Throughout the Middle East region last week, reported fatalities have remained consistent with the week prior, having dropped significantly since the beginning of November. Meanwhile we see a slight rise in overall demonstrations, the majority of which occurred in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Israel. At the same time, the number of reported battles has risen slightly as well, representative of the ongoing offensives by multiple groups in both Yemen and Syria.
In Palestine last week, demonstrations continued in Gaza related to the Israeli blockade and deteriorating conditions within the territory. No deaths were reported, although there were dozens of injuries reported during clashes between rioters and Israeli security forces along the buffer zone.
In the West Bank, violence related to property demolitions and raids also continued, having grown more prevalent in recent weeks. During one such raid in Tulkarm city, one Palestinian was reportedly killed when Israeli soldiers used live fire to disperse stone-pelting locals. However, unlike previous weeks, there were no reports of “price tag” attacks – acts of violence and vandalism by Israeli settlers targeting Palestinians; the only event involving settlers was an instance of Palestinian rioters targeting a settler vehicle with stones.
In Israel, demonstrations erupted across the country early in the week following the murder two teenage girls – one in Tel Aviv by her mother’s ex-boyfriend, and the other in Jish by persons unknown. The protests focused on domestic violence and campaigned for increased funding for victims and preventative measures. In many of the demonstrations, there was a high Arab turnout due to the fact that one of the murdered girls was Arab and also due to the prevalence of violence against women within the community.
Also last week, Israeli forces reported that they discovered two Hezbollah border tunnels entering Israel, and have found a third more recently this week. On 8 December, Israeli military sources reported that they fired on three suspected Hezbollah members near Yiftah, where a tunnel was earlier discovered. Lebanese sources deny this claim and say that the Israeli soldiers had fired on a routine Lebanese military patrol (Times of Israel, 8 December 2018).
In Jordan, there were a number of protest demonstrations throughout the week in Amman against corruption within the government, in addition to the income tax and cybercrime draft laws. It was also reported that over 1,000 Syrian refugees returned to their home country from Jordan between 6 and 7 December. During that same period, there was a similar Syria migration out of Lebanon.
Also in Lebanon, a police raid on the Jahliyeh home of a former minister close to the Hezbollah movement left a bodyguard dead after an exchange of fire. The politician, Wiam Wahhab, leader of the Arab Unification Party (also known as the Tawhid Party), had refused to attend an official questioning following a complaint over an insult to PM designate Hariri and his parents.
In Iraq, the southern demonstrations gained further momentum last week, particularly in the governorate of Basrah. Demonstrations turned violent when rioters attempted to storm both the governor’s office and a hotel holding a government press conference in the provincial capital. Police also clashed with demonstrators outside the West Qurna 2 oilfield, who were demanding jobs and better facilities. This recent surge in demonstrations is becoming increasingly similar to the violent southern demonstrations of July 2018 (for more on that, see this ACLED piece).
Elsewhere in the country, Hussein Hijami, a commander of Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades), a Shiite militia group that is part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was assassinated by unidentified persons in the al-Shula (Kadhimiyah) area of Baghdad. He was allegedly working with the Ministry of Health at the time (Rudaw, 6 December 2018).
In Iran, a suicide car bomb detonated outside of a police station in the southern port city of Chabahar, Sistan and Baluchestan province, reportedly killing at least two policemen and wounding 42 people, including 32 civilians. The Sunni armed group Ansar al-Furqan later claimed responsibility for the attack. Armed violence is not particularly rare for the border province, which deals with both drug smugglers and armed separatist groups (for more on conflict in Iran’s border provinces, see this ACLED piece). The city of Chabahar is within a free trade zone and hosts an Indian-backed port complex developed as part of a new transportation corridor connecting Afghanistan to the sea (Middle East Eye, 6 December 2018).
In Bahrain, riots and protests continued to a lesser degree, mainly to demand the release of political prisoners. While general anti-regime demonstrations continue, there seems to be less focus on the recent election when compared to previous weeks (for more on recent demonstrations in Bahrain, see this ACLED piece).
In Turkey, a similar number of demonstrations occurred throughout the country as the week prior, the majority of which were met with police intervention. While former public servants let go during the post-coup purge continued their ongoing agitation for jobs in Ankara, new protests erupted in Kizilcakoy, Aydin province, against a planned geothermal power plant. On two separate days, gendarmerie forces arrived to disperse the protests.
Meanwhile, fighting continued to a lesser degree between Turkish military forces and Kurdistan Workers’ Party militants in the country’s southeast. As usual, the majority of battles and airstrikes occurred in Sirnak province, however only one event was reported in Hakkari province last week, which along with Sirnak is typically a hotbed for armed engagements.
In Yemen, clashes between Houthi and anti-Houthi fighters increased across all of the country’s major battlefronts, as the warring factions attempted to gain strategic positions in preparation for peace talks which commenced in Sweden mid-week. Minor territorial gains were reported by anti-Houthi forces in Baqim district of Sadah governorate, Damt district of Ad Dali governorate, and Al Qabbaytah district of Lahij governorate. Clashes continued to a lesser degree on the outskirts of Hodeidah city, with most major battles occurring in the surrounding agricultural districts and outlying suburban areas.
Meanwhile, Houthi forces have increased their cross-border incursions in the north of the country, clashing with Saudi soldiers and affiliated militiamen in the Saudi provinces of Najran, Asir, and Jizan. Saudi soldiers responded by firing rockets and missiles into various locations in Sadah governorate throughout the week.
Moreover, civilian fatalities continue to be a major concern, with an estimated 45 fatalities reportedly occurring across the country over the week as a result of airstrikes, shelling, and direct targeting.
In Syria, regime forces continued to clash with rebel and Islamic factions in the governorates of Hama, Lattakia, and Idleb in violation of the Russian-Turkish truce. These clashes took the form of shelling exchanges in addition to ground battles.
Meanwhile, Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD), supported by Coalition airstrikes, made territorial gains against the Islamic State in the Hajin enclave of Deir ez-Zor governorate. By the end of the week, approximately half of Hajin town, considered to be an IS stronghold, was in the hands of QSD forces. The clashes led to the displacement of hundreds of civilians from the enclave, who fled towards QSD-controlled territories.
Lastly, QSD and People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters continued to fight against Turkish-backed rebel and Islamic factions in several towns and villages along the front-line in the northern Aleppo countryside.
12 December 2018