Israel and Hezbollah have been engaging in fierce fighting this month, with Israel’s military shelling in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in early September representing the most significant Israeli operation against the terrorist group since the 2006 Lebanon War. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States, and is a major political actor in Lebanon. The conflict between the Iranian-aligned group and Israel comes amidst rising tensions between Iran and the US, particularly in regard to the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker at the beginning of July. This has further sparked fear of possible military escalation between Israel and Hezbollah.
Last month, alleged Israeli attacks in Lebanon reinforced existing rifts between the two countries, further building tension between Israel, the US and Iranian-aligned regions. Lebanese President Michael Aoun called the crashing of two Israeli drones near the Hezbollah media office in the Hezbollah-dominated southern Beirut district of Dahia a “declaration of war.” Israeli forces also killed two Hezbollah members in a strike against targets in Syria. After the Lebanese army fired at two Israeli drones in Lebanese airspace, the UN Security Council subsequently warned that violations of the ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon in the latter country’s south could lead to “new conflict that none of the parties or region can afford.”
In September, violence has escalated. On 1 September, Hezbollah fired several anti-rockets into northern Israel in retaliation for the Israeli drone attack in Beirut last month. Israeli military sources confirmed that rockets had been fired at an Israeli army base and military vehicles. The Israeli army responded by attacking targets in southern Lebanon. On 9 September, Hezbollah revealed that it had shot down an Israeli unmanned aircraft outside the southern town of Ramyah. The group said in a statement that it had “confronted” the drone with “appropriate weapons” as it was heading towards the town. Israel has also recently accused Hezbollah of building a precision-missile factory in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, just days after the cross-border flare-up. In a statement accompanied by satellite images, the Israeli military said that Hezbollah, with Iranian assistance, had brought specialised equipment to a weapons factory near the village of al-Nabi Shaith, in the Bekaa Valley, with the intention to set up a production line for precision-guided missiles. Hezbollah has previously admitted to possessing such weapons, which could be used to damage and destroy key Israeli infrastructure.
The fighting has triggered fears of a full-blown conflict. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has cautioned the Lebanese government that if it doesn’t stop Hezbollah’s aggression against Israel, the terror group will drag both countries into war, stating: “We say clearly to the Lebanese government and its allies around the world: Hezbollah’s aggression must be stopped before we find ourselves dragged into a conflict that neither Lebanon nor Israel want.” Indeed, if the conflicts continue, it is likely that tensions may escalate, marking the start of another military conflict between Israel and the Lebanese Shia militia. Heiko Wimmen, the project director for Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon at the International Crisis Group, said that any miscalculation could spark a war. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate, agrees that the fighting could lead to another full-blown conflict. “The next war will be devastating for both sides and that’s why both sides want to avoid it,” Yadlin said. “[However], even without planning for a full-scale war, we can find ourselves there.” Others have suggested that Hezbollah fighters are eager to reopen old wounds with the Israelis due to the Syrian conflict winding down.
Indeed, Hezbollah is a formidable opponent both politically and militarily, with an estimated 40,000 to 150,000 rockets and missiles which are said to outmatch the weapons capabilities of most countries. The group also yields significant political clout in Lebanon, having secured a majority in Lebanon’s government where it influences most of the country’s domestic policy. A full-blown conflict would therefore have worrying repercussions for the rest of the Middle East and the worldwide community. The last time hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel flared into open conflict, approximately 1,300 Lebanese and 150 Israelis were killed.
UNHRC: Polisario camps becoming a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers
A report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found that refugee camps run by the separatist Polisario Front near Tindouf, Algeria, may have become a recruiting ground for terrorists and traffickers in North Africa.
Reports spanning back to 2009 show Polisario involvement in drugs and arms trafficking throughout the Sahel and Sahara; armed incursions in Mali; mercenary work under Gadhafi in Libya; and kidnappings and collaboration with AQIM. According to reports, the Polisario camps in Algeria have become a recruiting ground for AQIM, a hub for Polisario traffickers, and a threat to the region. Analysts are concerned about an “arc of instability” stretching across Africa, linking militants from AQIM, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, and the Polisario. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently warned, “inaction could be catastrophic.”
Since 1990, international support for the camps has exceeded $1 billion. The UNHRC report recommends that support for the camps be used for durable solutions to resettle refugees, remove security threats, and improve humanitarian conditions.
Leaked report reveals Bahraini bid to replenish tear gas
A leaked report has revealed that in June, Bahrain’s interior ministry tendered bids for the provision of 1.6 million tear gas projectiles, 90,000 tear gas grenades and 145,000 stun grenades. The bid would replace nearly all of Bahrain’s projectiles used since 2011. The document does not reveal how much money Bahrain is prepared to spend on replenishing its supplies.
Bahraini forces have used tear gas extensively since 2011, as the minority Sunni government struggles faces daily low-level confrontations from a predominantly Shia population. Tear gas is among the most commonly-used methods to disperse protesters. In 2012, the US barred exports of tear gas to Bahrain, citing human rights concerns. Activists claim South Korean companies may be preparing to meet Bahrain’s tear gas requirements. The rise in global activism has spurred sales for non-lethal weapons as governments shift spending from counter terrorism to counter-activist policies.
Bombings in Suez, Sinai; police sent to trial
Two people were killed, and five wounded, when militants set off four roadside bombs targeting a security convoy in the Sinai Peninsula on 22 October. The convoy was travelling from Rafah, on the Gaza border, towards El Arish. The militants then exchanged fire with the security forces and fled. No one has yet claimed responsibility. The same day, militant group Ansar Beit Al Maqdis claimed responsibility for a car bombing on 19 October in Ismailiya that wounded six.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s public prosecutor has sent policemen to trial on charges of manslaughter over the deaths of 37 Islamist prisoners that were tear-gassed in a transport truck in August. The trials will be the first of policemen accused of killings in a massive crackdown of pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters since army’s July 3 removal of president Mohamed Morsi.
