky bomb wounded a school teacher in Muqdadiya; two bombs exploded wounding three policemen and four Kurdish Asaish security officers in central Kirkuk; police found the body of a civil servant at a state-run medicine factory shot in the head and chest two hours after he was kidnapped in Mosul; and gunmen shot at the car of a private Iraqi security company, killing one security guard and wounding another in Tuz Khurmato. On Monday, Iraqi PM al-Maliki met with American President Obama at the White House to discuss the next phase of the relationship between their countries amid the withdrawal of all US troops by December 31st; two roadside bombs went off in succession wounding six people in Baghdad; and gunmen in a speeding car shot dead an off-duty traffic policeman in front of his house in Mosul. On Tuesday, a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol killed two officers and wounded three officers and two civilians in Baghdad; gunmen killed a man and his wife in their car in Mosul; a sticky bomb killed two car passengers and wounded three others in Ishaqi; gunmen using silenced weapons and a bomb attacked a minibus carrying judges near a police checkpoint, killing three, including two policemen and a civilian and wounding five others in Falluja; gunmen shot dead a police colonel in front of his house in Mosul; a sticky bomb killed a police officer in his car in Shirqat; and three bombs hit an oil pipeline from the southern oilfields to storage tanks in Basra. On Wednesday, the US ended its nearly nine year war in the country with an official ceremony at an airport in Baghdad and President Obama marking its “success”, leaving behind an estimated $353 million in military equipment; while thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in celebration. On Thursday, police say they found the bodies of three government employees after they were kidnapped three days ago in Dhuluiya; masked gunmen kidnapped a local mayor and his son, killing the father in Jurf al-Sakhar; two bombs attached to bicycles blew up near a school, killing two and wounding three in central Ramadi; while thousands of Shi’ites rallied in the streets of the mainly Sunni province of Diyala demanding the provincial council retract its declaration of autonomy.
  • Dozens of pro-government demonstrators marched on the offices of the main opposition party in Bahrain, but were quickly suppressed by security forces on Saturday. On Tuesday, the King said that Syria is training opposition figures in the country during an interview, and also denied systematic rights abuses during the crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters. On Thursday, hundreds of protesters confronted riot police who dispersed them with tear gas and stun grenades near a highway leading to the capital; while police reportedly arrested human rights activist Zainab al-Khawaja, daughter of a prominent opposition leader and several other women who were holding a sit-in in a roundabout. On Friday, protesters again attempted to block off several roads, including the main highway, amid intense crackdowns by security forces that reportedly injured dozens and arrested at least 13 teenagers for chanting anti-monarchy slogans in a northwestern village.
  • Riot police in Kuwait reportedly used tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of stateless protesters who were demanding citizenship and other basic rights on Friday in Jahra. Police arrested at least six of the stateless protesters, who under Kuwaiti law have no right to hold public gatherings.
  • On Sunday, France’s Foreign Minister said that they believed Hezbollah’s Syrian wing was behind the attacks on its troops in Lebanon early last week that wounded five French peacekeepers. On Monday, Syria rejected the French accusations, as did Hezbollah. On Wednesday, the UNIFIL Force Commander paid a visit to the Lebanese Parliament to discuss the situation, and expressed his condemnation and serious concern over the recent attack and a rocket firing from Lebanese territory.

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 conflict… October 9th-15th, 2010.

World

  • The UN pre-talks for the world climate summit in China ended in disappointment as negotiators from 177 countries fought over the main aspect of how to finance climate protection and the legal form of a future global climate agreement. The six days of negotiations were marred by open conflicts between the US and China, with the Chinese holding the US and other developed nations responsible for the apparent deadlock in negotiations. 
  • The top UN official fighting to end the recruitment of child soldiers appealed to governments to provide the necessary resources to ensure the reintegration of children into civil society once they have been freed. A new report released this week outlines some of the successes over the past year, and some of the major challenges facing children in war zones.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon outlined measures to strengthen the UN’s role in helping countries emerging from conflict to maintain peace and entrench stability in a report released on Thursday. He also spoke of the need to provide UN staff deployed in crisis situations with proper training to enable them to perform the full range of their responsibilities.
  • India, Germany, South Africa, Colombia and Portugal will all take their place on the UN Security Council for their term after being elected to two-year terms. The council is made up of 5 permanent veto-holding members — France, Russia, China, the UK and the US, as well as 10 non-permanent members. Brazil, Gabon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria and Lebanon are all on the council until 2011. Canada abruptly withdrew from the contest allowing Portugal to take its place, after neither won the required votes (128 votes) for victory (Portugal with 113 votes and Canada with 78 votes).
  • NATO’s secretary-general has urged member states to endorse a proposed anti-missile system that would link alliance members into a common network, saying it was NATO’s responsibility to build “modern defenses against modern threats”. NATO defense and foreign ministers held a rare joint session in Brussels on Thursday to discuss a draft of a new “strategic concept” for the alliance, which is expected to focus on new threats including missiles from hostile states, terrorism and cyberattacks ahead of the Lisbon summit in November.
  • The UN is owed $4.1 billion by member nations with the US accounting for more than a quarter of that figure, officials announced on Thursday. Chile, Iran, Mexico, and Venezuela accounted for 9% of the arrears, and another 68 countries made up 3%  of the arrears. Only 13 countries out of 192 have paid their contributions.

