Middle East Weekly Roundup: Syrian rebel offensive, outrage in Morocco, missile near Mecca


Saudi Arabia and Qatar asked Algeria to join in its fight against the Houthi rebel group in Yemen. Several countries, from Senegal to Bahrain, have sent troops to join the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Last year, Algeria – which has long had a non-interventionist foreign policy – declined to participate, stating that it “will not authorize any involvement of its armed forces in military operations outside of its own borders.”


Bahrain’s High Criminal Court prosecuted 15 men on domestic terrorism charges, including “managing an illegal group to hinder the constitution and laws” and “undermine national unity through terrorist means.” According to the Bahrain News Agency, 55 Bahraini nationals had their citizenships revoked as part of an ongoing crackdown. Bahrain has been shaken by popular unrest since 2011. Although the monarchy that rules the Gulf state has promised reforms, many remain to be implemented.


On Saturday, life sentences were handed down to two supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood for their role in an alleged attack on a Cairo neighborhood, Boulaq Abou al-Ela, after Mohamed Morsi was deposed in 2013. Sixteen defendants were sentenced to 15 years in jail, and 86 others were found innocent.


Iran’s justice minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, said he believes that fewer crimes should receive capital punishment. Last year, Iran executed 977 people, most of them for drug offenses. Iran has one of the highest numbers of executions in the world, along with Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and China.


At least 10,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the start of the Mosul offensive this month, and many more are expected to become displaced as a result of the campaign to liberate Mosul from ISIS. Elite Iraqi troops have evacuated many civilians and placed them in camps, and international aid organizations are quickly organizing resources and building camps in areas close to the offensive, to provide shelter to fleeing families.


Secret Soviet documents revealed that dozens of Israeli officials and legislators spied for the KGB, the Soviet Union’s intelligence agency, during the 1950s. The names include three legislators and a major general in the Israeli military. Journalist Ronen Bergman discovered the information in the Mitrokhin archive, a trove of KGB documents given to the United Kingdom by a Soviet defector.


Sixteen migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were found dead on the shores of the western Libyan city of Zuwarah on Sunday. The migrants are presumed to have drowned after their boat sank attempting to reach Europe. A spokesperson for the UNHCR reported that at least 3,800 people have died or disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea since the start of the year. That marks the highest death toll yet in the ongoing migration crisis.


The king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, is touring East Africa to build support for its bid to rejoin the African Union. It withdrew in 1984 after the disputed Western Sahara – which Morocco claims as its own territory – was admitted as a member to the AU’s predecessor, the Organization of African Unity. Today, Morocco is the only country on the continent that is not a member of the AU.

Protests erupted over the weekend in the northern Moroccan city of Al Hoceima after a 31-year-old fish seller was crushed to death in the back of a garbage truck. Mohsen Fikri reportedly threw himself into the truck in an attempt to save his fish, which authorities had confiscated and thrown in the trash. Thousands of people marched Sunday alongside Fikri’s coffin in a show of solidarity and outrage at what they consider to be official abuse.


Syrian rebels announced a major offensive to break the government’s siege of East Aleppo. Approximately 275,000 people have been under attack in East Aleppo over the last few months by Syrian and Russian air strikes. The rebel groups involved in the campaign to break the siege include Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly known as the Nusra Front, which was linked to al-Qaeda) and Ahrar al-Sham, both Islamist groups.

Saudi Arabia

On October 27, Saudi Major General Ahmed Al-Assiri expressed Saudi Arabia’s willingness to join international coalition forces in recapturing Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria. Assiri added that Saudi Arabia would not be putting troops on the ground, and that local Syrian forces would be responsible for the ground offensive.


The United States has secretly deployed drones and military personnel to a base in Tunisia, according to a report in the Washington Post published on Wednesday. The main goal is to gather intelligence on Islamic State activities in neighboring Libya, though the US also agreed to share intelligence with the Tunisian government. US officials claim that the drones based in Tunisia are unarmed.


A long-range ballistic missile was fired from Saada Province, a stronghold of Yemen’s Houthi rebels that borders Saudi Arabia. According to Al Jazeera, the missile targeted the holy city of Mecca. However, Houthi leader Mohammed Al Bekheity denies this, saying the target was Jeddah International Airport. The missile marks the second Houthi attack on Saudi soil this month, an escalation of the year-and-a-half-long war.

Dozens of prisoners were killed when an airstrike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition hit a jail run by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The estimated 60 people killed include prisoners, as well as medics and officials.