Sectarian violence continues
At least 17 people were killed and 20 wounded in bombings and shootings on 22 October, when Iraqi forces clashed with an Al Qaeda militant hideout in the Himreen Mountains. The clashes resulted in the killing of four militants and the capture of seven others, all of whom were wanted for terrorism charges. A helicopter pilot was also wounded by the gunmen during the operation.
Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden car at the entrance of the home of Waqass Adnan, mayor of the city of Aana, some 250 km west of Baghdad. The blast was followed by a coordinated attack on the guards of the house, in an attempt to break in. In the process, four policemen and the brother of the mayor were killed, and four policemen were wounded. The mayor himself unharmed.
Meanwhile, in separate incidents, another suicide bomber rammed his explosive-packed car into the entrance of Aana police station and blew it up, killing two policemen and wounding three others. Gunmen fired mortars at a police station in Rawa city, west of Baghdad, killing a policeman and wounding seven others; a farmer was killed and his relative wounded when gunmen fired at them near a bridge northeast of Baquba, and a worker in a Sunni mosque was wounded by gunmen who fired at him in front of his house, about 20 km northeast of Baquba.
Sectarian tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Diyala province has increased, resulting in violence and reprisal killings. Sunnis and Shiites accuse each other of supporting extremists and militiamen. Across the nation Iraq is witnessing its worst escalation of violence in recent years, causing analysts to fear that the country is returning to the civil conflict that peaked in 2006 and 2007, when monthly death toll sometimes exceeded 3,000.
Missiles from Syria Target Eastern Lebanon City
On 21 October, four rockets launched from Syria hit Hermel. The source was unable to confirm casualties. Hermel and other border areas of Lebanon have suffered frequent attacks since Syria’s uprising escalated into a civil war, sometimes impacting neighbouring Lebanon.
The eastern Lebanese city is a Hezbollah stronghold. Hezbollah, which supports the Syrian government led by Bashar al Assad, has been openly involved in Syria’s war, sending fighters to support the loyalist army on the battlefield.
Lebanon had been dominated politically and militarily by Syria for 30 years, until 2005. The country is heavily divided on pro and anti Assad lines. As a result, the war in Syria has served to escalate Lebanon’s sectarian and political divisions.
Disabled veterans break into Libyan parliament building
On October 22, several disabled former rebels from the Libyan War broke into the parliament building and vandalised parts of the building. The event occurred on the day before the second anniversary of the rebel victory over Gadhafi forces, days after the dictator was killed in Sirte.
The protesters came from the town of Ajdabiya, between Tripoli and eastern Libya. The city was a major battleground in the 2011 war.
An MP stated, “They got into the Congress chamber and smashed some fittings.” The chamber was empty at the time but the act was decried as a “new assault on a state institution.” The vandalism is the latest in a series of security breaches at the General National Congress building.
In an effort to increase security and gain acceptance from rebel groups, the government has given some militia units varying degrees of official recognition. However, their control over the units is minimal. Analysts are concerned about the interim government’s ability to assert its control over militias and security throughout the country. Former rebels units, some sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, have refused to surrender their arms.
Saudi Arabia announces “major shift” in relationship with United States
On 22 October, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that the kingdom will make a “major shift” in its relations with the United States.
The prince criticised actions and inactions taken by the United States, including failing to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; growing closer to the government in Tehran; and failing to back Saudi support for the Bahraini government when it crushed an anti-government revolt during the 2011 uprising. As a result, Prince Bandar has stated that he plans to limit interaction with the US, reportedly adding that there would be no further coordination with the United States over the fighting in Syria.
The report is consistent with Saudi Arabia’s reasons for refusal of a seat on the UN Security Council as a rotating member. Though they have not openly broken ties with the US, Saudi leaders have been quietly critical of several recent US actions in the Middle East.
Prince Bandar’s announcement marks a serious setback to the relationship between the two nations; it spotlights that Saudi and US interests are not aligned on several top issues driving instability in the Middle East. In particular, the Saudi’s point to the US shift toward a containment strategy regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and the US goal of driving Assad out while leaving a Baathist government in Damascus. The Saudi’s have vocally stated that both Assad and his government should be replaced. The US treats Syrian issues as separate from Iranian nuclear issues. The Saudis perceive them as inseparable. The differences in these world views are deep, and unlikely to be overcome easily. The change in stance could result in a strong shift in relations between the Middle East and the West.
Snipers targeting heavily pregnant women
Snipers are playing a “targeting game,” and heavily pregnant women are on the target list. David Nott, a British surgeon who volunteers with charity Syria Relief, says that up to 90% of the surgeries he performs daily are for sniper wounds. In the case of pregnant women, “Most of the children removed were seven, eight, nine month’s gestation, which meant it was fairly obvious to anybody that these women were pregnant.” He added that young children are also being targeted, and on some days, the wounds were “suspiciously similar”, with several victims coming in with shots to the same part of the body on the same day. The similarities suggest a game between the snipers.
Knott says he was told by other local doctors that snipers may receive little presents for people they’d shot during the day.
Mourning period announced for downed officers; Transition negotiations continue
In a televised speech on 23 October, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki announced three days of national mourning for eight officers killed by suspected militants in the central Sidi Bouzidi province. The announcement was made on the second anniversary of the country’s first free elections. Members of the National Guard were securing a building in the village of Sidi Ali Bououn after receiving a tip-off that a suspicious group was hiding there. A gun battle ensued, killing both security forces and militants.
Marzouki said the militants were retaliating for attacks on 17 October, when nine suspected militants were killed. Authorities say the militants had carried out an attack on police patrols.
The interior ministry believes that the militants belong to the Salafist Ansar al-Sharia group, who were linked to the murders of prominent left-wing figure Chokri Belaid in February and opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi in July.