Africa

  • French authorities have arrested a leader of the FDLR who is accused of carrying out mass rapes in the DR Congo. ICC chief prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo said the arrest was a “crucial step in efforts to prosecute the massive sexual crimes committed in the DRC. On Thursday, a senior UN official said the UN Security Council should consider sanctioning Lieutenant Colonel Serafim of the FDLR over the rapes of hundreds of villagers in the east in August as well. Those who were raped by rebels over the summer are said to now be facing the same abuse from Government troops.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) is reported to have ambushed a town in northern Central African Republic, abducting young girls, looting and setting shops on fire in what the UNHCR has described as intensified attacks since September. The group is said to have committed more than 240 deadly attacks this year, displacing thousands.
  • A new school to train soldiers of about a dozen African countries in peacekeeping operations has been launched in the Congo (Brazzaville) with financial support from France. The school is set to train hundreds of students a year.
  • The former deputy leader of Niger’s ruling military government was arrested on Wednesday, just days after his post as the junta’s number two leader was eliminated. It was not immediately clear why the leader was arrested.
  • Sudan’s president has accused the country’s southern autonomous leadership of breaching terms of a peace deal and warned that civil war could re-erupt if the two sides did not settle their disputes before the secession referendum. On Friday, a UN panel said that plans for the referendums are being hampered by delays, poor funding and negatively charged atmosphere of threats and accusations. The latest round of talks between the north and the south over the oil-producing Abyei region have failed to reach an agreement just 90 days before the referendum to decide its fate. South Sudan independence supporters clashed with riot police and northern pro-unity campaigners in Khartoum on Saturday, highlighting the risk that simmering tensions might boil over. The president in South Sudan has asked the UN Security Council to send peacekeepers and set up a buffer zone along the north-south border ahead of the independence vote to help keep the peace and on Wednesday, the UN Security Council announced that peacekeepers could create limited buffer zones in hotspots along the north-south border, but were not capable of patrolling the entire border. On Tuesday, the UN-supported disarmament drive in the far south began, as the first of some 2,600 people set to be disarmed were disarmed, registered and issued certificates. On Thursday it was announced that the vote on whether the district of Abyei should be part of the north or the south will be delayed, as feared. Local residents responded by saying that a delay is unacceptable and that they may hold their own vote without the government. On Thursday, a renegade army commander began reconciliation talks with the president of South Sudan, as part of a new push to end southern divisions.
  • Gunmen in northern Nigeria shot and killed an Islamic scholar on Saturday after he had been openly critical of a radical sect behind a series of recent killings. Recent killings of police officers, traditional leaders and politicians in the area have raised fears that a radical Islamic group Boko Haram, are staging a comeback. Late Monday night, a police station was destroyed in an attack blamed on the group, after attackers deployed home-made bombs. On Wednesday, Boko Haram gave the government five conditions to be implemented for peace to be restored to their region: that the government stop arresting, intimidating and detaining their members; release all their members that are currently in detention unconditionally; allow their fleeing members to return home unmolested; give back all their places of worship, and denounce all forms of injustice. On Friday, a militant group announced it planned to carry out another bomb attack in Abuja this month, giving seven days of notice of the attack.
  • A Ugandan court has dismissed treason charges against Kizza Besigye, an opposition leader, paving the way for him to run against the president in the 2011 election. The opposition leader had gone into exile after losing to President Museveni in the 2001 presidential polls.
  • Guinea’s presidential hopeful, Cellou Dallein Diallo is still opposed to taking part in a run-off election on October 24th, despite having agreed to share power with his opponent whoever wins. Last week, Diallo announced that he would not participate in the election unless the head of the electoral commission was removed. The two main political rivals agreed to share power regardless of who wins, by including the loser in government.
  • Ethiopia has signed a peace deal on Tuesday to end 20 years of war with a rebel faction in the Ogaden region, however, the deal remains unsure, as a spokesman for a rival wing of the rebel group called the deal “irrelevant”. Ethiopian authorities have said that the deal represents 80% of the fighters.
  • Heavy fighting in Somalia’s capital left more than 20 dead on Wednesday as soldiers clashed with al-Shabaab fighters. A mortar hit the main Bakara market killing 5 civilians, as the fighting escalated. The Somali President named a Somali-American to replace the Prime Minister who resigned last month on Thursday. The previous PM is said to have resigned after intense pressure from the president following a long-standing dispute. A Briton working for Save the Children in Somalia was kidnapped by masked Somali gunmen on Thursday, along with a Somali native who was later released. Witnesses say heavy fighting between government troops and al-Shabaab rocked the capital on Friday with civilian casualties.
  • Egypt’s telecommunications regulator has imposed new restrictions on mobile text messages just ahead of the legislative elections that prohibit companies from sending out text messages en masse without obtaining licenses. Opposition activists say the new regulation stifles their ability to mobilize voters, as they have come to rely increasingly on the internet and mobile phones to organize and mobilize their supporters to sidestep government harassment.
  • Rwanda’a leading opposition leader Victoire Ingabire was re-arrested on Thursday after allegations that investigations into a former rebel commander facing terrorism charges also implicate her. Ingabire had returned to Rwanda to contest the presidential elections this year, but was barred from standing, after being accused of crimes linked to genocide denial.
  • A top rebel leader in Cote D’Ivoire announced that the identity cards being issued to voters ahead of the October 31st election end once and for all the dispute which split the nation in two. The 2002-3 rebellion was largely driven by a row over citizenship rights.  The UN Security Council renewed its arms, financial and travel sanctions to the country for six months on Friday, as well as a ban on trade in rough diamonds.
  • Eleven miners at a coal mine in Zambia were shot after protesting over what they said were poor pay and conditions on Friday. Police are said to be investigating the Chinese owners of Collum Mine Ltd. but have yet to arrest anyone.
  • Seven presidential candidates are to take part in the October general elections in Tanzania. The current president warned candidates to run peaceful elections campaigns and avoid any action that could cause chaos.
  • The Zimbabwean Prime Minister and his deputy boycotted cabinet this week, in escalating political tensions in the shaky inclusive government. Sources say the PM is angry over the President’s unilateral decision to appoint new governors and other arbitrary appointments, triggering a constitutional crisis.

