Weekly Roundup: Attackers kill 25 in Iran’s Ahvaz, Gaza protests intensify as Hamas-IDF talks break down, and renewed fighting grips Yemen’s Hodeidah


Algeria

Several high-ranking military officers lost their posts or resigned in the week leading up to September 20th ahead of Algeria’s spring 2019 elections, including Air Force Chief Major General Abdelkader Lounes and Defense Ministry Secretary-General Mohamed Zenakhri. Observers believe Deputy Minister of Defense and Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah is purging the ranks to solidify his position in the lead-up to the 2019 elections, in which incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to prevail despite severe health problems.

 

Egypt

Egypt’s highest appeals court on Saturday rejected a motion by former president Hosni Mubarak and his two sons to overturn their corruption convictions. The ruling by the Court of Cessation precludes Gamal, Mubarak’s younger son and one-time heir apparent, from running for public office. A senior newspaper editor and confidant of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had recently suggested that Gamal may have been contemplating a political move.

President Sisi is set to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump this week as he visits New York to attend the 73rd United Nations General Assembly. This will be the first meeting between Trump and Sisi since the Egyptian president won a second term in office, largely unopposed, earlier this year. Cairo said it hopes the meeting will boost relations between the U.S. and Egypt. Sisi is expected to discuss regional security challenges in Syria, Libya, and Yemen during his address to the General Assembly.

 

Lebanon

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said September 20 that the group has obtained “precision missiles” during a speech in which he taunted Israel and committed to keeping Hezbollah troops in Syria to continue supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Nasrallah commended the Turkish-Russian efforts to establish a demilitarized zone in the embattled region of Idlib, but emphasized that Hezbollah fighters will remain even after a settlement is reached. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Nasrallah’s comments on September 20, threatening retaliation in the event of an attack on Israeli territory.

In other news, a boat carrying Syrian refugees sailing illegally for Cyprus sank off the Lebanese coast September 22. Rescuers managed to save most of the 39 passengers, but a five-year-old boy was among those killed.

 

Libya

Fighting between rival groups in Libya’s capital of Tripoli has killed at least 115 people since the end of August, including a number of civilians, according to Libyan authorities. As fighting continues in Tripoli in violation of a UN-brokered September 4 ceasefire agreement, a number of international organizations have expressed grave concern over the violence. The International Committee of the Red Cross called the situation in Libya desperate, citing constant fighting, the collapse of the economy, and the destruction of basic infrastructure. An EU delegation in Libya on Saturday called on militias in Tripoli to cease the violence, adding that “those responsible for violating the ceasefire or fueling violence will face consequences.”

 

Iran

On Saturday, September 22, militants disguised as soldiers fired at crowds at an annual military parade in Ahvaz located in the southwest of Iran. The attack was one of the deadliest attacks the country has seen in a decade. President Hassan Rouhani made a statement on Sunday in which he blamed a Gulf country allied with the United States for the attacks that killed 25 people and wounded almost 70. Although Rouhani did not indicate which Gulf country he was referring to, many believe he meant Saudi Arabia, considering the countries’ long history of rivalry. Iranian officials alluded to their frustration with the meddling of the United States and condemn recent U.S. rhetoric on Iran for inciting the attack. The attack was claimed by the Islamic State on September 22nd.

 

Iraq

Iraq elected its speaker of parliament on September 15, Mohammed al-Halbousi, marking an important step toward establishing a new government four months after an inconclusive national election. Al-Halbousi’s election marked the start of a 90-day process outlined in the constitution to form a new government. The 37-year old is the youngest individual to hold the position in the country’s history. Although he maintains good relations with the United States, his first statements as parliament speaker were supportive of Iran and condemned the sanctions being imposed on Iran by the United States. Al-Halbusi also invited his Iranian counterpart, Ali Larjani, to visit Baghdad. The first run of elections for the new Iraqi government does not look promising for the U.S.

 

Morocco

Morocco is struggling to stem the flow of African migrants who using the country as a launching point to reach Spain, which has become the main entry point to Europe for migrants and refugees. And as Italy closes its ports to most asylum-seekers, more are entering Europe through Spain, and vast majority of asylum-seekers reaching Spain are coming from Morocco. According to UN data, almost 40,000 people have followed that route so far this year, which is at least twice as many as the same period in 2017. Morocco has stepped up efforts to stop illegal immigration, but raids and other forceful measures have drawn some criticism.

