Weekly Roundup: Iran and Iraq continue to recover from last week’s earthquake, Three cities in Yemen run out of water, and a stampede for food aid kills 15 in Morocco


Syria

On November 19th, Israel Defense Forces fired warning shots at a Syrian military installment near the Golan Heights. The warning was in response to Syrian military forces’ move to fortify an installation along the border. Over the weekend, Syrian government forces also claimed to have retaken Albu Kamal, ISIL’s last territorial stronghold, which the group briefly reclaimed last week.

On November 18th, Russia blocked a UN vote to investigate the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons in the civil war. This is the third time Moscow has blocked efforts to investigate chemical weapons use in Syria, and it labeled the investigation as “flawed.”

Egypt

Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza on Saturday was opened under Palestinian Authority control for the first time in a decade. For three days the Egyptian government allowed humanitarian cases, students, and Palestinians with residency in Egypt to enter Egyptian territory via Rafah. The opening comes after Cairo brokered an agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in October. Officials said the opening could mark a step toward opening the crossing permanently.

Palestine/Israel

In an unprecedented interview with the Saudi Arabian newspaper Elaph, the Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, announced his country’s willingness to share intelligence on Iran with Riyadh. It was the first time a senior Israel Defense Forces officer spoke with the Saudi media. While the two countries do not have a formal diplomatic relationship, Eisenkot explained that the two states agree Iran poses the greatest threat to regional security. The interview indicates the possibility of a burgeoning tacit alignment between the two powers. After all, the Israeli and Saudi Arabian governments are both highly concerned regarding what they perceive to be increasingly open political and military maneuvering of Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen by the Iranian government.

Saudi Arabia

On Sunday, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz revealed that Israel held secret talks with Saudi Arabia amidst growing concerns by both state governments regarding Iran. Neither the Saudi Government nor Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu have responded to the comments.

Al-Jazeera claimed Saudi officials are in the process of negotiating with some of the individuals who were imprisoned during the alleged anti-corruption crackdown. Those held have supposedly been asked to hand over their assets and cash in return for their freedom. The deals involve separating cash from assets and looking at bank accounts to assess cash values. The Saudi Government has refused to comment.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab foreign ministries met in Cairo at an emergency Arab League gathering on Sunday during which they called for a “united front” to counter Iranian interference. In light of Lebanese PM Saad Hariri’s resignation, Saudi Arabia and its allies accused Iran of meddling with Lebanese internal affairs. The Arab League also accused Hezbollah of “supporting terrorism and extremist groups in Arab countries with advanced weapons and ballistic missiles.” It claimed Arab nations would provide details to the UN Security Council revealing Tehran’s armament of militias in Yemen.

Yemen

On Friday, The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said three cities in Yemen have run out of clean water after a blockade by the Saudi-led coalition prevented the importation of fuel necessary for pumping and sanitation. As a result of the development in Taiz, Saada, and Hodeidah close to one million people are now deprived of clean water. Other cities, including the capital Sanaa, are expected to be in the same situation within two weeks.

On Thursday The World Bank approved a $150 million aid package to restore services in Yemeni cities. A statement by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) reads, “The new project will target issues like uncollected trash and untreated sewage water … and also address access to electricity for critical services and urgent needs for road repair to improve mobility and access.”

At least six people were killed on Tuesday in Aden in an attack claimed by the Islamic State. A suicide car bomb was detonated outside a base used by the local security forces. Dozens of civilians were also injured.

Levant

This week, two summits centered on resolving the Syrian Civil War are scheduled. Russia, Iran and Turkey are meeting in Russia on Wednesday, while 30 groups opposed to Assad will meet in Saudi Arabia to develop a negotiation team before UN peace talks, which are scheduled in Geneva for November 28th. After his meeting with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he will return to Lebanon in the coming days to declare his political stance following his sudden resignation on November 4th.

The Maghreb

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi announced the extension of the country’s state of emergency for an additional three months. The announcement comes after one police officer was killed and another wounded in a stabbing near the Tunisian Parliament. Tunisia has been in a state of emergency since November of 2015, when 12 people were killed in the bombing of a bus carrying Presidential guards.

15 people were killed and several more injured in a stampede for aid in southern Morocco. The stampede occurred as a local association in Sidi Boulalam distributed food aid worth approximately $16 per person. In response, the Interior Ministry announced that “all measures will be taken to help the victims and their families.” A recent drought in Morocco has led to increasing food costs.

Libya

On Friday, Libyan authorities announced a formal investigation into alleged slave auctions. The investigation is led by the government’s Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency. This comes after CNN released video footage of a dozen men being auctioned off as farmhands just outside of Tripoli. CNN was informed of auctions held in nine locations across Libya, but many more are believed to have occurred.  On Saturday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Libyan Embassy in Paris decrying the auctions.

Iran

Iranian authorities continue to search for survivors in Kermanshah province after last week’s devastating earthquake. Current figures put the death toll at over 452 people, with some sources claiming close to 8,000 have been injured and more than 70,000 made homeless. During a visit to the province, President Rouhani suggested that Ahmadinejad-era housing policies may be to blame for the death toll, and promised to find and prosecute those who violated building standards.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will host his Turkish and Iranian counterparts at his home in Sochi in order to discuss the Syrian conflict and Russia’s future. Prior to this meeting the foreign ministers of the three countries met in Antalya. It is believed these meetings telegraph a clear message to the United States: policies for the region will be developed and implemented by regional players.

Turkey

According to Turkey’s state run news agency, Syrian Kurdish fighters attacked a Turkish observation post near the Daret Azzeh region in Idlib. Five mortars landed near the Dar Taizzah, with one falling 100 meters away from the observation point. Turkey has implemented a de-escalation zone to reduce conflict as part of an agreement with Iran and Russia, and to pave the way for a peace settlement.

On November 20th, Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya focused on the plight of Syrian child refugees during a speech at the 18th National Children Forum in the Turkish Parliament.  Sayan Kaya asked the EU to uphold its end of the EU-Turkey deal and provide the promised  $6 billion aid package that would go toward helping the Turkish government “care for millions of refugees in the country.” So far, Turkey has only received $800 million.

Iraq

On November 14th, Baghdad concluded a deal with Iran to resume oil exports from Kirkuk. Two days later a Turkish energy delegation arrived in Iraq  to discuss reopening exports via pipeline through Turkey’s Ceyhan port.

On November 17th, Iraqi forces claimed to capture the border town of Rawa, the final ISIL stronghold in Iraqi territory. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulated the army, saying that final victory was near after the town’s liberation.

On November 20th, the Iraqi Supreme Court officially ruled that the Kurdish Regional Government’s referendum was unconstitutional. The ruling comes as Iraqi government forces move to consolidate gains against ISIL, and Baghdad looks to assert federal control over Iraq’s border again.

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