Asia

  • The wife of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, has been placed under house arrest in China following Liu’s win late last week, along with more than 30 other intellectuals. Censors blacked out any foreign broadcasts of the win, and police were mobilized to quell any sign of domestic support. China also canceled its meeting with the Norwegian fisheries minister, living up to its promise that the move to award the dissident Liu the Prize would harm relations between the countries. On Tuesday, the government canceled another meeting with Norwegian officials, claiming that the award was an affront to the Chinese people and a ploy to try and change the country’s political system. Also on Tuesday, a group of retired Communist Party officials and intellectuals issued an unusually blunt demand for total press freedom in China, stating that the current censorship and control violated China’s Constitution. More than 100 Chinese Christians seeking to attend an international evangelical conference in South Africa have been barred from leaving the country because their churches are not sanctioned by the government.
  • Police sealed off residential areas and reimposed the round-the-clock curfew in Kashmir again on Tuesday in an attempt to pre-empt the first anti-India rally since authorities announced concessions to end violent protests. The hardline separatist leader in Kashmir called on residents to defy the curfew and go into the streets.
  • Detained Myanmar/Burma pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has announced that she will not vote in the upcoming elections, even though authorities have told her she is on the electoral roll. Suu Kyi’s party was dissolved because it declined to reregister for an election it considered unfair and undemocratic and she has said that her ability to vote is unlawful, as convicted people are prohibited from voting.
  • North Korea put on the largest military parade it has ever had on Sunday in front of Kim Jong-il and his successor son Kim Jong-un. Kim Jong-il’s oldest son, Kim Jong-nam announced his opposition to the hereditary transfer of leadership to his younger brother on Tuesday. It is suspected Kim Jong-nam, who fell out of favor after an embarrassing attempt to enter Japan to visit Disneyland in 2001, will not likely return to the country. On Friday North Korea vowed to attack South Korea if it resumed its propaganda war along the border, which was recently resumed.
  • Militants set fire to at least 29 fuel tankers in Pakistan in the latest assault on NATO supply routes to Afghanistan, which were reopened by Pakistani authorities on Saturday. Another truck was ambushed on Friday, killing two people. On Sunday, two US drones fired four missiles into a house, killing seven militants. Militants are said to have blown up three school buildings late Saturday, with no reported casualties. Pakistani security forces began a fresh military operation in the northwestern part of the country on Tuesday to comb for militants believed to have fled from the nearby Swat region. On Thursday, Pakistani police arrested a group of Islamist militants who were allegedly plotting to kill the prime minister and other top government officials.
  • Fourteen suspected terrorists were captured during a special operation in a northern area of Tajikistan on Tuesday.  The Tajik government offered an amnesty to armed groups fighting government troops in the east on Tuesday if they declare a cease-fire. Two field commanders and 27 members of armed groups reportedly took the amnesty, agreeing to lay down their weapons and join forces with government troops to hunt down foreign militants on Friday.
  • Four Italian soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan on Saturday. The British PM announced on Monday that a British hostage who had been reported killed by captors, may have been accidentally killed by troops attempting to save her. On Tuesday, an unknown explosion of a grounded helicopter resulted in the death of at least one ISAF member, an air strike in a northern province killed two insurgents, an ISAF member died following an IED attack in the south, six Afghan civilians died in a rocket attack by insurgents, and two Afghan soldiers were killed in separate attacks. On Wednesday, seven NATO troops were killed in three separate attacks. On Thursday, at least 8 NATO troops were killed in five separate insurgent attacks. On Friday, NATO-led forces are said to have facilitated the passage of a senior Taliban commander to Kabul to hold talks with the Afghan government.
  • Five parties are said to have won seats in Kyrgyzstan’s new Parliament following last week’s election. The results would mean that the ruling nationalist party will be unable to govern on their own after winning just 8.69% of the votes. Twenty-nine parties contested the polls. On Tuesday, the United Kyrgyzstan party announced that it will hold nationwide protests to challenge the official results after it failed to clear the threshold to get into parliament. On Wednesday, an angry crowd attacked a defendant and three relatives of another defendant in trials related to the June violence in the south, following a series of similar attacks earlier in the week on other defendants.
  • Thousands of Thai anti-government activists gathered in Bangkok on Sunday to demand the release of protesters detained for their role in demonstrations and military clashes, breaking the state of emergency rules. Riot police surrounded the site, but there were no reports of violence amid the protests. On Thursday, four people were shot dead in the restive deep south in separate attacks. Police blamed the Malay Muslim rebels for the attacks.
  • Azerbaijan is said to be boosting its military defense spending next year by 90%. The country is in talks with neighbouring Armenia over Nagorno-Karabkh, which it lost to Armenian-backed forces in conflicts in 1991 and the President has claimed that his country should get the region back one day.

