Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinian demonstrators along the border with the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing at least 16. Up to 20,000 inhabitants of the blockaded enclave took part in protests along the heavily fortified border with Israel to launch the “Great March of Return”, a protest initiative calling for Palestinians’ right to return to their former homes inside Israel. While the majority of protesters, who included women and children, demonstrated in encampments several hundred meters from the border, some—primarily young men—advanced much closer. Israeli officials claimed several had tried to breach the border fence and used weapons including stones and petrol bombs; Israeli soldiers responded with live fire. However, video footage shows at least one unarmed man being shot from behind as he ran away from the border.
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won the country’s presidential election last week with 92 percent of the vote, state media reported. Sisi’s opponent, Moussa Moustapha Moussa, reportedly received only 3 percent of the vote. Turnout for the election was only around 40 percent, far below large turnout figures the government had been hoping for. Coverage in international press of bribes and threats leveled by the Egyptian government aimed at boosting turnout drew harsh criticism from Cairo.
On March 27th, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan discussed plans for a summit on Syria between Turkey, Russia, and Iran. The announcement of the meeting, which will take place during President Putin’s two-day visit to Turkey on April 3rd and 4th, accompanies Turkey’s April 2nd order for the arrest of exiled cleric Fetullah Gülen and seven others for the 2016 assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov. The charges are part of a continuing Turkish effort to pursue those with Gülen affiliations, including the March 29th extradition by Kosovo of six Turkish citizens accused of links to the Gülen organization.
On March 28th, Turkey arrested a German national attempting to cross the border into Syria, accusing him of seeking to join the Syrian Kurdish PYD, which Turkey classifies as a terrorist organization. Turkey’s opposition to Kurdish groups in northern Syria lies at the heart of its military operations in Afrin, Syria, in which Turkish forces have killed 3,820 Kurdish fighters as of April 1st. On March 29th, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım accused the U.S. of forming a new party that consists “entirely of PKK” fighters. U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert refuted the claim, insisting that the newly founded “Future Party” is multi-ethnic and representative of the diverse populations of northern Syria.
Members of the minority Arab population in the southwest Iranian city of Ahvaz have been protesting what they argue was an insult by the Iranian government during a show celebrating Persian New Year on state TV, in which they allege that the program failed to mention their culture during a episode that was supposedly celebrating the country’s diversity. They are demanding an apology and engaging in anti-government activity. Videos have surfaced showing anti-riot police clashing with protesters and a number of protesters have been arrested.
On March 27th, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced an agreement for Iraqi security forces to prevent Kurdish attacks on Turkey after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened military operations in Sinjar province March 25th. Kurdish guerrillas had already begun evacuating Sinjar on March 23rd in response to Turkish threats.
In a meeting of the Iraq Forum for Energy on March 28th, Prime Minister al-Abadi emphasized the need for Iraq to avoid regional disputes, particularly conflicts between the U.S. and Iran. He also urged U.S. President Donald Trump not to break the nuclear agreement with Tehran, which he has threatened to do in May.
The Assad government continued its siege of eastern Ghouta this week, and threatened a huge operation on March 28th to dislodge Jaish al-Islam, the last rebel group to remain in the area, from the city of Douma. According to Syrian state media, Jaish al-Islam agreed to depart for Idlib province on April 1st after negotiations with Russian forces, but Jaish al-Islam have yet to verify the claim. According to Russia, nearly 5,300 rebels have already left eastern Ghouta with their families.
On March 26th, Syrian Ambassador Walid Muallem arrived in Oman for several days of meetings and the opening of a new Syrian embassy in Muscat. The move signals Syrian efforts to restart is diplomatic programme, and Oman’s efforts to maintain an amicable relationship with Iran make the Gulf nation a logical partner for Damascus.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on March 29th in Moscow to discuss the latest developments in the conflict there. The discussion precedes the upcoming summit in with Turkey and Iran to discuss Syria’s future.
Morocco threatened to take control of United Nations-monitored buffer zones in Western Sahara, following complaints that the separatist Polisario Front deployed fighters to the U.N.-controlled areas. Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita called this a “provocation”, and stated that if the U.N. does not intercede, Morocco will “act out its responsibility and intervene”. Polisario representatives described the Moroccan statements as an “attempt to disavow the peace process”. Western Sahara is a disputed territory, and is claimed both by Morocco and the Polisario Front.
On March 27th, registration closed for the Lebanese parliamentary elections slated for May 6th, with 77 electoral parties and blocs registered with the Interior Ministry. The election is the first after the implementation of a new election law in Lebanon, which some analysts speculate will lead to the destabilization of established parties, in favor of newcomers and coalitions.
A U.S. judge on Wednesday rejected Saudi Arabia’s bid to dismiss lawsuits claiming that it helped plan the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and should therefore pay billions of dollars in damages to victims, in accordance with the Justice Against the Supporters of Terrorism Act (JASTA) of 2016.
The UAE has submitted a complaint to the International Civil Aviation Organisation over the Qatari interception of two UAE-registered civilian aircraft last week. Last Monday, two Qatari fighter jets came within 214 vertical metres of a UAE-registered Airbus. The plane was on a scheduled flight to Europe as the jets approached it from the north and circled behind it. The incident took place over international waters, 18 nautical miles (33km) from the Qatari coast.
Bahrain, the smallest energy producer in the Persian Gulf, discovered its biggest oil field since it started producing crude in 1932, according to the country’s official news agency. The shale oil and natural gas discovered in a deposit off the island state’s west coast is understood to dwarf Bahrain’s current reserves.
A huge fire has broken out in Yemen’s rebel-held Hudaida port, destroying large quantities of aid supplies belonging to the United Nations World Food Programme. Some port workers said it might have been triggered by an electrical fault, while others blamed negligence.