Middle East Weekly Roundup: Arrests of Saudi princes, Hariri’s resignation, and a Houthi missile fired at Riyadh

Saudi Arabia

Hours after the downing of a missile near Riyadh believed to be fired from Houthi positions in Yemen, the Saudi State News Agency al-Arabiya announced that in an anti-corruption probe led by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, eleven princes, fourteen sitting ministers and ‘tens’ of ex-ministers have been detained. Amongst those arrested were key figures such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men and a major investor, as well as Prince Mitaab bin Abdullah, the head of the National Guard, and Adel Faqih, the economy minister. Despite Government claims that these arrests were part of an anti-corruption investigation, many see this major purge of the kingdom’s political and business leadership as a bid from the Crown Prince to consolidate his political power.

Saudi Prince, Mansur bin Muqrin, was killed in a helicopter crash near the Yemeni border. Bin Muqrin was the son of the former Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and deputy Governor of Saudi Arabia’s Asir Province. He was travelling with seven other officials. The cause of the crash is unknown.  

Yemen

ISIS has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in the Southern port of Aden. An explosives laden truck ploughed into the Security Services Headquarters there. At least seventeen people were killed and twelve were injured.

Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for a missile that exploded on the outskirts of Riyadh on Saturday evening. The ballistic missile that travelled more than 800km was intercepted and by one of Saudi’s surface-to-air Patriot missiles. The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has closed the land, sea and air ports to the country in response, and accused Iran of supplying the missile to Houthi militias and their allies. Coalition forces carried out 29 airstrikes on Sanaa province, in addition to the airstrikes aimed at Houthi training camps in Sanaa province on Tuesday.

Lebanon

Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, resigned from office on Saturday, blaming difficulties created by Iran’s interference in regional affairs. The shocking announcement comes during a time of escalation in the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Analysts speculate that Hariri was pressured to resign by his patrons, the Saudis, who wish to deny Hezbollah a credible Sunni governing partner.

Iran

President Putin flew to Tehran on November 1 as part of the second annual Caspian Summit. After a day of talks with President Rouhani and Supreme Leader Khamenei, he emphasized the importance of Russian-Iranian relations and the need for a diplomatic solution in Syria. The Supreme Leader was more explicit, denouncing US support for “terrorists” across the region and encouraging Russia to abandon use of the dollar in order to “isolate America.”

Iraq

A Shia mosque in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk has been struck by two explosions killing at least five people and injuring more than twenty. This was the first attack since Iraqi security forces retook direct control of this important city.

The Maghreb

Two Tunisian police officers were stabbed by a suspected Islamist radical on Wednesday near the headquarters of the Parliament in Tunis. One officer died of his injuries, while the other is expected to make a full recovery. Hundreds of policemen gathered in the central city of Sfax on Friday, demanding enactment of a law that would protect armed forces from threats to their security and ban attacks against policemen. Similar demonstrations were held in cities across Tunisia.

Libya

Four foreign engineers were kidnapped in southwest Libya on Friday. They are believed to be three Turkish citizens, and one South African national. All four are employed by Turkish construction firm Enka, and were working at a power plant in Ubari when abducted. Although reports indicate that they were kidnapped by an armed group, it is not known which group is responsible. Both the Turkish and South African governments are reported to be liaising with Libyan authorities to secure the men’s release. Kidnapping is a growing concern in post-Gaddafi Libya, which is currently divided among three rival governments.

An armed group raided a comic book convention in Tripoli on Friday. The Special Deterrence Force (SDF), a militarized Islamist group, arrested over 20 individuals affiliated with the Comic Con festival. The convention was attended by hundreds of Libyan youth. Organizers told local media that they had obtained official permission to host the event, and that they were shocked by the SDF’s response. Organizers also report that they had been accused by the SDF of crimes against public morals and Islam.

Israel/Palestine

Last week marked 100 years since the issuance of Lord Balfour’s eponymous Declaration, in which the British Foreign Secretary pledged his country’s support for the creation of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. Many Israelis celebrate the Declaration as a formative step toward the fouding of the state of Israel. Conversely, Palestinians—thousands of whom demonstrated in the West Bank this week against the Declaration’s enduring legacy—view it as an instrument of colonialism that has helped to dispossess them of their lands. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, marked the anniversary by dining with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London.

Hamas authorities handed over control of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings, including the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, to the Palestinian Authority—a first step in the implementation of the reconciliation agreement reached by the two factions last month. The assumption of this responsibility by the Palestinian Authority, which lost control of the Strip to Hamas in 2007, should see the easing of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on the movement of people and goods across Gaza’s borders. Nevertheless, significant challenges remain to the agreement’s implementation, including the composition of any unity government, as well as the future status of Hamas’ military assets.

Egypt

Egypt on Sunday summoned the ambassadors of Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain in protest over a public statement made days earlier expressing concern over the fate of detained human rights lawyer Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy. Hegazy, who works on the issue of forced disappearances, was arrested on September 10 while on his way to Geneva to attend a United Nations meeting on this topic. Authorities say Hegazy is in custody on charges of “spreading false news.” Egypt’s Foreign Ministry called the statement by the western countries “unacceptable,” adding that it was an blatant intervention in its internal affairs and judiciary.

Turkey

Spotlight on Migration & Refugees

The EU-Turkey refugee deal has resulted in a reduction of refugee crossings from Turkey to Greece by 97%, according to Greek Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas. The International Organization for Migration’s latest findings indicate that approximately 23,000 migrants have crossed from Turkey to Greece so far in 2017, as compared with approximately 170,000 in 2016. Turkey’s representative at the Third Committee has also stressed the importance of fighting against human traffickers in Turkey, and lauded the country’s efforts in granting access to basic services to the 3 million Syrians it currently hosts. Turkish Officials have criticized the EU for not fulfilling ints promises in funding programs to support Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Syria

Syrian military forces are preparing for an offensive to recapture the town of Albu Kamal from IS fighters. This offensive comes following a dramatic shrink in IS-controlled territories in the past few weeks, leaving Abu Kamal as one of the group’s last outposts.

Jordan

Following the shooting of two Jordanians by an Israeli embassy guard in late July, Jordan has refused the return of the Israeli diplomatic mission until the current Israeli ambassador, Einat Schlein, is replaced and the guard is tried. Israel claims that the guard was acting in self defense and refuses to put him on trial.

Bahrain

In the wake of the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, Bahrain has ordered its citizens to leave Lebanon. In addition to this, Bahrain has banned all travel to Lebanon. The order comes amidst rising Bahraini concerns regarding the stability of the country.

Bahrain has also rekindled tensions with Qatar by laying claim to the Hawar Islands. The Islands currently under Qatari jurisdiction were awarded to Qatar after an international court settled the matter in 2001. A press release by Bahrain’s state news agency said that it had “every right to claim what was cut off forcibly from its land and to dispute the legitimacy of the Qatari rule”.

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