Central and North America

  • Suspected drug hitmen in Mexico have ambushed a group of traffic police patrolling a highway on Monday, killing eight officers. Thirteen more people were killed between Tuesday and Thursday in the border city of Tijuana, including several decapitated bodies found hanging upside down from bridges. More than 2,000 police have been killed since 2006, and more than 29,000 in drug violence in Mexico. 
  • Canada has lost the use of a United Arab Emirates military camp near Dubai from which it supported its troops in Afghanistan in an escalation of a dispute over landing rights. The decision has been tied with the failed efforts of UAE to convince Canadian authorities to allow its two major airlines to increase flights to Canada.
  • The Haitian UN peacekeeping mission voiced concern at reports that arms are being distributed in advance of next month’s elections. The MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission called on all candidates in the election to think of the country’s future and programmes that will restore hope to the people. Demonstrators have blocked the entrance to the UN military headquarters in Haiti, spraying anti-UN slogans on vehicles trying to enter on Friday, calling it an “occupation” and angry at the lack of security and assistance they offer to average Haitians. This violence comes the day after the UN announced it would keep its force in Haiti for at least another year.
  • An American Federal judge ordered a halt to the enforcement of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which bans gay men and women from serving openly in the US military. Critics worry that the order may not make it through a Congressional vote, as an earlier attempt was defeated in the Senate this year. In a separate case, a judge ruled that the government cannot coerce a detainee to provide information for intelligence purposes and then use the evidence in criminal proceedings, in the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee. The judge did not express an opinion on the constitutionality of government agents using coercive methods to gain intelligence. The US is also in the process of reviewing its position on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that lays out the fundamental rights and freedoms of the world’s indigenous populations.

South America

  • The Argentinian government has condemned a planned British military exercise in the Falkland Islands, calling the plan an “unacceptable provocation”. The Argentinian deputy foreign minister demanded that the exercises be canceled. 
  • An Ecuadorean court issued an order authorizing the jailing of 12 police officers for their role in the police uprising last week, that the President has called an attempted coup. The lawyer for the police officers said that his clients were being swept up in a “witch hunt”.
  • Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez has begun a tour of seven nations, including Russia, Iran and Libya to discuss issues ranging from nuclear power and tanks to olive oil. In the past three years Chavez has bought at least $5 billion in weapons, including fighter jets, anti-aircraft missile systems and tanks from Russia.
  • Peruvian police have arrested a top commander of the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla group in an operation that also killed two rebel fighter on Wednesday. Police raids in the coca growing regions are part of an effort by the government to stamp out the remnant bands of Shining Path fighters and eradicate crops of coca, the raw material for cocaine.