Their deaths triggered mass protests against the government, and crippled progress between the ruling party and its opposition. While Ennahda condemned the killings, the opposition accused the leading party of failing to rein in radical Islamists.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh addressed the nation to confirm that the government would resign after talks with the opposition on appointing a caretaker administration were complete. Larayedh stated that Ennahda, the current ruling party in Tunisia, is committed to the “principle of relinquishing power in line with the different phases envisaged in the roadmap”.
Larayedh’s speech came following anti-government protests in Tunis, who demanded that the Islamist-led ruling coalition government leave immediately. Ennahda has been accused of stalling talks in order to maintain power in the government. Both Ennahda and the opposition have set a three weeks deadline to appoint the interim cabinet, and a one month deadline to adopt a new constitution, electoral laws and set an election date.
Bouteflika to Return to Algeria
9 July, 2013- President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to leave hospital in Paris and return to Algeria soon. The 76 year old was rushed to a hospital in France on April 27 after a stroke. There has been little information released regarding his health, however Algerian state television released images of his meeting with his prime minister and army chief of staff in order to quell rumours about his health.
Bouteflika’s return ends the concern over a “presidential vacuum” in his absence. Opposition parties were preparing for the possibility of early elections; however a high-level source indicated that the elections will be held in the fall of 2014 as initially anticipated.
Algeria Steps up Security for Ramadan and Summer
10 July, 2013- Algeria’s security forces have taken preventive measures in counterterrorism during Ramadan and this summer. Ramadan, a lunar holiday, arrives early this year, coinciding with the summer season which is a high season for terrorist activity. The defence ministry has also drawn up permanent plans to secure the country’s borders.
The National Gendarmerie Command and Directorate General of National Security (DGSN) revealed a plan aimed at securing mosques, public spaces, beaches, and entertainment venues in 14 coastal provinces. Security measures include increasing surveillance operations, intensifying patrols, including foot and mobile patrols, particularly on roads with heavy traffic during the summer. Over 150,000 policemen, including 50,000 in the 14 coastal provinces, have been mobilised to secure holiday-makers, and 70 new neighbourhood security centres have been created near the beaches.
Security operations have already resulted in the deaths of 10 members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. On 5 July, the military conducted a three day sweep in the mountainous area of Bouira, an AQIM stronghold. Seven terrorists were killed by military helicopters. Two days earlier in Bordj Bou Arreridj, three terrorists were killed during a three-hour gun battle. The military seized weapons, hand grenades and some important documents.
Bahrain Police Tighten Security Measures after Violence
7 July, 2013- Bahraini police have come out in full force following outbursts of violence. On Saturday, the explosion of a homemade device killed one policeman and wounded five. The next day, thugs threw Molotov cocktails at a police vehicle, injuring three officers and destroying their vehicle. The same day, a gang hurled Molotov cocktails at a minibus during a clash with officers.
Police have set up several checkpoints at key entrances to Sitra, checking identities before allowing drivers to pass. Officers have also checked homes, searching for evidence. Since 2011, clashes have escalated in the nation as Shiite demonstrators continue protests against the Sunni dominated government.
Bahraini Forces Raid Homes as Protesters Demand Democratically Elected Government
8 July, 2013- Bahraini forces have attacked dozens of homes over the past three days in a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters. The regime’s main opposition, al-Wefaq, reports that troops used poisonous gases in at least 34 areas to disperse anti-government protesters.
Thousands of Bahraini protesters demonstrated against the Al Khalifa regime outside Manama, demanding the release of political prisoners. The protest was called by the main opposition, Al-Wefaq party, and other political groups.
Al-Wefaq’s Secretary General, Ali Salman, says that the protests come after the arrest of over 640 individuals on various charges over the last three months. At least 13 people have been imprisoned for protests against the regime, with sentences ranging from 15 years to life. On Friday, a court in Bahrain sentenced 29 people to one month in prison for trying to enter the area formerly known as Pearl Square (now demolished), which was centre of the Bahrain’s anti-government protests.
A report published by the Bahrain Liberties and Human Rights Department in Al-Wefaq National Islamic Society found a number of human rights violations by the regime in June 2013, including 183 arrests (including 4 women and 9 children), more than 68 injuries due to use of excessive force, and 29 cases of brutal or inhumane torture. In addition, the group reported the raiding of over 263 homes, often occurring after midnight or at dawn, with forces vandalising or stealing the households’ belongings, as well as verbal abuse.
Protesters chanted anti-regime slogans while carrying Bahraini flags, anti-regime banners and placards. They say they will continue to demonstrate until their demand for the establishment of a democratically-elected government is met.
Interim President Appoints Prime Minister and Vice President, Reveals Timetable for Elections
8 July, 2013- Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, has released the timetable for new elections. Since the removal of Muslim Brotherhood backed President Mohamed Morsi, heavy clashes have occurred between pro- and anti- Morsi protesters, culminating in a deadly clash with the military on Monday, killing 55 people and injuring hundreds. The timetable was released quickly in an effort to quell instability in the nation.
The first action will be the formation of a panel to amend the constitution, which was suspended last week following the removal of former president Mohamed Morsi. The new panel will be formed within 15 days. All changes will be put to a referendum to occur within four months.
Following the referendum, parliamentary elections will be held. These are estimated to occur in early 2014. Once the newly elected parliament convenes, presidential elections will be held. The Brotherhood rejected the plan, with a senior figure calling it a “decree issued after midnight by a person appointed by the putchists, usurping the legislative power from a council elected by the people, and bringing the country back to stage zero”.
On Tuesday, Mansour appointed Hazem Beblawi as his prime minister and directed him to form a new government. Beblawi served as finance minister in 2011, following the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak. His sometime alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood has earned him the backing of the Salafist Nour Party, a key improvement after the party’s announcement that they would not participate in the incoming government following the bloodshed on Monday.
Mohamed El Baradei, leader of the National Salvation Front, was initially tapped as prime minister but was met with animosity from anti-Morsi Protesters. He has now been appointed the role of Vice President and the responsibility for foreign affairs.
