An explosion hit Alexandria early on Saturday, killing a policeman and wounding four others in an attack targeting a senior security official just days ahead of the country’s presidential election. The bomb was placed under a parked car and exploded when Alexandria’s security chief was passing in a convoy. He survived the attack.
Meanwhile, the biggest question as Egyptians head to the polls is not the outcome of the election, which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is sure to win, but rather the level of turnout. The government hopes that sizable turnout will lend legitimacy to the vote and is giving Egyptians three days to cast their ballots, starting on Monday.
The Israeli government publicly announced that it had bombed a clandestine Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, confirming an attack that had long been suspected to be—but was never officially confirmed—an Israeli action. The government of then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert decided to strike the facility, located in a desert near the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, after intelligence reports suggested that the Syrians were close to activating the plutonium reactor. Eight Israeli fighter jets destroyed the installation, which was camouflaged to the air, on the night of 6 October. While Israeli officials were seriously worried about the possibility of this covert strike provoking a full-scale military confrontation with Syria, they ultimately cleaved to the established principle at the heart of Israeli security policy never to let its regional foes obtain nuclear weapons.
As part of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman’s tour of America, Saudi Arabia and Lockheed Martin, the US based arms company, signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at creating a cybersecurity and programming partnership that focuses on improving and advancing Saudi Arabia’s cybersecurity and programming capabilities and combating cyberattacks and viruses.
In other news, the Saudi air force intercepted a missile over the capital Riyadh late on Sunday night, according to state media. Reuters reporters in the capital heard several loud booms and saw smoke in the air shortly before midnight.
UAE and Yemen
A Yemeni militia backed by the UAE has been accused of kidnapping several young “northerners” in the southern port city of Aden, with relatives alleging they have been wrongly detained, tortured, and denied access to a fair trial. In a series of videos and documents sent to Al Jazeera, the relatives said they had not heard from or seen their loved ones after they were picked up by the UAE-created Security Belt – a force set up in 2016 to police the southern areas of Yemen.
Bahrain threatened to hunt down social media users who are sowing “chaos” as the Gulf nation continues to target human rights proponents. In a statement published on Sunday by the official Bahrain News Agency, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah al-Khalifa said his country is considering new legislation to “deal with unprecedented chaos by disruptive social media accounts.”
Qatar has proposed that Russian companies take part in tenders for the further development of gas fields in 2019-2020. This proposal will be discussed further when the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week.
An airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen killed ten civilians, including women and children, in the northern province of Saada on Thursday. The strike comes as part of the continuing war in Yemen in which the Saudi military has intervened against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Saudi has conducted repeated airstrikes in Yemen, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the country.
On March 20th, a group of armed men killed and injured 21 people at a fake checkpoint in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad. The Popular Mobilization Units (PMF) control the area, and conducted a search for the perpetrators, describing them as an unidentified terror group.
On March 19th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated Turkey’s intention to launch counterterror operations in Iraq’s Sinjar province after securing Syria’s Afrin. Several Iraqi parliamentarians voiced their consternation at President Erdoğan’s threats March 21st, to no avail. On March 25th, President Erdoğan announced the beginning of Turkish operations in Sinjar, though the Iraqi Joint Operations Command denied that Turkish ground forces had crossed the border and stressed that Iraqi security forces were under full control of Iraq’s territory. Kurdish militia fighters began to withdraw from Sinjar on March 23rd in response to the Turkish threats.
Iran has accused Britain of supplying weapons and providing logistical and intelligence support to rebels in Yemen. Britain has supplied billions of dollars’ worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, which Iran argues is being used to bomb targets in Yemen, as part of Saudi’s airstrikes against the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
The Saudi led coalition has been repeatedly accused by rights groups of unlawful airstrikes on civilian targets, which Iran and others have argued amount to war crimes. On the other hand, Britain has urged Iran to stop supporting the Houthi rebels as the war in Yemen enters into its fourth year.
In a speech on March 21st, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Lebanon’s public finances could lead to disaster for the country, which is deeply in debt. The comments come as Lebanon prepares for parliamentary elections scheduled for May, after the creation of a new electoral law. Nasrallah gave made the comments about Lebanon’s financial situation during a speech announcing Hezbollah’s platform for the upcoming elections. He said that the financial situation could affect “the security and stability of society” if no cuts were made to the country’s spending.
Rebel forces affiliated with Failaq al-Sham began evacuations from eastern Ghouta on March 23rd after concluding a ceasefire on the 22nd to allow fighters to leave with their families. Despite the ceasefire, a Russian airstrike killed 37 civilians in the central eastern Ghouta town of Arbin, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, though Moscow disputes the claim. Evacuations continued through March 25th as rebel fighters began to depart the city of Douma, the only part of eastern Ghouta that remains under rebel control. After initially refusing to leave, Jaysh al-Islam, the rebel group in control of Douma, announced March 26th that its fighters will abandon their arms and depart the city, following negotiations with Russian forces.
In Syria’s north, Turkish state media announced full control over the province of Afrin on March 24th after capturing the city itself on March 18th. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu expressed Turkey’s commitment to protecting the citizens of Afrin in a speech on March 20th, promising to investigate claims of looting by Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Turkish forces. In a speech on March 25th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that Turkish forces will press on to capture the town of Tel Rifaat in Aleppo province while urging U.S. forces to vacate Manbij as Turkey moves to expand its fight against Kurdish militias it labels as terrorist organizations across northern Syria and Iraq. To date, Turkey claims to have killed 3,747 “terrorists” in Syria.
In the diplomatic sphere, Russia blocked a U.N. Security Council meeting on human rights abuses in Syria on March 19th.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and American President Donald Trump discussed bilateral issues and regional security in a phone conversation March 22nd. The call came as President Erdoğan threatened Turkish ground operations in northern Iraq and derided U.S. concern over Turkey’s operations in northern Syria. Turkey intends to press forward into Manbij, where American forces are embedded with Kurdish fighters. On March 23rd, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the U.S. has “no intention” of departing Manbij despite Turkish requests.
The U.S. dropped charges against 11 of 15 Turkish nationals among President Erdoğan’s entourage accused of beating protesters during their visit to Washington in 2017. The case has been a significant source of tension in the U.S.-Turkey relationship.
On March 26th, President Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu arrived in Bulgaria’s resort town of Varna for high-level meetings on Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The Turkish delegation plans to express its disappointment with what it sees as E.U. failures to make good on promises of visa liberalization and financial assistance in exchange for Turkey’s management of the Syrian refugee crisis. The E.U. released its latest round of funds for Turkey’s containment of Syrian refugees, to the tune of €3 billion, on March 14th. President Erdoğan will also reiterate Turkey’s condemnation an E.U. statement on Cyprus, which Turkish Minister for E.U. Affairs Ömer Çelik called “unacceptable” on March 23rd.
On Sunday, Algerian officials announced plans to reform the energy sector and offer tax incentives intended to attract higher levels of investment. Energy Minister Mustapha Guitouni affirmed a commitment to “remove all obstacles, wage a battle against bureaucracy, and change tax procedures” during a conference in western Algeria. Officials noted that Algeria has started discussions with major international gas companies, including BP and Anadarko.
This weekend, the U.S. military carried out a drone strike against al-Qaeda militants in southern Libya. This marks the first U.S. strike against al-Qaeda in Libya; prior to this, U.S. military strikes in Libya focused almost exclusively on Islamic State fighters and other northern operatives. Two militants were killed.