Kuwait

This Week in Middle Eastern Conflict… February 2nd-10th, 2012.

  • Human Rights Watch alleged that authorities in Iran are intimidating and arresting relatives and friends of Persian-language journalists working abroad on Friday; while American spy chiefs told Congress that they believed Iran’s leaders are now more willing to attack the US in response to real or perceived American actions that threaten their government. The Revolutionary Guards reportedly began carrying out military exercises in the south on Saturday amid rising tensions over their nuclear programme and rumours of a possible strike by Israel or the US. On Sunday, authorities warned that any country used to launch airstrikes against its nuclear bases would face retaliation. On Monday, American President Obama signed an executive order imposing tougher sanctions on Iran and its central bank and also said he does not think Israel has decided whether to attack Iran over its alleged nuclear program, though American Defense Secretary Panetta reportedly believes there is a growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran as early as April. On Tuesday, lawmakers reportedly summoned President Ahmadinejad to respond to a long list of complaints, particularly his handling of the economy; the Foreign Ministry denounced the new US sanctions as “psychological war” and said they will have no impact on the course of the country’s nuclear program; while authorities reportedly made a new deal on oil payments with India, who will make 45 percent of payments for Iranian crude in rupees in the face of disrupted regular payment channels. On Wednesday, the ambassador to Russia announced that Iran is capable of striking US military forces around the world if attacked by the US and that Russia is to resume arms exports to the country under a recent understanding, but will comply with international law in doing so; a regime-linked website, Alef, allegedly produced an article calling on Iran to use its missile arsenal to kill all of Israel’s Jews, describing how it could be done; while the country’s energy minister announced that it should invest in renewable energy to preserve its hydrocarbon reserves in the face of tightening sanctions that are making it increasingly difficult to sell oil. On Friday, Amir Oren reported that an Israeli Strike on Iran would be less likely than some people would think. The Atlantic ran two articles that discussed whether military action is justified against Iran, or whether diplomacy is the better option, especially in light of the fact that the US intelligence community said they were not even sure that Iran was trying to build a nuclear weapon.
  • Two people were reportedly wounded in Palestine in the Gaza Strip on Friday following Israeli airstrikes only hours after a visit by UN SG Ban Ki-moon, five other airstrikes are said to have targeted tunnels and fields; while an Israeli soldier stranded after a raid in occupied territory was allegedly escorted to safety by a Palestinian man in the same village that troops had targeted. On Monday, Hamas endorsed a proposal by Qatar in which Palestinian Authority President Abbas will assume the role of PM and lead an interim national consensus government in preparations for elections in the West Bank that unites Fatah and Hamas factions; while Israeli PM Netanyahu said that President Abbas had chosen to “abandon the way of peace” by reaching a power-sharing deal with Hamas and that he had to choose between “peace with Hamas, or peace with Israel”. On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki moon urged President Abbas not to abandon talks with Israel. On Wednesday, the Gaza-based leadership of Hamas challenged the reconciliation deal signed by the group’s political chief in exile, threatening to split the peace between the two groups. On Thursday, banks, ports and the stock market remained closed for a second day in Israel as half a million workers continued a general strike while the government and main labour union held talks over the status of contract workers.
  • Human Right Watch released a new report on Thursday that claims that security forces in Yemen stormed and shelled hospitals, evicting patients at gunpoint, and beating medics during an assault on the protest movement that killed at least 120 people in Taizz last year and called upon the US, the EU and the Persian Gulf states to publicly acknowledge that the domestic immunity granted to Saleh and his aides has no legal effect outside the country. On Friday, one militant was allegedly killed in an attack on an army base in the southern Abyan province. On Saturday, Al Jazeera filed a report on the growing power of the Houthis group not that Saleh is set to leave power. On Monday, authorities began a publicity campaign to get citizens to vote in the upcoming Presidential election that has only one candidate, the current VP. On Tuesday, outgoing President Saleh said he will return to the country before the election to install his successor finishes, raising concerns about his commitment to the peal deal that would oust him from power. On Wednesday, at least 10 tribesmen were reportedly killed in the north during clashes with Shi’ite rebels, after the tribesmen accused the Houthis of trying to grab more territory; while army defectors and protesters are continually calling upon leading military officials, including Saleh’s half bother who is commander of the air force, to also give up power. On Thursday, Yemeni troops reportedly killed two people when they opened fire at a protest in the southern province of Dalea that was calling for a boycott of the upcoming election.
  • Israel’s deputy foreign minister announced on Friday that President al-Assad of Syria  will fall from power eventually, but that the process could be “long and bloody” as he had outside support from Iran and “no real challenge” from the international community; while Human Rights Watch alleged that the Syrian government forces have been torturing children as young as 13 in a new report. On Saturday, both Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called upon al-Assad to step down, citing a potential violation of the country’s sovereignty—a move that provoked massive international condemnation; Tunisia began the procedure to withdraw its recognition of the Syria leadership, expelling the Syrian ambassador; American President Obama called upon the UN Security Council to stand up against Assad’s “relentless brutality” and act as a credible advocate for human rights, pledging support to the Syrian people; more than 200 people were reportedly killed by Syrian forces in the city of Homs, claims that Syrian state media vehemently denies; French President Sarkozy said it was consulting with Arab and European countries to create a contact group on Syria to help find a resolution; the head of the Arab Parliament called for Arab countries to expel their Syrian ambassadors and sever all diplomatic relations with Syria over the crackdown on protesters; a crowd of Syrians stormed their embassy in Cairo, while protests broke out outside Syrian missions in Britain, Germany and the US. On Sunday, Islamists in Jordan called upon the world’s Muslims and Arabs to boycott Russian and Chinese products following their veto of the UN