Throughout the Middle East region last week, instances of battles continued to decrease, while remote violence events such as airstrikes and IED attacks increased, particularly in Syria. This trend has been ongoing since approximately the beginning of 2019. Reported fatalities remained at a level similar to the previous week, decreasing only slightly. Meanwhile, demonstrations decreased overall, with the exception of Iran, where labour demonstrations against unpaid salaries and job insecurity were widespread.
Last week in Palestine, clashes between Israeli security forces, settlers, and Palestinians intensified in the West Bank, particularly in East Jerusalem around the Old City. On 17 February, clashes broke out in the area following the forced eviction by Israeli forces of a Palestinian family from their home. On the same day, Israeli forces fortified the closure of the Al Rahma gate with locks and iron chains. Al Rahma gate leads to a prayer space inside the Al Aqsa mosque compound, which has been sealed by Israeli forces since the second intifada in 2003. On 18 February, clashes began around Bab al Rahma as Palestinians broke the seal of the gate to let worshippers inside. Israeli forces then re-sealed the gate and clashes ensued. The Waqf, a Jordanian Islamic trust which manages Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has stated that they want Al Rahma gate to remain open. This has flared tensions between Israel and Jordan. Prayers and demonstrations at the gate continued throughout the week. On 22 February, Palestinian demonstrators and worshipers, again, broke the seal of Al Rahma gate (Ma’an, 24 February 2019). Widespread arrests of activists and Waqf members have been carried out by Israeli forces over the last week (Haaretz, 22 February 2019). However, as of 26 February, Al Rahma Gate remains open despite Israeli attempts to close it (WAFA, 26 February 2019).
In Gaza meanwhile, clashes between rioters and Israeli security forces occurred throughout the week in multiple locations, mainly along the border with Israel. On 22 February, around 8,000 Palestinians took part in the weekly Friday marches as part of the ongoing Great March of Return. Resulting clashes left one Palestinian minor dead, and 41 others injured (WAFA, 22 February 2019). Earlier, on 17 February, Israeli undercover forces known as Mista’arvim disguised as Palestinian protesters infiltrated demonstrations along the northern Gaza border. The force was exposed and unidentified Palestinians threw an explosive at them, triggering heavy live fire by Israeli forces which reportedly injured 19 Palestinians.
Throughout the week, there was an increase in Israeli firing incidents on Palestinian fishermen who were seemingly beyond the nautical mile limit imposed by the Israeli blockade. Such incidents are not uncommon, and occasionally lead to casualties (B’tselem, 11 February 2019).
In Israel, an unidentified rocket from Gaza landed in Shar HaNegev on 18 February but did not cause any reported damage. Two days later, fires broke out in Kissufim forest, thought to have been caused by incendiary devices launched from Gaza. Earlier on 17 February, Israeli forces had targeted two Hamas positions in northern Gaza with tank fire. Further Israeli airstrikes three days later hit a Hamas observation post east of Al Burayj refugee camp.
Meanwhile, hundreds of employees from the Ministry of Education demonstrated in Jerusalem and Beersheba against a proposal for a 2019 program intended to create equal opportunities for school children. The ministry is reducing funding to the program and employees warn that the program is headed towards a crisis (Jerusalem Post, 18 February 2019). In Tel Aviv, a group of Haredi Jews demonstrated against mandatory military service.
In Lebanon, “No Confidence” demonstrations continued last week in Beirut against the newly formed Lebanese Government. Several other small scale demonstrations and sit-ins were held throughout the country. One demonstration was held against recent power and electricity cuts in the capital, and another in Bisri against the building of a new water dam in the area. Two protests were led by truck drivers who are unable to work due to issues regarding their license plates.
In Jordan, a wave of mass protest marches, originating in Aqabah, aimed to raise awareness and demand improved job opportunities. Over 100 demonstrators marched on foot from their homes to Amman, with smaller marches beginning in Ajlun, Karak, and Ar Ramtha. The agitation led to a response from the Ministry of Labour, which promised the creation of 3,300 jobs (Middle East Eye, 22 February 2019). Meanwhile, the weekly protest near Amman’s Fourth Circle was once again held to demand deep changes to economic policies and the combating of corruption. A similar demonstration was held in Irbid city.
