Demonstrations dominated the events reported last week in several countries across the region including in Bahrain, Iran, and Turkey. In Syria, intense activity was reported in Dar’a governorate last week as the government and its allies continued their offensive against rebel and Islamist factions, while parallel offensives in Idleb and northern Hama governorates also continued. Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces conducted security operations in Syria’s Al-Hasakeh governorate targeting Islamic State (IS) militants. Activity in Yemen was more subdued last week, although Saudi-led coalition forces have continued to push forward in At Tuhayat district.

In Bahrain, small-scale protests and rioting were reported last week in solidarity with the Shiite cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Issa Qassem, who has been under house arrest since May 2017. The Ayatollah’s health situation deteriorated recently, resulting in Bahraini authorities moving him to a hospital on June 25 and then flying him to the United Kingdom on July 9, reportedly in critical condition (PressTV, July 9, 2018).

In Iran, demonstrations over poor water-quality and related distribution issues continued last week. The original wave of demonstrations in and around the southern cities of Khorramshahr and Abadan expanded to other cities in Khuzestan province, with people in Ahvaz, Kut Abdollah, and Bandar-e Emam Khomeyni taking to the streets on July 1. Since then, the situation seems to have de-escalated, following the early inauguration of a major water transfer project and the piping of fresh water into Abadan and Khorramshahr. Despite those developments, new demonstrations around water management broke out in Borazjan in Bushehr province on July 7. Thousands of residents gathered in the city’s main square over issues around the distribution of water, chanting slogans against the local authorities.

In Turkey, peaceful demonstrations outnumbered all other event types. These protests were divided almost equally into two different types of gatherings. The first were protests by former public servants against a recent legislative decree that laid them off, which were dispersed by police in each case. The second set of gatherings were demonstrations held in opposition to violence against children, following recent high-profile cases of child abuse and murder in the country (Ahval, July 4, 2018).

In Syria, extensive bombardments and shelling by Syrian government forces and their allies, including Russian military forces, continued across the Dar’a province amidst clashes with rebel and Islamist factions. These clashes have resulted in the capture of seven towns and seven Jordanian border posts by Syrian government forces. As province-wide ceasefire negotiations continue, Syrian government forces and their allies also took control of six more towns and the strategic Nasib border crossing with Jordan, a primary strategic goal for the Syrian government in the Dar’a offensive, following the withdrawal of opposition fighters under reconciliation agreements.

Shelling by Syrian government forces also continued in Idleb and northern Hama as a number of clashes were reported between the Syrian government, backed by allied militia, and opposition fighters in northern Aleppo. In retaliation for the Syrian government’s Dar’a offensive, rebels briefly seized control of Tadaf town from the Syrian government before withdrawing again under pressure from Turkey and Turkish-backed rebels in the area. Violent clashes between Syrian government and rebel fighters also took place in Quenitra, where Israeli forces shelled a Syrian military post in Khan Arnaba after mortars hit the buffer zone between Syrian-occupied territory and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

In Ar-Raqqa city, which is presently under the control of Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) and the Global Coalition Against Daesh, a Syrian government delegation reportedly arrived to begin negotiations on cooperation with QSD and the return of Syrian government services to the city. Elsewhere, QSD forces gained control over at least 13 villages and towns in southern Al-Hasakeh from IS fighters as QSD continued to carry out raids and arrests as a part of its campaign to root out IS sleeper cells.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus city, Syrian government forces set up checkpoints across the major towns and cities, reportedly carrying out arrests and efforts at forced conscription in several areas.

In Yemen, there was a short pause in fighting last week along the Hudayda front, followed by a drastic increase in the number of violent events reported as Saudi-led coalition troops renewed their offensive and managed to take control of At Tuhayat district’s center and its main police station, both inflicting and incurring a large number of reported fatalities. Meanwhile, Houthi forces have employed new drones along the western coastal areas and have managed to successfully fire at least two explosive devices targeting a coalition headquarters center in Burayqah, Aden governorate. Additionally, a United States drone strike in Bayhan district of Shabwah governorate reportedly killed 7 Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants.

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Regional Overview – Middle East
9 July 2018
Matt Batten-Carew
Matt Batten-Carew
Middle East Research Manager
Matthew Batten-Carew is a Middle East Research Manager with ACLED. He leads the Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkey projects, and was formerly Associate Manager with ACLED's Asia project. Mr. Batten-Carew holds an M.A. in Geopolitics & Grand Strategy and a second M.A. in Eurasian Studies, with research focusing on regional governance and conflict management. He has worked for the Canadian government's Departments of Global Affairs and National Defence, and for consulting firms in policy development and political risk analysis. He is fluent in English and French, and is based in Ottawa, Canada.
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