Gulf States Provide Billions in Aid to Support Egypt
10 July, 2013- Gulf States have provided over $12 billion USD in aid, a great show of support for the Egyptian army’s move to push the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Despite concerns from Western nations such as the US and UK, the Gulf states have eagerly offered support. The United Arab Emirates offered a grant of $1 billion and a loan of $2 billion, while Saudi Arabia offered $3 billion in cash and loans, and an additional $2 billion worth of much-needed fuel. Both nations had promised aid following the removal of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but withheld it while Morsi was in office. Morsi received backing predominantly from Qatar, which is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood. On Thursday morning, Kuwait announced they would send $4 billion in support; $2 billion central bank deposit, a $1 billion grant and $1 billion in oil products.
The monetary aid provides Egypt with urgently needed funds to distribute the subsidized fuel and food for its 84 million people. Egypt’s economy has been in steady decline since 2011, as the Arab Spring drove away tourists and investors. The aid also gives the new leaders time to negotiate with the International Monetary fund for a long awaited $4.8 billion rescue loan.
Iraqi Shiite PM Seeks Alliance with Sunni Muslims
8 July, 2013- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is making efforts to build alliances with moderate Iraqi Sunni groups, believing cross-sectarian cooperation will aid in closing the increasingly violent religious schism.
Shia and Sunni sectarian violence has escalated significantly as a result of the Syrian civil war. Iraq’s Shiite majority lives in the east, closer to Iran, which has supplied weapons and fighters to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Iraqi Sunnis live mainly in the west and north near Syria, where Sunni rebels have received support from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Iraqi militant groups are fighint on both sides of the issue. The Shiite-led Iraqi government has avoided taking sides; concerned with minimizing domestic unrest, particularly after suffering its three deadliest months in five years, and fearing a repeat of sectarian civil war of 2006 and 2007.
Until recently, al-Malaki has taken a hardline approach as the “Shiite defender.” However, as election season nears and the prime minister seeks to regain office, he has taken a more unified stance. al-Malaki’s party has lost support in his Shiite base, however he has approximately 33 percent of the Sunni community’s support. It is possible that al-Maliki could potentially partner with moderate Sunnis to form a governing coalition. To this end, the Iraqi government passed a law in June which transferred significant powers from the central government to the provinces; and al-Maliki approved a bill allowing many former members of Saddam Hussein’s (predominantly Sunni) Baath party to hold government positions.
Although the alliance depends on several factors outside of politics, al-Malaki hopes that the outreach will stem the tide of internal sectarian clashes.
Jordan receives Abu Qatada after Deportation from UK
7 July 2013– Jordan has received convicted Islamist Abu Qatada, whose real name is Mahmoud Mohammad Othman, after he was deported by Britain to face trial in the Kingdom. Qatada will be interrogated and retried in on terror charges stemming from 1999 and 2000.
The transfer follows the ratification of a treaty between Britain and Jordan aimed at easing human rights concerns that had blocked previous attempts to deport the Jordanian preacher. Although Britain had tried to deport Abu Qatada since 2001, courts have blocked extradition, fearing that evidence obtained under torture could be used against him.
In 1999, the Jordanian government sentenced Abu Qatada was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment with hard labour for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks targeting the Modern American School, and a major hotel, with bombings which caused minor property damage but no casualties. In 2000, he was sentenced to a further 25 years for involvement in a plot to bomb tourists attending Millennium celebrations in Jordan.
In Britain, Abu Qatada is accused of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. He was detained in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws, which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge. When the law was overturned in 2005, he was released but kept under close surveillance and detained in various ways. He most recently was being held at London’s Belmarsh prison after breaching a bail condition in March which restricted the use of mobile phones and communication devices.
Jordanian Minister of State for Media Affairs, Mohammad al-Momani, says that Abu Qatada will receive a fair trial in accordance with the Jordanian law and in line with international agreements and human rights accords.
Kuwait Bans Expats from Driving and Hospitals
9 July, 2013- The Kuwaiti government has restricted expats from using public hospitals and driving. In early June, the Kuwaiti government barred foreigners from attending a major public hospital in the morning, freeing it for locals who have complained about overcrowding. The move is part of a six month trial to ease congestion for Kuwaiti patients. If it is successful, the plan will be rolled out nationally, allowing foreigners to receive morning treatment only in cases of emergency.
Kuwait is also ending subsidies to foreigners for public services such as electricity and water, calling them “a burden on the state”.
Earlier this year the Kuwaiti government said it relied too heavily on expats and wants to reduce their numbers, as expats outnumber Kuwaitis 2 to 1. Over the next decade, the nation plans to cut its 1.8 million expats by 100,000.
Kuwaiti authorities have also tightened restrictions on foreign drivers by withdrawing licences from students and housewives. Under current laws, most foreigners can only drive on public roads if they hold a university degree, earn 400 dinars (£910) a month and have lived in the country for at least two years. Students and housewives with children exempted from the conditions, as were judges and doctors. Kuwait’s traffic department is reviewing exemptions, and licences for students when they graduate and housewives who get a job.
In addition, over a thousand expats have been deported within the past two months for minor traffic offences. The anti-foreigner stance has caused Kuwait to drop down the World Economic Forum’s rankings for friendliness to tourists and visitors, falling to 137th place out of 140 countries.
313 Brigade Claims Responsibility for Car Bomb in Hezbollah Stronghold
10 July, 2013- A powerful car bomb exploded in a southern suburb in Beirut, wounding at least 53 people. The blast occurred in the heart of a highly secured Hezbollah territory, and was one of the biggest in the capital’s southern suburbs since the end of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war in 1990. The bombing raises fears that the Syrian war is spilling into the region and causing increases in sectarian violence, as is occurring in Iraq. On Wednesday, a group called the 313 Brigade took responsibility for the attack, blaming Hezbollah and parts of the Lebanese government for intervening in the Syrian civil war on behalf of the Syrian government. In late June, the claimed responsibility for an attack on a Hezbollah convoy in eastern Lebanon. The 313 Brigade has released a statement warning that Hezbollah must withdraw from Syria or it would experience further attacks in Lebanon.
