Weekly Roundup: Israel kills 18 Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza, 60 killed and over 1,000 wounded in a suspected chemical attack in Syria, and Turkey delays negotiations over Syria’s Manbij region


After talks in Khartoum last week, officials from Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia failed to reach an agreement in the dispute over Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile. Egypt fears the $4.8 billion dam could reduce its Nile water share, while Ethiopia has said it needs the dam for development. Sudan’s foreign minister called the talks constructive but said that the three sides failed to come to an agreement. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri confirmed and said there will be another round of talks within a month.


Palestinian demonstrations at the border between Israel and the besieged Gaza Strip continued, a week after Israeli troops shot and killed 18 protestors. The protests were the opening move in a planned 6-week-long campaign dubbed the “Great March of Return,” which is meant to convey Palestinians’ anger at the loss of their historic lands inside Israel, as well as the dire living conditions in the Gaza Strip -which many blame on Israel’s continued blockade of the area. Israeli troops have responded harshly to the protests, using live fire, killing 29 Palestinians since March 30th. Hamas, the militant political group that controls Gaza, has announced that it will pay $3000 to the families of any Palestinians killed by Israel while demonstrating at the border.


Turkey will delay its negotiations with the U.S. on Syria’s Manbij region and the status of Kurdish fighters there until Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes office. The U.S.-Turkish working group on northern Syria convened for the first time on March 8th, and looks to reconcile Turkish and American strategic interests in northern Syria, which diverge on the issue of armed Kurdish groups. On April 4th, Turkish media reported two new U.S. bases under construction in Manbij, west of the Euphrates river. Meanwhile, Russia expedited a shipment of weapons and vehicles to Turkey on April 6th, and Turkish Undersecretary of Defense Ismail Demir said the delivery of the Russian S-400 missile system to Turkey, which has drawn controversy from U.S. and NATO officials, will be pushed up to July 2019.

Turkish Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalın stated April 8th that Turkey will not intervene in Tel Rifaat, a town in Syria’s Aleppo province, if Russia keeps its promises on denying the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) access to the area. He also stated that Turkey will keep troops in Syria’s Afrin district despite Iran’s request that they cede Afrin to Assad government forces. The announcement came after Turkey hosted the Russian and Iranian premiers in Ankara on April 4th to discuss Syria’s future, praising the Astana peace talks and reaffirming their mutual commitments while lamenting the humanitarian crisis. The U.N. reiterated calls for humanitarian access to eastern Ghouta on April 9th.

On April 4th, U.S. prosecutors asked a Manhattan judge to sentence Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla to 20 years in prison for running a scheme to skirt American sanctions on Iran, largely on the strength of testimony given by Turkish-Iranian gold dealer Reza Zarrab. Zarrab, who has been working with prosecutors since pleading guilty in November, 2017, testified that he paid bribes to Turkish Economy Ministry officials and Halkbank managers, including Mr. Atilla, and that President Erdoğan personally ordered two Turkish banks to participate in a gold-for-oil scheme in violation of American sanctions on Iran. The case has drawn close attention in Turkey for its depiction of high-level corruption in the Erdoğan administration.


Iraqi President Fuad Masum filed a lawsuit in the Iraqi Supreme Court, alleging constitutional violations in the Iraqi 2018 budget. President Masum, who is Kurdish, objects to the 2018 budget on the grounds of its reduction of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) budget from 17% to 12.6% of the federal budget, claiming that the reduction is a punitive measure for the KRG’s ill-fated 2017 independence referendum.

One person was killed and another injured when Iranian border guards opened fire on four Kurdish Iraqis near the border between Iran and Iraq’s Kurdish region on April 8th. The Kurdish Iraqi citizens claimed to be on a hunting excursion.

Iranian pilgrimage organization chief Morteza Aqayi said April 5th that Iraq had arrested 500 Iranians for illegally entering Iraqi territory to visit shrines during Nowruz, and acknowledged that the pilgrims had been turned over to Iran for trial.  


At least 60 were killed and over 1,000 wounded in a suspected chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta’s Douma on April 8th, where the rebel group Jaish al-Islam maintains the last holdout against Assad government forces. Jaish al-Islam reportedly concluded an evacuation deal in exchange for the release of prisoners on April 8th, but the group has not confirmed the deal. Syrian state media reported a missile attack on T-4 Airbase in Homs Province, which Russian and Syrian forces allege was carried out by Israel. The Pentagon denied involvement in the airstrikes despite President Trump’s threats that Syria would have a “big price to pay.” Britain also promised a coordinated response with allies to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but denied knowledge of the strike on the Homs airbase. Russian and American diplomats called April 8th for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on April 9th to address the attack.

On April 3rd, U.S. President Trump said at a press conference that he intends to remove U.S. troops from Syria as quickly as possible, in contrast to the policy articulated by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in January. If carried out, the policy is expected to hinder President Trump’s intention to deter the Assad government from using chemical weapons.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has been accused of attempting to cut off Qatar from international trade with plans for a new military base and nuclear-waste burial site close to its border. Riyadh is said to want to build a new industrial and economic hub and excavate a waterway along Qatar’s sole land border, allowing shipping to bypass the emirate.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Paris on Sunday at the start of a European tour. As part of the visit, Saudi Aramco is expected to sign eight deals worth $10 billion with French firms on Tuesday. The prince is not due to sign mega-contracts in France as he did in the United States and Britain in the past month. A French presidency statement said the two leaders would work on a strategic document that would lead to contracts by the year’s end, when Macron travels to Saudi Arabia.


Exxon Mobil Corp is in talks with Qatar over a possible deal that could see the country investing in the company’s U.S. shale gas resources. The newspaper said no deal had been finalized yet and talks could collapse.

President Trump will host Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the White House, shifting from describing Qatar as a “funder of terror” to what a senior administration official on Monday said was sympathy with Doha’s continued struggle under a four-nation embargo led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that was imposed in June. The New York Times described it as an ‘important victory’.


A Yemeni rights group filed a lawsuit against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to France on Tuesday, accusing him of complicity in torture and inhumane treatment in Yemen. The complaint on behalf of Taha Hussein Mohamed, director of the Legal Center for Rights and Development (LCRD), said the prince who is Saudi Arabia’s defence minister was responsible attacks that hit civilians in Yemen.