 

Palestine & Israel

Protests in Gaza intensified this week as thousands marched on September 19 against job cuts precipitated by the U.S. withdrawal from the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), on which Gaza residents rely for essential services. The protests in Gaza have recurred every Friday for 25 weeks in a row, but escalated this week as ceasefire talks between Hamas and Israel, facilitated by an Egyptian delegation, were called off on September 23. Israeli soldiers killed one Palestinian and wounded twenty more on September 23; the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has killed 184 Palestinians since the protests began in March.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas invited some thirty envoys to discuss peace negotiations in New York during a UN meeting on September 26. The move follows U.S. President Trump’s September 10 decision to shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization embassy in Washington, citing insufficient progress on a peace deal. Separately, representatives of Arab citizens of Israel met with the UN Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights on September 19 to request a condemnation of Israel’s controversial Nation State Bill.

Meanwhile, the IDF promised to improve coordination with Russian forces on September 20 after Syrian air defense downed a Russian military transport plane, killing 15 Russian soldiers while attempting to fire on Israeli jets two days earlier. Moscow blamed Israel for the deaths of its troops, alleging that Israeli pilots intentionally used the Russian aircraft as cover from Syrian air defense fire. The IDF expressed regret for the loss of Russian lives in the face of fury from Moscow despite initial conciliatory comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 

Saudi Arabia

At an OPEC meeting in Algiers on September 23, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih joined allies in voicing a tepid response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s September 20th demand that Middle Eastern oil producers and OPEC lower prices. Al-Falih reiterated the Kingdom’s commitment to meeting projected demand, though the loss of the Iranian oil market in the wake of renewed American sanctions limits OPEC’s ability to lower prices and raises concerns over its ability to keep pace with global demand.

On September 19, the German government approved a weapons delivery to Saudi Arabia despite officials’ threats to end transfers over human rights violations by Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen.  

 

Syria

Syrian rebels aligned with the Free Syrian Army pledged to cooperate with Turkish negotiators on September 22 after Turkey secured an agreement with Russia on September 17 to establish a buffer zone between rebels and government troops outside of Idlib to avert a humanitarian disaster there. On September 23, however, the militant group Huras al-Din rejected Turkish overtures and called on rebels to renew operations against government forces. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the most significant Islamist group in Syria’s northwest, has yet to announce its stance on Turkey’s efforts to broker a settlement between the rebels and President Assad’s Russian-backed troops.

In addition, a UN judge said September 20 that the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism, a group created to pursue cases against those responsible for the worst crimes in Syria’s civil war, expects to open at least two cases by the end of the year. Multiple efforts have uncovered evidence of war crimes by government forces and rebels in the Syrian conflict, but have not resulted in legal consequences against specific individuals.

 

Tunisia

The World Bank last week disbursed a $500 million loan to support Tunisia’s budget, slightly raising the country’s foreign exchange reserves, and the IMF is expected to approve a new tranche of loans of $250 million for the country. Tunisia has been receiving assistance from the World Bank and International IMF to boost its struggling economy, but political developments may hamper the government’s ability to enact difficult reforms.

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, whose membership in ruling party Nidaa Tounes was frozen in an attempt to force him out of the premiership, looks less and less able to enact needed economic reforms. Chahed has gathered enough support in parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence, but his political capital is badly depleted. Planned reforms, including a controversial cut to the public sector wage bill being pushed by the IMF, have garnered significant opposition.

 

Turkey

Turkish police arrested 85 active duty military officers on September 21 for alleged links to the Gülen Organization, which President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government accuses of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt. Successive purges of the officer corps and enlisted ranks has depleted the Turkish military’s talent pool, with the most recent wave targeting the Air Force, raising concerns over the Turkish military’s readiness.

On September 19, 24 workers were arrested during protests over labor conditions at the construction site of Istanbul’s third airport. Work has been heavily supervised by police since protests broke out in early September. The airport is the centerpiece of a major infrastructure project, and workers have engaged in multiple protests over labor conditions. The Turkish Labor Ministry reported in February that 27 workers have died on the site since 2015.

On September 18th, authorities in Kayseri arrested an Iraqi national believed to be the former head of Islamic State forces in Sinjar, a province in Iraq’s north. Police also took his son into custody on charges of membership in ISIS.

 

Yemen

The Saudi-led coalition has continued airstrikes on the Yemeni port city of Hodeidah with renewed attacks targeting a navy school in the vital port-city. Save the Children reports that the continued disruption of food, fuel, and aid supplies flowing through the port city will put 5.2 million Yemeni youth at risk of famine. According to UN reports, over 28,000 people have been killed or wounded during the war and 3 million have been forcibly displaced. Additionally, thousands have perished from malnutrition, disease, and terrible health conditions, all byproducts of the current war.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s central bank doubled its interest rate on September 19 in an attempt to stabilize the riyal following protests against the declining currency and rampant inflation. Although the Yemeni currency has been losing its value since the start of the war, the banking system is still functioning by delivering government salaries and transferring funds from outside of Yemen. The statement released by the central bank included new rules that will prohibit Yemenis from taking more than $10,000 out of the country without direct permission from the central bank.

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