The car bomb occurred in a commercial and residential neighbourhood in Beir el-Abed, as many Lebanese Shiites began observing Ramadan. The blast went off in a parking lot near the Islamic Coop, a supermarket usually packed with shoppers. Beir el-Abed is only few hundred metres from what is known as Hezbollah’s “security square,” where many of the party’s officials live and have offices.
Many believe that Hezbollah is facing retaliation for its role in fighting alongside Assad’s troops. Hezbollah fighters aided Assad’s troops in gaining a critical victory in the strategic town of Qusair, near the Lebanese border, where rebels held sway for more than a year. They are currently aiding the Syrian military in Homs. Syrian rebels and militant Islamist groups have threatened to target Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon in retaliation.
Immediately following the explosion, about 100 outraged Hezbollah supporters stormed through the area, carrying posters of Nasrallah and chanting sectarian slogans. Hezbollah operatives wearing red caps and holding radios kept watch as Interior Minister Marwan Charbel came to inspect the scene of the blast. They fired into the air to disperse protesters who were pelting him with stones, trapping him for 45 minutes in a building before he was escorted through a backdoor. Charbel is seen by some Shiites as sympathetic to Sunni cleric Ahmad al-Assir, who has agitated against Hezbollah for months and is now on the run.
The European Union condemned the Beirut bombing, calling it an “appalling act of violence (that) underlines the need for all Lebanese to maintain their national unity.”
Libyan Protesters Demand Disbanding of Militias
8 July, 2013- Hundreds of Libyan protesters called for the disbanding of militias that have plagued Tripoli since the end of the 2011 war. The Libyan government is currently attempting to regain control of the interior ministry after it was besieged by an armed group that entered the building on Tuesday and ordered staff to leave.
Armed groups have grown in power and ambition since the removal of Muammar Gaddafi’s, and the weak government has struggled to impose its authority over them. A ministerial committee has been in talks to regain control of the interior ministry from a militia, and government officials are drawing up plans to disband them, but have not released details.
Prime Minister Ali Zeidan said the Libyan government would raise salaries as a way to lure former rebel fighters into the state forces. Nearly 19,500 men would be sent for police and military training in the United States, France, Britain and Italy.
Istiqlal Party quits Islamist Led Government, Joins Opposition
9 July, 2013- A spokesman for the Istiqlal party, a secular centre-right party and the second largest in Moroccan parliament, has announced that its six Cabinet members have tendered their resignations, and the party announced it is formally joining the opposition.
The resignations come during domestic disputes over subsidy cuts, and as the dominant Islamist party in Morocco, the PJD, watches as Egyptian ally Mohamed Morsi is deposed. The PJD were supporters of the Muslim brotherhood, while Morocco’s king expressed support for Morsi’s replacement.
An Istiqlal leader Hamid Chabat has said that he hopes for the end of Moroccan Prime Minister Benkirane, similar to what happened to Morsi. Prime Minister Benkirane must now either dissolve the government and call early elections, or try to form new alliances to fill the empty seats.
The government crisis is compounded by a struggling economy. Morocco is facing a large deficit and a slowdown in growth after public spending to defuse popular discontent during the 2011 Arab Spring protests. The current government is struggling to rein in spending and reform a costly system of subsidies and state pensions. In May, Istiqlal threatened to quit over the Islamists’ plans to cut subsidies, however those cuts were a demand of the International Monetary Fund, which extended Morocco a $6.2 billion precautionary line of credit with the condition that it would undertake these reforms. The cutting of subsidies is likely to elevate social tensions in a nation where demonstrations over the high cost of living are common.
Angry Taliban Abandon Doha Office
9 July, 2013- Following the removal of the Taliban flag, and the plaque of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan from their ‘political office’ in Doha, Taliban negotiators have stopped visiting the office. Their absence dashes hopes for an early resumption of the peace process.
Following the inauguration of the office, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration raised objections, calling the office an attempt to install a parallel government. In response, Qatari officials removed the Taliban’s white flag and plaque inscribed with ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ – a name the Taliban used for their regime before it was toppled by the United States in 2001.
Two spokesmen for the Taliban switched off their mobile phones and stopped replying to emails. Qatari officials that were present at the inauguration have gone silent on the controversy.
Karzai, angered at the prospect of being sidelined in any Taliban-US agreement, refused to send members of his High Peace Council to Doha.
A senior member of the High Peace Council said that the Taliban must hold exploratory talks with the US regarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, or to remove the names of their leaders from the UN sanction lists. In turn the US also hopes to discuss release of their prisoners held with the Taliban.
Sudan – South Sudan
20,000 People Neglected in Border Region
8 July, 2013- Over 20,000 people are almost cut off from aid in South Sudan’s Bahr el Ghazal state, after fleeing violence in the disputed border region with Sudan. There is a severe shortage of food and drinking water, and the people in the camps are living in substandard conditions.
The refugees are receiving minimal humanitarian assistance because of the remoteness of the region confusion over whether to call them internally displaced people (IDPs), refugees or returnees. The displaced people have almost doubled the region’s population and are mainly living in 11 makeshift camps scattered across isolated parts of Northern Bahr el Ghazal. Because they have no specific settlements assigned to them, many people have had to move several times.
“When we first arrived in February, many people were actually living in the bush. Thousands of displaced people have arrived in this region but there has been very little action taken to serve their needs,” says Lummis.
Doctors without Borders has set up mobile clinics and is training teams of community-based healthcare workers to help combat diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition, the three leading causes of death among the population. The group is also running a basic healthcare clinic near the town of Pamat focused on children under five and pregnant women.