resolution; while US Secretary of State Clinton called upon “friends of diplomatic Syria” to unite against Assad. On Monday, the United States vowed to block funding and arms supplies to the country and talked about offering support to the Free Syrian Army, ranging from medical supplies and weaponry to intelligence and reconnaissance surveillance; the US closed its embassy in Syria; China’s leading party newspaper defended their country’s rejection of the UN resolution, citing the failures of western campaigns in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq and the error of forced regime changes; Syrian and Libyan protesters hurled rocks, eggs and tomatoes at the Chinese embassy in Tripoli; Russia expressed its anger about what it called Western “hysteria” over their use of the veto; the bombardment of Homs continued, allegedly killing at least 50 people; an explosion ripped through an oil pipeline in the city of Homs; Syrian army defectors announced the formation of a higher military council to “liberate” the country from Assad’s rule; while the Free Syrian Army announced they have no other choice now but to fight to free the country from Assad’s grips after China and Russia’s veto. On Tuesday, attacks on Homs reportedly continued; German police reportedly arrested two men on suspicion they were spying on Syrian opposition groups within their country; Russia’s Foreign Minister is set to lead a Russian diplomatic mission to Syria and hold talks with Assad; and many major European states, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Britain and the US all  recalled their Syrian ambassadors in protest. On Wednesday, reports suggested that the neighbouring Lebanese army was arresting anyone trying to cross the border, regardless of whether they were injured or not; the bombardment of Homs continued as tanks reportedly moved into the Inshaat neighbourhood and shelled the district with more than 200 rockets, with at least 47 civilians allegedly killed in the attacks, including three unarmed families; the American Pentagon was reportedly drawing up contingency plans for intervention into Syria that include military action with allied NATO countries such as Turkey; Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister said that 11 kidnapped Iranians in Syria were released, but that 18 others were still being held hostage;  Doctors Without Borders alleged that authorities are using access to medical care as a weapon of persecution; the Turkish Foreign Minister announced his country is ready to host an international conference on the Syrian crisis; while the French Foreign Minister called Assad’s promises to Russia to implement reforms and end the crackdown against protesters a “manipulation”. On Thursday, Syrian troops reportedly sealed off the population of a rebel stronghold within Homs and continued to bombard it using tanks, helicopters and artillery, killing as many as 110 people; both Germany and Libya expelled Syrian diplomats from their respective countries; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the UN’s failure to agree to a resolution on the country is disastrous and is encouraging the Syrian government to “step up its war on its people”; the Turkish ambassador warned the EU that Assad still has support from the middle class and that the opposition is fragmented, raising the risk of a slide into full-scale civil war that could inflame the whole region; Russian President Medvedev and French President Sarkozy reportedly had a phone conversation over the Syrian crisis; while the UN and Arab League were considering sending a joint observer mission to the country. The Atlantic ran an interesting article by Daniel Serwer that suggested that the Syrian rebels would be better to put down their guns and continue with a non-violent strategy if they want to unseat the Assad regime.
  • The Islamist-led opposition in Kuwait won a landslide majority in snap polls this week, securing 34 seats in the 50-member Parliament. Parliament was dissolved in December over alleged corruption and bitter disputes between the opposition MPs and the government. On Monday, the emir asked the outgoing PM Sheikh Jaber to form a new cabinet, after his caretaker cabinet resigned following the election.
  • Thousands held a peaceful anti-government protest in the capital of Bahrain on Friday, demanding the release of political prisoners and political reforms. On Saturday, a rare political forum was held to try to bridge the deep rifts in the country; while Al Jazeera reported that almost a year since the crackdown on demonstrators began, little has changed in the country and protests are actually growing. On Sunday, thousands began a week-long rally in a Shia village, 10 days ahead of the first anniversary of the start of pro-democracy protests. Violence and protests reportedly escalated over the week, with masked teenagers wielding iron bars and petrol bombs facing off against riot police. On Thursday, a jailed rights activist has allegedly gone back on a hunger strike until he is released; while a senior American official said the country has taken important steps towards reform, but still needs to do more to heal the rifts, however, it seems they have little problems with continuing their arms sales to Bahrain.
  • Prosecutors in Jordan have ordered the detention of a former intelligence chief over corruption related charges stemming from his time in office from 2005-2008 in the latest step in an anti-graft campaign.
  • A sticky bomb attached to the car injured one man in central Baquba, Iraq on Friday; four militants attacked an Asiacell equipment building, knocking out service to the mobile phone operator with explosives in Mosul; gunmen in a car opened fire, killing a civilian in Muqdadiya; and a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in south-western Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding seven others. On Saturday, two teenagers were killed while trying to plant a bomb in western Mosul; police found the bodies of two men who had been shot in the head in Mosul; a bomb exploded on a bus, wounding one passenger in northeastern Baghdad; a sticky bomb attached to a car killed a member of a government-backed Sahwa militia in central Baquba; and a bomb planted in front of the house of a Sahwa member went off and wounded him and one of his family members in Udhaim. On Monday, three mortar rounds hit buildings housing displaced Kurds, killing one and wounding 13 in Balad Ruz; a roadside bomb exploded next to a car, injuring the driver in Abu Saida; a roadside bomb wounded three in Mahmudiya; and a sticky bomb attached to a police lieutenant-colonel’s car seriously injured him in Jalawla. On Tuesday, the American State Department announced it is preparing to slash the enormous diplomatic presence it had planned for the country by as much as half. On Wednesday, Iraq’s Justice Ministry announced that 14 Iraqis, most of them al-Qaeda members, were executed for terrorism and criminal offenses. Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the Iraqi authorities for their executions, now numbered at over 65 since the beginning of the year.
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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… December 4th- 10th, 2010