Middle East

  • It was reported this week that at least 10 Palestinian children have been shot and wounded by Israeli troops over the past three months while collecting rubble in or near the border. Israeli soldiers are routinely shooting at Gazans well beyond the unmarked boundary of the no-go area. The Israeli Prime Minister is said to have offered to renew a partial settlement construction freeze in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state on Monday. The offer was met with swift rejection from senior Palestinian officials, calling the two issues unrelated. Palestinians, backed by Arab powers, have given the US one month to persuade Israel to halt the building of settlements or risk the complete collapse of peace talks. On Wednesday, Palestinian authorities requested a map from the US showing where Israel sees its final borders and making clear whether they include Palestinian land and homes. Israel issued the building tenders for 238 new housing units in East Jerusalem on Thursday, which many called choosing “settlements over peace”. Lawyers representing relatives of those who died in the Israeli raid of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May are urging the ICC to pursue those responsible, citing that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed.
  • Two apparently synchronized bombs exploded in southern Yemen on Monday, killing 2 people and wounding 12 others. The leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula announced the formation of a new army that would free the country of “crusaders and their apostate agents”. On Tuesday, police arrested 19 al-Qaeda members who were accused of Monday’s attacks. On Thursday, the governor of Abyan escaped an assassination attempt by suspected al-Qaeda mlitants, and the chief of police in an Abyan district was killed in an attack.
  • Iran has announced that it is ready to hold talks with six major powers over its nuclear programme in late October or early November. The US and its European allies fear Iran’s declared civilian nuclear energy programme is a cover to develop the capability of producing nuclear weapons.
  • Iranian President Ahmadinejad arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday to visit the southern region near the Israeli border in a trip said to emphasize Iranian support for Hezbollah’s fight with Israel. Both the US and Israel called his trip intentionally provocative.
  • Gunmen wearing Iraqi military uniforms broke into the homes of their own clan members on Monday and killed four people for informing on al Qaeda. Also on Monday, a senior police officer was wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad,  a group of gunmen opened fire on a currency exchange office in Baghdad which killed five people, and three gunmen stormed a policeman’s house and killed him in Falluja. On Tuesday, gunmen launched coordinated attacks on three Iraqi army security checkpoints in western Baghdad that killed one soldier, Iraqi forces killed a civilian by mistake in near Mosul as they chased smugglers near the border, and a roadside bomb wounded two Iraqi soldiers as it exploded during their patrol near Mosul. On Wednesday, four bombs exploded in western Baghdad, at least four policemen were wounded when a roadside bomb hit their patrol, a bomb attached to a government car wounded two of its passengers and gunmen in a speeding car opened fire at an employee of a state-run oil company. New US military statistics have placed the death toll for Iraqi civilians and security forces at 77,000 from January 2004-October 31, 2008, well below the count by the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry figure of 85,694 for the same period.
  • Twenty-three Shia activists were charged in Bahrain on Wednesday with terrorism and conspiring against the government, who are among hundreds of Shia opposition figures and activists rounded up in recent months ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Shias are the majority in Bahrain, but have long complained of discrimination from the Sunni government.

Europe

  • A dramatic rise in violent attacks on small town mayors in Sardinia, Italy has been linked to soaring job losses due to factory closures and the sheep market slump. A social services office was bombed, a shotgun was fired at the home of a mayor, a car belonging to a council official was burned, and a horse of a mayor was shot dead with its ears and tongue cut off.
  • Riot police clashed with protesting Culture Ministry workers who barricaded the ancient Acropolis in Greece on Thursday. Workers complained that they were owed up to 24 months’ worth of back pay and faced dismissal when their contracts expire at the end of the month.
  • Clashes between far-right supporters and gay pride marchers rocked Belgrade, in Serbia on Sunday. Thousands of police officers sealed the streets and clashed with the rioters who were attempting to break through the security. Rioters also fired shots and hurled petrol bombs at the headquarters of the ruling Democratic party, along with the state TV building and other political parties’ headquarters. Serbia’s Appeals Court removed a war crimes conviction against a Bosnian official on Monday in a move that is said could ease ties between the two former Yugoslav states. Official relations worsened in 2007 after Serbia arrested Ilija Jurisic on charges that he ordered an attack on a column of the Yugoslav People’s Army that killed at least 50 soldiers. On Tuesday a soccer match between Serbia and Italy ended in clashes and the hospitalization of 16 people after Serbian fans threw flares and fireworks onto the pitch and at Italian fans.
  • One man was killed after a group of Muslims were attacked as they left a mosque in Abkhazia on Monday. The attackers opened fire from a passing car. This is the third attack against Muslims in Abkhazia in the last two months.
  • Russia’s main pro-Kremlin party are said to have won an overwhelming victory in local elections across the country on Sunday, but observers say the results are unsurprising as the vote was rigged. Claims of buying votes, ballot-stuffing, increased pressure on journalists and human rights activists from authorities during the campaign and the refusal of registration faced by independent candidates marred the results. On Tuesday, Russian authorities detained around 30 people for holding an unsanctioned rally to demand an end to naming mayors and regional governors instead of by elections.
  • Russia and Georgia have resumed internationally mediated talks in Geneva aimed at preventing another flare-up of violence following their brief 2008 war. The talks also include representatives from the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and is set to last one day.
  • Three members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and two soldiers in Turkey were killed in two days of fighting. The fighting comes despite a one-sided ceasefire declared by the PKK.
  • Moldova has become the latest country to ratify the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court on Tuesday. The treaty enters into force in January.