In Sudan on 5 July, a UN peacekeeping leader urged parties in Darfur to cease hostilities amid renewed tribal clashes which have caused over 300,000 since the beginning of this year.
Rebel Blockade Causes Food Shortages in Aleppo
9 July, 2013- As Syrian rebels intensify a blockade of government-held areas in Aleppo, residents face severe food shortages. The tactic is aimed at weakening supply routes of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but activists believe that indiscriminately punishes over 2 million people residents who live in the part of the city still held by the army.
Last year, rebels launched an offensive and seized nearly half of the city. For months, they have been working to block roads into the government controlled western part of the city. Food scarcity became a serious problem this week as fighters blocked a highway once left open to civilians. A rebel fighter called the problem an unfortunate side effect of rebel clashes with the army. Activists say food is now cheaper in rebel areas, as food prices have increased to over ten times their original level and basics such as bread and flour have become harder to find. A main road that is still passable is near Bustan al-Qasr, but has become so dangerous that it is referred to as “The Crossing of Death.”
Since 2011, over 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict. Sectarian violence is also increasing, as opposition, led by a Sunni majority, combats the country’s minorities, particularly Assad’s Alawite sect. Many members of minority groups live in the districts now being blockaded by rebels.
Algeria in Limbo as Bouteflika’s Health Remains In Question
On 27 April – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was rushed to Paris for treatment at Val-de-Grace Hospital for what is described as a “minor” stroke. The Algerian government reports he is doing well and convalescing in Paris, however, the government has also censored Algerian newspapers from reporting on his health. An Algerian publisher is facing prosecution for “harming state security” after two of his newspapers reported the president was in a coma nearly three weeks after being hospitalised.
Bouteflika is the leader of the National Independence Front (FLN), the party that has ruled over Algeria since it’s independence from France in 1962. Because the FLN is deeply intertwined with Algeria’s military, intelligence, and national corporations, opposition parties are weak by comparison. Algeria is essentially run as a one-party nation, and the absence and unknown condition of Bouteflika has caused a political crisis in a nation which is critical in the security of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
As it becomes increasingly realistic that Bouteflika will not run for a fourth term in the 2014 elections, leading figures are frantically searching for a replacement who will have the same backing by Algerian centres of power, and the Algerian public. The emerging leader would also have to have the faith of the international community that he would still work toward combating militant threats that are entrenched in the region.
In addition, the new leader must be able to respond to an increasing economic and demographic crisis: of Algeria’s population of 38 million, 20% are between ages 16 and 24, and 21% of the younger generation are either unemployed or underemployed. Unattended socio-economic issues could lead to uprisings against the current party. Official Gendarmerie Nationale figures report that over 9000 protests of various kinds have taken place in Algeria since the start of 2013. Last week, 1,600 workers in the oil-extraction zone of Hass R’mel went on a hunger strike, demanding that political and corporate leaders adhere to their promises to increase wages and improve working conditions. Economic predictions indication that oil revenues Algeria’s source of income, are declining, thus increasing the risk of socio-economic unrest.
While the FLN is urging continuing stability, members within the party who have backed Bouteflika are now jostling for position as his replacement. The in-fighting is likely to weaken the party, further creating uncertainty within the nation. Several youth movements have called for a change in political leadership. As Bouteflika recovers in Paris, many speculate that the vacuum created by his absence puts Algeria at risk for a national uprising which could allow militant groups, already in hiding on the outskirts of the nation, to gain access to the region.
US Embassy Warning to Civilians in Bahrain
3 June 2013 – The U.S. Embassy has issued a security warning about possible threats toward Americans in Bahrain. The message states, “Extremist elements of certain opposition groups have conducted surveillance on U.S. persons and locations where U.S. persons are known to reside and/or spend leisure time, including locations associated with night-life activities. These facilities and locations include, but are not limited to, the U.S. Embassy, the Naval Support Facility, the Bahrain School and American Alley.”
Diplomatic officials said there are no specific threats against U.S. personnel or facilities. There have been no attacks on U.S. citizens in Bahrain to date. However, Bahrain has experienced demonstrations stemming from the Shiite majority demanding a greater political voice in the Sunni-dominated political system. A segment of opposition appears to be growing increasingly radical in recent months.
A separate message from the US navy urged service members and families to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to base security personnel. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet, with nearly 6,500 US personnel in the region.
Bombing suspects arrested, confess
2 June, 2013 – Bahraini police arrested ten suspects in connection to what is being called a “terrorist attack” on 29 May. A homemade explosive wounded seven policemen in Bani Jamra, six miles west of the nation’s capital.
Police initially responded to a terrorist blast in the region, finding rioters burning tyres in the village. After restoring order, as security patrols proceeded on foot to douse the tyres, the homemade device was detonated by remote. At least two policemen are in critical condition; one officer has required a leg amputation. Four officers sustained lesser injuries. Though police have been targeted previously, this bombing marked the most police casualties in a single attack.
Bahraini security identified suspects “from a house known to be used by conspirators to hatch terrorist plots”. Police confiscated weapons and equipment in the process of arresting ten suspects. According to the police, four of the suspects have confessed
Bani Jamra is believed to be the base of the Shirazi movement, a group that seeks regime change in Bahrain and is supported by Iran. Locations within the village have been used to store weapons and plan attacks. Weapons and explosive devices have been used against police in this area. Security forces are implementing procedures to ensure the safety of the public in the region.
Egyptian Court Rules Legislature was Illegally Elected
2 June, 2013- Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has ruled that the nation’s Islamist-dominated legislature and constitutional panel were illegally elected. The ruling says that Shura Council, the legislature’s upper house (and the only active legislature since the dissolution of the lower chamber in June) would not be dissolved until the parliament’s lower chamber is elected later this year or early in 2014. Of the chamber’s 270 members, 180 were elected, and 90 were appointed by Morsi. Five percent of its members are Christians, and four percent are women. The Shura Council was elected by about seven percent of the electorate last year.