World

  • In an attempt to reduce the risks of nuclear weapons proliferation, the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to set up a global nuclear fuel bank that aspiring nations could turn to for reactor fuel instead of making it themselves. Billionaire Warren Buffett pledged $50 million towards the project. 
  • December 10th was Human Rights Day, a day for the promotion and protection of human rights that marks the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • December 9th was International Anti-Corruption Day at the UN headquarters. Recent reports suggest that one in four people in the world paid a bribe over the past year to government institutions.
  • WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange turned himself in and was arrested on Tuesday following an Interpol arrest warrant for sexual crimes. Assange denies the charges and has so far been denied bail. So-called “hactivists” have began a cyber war attacking MasterCard, PayPal, Visa and a Swiss bank for blocking payments to Wikileaks.
  • Nineteen countries have declined invitations to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Norway on December 10th, which is allegedly tied to Chinese pressure over the awarding of political dissident Liu Xiaobo. Afghanistan, China, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sudan, Tunisia, Ukraine, Venezuela and Vietnam were all absent. The Nobel committee left a symbolic empty chair for Xiaobo on stage during the ceremonies.
  • Canada, Russia and Japan were under intense pressure to soften their opposition to the Kyoto Protocol during the Cancun climate summit, which ended this week. Details of a deal are to be released shortly.
  • UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Yukio Takasu of Japan as the special adviser on human security this week, after the General Assembly issued a resolution to continue discussions on the issue earlier this year.