This week in conflict… August 14th-20th, 2010

World

  • The New Economics Foundation found that the earth is using up resources faster than ever. The study monitors nature’s capital and concluded that this year the earth was using up its own natural resources to support itself a full month earlier than in the previous year.
  • August 19th was World Humanitarian Day. The once respected profession that aids those affected by war, natural disasters, sickness and malnutrition, is now facing increasing attacks in the field. The world thanks you for your tireless sacrifices!
  • A cheap and effective filtering device developed in South Africa could provide safe drinking water for millions of people around the world. Commercial production of the tea bag like device could begin as early as this year.
  • A Thai court has ordered the extradition of Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout, the “Merchant of Death”, to America to face charges of supplying weapons to terrorist groups. Viktor Bout, who was the inspiration for the movie “Lord of War”, is said to have fueled civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa.

Africa

  • Clashes between Somalia’s Puntland forces and militants led to the death of 9 people and a Somali journalist received a six year jail sentence for interviewing warlords there. South Africa is looking into the possibility of deploying troops to the war torn country following an African Union request. Another 9 people were killed and at least 53 others were wounded following renewed fighting in the capital on Monday. Most of the dead and injured came from a nearby displacement camp. Kenya has also complained of increased cross-border raids of hardline Somalian Islamists in the northern part of their country.
  • Jailed Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has called on the international community to reject the recent Rwandan election, saying that “endorsing the results of this masquerade would be to reward violence as a means to access and maintain power in Rwanda”.  Graphic pictures of a beheaded opposition leader have been released. The US, a long-time supporter of Kagame, expressed concern over the “disturbing events” which surrounded the election but neglected to take any further actions. In good news, many FDLR militia members have volunteered to put down their arms and return home in a repatriation program.
  • UN humanitarian chief John Holmes urged Sudanese authorities to allow humanitarian aid workers into the Kalma camp in Darfur, home to approximately 50,000 refugees, only to instead have five UN and ICRC workers expelled from the country days later for failing to respect Sudan’s authority and two more abducted by armed men and later set free. Aid agencies have been bared from the camp since August 2nd in a stand-off between international peacekeepers and the Sudanese government. Sudan’s electoral body has announced that the independence referendum vote for next January might be delayed. Voter registration problems and escalating tensions are cited as the reasons for the stall.
  • Ethiopian troops clashed with Somalis on Tuesday morning in an Ethiopian controlled area of Somalia. The Ethiopian troops are said to have opened fire on Somali civilians, resulting in the deaths of at least 10 people.
  • Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina signed a deal with dozens of minor parties in Madagascar aimed at ending political crisis, however the main opposition leaders rejected the deal. Rajoelina took the country through coup nineteen months ago.
  • A new wave of violence erupted in Chimanimani in Zimbabwe on Sunday after ZANU PF militias attacked MDC activists.
  • Ugandan President Museveni’s son along with the commander of the elite Special Forces Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba have been accused of leading the Ugandan army to a massacre of approximately a dozen people in Karamoja, while many more were branded, abused or tortured.
  • The Shell Petroleum Development Company in Nigeria has claimed 3  sabotage attacks on its pipelines so far in August, causing increasing spills in the region. The company has less than an attractive environmental record in the region with oil spill quantities that exceed that of the Exxon Valdez disaster on a yearly basis for the past 40 years. Shell is currently facing charges at court in the Hague over spills in Nigeria.
  • Six children under the age of two have recently been reported raped or sexually molested in the Lubumbashi region of the DR Congo as part of black magic rituals aimed at increasing fortune. Many believe that fetishists (witch doctors) in the region have been encouraging this practice for some time, but that it is only now emerging because authorities are stepping up their efforts to protect women from sexual violence. Three Indian UN peacekeepers were killed in a surprise attack at their base in the DRC by 50 fighters armed with machetes, spears and traditional weapons on Wednesday. Three people were killed on Tuesday night after clashes between Rwandan FDLR, Mai Mai Cheka and some Mubi persons and at least 150 women are believed to have been targeted for mass sexual violence in a remote village in the east.
  • The youth leader of the Union for Peace and Development was arrested and tortured by Burundi intelligence after being accused of being a security threat to the state in the run-up to the recent election. At least 200 member of opposition parties have been arrested, tortured or threatened in the country according to human rights organizations. There have also been several recorded political murders and disappearances of opposition members, and many are simply in hiding or exile.  The legislature is now dominated 95% by the presidential party, the CNDD-FDD. The last areas suspected to be contaminated by landmines or unexploded ordnance in north-west Burundi will be surveyed thanks to funding from the Swiss government.
  • Insecurity in the Niger regions led to the evacuation of Western staff of several aid groups. This evacuation comes days after the World Food Programme had launched its operations to feed nearly a quarter million children.
  • The Central African Republic pledged that it would arrest Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA. Kony has been charged with war crimes but has evaded prosecution and capture since 2008.
  • More than a million South African state workers have gone on an indefinite strike. Police responded to the protesters by firing rubber bullets and water canons in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Asia