It is still unknown whether the ruling will impact the charter which was drafted by the 100-member constitutional panel. The constitution was adopted following a nationwide vote in December with only 35% voter turnout. Critics believe the charter restricts freedoms and gives clerics a say in legislation.
To prevent confusion Morsi’s office issued a statement emphasising that all state institutions must respect the constitution; and that the Shura Council will continue to function as the nation’s legislature. However, the ruling adds to the political instability that has gripped the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
Egyptian- Ethiopian Tensions Escalate over Controversial Dam
31 May, 2013 – In a highly contested move, Ethiopia has started to divert a stretch of the Blue Nile—one of the two major tributaries to the Nile River— to make way for a hydroelectric dam. The Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is part of £ 8 billion investment project to boost power exports. The dam is being built in the Benishangul-Gumuz region bordering Sudan, and will eventually have a capacity equivalent to six nuclear power plants.
The reserve of the dam requires 74 billion cubic metres of water, which Ethiopia plans to meet in five years. This could cut off over 20% of water to Egypt. Egypt and Sudan object to the dam, saying that it violates a colonial-era agreement, which gives them rights to 90% of the Nile’s water. Ethiopia decided to go ahead with the project just days after a state visit by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a move that has been called “extremely humiliating to Egyptians” by Morsi’s opposition.
In a few days, experts from Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will announce the findings of a study into the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Nile’s flow. Egypt’s growing population is increasingly dependent on the water supply, with the nation’s National Planning Institute estimating that Egypt will require an additional 21 billion cubic metres of water per year by 2050 – above its current annual quota of 55 billion metres – to meet the needs of a projected population of 150 million.
Opposition leaders have suggested that in retaliation, Egypt could close the strategic Suez Canal to ships from nations such as China, which are helping Ethiopia to build the dam. Hamdeen Sabbahi,
co-leader of the National Salvation Front, stated that Egypt is capable of prohibiting ships from transiting the Suez Canal “until they stop harming Egypt’s interests.”
A source within the government stated that if Ethiopia fails to reach an agreement, Egypt could take the matter to International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Egypt Sends More Forces to Control Sinai Peninsula
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi sent dozens of tanks and hundreds of soldiers to Sinai following the kidnap of seven Egyptian security officers. The kidnappings underscored a security vacuum in the peninsula, which borders both Israel and the Gaza Strip. Following the 2011 revolution in Egypt, the region has been rife with criminal and terrorist activity as militants have taken advantage of the absence of security forces. Smuggling, bombing of gas pipelines, and attacks on police stations have become prevalent.
The kidnappers, who have since released the abducted security officers, sought the release of their group members who had been jailed for deadly attacks on a tourist hotel and a police station.
Morsi initially sought accommodation, issuing a statement saying he would be “vigilant in protecting the souls of all, be they the kidnapped or the kidnappers.” However, days later, Morsi had changed his stance, and stated that “all available means” would be used to free the men. Egyptian forces shut down two border crossings and deployed the largest military movement in Sinai since August 2012.
Egyptian human rights organizations warned the government against a “short-sighted security solution” that did not address the grievances of Sinai’s residents.
Wave of Violence Continues in Iraq
2 June, 2013 – Iraq has been hit by a wave of violence that killed over 600 people in May, raising fears of all-out sectarian conflict. On 2 June, an attack in the western Province of Anbar killed seven people as gunmen kidnapped five others .
Armed men killed three Syrian truck drivers, setting their vehicles on fire near the town of Al-Rutba, near the Syrian Border. Near the site, the gunman kidnapped a policeman and a civilian, as further north, gunmen abducted another civilian and two more police officers.
It is unclear whether the abductions were conducted by members of the same group.
60,000 Syrian Refugees Return Home
30 May, 2013 – Nearly 60,000 Syrian refugees have left the Jordan, and returned home. Some refugees intend to fight President Bashar Assad’s regime, other have left because living conditions in their camp have become too difficult.
Jordan has hosted nearly half a million Syrian refugees, with nearly 150,000 living at the Zaatari camp near Syria’s border. The nation’s resources to cope with the influx have increasingly dwindled. Last week, the US signed a letter of intent, promising Jordan an aid package of $200 million to support Syrian refugees. The U.N. refugee agency is expected to issue a fresh appeal for help in June.
Pro-Syrian Forces Gain Victory in Qasair
3 June, 2013 – Syrian pro-government forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies have gained control of the border town of Qusair. The victory is a severe setback to fighters opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. After two weeks of heavy fighting, the town has been reduced to piles of concrete.
Qusair is a strategic town; victory for the Syrian government would strengthen Assad’s control over the province of Homs, which would connect Damascus with the Alawite strongholds on the Mediterranean coast. A victory in Qusair for the rebels protects their supply lines through Lebanon.
Over 500 rebels have been killed, and a 1,000 wounded during the two weeks of combat. Only 400 rebel fighters remained, and were outgunned by Syrian forces and Hezbolla. The remaining survivors retreated, escaping through a corridor the attackers deliberately left open to encourage flight.
On 2 June, clashes erupted between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli, wounding at least 14 people. In addition, three rockets from Syria struck north-eastern Lebanon; only a day after 18 rockets and mortar rounds hit the Hezbollah stronghold in Lebanon’s eastern Baalbek region. Last week, the Lebanese parliament delayed general elections scheduled for this month for another 17 months, citing a deteriorating security situation.
The latest confrontations between Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Syrian rebels come amidst increasingly incendiary rhetoric between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region. Hezbollah’s involvement in the battle over Qusair has also raised tensions with Syrian rebels, who have threatened to target Hezbollah’s bases in Lebanon.
A member of a pro-Assad Syrian militia said the military focus may now move to the northern province of Aleppo, which has been largely in rebel hands for the last year.