Africa

  • The African Union (AU) has appointed Guinea’s outgoing military leader Sekouba Konate to head its standby  military force, it was announced on Tuesday. Konate would be put in charge of peacekeeping and intervention for a proposed African Standby Force.
  • The UN mission in Chad and Central African Republic (MINURCAT) is wrapping up by the end of the year at the request of the Chadian government. The 5,550 peacekeepers in the area were charged solely with protecting civilians.
  • Seven people were killed in a fresh attack in Nigeria late Friday. The attack was reported to be a suspected reprisal of the alleged killing of a Fulani herdsman. On Sunday, the Borno State police command said five people including two suspected Boko Haram gunmen died in a gun battle on Saturday night. The Nigerian military acknowledged on Monday that civilians died in recent battles with criminal gangs in the oil-rich south and parts of the north in the military offensive against the Niger Delta Liberation Force.
  • WikiLeaks brought to light evidence that two companies, drugmaker Pfizer and oil-giant Shell, are both collecting information on the Nigerian government in an effort to ensure their respective activities go on in the country without interference following major scandals. Shell took it one step further with it’s Wikileaks cable claiming the company to have actually inserted staff into the main ministries in the government.
  • Unrest continued in Cote D’Ivoire following last week’s elections results that left the country’s constitutional court announcing separate results from the electoral commission that resulted in two Presidents being sworn in by separate bodies. South African leader Thabo Mbeki was called in to mediate, but left days later without success. The AU and ECOWAS have suspended incumbent Gbagbo from activities and several international bodies are preparing sanctions. By Friday, Gbagbo gave hints that he might be willing to talk.
  • Egypt faced its second round of parliamentary elections on Sunday, a week after the first round was condemned for alleged fraud. The National Democratic Party is said to have won with a massive majority, amid allegations of fraud, after the Muslim Brotherhood and Wafd party pulled out. The UN refugee agency is urging Egypt to intervene to secure the release of about 250 Eritreans who have been held hostage for at least a month by human traffickers in the Sinai. The hostages are said to be bound by chains around their ankles, deprived of adequate food, tortured and branded like cattle.
  • At least 22 people were killed and more than 35 others wounded in two days of fighting between the African Union and the al-Shabaab fighters in Mogadishu, Somalia. The AU backed government troops claimed to kill some 43 fighters as well.
  • In 2008, Somali pirates discovered a Ukrainian freighter packed with weapons, including 32 Soviet-era battle tanks, headed for the regional government in southern Sudan. The Ukrainian and Kenyan governments both insisted that the tanks were intended for the Kenyan military. WikiLeaks documents have just confirmed that the pirates were telling the truth.
  • Kenyan police announced that they have arrested 346 foreigners after two separate grenade and gun attacks last week that killed three policemen. The suspects are allegedly of Ethiopian and Somali origin.
  • Opposition MPs have claimed the government is arming people in northern Uganda, and the the Inspector General of the Police is recruiting 100 youths from each village to form brigades to aid cheating in the upcoming elections. The government denies all allegations.
  • Local leaders in southern Sudan are calling on the government to arm the local Arrow Boys militia to protect civilians from attacks by the LRA during the January referendum. The militia promises they will return the weapons once the “job” is done. The Sudanese army clashed with troops loyal to a former Darfur rebel leader in southern Sudan on Thursday. The rebel leader is accused of moving his troops to southern Sudan in order to prepare for war. The Sudanese government is claiming that Darfur’s largest refugee camp, protected by the UN and the AU forces, is hiding rebel fighters. The military has threatened to take action. On Friday, the South Sudan army accused the north of bombing its territory in three air attacks in a week, dropping some 18 bombs.