  • NATO has claimed that more than 20 Islamic militants were killed their fire this week, as they ramp up operations in southeastern Afghanistan.  They have also claimed to find and release 27 men from a Taliban prison in Helmand province.  Security concerns have caused the Afghan government to decide not to open more than 900 polling stations during next month’s parliamentary elections, affecting nearly 15% of the country’s polling stations. The Taliban fighters are said to be “spreading like brush fire” into the remote and defenseless northern parts of Afghanistan, but an air strike led by NATO forces has slowed that spread slightly by killing one al Qaeda leader there on Monday. The spread of the Taliban in the north may have been eased by their apparently more just court systems. NATO will have to continue their operations without the help of private security firms, as Hamid Karzai ordered all such firms dissolved over the next four months. On Monday, a insurgent IED strike killed a child and wounded 3 others in Kunduz province. On Wednesday, hundreds of villagers blocked an eastern highway to protest a night raid by NATO and Afghan soldiers that left 2 people dead. More than 2,000 foreign troops have died since the start of the war in 2001, but alas, new found oil deposits totaling 1.8 billion barrels on top of the $1 trillion dollars of newly discovered resources should give them the incentive to continue fighting.
  • The US is concerned over China’s extending military reach. The Chinese are said to have increased their military spending by roughly 7.5% from the previous year. A electric three-wheeled vehicle exploded in the Xinjiang region on Thursday killing 7 people.
  • Gunmen have shot dead at least 10 people in southwest Pakistan after an attack on a passenger bus. The Pakistani president is concerned that recent flooding in the region could encourage armed groups to gain new recruits by taking advantage of the chaos and misery.
  • Kashmiri residents have been again subject to curfew imposed by the Indian government and thousands of police officers, only 3 days after the original curfew was lifted. At least two people were killed on Friday after police opened fire again into protesters. At least 61people have been killed in protests in the past two months.
  • Three people were killed in south Thailand in attacks blamed on Muslim separatists. More than 4,000 people have been killed in the last six years in the border region.
  • Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey announced that it would begin a ceasefire against Turkish forces on September 20th conditional on Turkey stopping its military operations, releasing 1,700 political detainees and starting a peace process. Turkey has rejected the PKK’s previous unilateral ceasefire declarations.
  • The US warned Turkey that it has little chance of obtaining the weapons it wants without major policy changes, although this was later denied by US officials. This comes after Turkey voted against fresh UN sanctions on Iran and concerns that weapons could wind up in Iranian hands.
  • Human Rights Watch has concluded that the government of Kyrgyzstan played a role in facilitating the violent attacks against ethnic Uzbeks this past June, after a lengthy investigation. At least 400 people were killed as attacks against Uzbeks left several neighbourhoods burned to the ground.
  • Cambodia’s PM has decided that multinational corporations and other local enterprises will now be able to hire out the country’s royal armed forces, in a “sponsorship” program in return for guarding of “large-scale private land concessions” or to “evict the rural poor for business developments”.
  • The US and South Korea began their war drills amid North Korean threats of counter measures on Monday. The drills will last 11 days and are the largest joint exercise between the Americans and South Koreans.
  • Indonesia’s president has spoken out for religious tolerance amid calls for him to act against extremists regularly attacking minorities in the country. Violence has been rising in the country between the 80% Muslim population and a minority Christian population.
  • At least 2 people were killed in northern India on Saturday after clashes over poor government compensation for land erupted between police and farmers. Police are said to have opened fire on the protesters after they were attacked with stones.
  • Azerbaijan refused to allow a NATO plane carrying Armenian soldiers from Afghanistan to fly over its territory. This is the second time the country has refused such an action.
  • Eleven police officers in the Philippines have been relieved of duty after the release of video footage showing the apparent torture of a naked detainee, said to have later died in the hands of the police.
  • Five countries, including the US, are now backing a Commission of Inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.

