Middle East Weekly Roundup: August 8th, 2016
The Levant and Turkey
Israeli security forces arrested a senior official of one of the world’s largest Christian charities. He has been accused of funnelling tens of millions of dollars to Hamas, as well as £80,000 from British donations. The total amount is equivalent to 60% of the charity’s total annual funding for Gaza. Palestinian Mohammad El Halabi, the director of the Gaza branch of World Vision, is alleged to have led a double life as a senior figure in the Islamist organization. Hamas governs the Gaza Strip and has fought three wars with Israel. The United States has designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Syrian rebels have demanded the release of prisoners being held, both in Syria by the Syrian government, and by Hezbollah in Lebanese jails, in exchange for the bodies of five individuals died after a Russian military helicopter was shot down last week. The group also demanded an end to the siege of areas blockaded by the Syrian army and its allies and for the delivery of humanitarian aid to people living in besieged areas. The helicopter had three crew members and two officers on board. It was shot down in the rebel-held Idlib province during its return to Russia’s main airbase in Syria after delivering humanitarian aid to the city of Aleppo. Russia is backing the Syrian government in the civil war with military support.
The Turkish government is currently conducting a massive purge of all sectors of Turkish society and institutions. This includes “cleaning” out the private sector of Gulen sympathizers. Ali Babacan, a deputy from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and former Deputy Prime Minister, stated that, “it will of course take some time to clean the sector from the members of a structure which traces back some 40 years. Some of them are in the financial sector; some are in the private sector. These need to be cleaned. There is no room for us to take any risk here.” The government is focusing on followers of the cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally-turned-rival who lives in exile in Pennsylvania and is said by government forces to have masterminded last month’s failed coup.
Saudi Arabia has discounted its crude in order to maintain its share of big Asian markets as a result of pressure from Russian, Iraqi and Iranian oil exports. The price cut comes after two years of high volume pumping by Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer.
The Yemen peace talks being held in Kuwait broke down after representatives of the country’s internationally recognized government walked out. They demanded that the Houthi rebels accept a peace plan proposed by the United Nations, which entails withdrawal from Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, as well as surrendering their weapons. The Houthis countered by proposing the formation of a national unity government. The Houthis and forces allied to President Ali Abdullah Saleh seized Sanaa in September 2014, forcing the internationally recognized government to flee the country. A Saudi led coalition has conducted an extensive air campaign against the Houthis since March 2015. While the Houthis have been pushed out of southern Yemen, thus far they have not been dislodged from the capital Sanaa and the rest of the north.
According to the United Nations 15 months into the war more than 370,000 children are at risk of starvation in Yemen. More than 14 million people, approximately half of the population, are going hungry and are in urgent need of food and medical aid. Approximately 500,000 children under the age of five are suffering from malnutrition, with two thirds of them at risk of death if they do not receive immediate assistance.
Kuwait lost a lawsuit it had filed against the International Olympic Committee’s ban on the country from participating in the upcoming games in Rio de Janeiro. The IOC banned Kuwait from the Summer Games for what it described as “undue government interference” in its national Olympic committee. Some Kuwaiti athletes will still compete, but they will not be allowed to do so under the country’s flag.
Kuwait has arrested a Filipina who is accused of joining ISIL through its affiliate in Libya. She has planned to launch an attack in Kuwait. Security forces monitoring the woman’s email found messages by her to ISIL’s Libyan affiliate, pledging allegiance to the group.
The Bahraini government is imposing internet curfew by shutting down 3G and 4G services in the village of Duraz every night for the past month. Each night between 7PM and 1AM some of the cell towers in Duraz stop working, while 2G towers broadcast notifications to phones indicating that mobile internet services are not supported in the area. Duraz is the home of leading Shia Cleric Isa Qassim and has been the site of protests since officials revoked his citizenship earlier this summer.
Iran and Iraq
The Obama administration delivered $400 million in cash to Iran on the same day that Iran released four American prisoners. The payment was part of a settlement of a failed arms deal between the United States and Iran that took place in 1979, prior to the Iranian Revolution. Republicans have argued that the payment was a ransom payment in return for the release of American hostages. The U.S. State Department has denied that the payment was connected with the prisoners’ release, with President Barack Obama himself dismissing suggestions that the payment was a ransom.
The United Nations has stated that the increase in death sentences in Iraq indicates alarming and increasing levels of injustice. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, stated that he is, “…gravely concerned that innocent people have been and may continue to be convicted and executed, resulting in gross and irreversible miscarriages of justice.” Amnesty International has also raised concerns about the rate at which death sentences are being handed out by the country’s justice system.
The Egyptian government announced that it killed forty-six ISIL fighters, including Abu Duaa Al-Ansari. They were killed in a series of airstrikes south of the Sinai Peninsula’s town of El Arish. The army also destroyed arms and ammunition stores used by ISIL. Egypt has been fighting ISIL for a number of years; however, the level of violence has substantially increased since the overthrow of former president Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
U.S. planes bombed ISIS stronghold in Libya per the request of the UN-backed Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), which was established earlier this year. The airstrike, according to U.S. officials, is the first in what will be an air campaign against IS targets in Libya. Although local forces have managed to weaken ISIL’s standing in Libya, the country is immersed in a rivalry among militia groups and tensions over the legitimacy of the GNA.
Discussions concerning a Tunisian National Unity Government have commenced. However, the official designation of Youssef Al-Chahed as the new Tunisian Prime Minister and the force behind the formation of Tunisia’s unity government has sparked a wave of conflicting reactions among local political parties. Two parties, Al-Masar and Ash-Shaab, have announced their withdrawal from negotiations aimed at forming a national unity cabinet in protest against Chahed’s appointment.