Asia

  • A blast in eastern an Afghanistan army base killed at least two coalition troops and two civilians on Sunday.  On Monday, the ISAF announced they were investigating a possible “friendly-fire” incident in Helmand province from Sunday where an ISAF service member had been killed; and 2 ISAF service members were killed in alleged separate insurgent attacks in Kabul. On Wednesday, two ISAF service members were killed in an attack by insurgents in Kabul; and an air strike by international forces in southern Kabul killed two Afghan soldiers and wounded five more. On Friday, an ISAF service member was killed by a roadside bomb in Kabul.
  • Thousands of people were dispersed by tear gas and a water canon on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia following an opposition-backed rally against the federal government’s involvement in a dispute over drinking water. Some 48 people were arrested.
  • Russian airplanes are said to have flown in the region of a joint US-Japanese military drill this week, heightening tensions between Tokyo and Moscow. Military exercises between the US and Japan took place from December 3rd to 10th, with some 44,500 personnel.
  • Land tensions in the Indonesian half of Timor island have recently led to outbreaks of violence. Large numbers of former refugees complicate the issue, as access to precious little cultivable land is in short supply.
  • Wikileaks cables have brought to light the possibility that Myanmar/Burma might be building missile and nuclear sites with North Korean support. Surface-to-air missiles are said to be being built and Burmese workers are constructing a concrete-reinforced underground facility. One of the largest rebel groups in the country say that fighting will escalate if the new government fails to start talks with major ethnic groups, following the recent problematic elections that say the military-backed party win with an overwhelming victory.
  • Sri Lankan rights groups reported that a five-minute video clip that showed blindfolded, naked men being shot dead at close range last month warranted a UN investigation. The government denies that the video, leaked by a Tamil Tiger rebel tv station, is authentic.
  • The International Criminal Court announced on Monday that they have opened a preliminary investigation into possible war crimes by North Korea regarding the recent clashes with South Korea. South Korea began live-fire artillery drills on Monday, ignoring the North Korean warning of war. The North Koreans in return launched apparent artillery drills.
  • Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong protested this week for China to free dissident Liu Xiaobo so that he can formally be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway. The award was denounced by the Chinese, who had their own peace prize to award on December 9th.
  • Two suicide bombers attacked a meeting of pro-government elders in northwest Pakistan on Monday killing at least 40 people and injuring dozens more. US drone missile attacks are said to have killed another at least five people on Monday. On Tuesday, suspected twin suicide blasts killed at least 50 people and injured many more at a government compound in northwest Pakistan and police say another suicide bomber attacked a convoy carrying the top official in a southwestern province. On Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up beside a crowded bus, killing some 14 people, and wounding many others in Kohat.  On Thursday, four suspected militants were killed after insurgents attacked a check post killing a paramilitary soldier.  On Friday, a suicide bomber blew up a trailer packed with explosives outside a hospital in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 15 people and wounding many others; and Pakistani security forces are said to have killed 5 suspected militants in a clash.
  • A bomb hidden in a metal canister exploded as thousands gathered for a Hindu ceremony in India, killing a toddler and triggering a stampede that left many wounded. The Indian Mujahideen allegedly sent a five-page claim of responsibility for the attack.

Americas

  • Dozens of people were injured on Easter Island after evicted islanders clashed with riot police. About a dozen buildings are being occupied by native Rapa Nui who say Chile illegally took their family’s ancestral homes. 
  • Protesters in Haiti clashed on Sunday with riot police demanding the annulment of last week’s elections. The police responded with tear gas that left stinging gas clouds blowing over a large camp of homeless survivors from the Jan 12 earthquake. By Wednesday, the violent protests had essentially shut down the country, closing businesses, schools and shops. On Thursday, election officials announced they would review the disputed results in an effort to diffuse the violence.
  • Gunmen ambushed and killed four policemen in their patrol car on Saturday in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. On Wednesday, an 8 month old, a 16 year old girl and federal officer were gunned down in a series of shootouts between police and suspected La Familia gunmen. On Thursday, gunmen forced drivers from their cars, and set vehicles on fire in the middle of major intersections in Morelia. The suspected leader of La Familia is thought to have been killed in a resulting shootout.
  • An Argentine energy company operating in Brazil has suspended production at several sites after labor protests are said to have gotten violent over the weekend.
  • San Diego demolition teams burned down a house on Thursday that is said to have the largest cache of homemade bomb-making materials ever found in the US. The occupant of the home has so far pleaded not guilty to all charges, and police are unsure what plans he had with the explosives.
  • Guatemala’s Congress passed a bill that would allow the government to confiscate property from convicted criminals in an effort to tackle the wealth of drug traffickers. The bill will allow the state to use, donate or auction seized goods.