Middle East

  • A Yemeni intelligence officer was gunned down by two men suspected to be linked to al Qaeda late Friday evening. Another five policemen were seriously injured when an attacker on a motorbike threw a grenade at them. Al Qaeda appears to now be targeting government forces instead of high-impact strikes against Western and Saudi targets.
  • Al Qadea is warning its supporters and sympathizers to prepare for a new war which it says it will pit Israel against Iran.
  • A tv mini-series was canceled from Lebanese television stations this week for fear of stirring up sectarian violence. The program described Jesus from an Islamic point of view, upsetting Christians. They also announced that they had set up a special account to receive donations towards supplying their country’s ill-equipped army with new weapons for defense against Israeli attack and began the process to approve the ratification of the cluster munitions treaty. Following the violence earlier this month, Israel and Lebanon have voiced interest in accelerating the process of marking the Blue Line between their two countries.
  • Two mortal bombs sent from the Gaza Strip into Israel injured two soldiers. Hamas claims that they bombed after six Israeli tanks crossed into the territory with one firing a shell at a home. In retaliation, Israel carried out air strikes against the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Israel has approved the purchase of 20 US built radar-evading stealth fighters in a deal worth $2.75 billion dollars which are expected to be delivered between 2015-2017.
  • Gunmen in Baghdad killed 4 policemen in shootings, burning two of the bodies in public. Attacks have escalated during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, with 19 deaths from Saturday to Sunday alone, five deaths from a car bomb on Monday and another 57 or so on Tuesday after a bomber blew himself up at an army recruitment centre. The latest death tolls for Iraq are as follows: United States 4,415; Britain 179; Other nations 139; Iraqis military between 4,900 and 6,375; Iraqis civilians between 97,106 and 106,071. Sadly, it appears civilians have taken the brunt of the military intervention in the country. Hopefully, that will change as the last US combat brigade has now left Iraq as part of President Obama’s pledge to end combat operations in the country. Sadly, it appears that the withdrawal of troops will only double the number of private security contractors.
  • Clashes between Shi’ite villages and government forces in Bahrain resulted in several arrests on Saturday and Sunday. Shi’ites are protesting for a larger role in governing the Sunni Muslim-led state.

Europe

  • A bomb threat saw thousands of people evacuated from the shrine at Lourdes in southern France on Sunday. The threat was later determined “unfounded”. French authorities began deporting hundreds of Roma to Romania and Bulgaria in a move that many feel could spark further racism and discrimination against a vulnerable communty.
  • A suicide bomber in North Ossetia killed one police officer and injured three others on Tuesday.
  • Russia reportedly plans to sell two of its S-300 Favorit air-defense systems in Azerbaijan to be used to protect energy extraction projects and pipeline networks. The Russian government has also agreed to extend their lease of a military base in the South Caucasus to Armenia and assist them in updating their military hardware.
  • Belarusian media has experienced increasing harassment in the lead-up to the upcoming spring presidential election. One media outlet may be shut for suggesting that the President was involved in the disappearances of several political opponents.
  • Serbia is looking to renew negotiations over the future of Kosovo with the UN, after last month’s decision that the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo was within international law.
  • Israel and Greece are seeking to expand their military ties including sharing military know-how and holding joint war games.
  • A well-known activist journalist in the Ukraine has disappeared. Vasyl Klymentyyev frequently spoke out in criticism against the authorities, who critics claim have been increasingly oppressive of the media.

North and Central Americas

South America

  • Indigenous inhabitants in Rapa Nui (otherwise known as Easter Island) are protesting the Chilean government, who claimed the island as their own province in 1888, over suspected land deals that are using ancestral land to build state buildings. Police have been sent with authorization of force against the peaceful, unarmed protesters, but have so far remained as observers.
  • Colombia’s air force bombed a rebel camp on Wednesday that killed seven guerrillas from the National Liberation Army (ELN).
  • Luiz Antonio de Mendonca, a top election official survived an assassination attempt on Wednesday. Violence is relatively rare in Brazillian elections.
South Africa is looking to deploy troops to Somalia under the African Union request.