Palestinian-Israeli violence continued last week throughout Palestine, with a major increase occurring in the West Bank due to Israeli raids and attacks by settlers on locals, and vice versa. In Iran and Bahrain, demonstrations and civil unrest continued, while in Turkey the investigation into the alleged murder of a journalist in the Saudi consulate carried on with international scrutiny. In Iraq, the increase in attacks on civilians continued in Baghdad and across the country. Finally, in Yemen and Syria, clashes continued between different armed groups in multiple areas, although front lines mostly remained static. In the former, tensions threaten to boil over between groups in the south, while in the latter the buffer zone brokered by Turkey and Russia seems to be holding.
Last week in the West Bank there was an increase in violence between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, as well as between locals and Israeli forces raiding villages. While settler attacks against Palestinian property (also known as ‘Price Tag’ attacks) and the seizure of Palestinians’ property by Israeli forces are consistent features of the Israeli occupation, they were much more prevalent last week and are fueling ethnic violence. On October 5, a Palestinian woman was killed when her car was attacked by settlers throwing stones. Meanwhile, a Palestinian worker at a West Bank settlement factory shot three of his co-workers, reportedly killing two of them on October 7. Later in the week, a Palestinian reportedly stabbed an Israeli reserve soldier prompting the head of a settlement bloc to call for military reprisals (Ynet, 12 Oct 2018).
Meanwhile in Gaza, seven Palestinians were allegedly killed during Friday border demonstrations. As a part of this violence, a number of Palestinians reportedly broke through the border fence using an explosive device to attack Israeli forces (The Times of Israel, 12 Oct 2018). They retreated and no Israelis were reported injured. It appears that the upsurge in violence seen over the last few weeks shows no signs of stopping, particularly if the West Bank continues to become further engaged.
In Iran, the nationwide strike by truck drivers and merchants continued into its third week, as labour demonstrations also continued against the worsening economic situation in the country. The Iranian rial has lost nearly two-thirds of its value since the start of the year, which has led to increasing prices, higher inflation rates, and subsequently a sharp decline in purchasing power (Reuters, 5 Sept 2018).
Furthermore, on October 13, Iran’s intelligence ministry announced that it had killed two members of an armed separatist group in Kermanshah province, and seized a number of weapons. The ministry also stated that some documents were uncovered indicating the militants were supported by some Arab countries. It is not clear which group these men belonged to (Tasnim, 14 Oct 2018).
In Bahrain, several protests were held to call for a boycott of the upcoming parliamentary elections, which are scheduled to be held on November 24. The protests followed Bahrain’s main opposition group Al-Wefaq’s call for a boycott after its members were banned from running in the elections (Almanar, 9 Oct 2018).
In Iraq, airstrikes and IED explosions were the most common events last week. There has been a steady rise in Islamic State (IS) and suspected IS attacks against civilians in Baghdad in recent weeks. Last week alone, IS attacks across Iraq reportedly caused at least eleven civilian deaths. While the Iraqi general election in May was hailed by many to be a successful peaceful transfer of power, continued armed conflict indicates that Iraq’s battle with IS may not be over.
Meanwhile, in Turkey, the investigation into the disappearance of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi continues. He disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in the Besiktas area of Istanbul on October 2, and Turkish officials believe he was tortured and killed inside as evidenced by publicly unreleased recordings, among other things (Washington Post, 15 Oct 2018). Saudi authorities continue to deny the allegations. On October 16, Turkish police searched the Saudi consulate and reportedly found evidence showing that Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside, although it is not yet clear what this evidence was (Hurriyet Daily News, 16 Oct 2018). The body of the journalist remains undiscovered.
Elsewhere, over 100 people were arrested in Diyarbakir and other provinces during police raids targeting suspected Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members and supporters. Among those arrested were members of non-militant Kurdish political parties and groups such as the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). This comes as the Turkish military continues to clash with PKK militants throughout the southeast.
Last week in Yemen, pro-Houthi forces were under increasing pressure in their stronghold of Sadah governorate, as pro-Hadi forces and their Saudi allies gained territory in the districts of Baqim, Kitaf, and Dhaher. Meanwhile, fighting around the city of Hodeidah seems to have stalled. Despite gaining control of strategic roads east of the city last month, National Resistance Forces are struggling to advance further. To compensate for this, the latter’s aerial campaign has recently intensified; at least eighty pro-Houthi fighters were reportedly killed last week in airstrikes on the western front.
In the south, pro-Hadi forces are still on high alert, reflecting tensions between southern factions and the government of President Hadi, as well as tensions among the southern factions themselves. Shabwani Elite Forces moved into a number of military bases throughout Shabwah governorate last week, preparing for the expected movement of forces loyal to Vice President Ali Mohsen South from Marib governorate. Mid-week, there was confusion when the Southern Transitional Council cancelled its call to celebrate the anniversary of South Yemen’s revolution against the British Mandate on October 14, while the Southern Movement faction reiterated its call to demonstrate.
Finally in eastern Mahrah governorate, rare clashes occurred between Saudi forces and the local population after the latter removed cameras planted by Saudi forces in Hatt district. In another incident on October 13, a number of local tribesmen allegedly prevented Saudi forces from establishing a base in Shihan city by telling them to either fight or leave. The Saudis eventually left.
In Syria, clashes continued between Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD), along with their Global Coalition allies, against IS in Abu Kamal district of Deir ez-Zor governorate. There was a trading of territory last week as IS militants took advantage of a sandstorm to gain ground. However, once the dust had settled, assaults by QSD and Coalition forces led to the retaking of those areas.
Clashes between IS and the Syrian army with its allies also continued in the Tlul al Safa area on the administrative border between Rural Damascus and As Sweida. Despite this, no side was able to advance. Similarly, the negotiations concerning the women from Sweida kidnapped by IS have also stalled.
Finally, Turkish sources declared that several Islamist and rebel groups, including Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS), had removed their heavy weaponry from the demilitarized zone which was earlier agreed upon by Turkey and Russia. It is unclear whether Hurras al Deen and Ansar al Din Front – two groups who had earlier rejected the deal – had also pulled out (BBC, 8 October 2018).
16 October 2018