Weekly Roundup: Talks between Fatah and Hamas, a crackdown in Saudi Arabia, and an attack in the Sinai

Palestine

A new era of reconciliatory talks between Hamas and Fatah may be on the horizon. Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, announced this week that he would be willing to open talks with Fatah, in the hopes of creating a Palestinian unity government. Though Haniyeh made similar statements in the past, the fact that the announcement was made at a meeting with Egyptian intelligence officials may imply he is taking the claim more seriously this time. A reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah could lead to an improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza and an opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Saudi Arabia

Three well-known clerics were detained in Saudi Arabia, in what is being described as the latest manifestation of an ongoing crackdown against dissent in the kingdom. The clerics, Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni, and Ali al-Omary have all been critical of the Saudi government, most recently for its blockade of Qatar. The arrests come amidst speculation of an impending transfer of power from the king to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Experts speculate that potential critics of the Crown Prince are being silenced in an attempt to stabilize the regime during a politically sensitive moment.

Egypt

On Monday morning, a group of militants attacked a security convoy in the Sinai peninsula. At least 18 police officers were killed and 4 ambulance workers injured. The militants destroyed three armored vehicles and a signal jamming device with the use of an improvised explosive device (IED). This attack prompted a gunfight between the Egyptian security forces and the attackers, resulting in the deaths of the police officers. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack later in the day. The Sinai has been the site of multiple attacks by militants in the last several years.

Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, issued a statement on Monday defending the Iran nuclear deal and insisting on its strength and effectiveness. The statement was responding to President Trump’s description of the 2015 agreement between Iran and six other major powers as “the worst deal ever negotiated.” The IAEA calls the deal, which Trump has criticized repeatedly throughout his presidency, “a clear and significant gain.” 

Iraq 

President of Iraqi Kurdistan Massoud Barzani announced that Iraqi Kurds will begin drawing the borders of a new state should Baghdad reject a vote for Iraqi Kurdish independence in a referendum to be held at the end of this month. Haidar al-Abadi, Iraq’s current Prime Minister, rejected Barzani’s declaration and claimed the referendum would be unconstitutional. Kurdish political officials argued the referendum is not intended to trigger an immediate declaration of Iraqi Kurdish independence. Instead it is meant to strengthen the Kurdish position during long negotiations intended to separate Iraqi Kurdistan from the central Iraqi government. In other news, the Iraqi government is holding more than 1,300 foreign family members, mostly women and children, of accused Islamic State operatives from over 13 countries in a displaced people’s camp south of Mosul. Iraqi army intelligence officers claim many of the women and children are from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, and Russia though they do not have any formal documentation proving that to be the case. The majority, if not all, of the captives were handed over to Kurdish Peshmerga forces during the final stages of the battle for Mosul. Peshmerga forces in turn passed the women and children off to Iraqi troops, though the fate of the men is not very clear.

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