Throughout the Middle East region last week, instances of battles continued to decrease, while remote violence events such as airstrikes and IED attacks increased. This trend has been ongoing since approximately the beginning of 2019. Reported fatalities remained relatively low despite increasing slightly from the previous week. Demonstrations meanwhile increased significantly from the previous week, notably in Bahrain, Iran, Turkey, and Palestine.
Armed conflict escalated last week in Israel along the border with Gaza, with unidentified mortars and incendiary devices being launched into HaDarom province. The incendiary devices sparked fires in Karmiyya and the Yad Mordekhay. Makeshift incendiary devices — often taking the form of balloons or kites with attached explosives — have caused significant damage to agricultural areas in southern Israel since they first were used in April 2018 (for more on that, see this past ACLED piece). However, following a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and the Israeli government last November, there have been no reports of incendiary devices causing damage until last week.
In Palestine, there was an increase in demonstrations and instances of violence against civilians, primarily in the West Bank. An Israeli settler’s body was found in the woods outside Jerusalem the previous week, leading to an increase in settler violence and activity by Israeli forces in the region. The case is subject to a gag order so the specifics of the event remain unknown; however, the arrest of a Palestinian suspect in Ramallah was reported by Israeli forces (Jerusalem Post, 9 February 2019).
In Gaza, the weekly Monday and Friday demonstrations continued against the 12-year long siege of the Gaza Strip. The “Night Confusion” unit, a group of demonstrators known for setting tires on fire at night, was more active this week in initiating demonstrations (Middle East Eye, 12 February 2019). During Friday’s Great March of Return, around 11,000 Palestinians took part in demonstrations, which are typically situated in five main locations along the Gazan border. At least 20 Palestinians were reportedly injured during clashes with Israeli security forces, including a minor, a journalist, and a medic. Furthermore, it was reported last week that a 17-year old Palestinian had succumbed to wounds he had sustained during the previous week’s Friday clashes east of al Bureij.
In Lebanon, only two demonstrations were reported last week, signalling a possible calming of tensions following the long-awaiting forming of the government. Among those demonstrations, a sit-in was held in Riad al-Solh, Beirut, to express a lack of confidence in the recently formed government. A second demonstration Beirut was held in front of the Ministry of Education in response to a man who set himself on fire the previous week after being unable to pay his daughter’s tuition fees. It was also reported that Israeli forces resumed the installation of a concrete barrier wall on the border between Lebanon and Israel (Naharnet, 13 February 2019).
In Jordan, a civilian and two police officers reportedly lost their lives, and several others were injured, as two explosives detonated in As Salt city. The explosions were in the same location that an unidentified armed group had earlier hid explosives during an attack in August 2018. Two days later, in an unrelated incident, two men were detained in Ajloun by police for refusing to provide identification. The detained men called their relatives who attacked the police and gendarmerie with stones and gunfire. One man was reportedly killed during the armed clash, while five, including four police officers, were injured. Additional riots followed news of the death, leading to instances of arson and attacks on government buildings and other property (Jordan Times, 17 February 2019). Ajloun is a rural agricultural area of Jordan where armed clans and kinship are powerful, and periodically lead to clashes.
Finally, the weekly protest near the fourth circle in the capital of Amman continued, with demonstrators demanding changes to economic policies and state corruption.
In Iran, a suicide bomber targeted a bus transporting a number of Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) personnel from Khash to Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchestan province, in one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years. The 13 February attack reportedly killed 27 soldiers, and wounded 13 others. The Sunni Baloch armed group, Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), claimed responsibility for the attack (BBC, 13 February 2019). Sistan and Baluchestan is a volatile area bordering Pakistan and Afghanistan, where militant groups and drug smugglers frequently operate. It is populated mainly by Sunni Muslim ethnic Baluchis. Jaish al-Adl, a Pakistan-based Sunni Balochi separatist group, has carried out dozens of deadly bombings, ambushes, and other attacks on Iranian security forces since its emergence seven years ago. The group is considered to be an offshoot of Jundullah (Soldiers of God) which led a bloody rebellion in the early 2000s; the group was weakened when its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, was executed by the Iranian state in 2010 (France 24, 14 February 2019).