Middle East

  • Several Iranian pilgrims were killed in Baghdad on Saturday in separate bomb attacks, with some reports saying at least 16 were dead and more than 100 injured. On Sunday, gunmen killed a couple in their home in eastern Baghdad; gunmen in a speeding car killed a civilian in west-central Baghdad; and gunmen attacked a police checkpoint and killed two policemen in Mosul. On Monday, a roadside bomb exploded in central Baghdad wounding two civilians and another roadside bomb exploded killing two and injuring several others in Baquba. On Wednesday, a bomb targeting Iraqi army patrol killed two civilians and wounded 17 others in Taji; seven Iranian pilgrims were wounded in a roadside bomb attack near Baghdad; a roadside bomb near a police patrol wounded two policemen in southwestern Baghdad; and gunmen opened fire on the home of an Iraqi interior minister, killing his daughter and wounding two other family members. On Friday, a roadside bomb targeting Iraqi police wounded two policemen in southern Baghdad; another roadside bomb killed one civilian and wounded five others in southern Baghdad; and gunmen in a speeding car opened fire at an Iraqi police checkpoint, killing two policemen and wounding two others in Tikrit.
  • Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, announced that his governing body may be dissolved if a peace deal cannot be agreed upon with Israel and the international community. US-brokered peace talks have been deadlocked since September. Brazil has decided to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, much to Israel’s disappointment and days later Argentina followed suit. It appears the US has given up its effort to persuade Israeli PM Netanyahu to renew the expired freeze on Jewish settlement construction, leaving Middle East peace talks in limbo.
  • Iran claimed on Sunday that it was now able to use domestically mined uranium to produce nuclear furl, giving it complete control over its process. The move would allow Iran to bypass UN sanctions on import of the material. Nuclear talks began on Monday between Iran and several other global powers, and ended on Tuesday with no agreement but the parties agreeing to meet again in Istanbul next month. Iran, however, is refusing to talk about stopping its enrichment of uranium at the next meeting. On Tuesday, three journalists and the financial manager of a leading Iranian daily were arrested in Tehran with unknown charges, after releasing a special edition containing articles and interviews by critics of the government.
  • Syria’s interference in Lebanon and alleged increasingly sophisticated weapons shipments to Hezbollah have prompted Israel’s military to consider a strike against a Syrian weapons depot. Israel has said they have tracked nighttime missile shipments by Syrian personnel to the Lebanese border.
  • A rally west of Kuwait City on Wednesday injured at least five people, and has put the Prime Minister under questioning. Opposition MPs accuse the government of trying to undermine the status of the constitution in a bid to suppress freedom and democracy.
  • A football game turned violent in Amman between two Jordanian clubs on Friday. Some 250 people were injured after a metal fence collapsed during clashes, and eyewitnesses say that several people were beaten to death by police trying to prevent an escalation of violence.

Europe

  • Thousands of supporters of Macedonia’s leading opposition protested in the capital on Sunday to call for early elections. They accuse the conservative government of mismanaging the economy and criticize its failure to bring the country closer to the EU and NATO. 
  • Police and demonstrators clashed in Greece, after thousands of people gathered to mark the anniversary of a police shooting.
  • Protests in Britain over drastically increasing university tuition fees got violent this week. Police have been accused of “kettling”, a practice that hold demonstrators in small periods of space for long periods of time.
  • All the top police officials in a town east of Moscow, Russia were fired after locals complained of police ignoring crimes. The prosecutor-general announced that four criminal cases were opened against policemen suspected of intentionally obstructing the investigation of numerous crimes.