Libya withholds Saif al Islam Gaddafi from International Criminal Court
Saif al Islam Gaddafi, son of the late leader Moammar Gaddafi, was captured in 2011 and remains in the custody of a local militia. The ICC has indicted him on war crimes charges stemming from the 2011 Libyan uprising. The charges include: indirect co-perpetrator of murder and persecution as crimes against humanity, use of security forces to carry out attacks against civilians, and assuming “essential tasks” against government opposition.
Because Gaddafi is not in official custody, Libya is not prepared to host a trial. Further, members of Libya’s judiciary believe Saif al-Islam should be tried in Libya, to revive faith in the Libyan judiciary.
In Zintan, where Gaddafi is being held, he faces additional charges based on actions in 2012, after the ousting of his father. He is held for complicity in exchanging information, obtaining documents that threaten national security and insulting the national flag.
Judges at The Hague recognise Libya’s efforts to restore the rule of law, however they state that Libya continues to “face substantial difficulties in exercising fully its judicial powers across the entire territory.”
Turkish Activists Issue Demands
5 June, 2013 – As the nation enters nears its first full week of unrest; Turkish activists have presented a list of demands which could anti-government protests in Turkey.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, met with leaders of the protest group as Prime Minister Edrogan left Turkey for a diplomatic visit to Northern Africa. Arinc apologises to protesters for what he called a “wrong and unjust” crackdown on a sit-in to prevent authorities from ripping up trees in Istanbul’s landmark Taksim Square. The heavy handed response to the peaceful protest sparked a nationwide response against what demonstrators see as Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
The activist leaders, known as the “Taksim Solidarity Platform”, consist of academics, architects, and environmentalists who are opposed to the redevelopment of Taksim Square, the only green space remaining in Istanbul’s commercial district. The group denounced Erdogan’s “vexing” style and called for the halt of Taksim Square redevelopment plans. The group also called for a ban on the use of tear gas by police, the immediate release of detained protesters, and eliminating restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. Finally, the group demanded that all officials responsible for the violent crackdowns be removed from office.
Turkey’s cities have been clouded in tear gas, and hundreds of people have been injured in five days of demonstrations. Over 3,300 people have been detained during the demonstrations, though most have been released.
Yemen Launches Offensive Against al-Qaeda
6 June, 2013 – Over ten thousand Yemeni troops, backed by tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets, launched an offensive in the southern Yemen province of Hadramawt to drive al-Qaeda militants from the area. At least seven suspected militant have been killed and many injured. The Yemeni military also destroyed weapon caches and took equipment, explosives and motorcycles. Civilians in the region have been instructed to stay indoors. One military commander was killed and five others were wounded.
The operation is the result of efforts by Yemen’s new government to force remaining al-Qaeda militants out of their strongholds. US analysts call the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen one of the world’s most active terror networks.
Former rebels are engaging in Yemen’s six-month National Dialogue, an attempt to bring all of Yemen’s rival groups, political parties, religious and tribal leaders together for discussion of a new political system as the country prepares to draft a new constitution.
Ghana’s President John Mahama has warned that Islamist militants pose a threat that could destabilise the whole of West Africa. This announcement comes just days after Niger’s President indicated that Islamist militants, who attacked two sights in Niger, had come from southern Libya. It also comes at a time when Nigeria’s army announces that armory belonging to the Lebanese group Hezbollah is discovered in northern Nigeria.
Ghana’s President Mahama has indicated that while his country has not directly been affected by the threats, no country in the region was safe if an insurgency were to take place in the region. He further stated that while the French-led military operation had helped secure stability in Mali, the conflict was far from being over, stating that “there is the danger of asymmetric attacks like we saw in Niger the last few days, and so it is a matter that worries all of us in the sub-region.” In turn, the operation to drive out al-Qaeda, and other allied Islamist groups, from northern Mali had showed how the whole Sahel region had “become an attractive foothold for insurgents.”
Meanwhile in Nigeria, an army spokesman, Brigadier Gen. Ilyasu Isa Abba has confirmed that a cache, including 11 anti-tank weapons, four anti-tank mines, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) and 21 RPG missiles, 17 AK-47’s, two sub-machine guns and 76 grenades, have been found in a warehouse in the northern city of Kano. He further indicated that three Lebanese nationals have been arrested while a fourth is still at large. According to a military statement, one suspect, Mustafa Fawaz, was arrested on May 16 and his “confession unveiled other members of the foreign terrorists network.” A second suspect, Abdullah Tahini, was arrested several day later while attempting to board a flight to Beirut from the airport in Kano. The third detained Lebanese national, Talal Roda, was arrested at the Kano home on May 26 while the fourth suspect, who has been identified as Fauzi Fawad, remains to be at large. Nigeria’s State Security Service has stated that the weapons were intended to be used against “Israeli and Western interests,” with Bassey Ettang, director of the State Security Service in Kano, noting that “this is the handwork of Hezbollah.” He further indicated that “investigations are still ongoing to determine” if the Lebanese nationals “are really connected to Boko Haram.”
This is the first time that Nigerian authorities have alleged that Hezbollah has had an operational interest in the country. Kano, and the north-eastern region of Nigeria, have suffered multiple attacks in the last three years, ever since the home-grown Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, launched an insurgency. According to Mr. Ettang, “you can be sure that if a group like this is existing then it may even lend support to some of the local terrorista we have on the ground.” Hezbollah is a Shiite military and political movement that is based in Lebanon. It is considered to be a terrorist organization by the United States.
Reacting to the latest claims, a security official in Israel has indicated that Nigeria was a “destination state for Shiite terror and global Jihad groups, which are boosting their efforts in Africa as part of international efforts.” The source further indicated that “the cell exposed and arrested is part of a Shiite terror campaign against Western and Israeli targets around the world which has been taking place for a number of years…the possibility that members of the cell acted under Hezbollah’s orders in other African states, such as Benin, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Sierra Leone, is also being examined.”