In Bahrain, meanwhile, dozens of riots and protests across the country marked the eighth anniversary of the 14 February 2011 uprising against the ruling Al Khalifa regime. While the majority of demonstrations were peaceful, rioters clashed with security forces in several towns and villages, with many of them throwing Molotov cocktails. In many locations, rioters blocked the streets with burning tires or debris (Daily Telegraph, February 2019).
In Turkey, nationwide peaceful protests occurred last week against China’s ongoing mistreatment of Turkic Muslims in East Turkestan. The majority of demonstrations took place following morning prayers in mostly central Anatolian cities. Tensions between China and Turkey have been strained as a result of the issue (VOA, 13 February 2019).
Meanwhile, demonstrations by Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) members and MPs continued in southeastern cities to support Leyla Guven — an HDP MP on hunger strike to demand an end to the isolation of political prisoner and PKK Leader, Abdullah Öcalan. The majority of the demonstrations were stopped by police. Guven was hospitalized as a result of her hunger strike, but was discharged after she refused treatment (Bianet, 13 February 2019).
Also in the southeast, Turkish military forces continued to clash with Kurdistan Workers Party fighters in the provinces of Igdir and Hakkari, as well as in the Dahuk and Erbil governorates of northern Iraq. Extensive military raids throughout the region led to the destruction of multiple PKK hideouts, the confiscation of explosives, and the arrest of at least 55 people allegedly associated with the group.
In Iraq, there was an increase in Islamic State (IS) attacks on police, military, and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) throughout the country. A large concentration of the attacks occurred in the governorates of Anbar and Diyala. In the latter, a remote explosive hit a battalion of Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades) fighters and reportedly killed nine of them.
Elsewhere in Anbar, at least eight civilians were abducted by IS while in the desert near the towns of Haditha and Rawah. In Sala al-Din governorate, the chief of the explosive devices disposal department (Col. Ghaleb al-Dawri) with the Ministry of Interior was killed by a remote explosive on a road in the Makhoul mountains.
In Yemen, clashes continued in the Kushar district of Hajjah governorate, as Hujur tribal militias backed by the Saudi-led coalition clashed with Houthi forces in the area; at least 90 fatalities were reported throughout the week. Battles also increased along Saudi Arabia’s southern border as Houthi fighters stepped up attacks against border outposts and the Yemeni militias stationed there. Further clashes were fought in Ad Dali’s Al Husha district between local tribesmen and Houthi fighters after the latter blew up the house of a local tribal official.
Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed at least two attacks throughout the week, one which targeted Houthi forces in Al-Bayda governorate and the other against UAE-backed Security Belt forces in Mahfid district of Abyan governorate.
Throughout the week, Saudi-led coalition air raids targeted various locations, with at least one set of strikes targeting an area near the capital of Sana’a.
In Syria, exchanges of shelling between regime and rebel forces — mostly Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) — intensified in and around the DMZ in the governorates of Idleb, Hama, and the Aleppo countryside.
In the east, operations by Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD), supported by Coalition airstrikes, continued against the last remaining enclave of IS fighters in the vicinity of Baghuz village, Deir-ez-Zor governorate. Several members of IS have surrendered to QSD forces, although the group as a whole is refusing to give up until they are allowed to safely retreat along with evacuated civilians. Negotiations so far have been unsuccessful (Times of Israel, 18 February 2019).
Lastly, Israeli forces targeted several Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militia positions in Quneitra province. These attacks followed reports from the previous week of Iranian-backed militias moving out of the Deir-ez-Zor countryside towards Quneitra governorate.
© 2019 Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). All rights reserved.
19 February 2019