This week in conflict…

This week in conflict…

World

Africa

  • Rwanda’s election process saw President Paul Kagame win again by a landslide amid a climate of repression. Opposition candidates were arrested and media silenced in advance of the elections. Kagame is said to have won 93% of the votes, and even as much as 100% of the votes in some districts. His team began celebrating the victory before the polls had even closed. Two days later Kigali was struck by a grenade attack that injured at least 20 people.
  • The Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has warned the UN mission and aid missions in Darfur that they will face expulsion if they do not support his government authorities. On Wednesday, gunmen killed 23 people, including police officers in an ambush on a truck in the south. On Wednesday, an exchange of gunfire at a refugee camp in western Darfur was reported, though it was not clear who fired the shots.
  • Government forces in Puntland, Somalia have made two military offensives against allies of the Shabab militant group killing at least 21. The UN warns that the long-running conflict in Somalia is spreading beyond its borders and becoming increasingly concerning.
  • 2,000 illegal miners stormed a mining site in the DR Congo burning trucks and stealing copper from Tenke Fungurume mine. 32 have been arrested.
  • The Central African Republic pleaded for the UN Security Council for help just as the mandate for the UN peacekeeping mission MINURCAT is coming to an end. Concerns of rebellion, banditry and inter-ethnic conflict still loom.
  • The Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted at least 697 people, nearly one third of who are children, in central Africa in the last 18 months according to a human rights group investigation despite previous assurance from the government of the DRC that the LRA has been decreasing its violence. At least 255 of those abducted were killed, often by crushing their skulls with clubs. Up to 74,000 people have been forced to flee the situation in the CAR and Congo.

Asia

Middle East

North America

  • More than 1,000 Mexican journalists marched through the capital to protest the killing and disappearance of their colleagues in the escalating drug violence that is increasingly targeting reporters.
  • The confessions of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen charged with terrorism, can be used as evidence at his trial even though they may have been obtained through torture. Khadr stands to be the first child soldier to be prosecuted for war crimes in modern history, as under international law, children captured in war are to be treated as victims and not perpetrators. His trial, which was to start this week, was delayed for the next 30 days after his lawyer collapsed from illness in the courtroom and had to be medevaced out of Guantanamo Bay.
  • The US appeals court has upheld a ruling that blocks Massachusetts schools from using literature that denies the mass killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 was a genocide.

South America

  • Colombia has sworn in a new president who has vowed that he is willing to hold talks with leaders of Farc, the country’s rebel group and reconstruct relations with Venezuela and Ecuador.
  • A suspected car bomb exploded in Bogota injuring four people on Thursday.
  • Suriname swore in its “new” president Desi Bouterse on Thursday. Bouterse, who was previously in power following a 1980 coup, ruled the country from 1980-7 and 1990-1. He was accused of violating fundamental human rights and the murders of 5 journalists during his time as dictator.
  • Peru’s indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who the government accuses of starting an Amazonian uprising that killed 33 people, is considering running for president next year.
  • The families of 32 Mapuche prisoners have been on a month-long hunger strike in southern Chile over trial irregularities for the twenty self-declared political prisoners imprisoned over land conflicts.

Europe

  • All of the major European countries are planning mass expulsions of Roma populations and demolitions of Roma settlements. Even though they are European citizens, the Roma are now threatened with expulsion, in breach of the EU basic right to free movement. Some rights group worry that such an action is tantamount to the criminalization of an entire ethnic group.
  • Three Turkish soldiers were killed in an explosion in southeastern Turkey on Sunday. On Monday Turkish soldiers killed 5 Kurdish militants in a firefight after discovering guerrillas laying mines and on Tuesday another 2 people were killed after a pipeline was blown up by Kurdish militants.
  • Russia has deployed an S-300 air defense missile system over the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia complained of the strengthening military control over these territories that it insists are still an integral part of Georgian territory.
  • North Caucasus rebel groups have begun to split ranks after the contradictory statements of resignation of leader Doku Umarov last week. Chechen field commanders have announced that they are rescinding their oath of loyalty.
  • Four former Bosnian Serb army soldiers have been charged with genocide for crimes committed during the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. The four are said to have assisted in the deaths of at least 800 people.