In Iran, demonstrations continued across the country, mostly by labour groups over unpaid salaries. Furthermore, a number of protests were held by defrauded investors of several credit institutions, savings associations, and investment schemes. Thousands of investors have lost their savings over the last two years to institutions that were not following standard rules and regulations but attracted investors through higher interest rates. Investors across Iran have been demonstrating to demand the return of their money and to denounce Iranian authorities for having allowed the institutions to operate for many years without providing an adequate and appropriate level of supervision.
In Khuzestan province, violent clashes erupted between residents of Andimeshk and Dezful – two rival towns – over the installation of a sign outlining the borders of the two towns. Despite police presence, rioters in Andimeshk eventually tore down and set ablaze the sign, which had been installed by Dezful authorities, claiming that it was placed on the territory of their town (Radio Farda, 19 February 2019).
In Bahrain, several demonstrations were held against the normalization of diplomatic ties between Bahrain and Israel. This comes after several Bahraini officials discussed the idea at a summit in the Polish city of Warsaw (Press TV, 15 February 2019).
In Turkey, there were a number of demonstrations throughout the country, many of which involved labour groups demanding the return of their jobs following post-coup attempt legislative decrees or unpaid salaries. Notably, there were several demonstrations staged in multiple provinces condemning the execution of nine men in Egypt following their allegedly unfair trial for the killing of the former Public Prosecutor. Turkish President Erdogan criticized his Egyptian counterpart over the issue later in the week (Al Jazeera, 22 February 2019).
Meanwhile, clashes between state troops and Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants were sparse, following a recent trend of seemingly decreased engagements in the country’s southeast. On the other hand, there were several reports of Turkish forces destroying PKK shelters and settlements during intelligence raids throughout Sirnak province. This comes as Turkish airstrikes continue to hit PKK targets in northern Iraq with relative frequency.
In Iraq, there was a large number of clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants throughout the week, many of which occurred during Iraqi military raids in multiple provinces. IS, on the other hand, continued to target security forces using ambush tactics such as IED attacks and sniping. Attacks on Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have increased recently, especially in Diyala governorate.
In addition, a nationwide labour strike was instigated by teachers which aimed to address the deteriorating education system throughout the country (Xinhua, 17 February 2019).
In Yemen, fighting continued between anti-Houthi and pro-Houthi forces, with intense battles occurring in Husha district of Ad Dali governorate, Kitaf wa Al-Boqee district of Sadah governorate, and areas outside of Harad city, Hajjah governorate.
Meanwhile, an increasing number of tribal militias have clashed with Houthi forces in multiple areas, including Hujur tribal militias in Kushar district of Hajjah governorate, the Muftah tribal militia in Qafr district of Ibb, and tribesmen in the Al Husha district of Ad Dali. Saudi-led coalition warplanes have been supporting the tribal militias, air-dropping weapons and supplies to the fighters in Kushar district, as well as striking Houthi positions throughout the area.
Elsewhere, UAE-backed anti-terror forces attacked and took control of an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) camp in Mudiyah district of Abyan governorate, reportedly suffering light casualties during the clashes.
Lastly, a number of demonstrations were held across areas in the south of Yemen, with protesters denouncing forced disappearances by UAE-backed forces, a lack of government services, and land violations.
In Syria, regime and loyalist militia forces continued their heavy bombardment of rebel and Islamist-held areas in northern Hama and Lattakia governorates, as well as southern Idleb. Rebel fighters – mostly Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) – responded with GRAD rockets. Several civilians were reportedly killed during the exchanges in the Idleb countryside.
Elsewhere, covert IS attacks continued in Raqqah governorate and parts Deir ez-Zor outside of the besieged Baghuz area. These included IED and VBIED attacks, as well as assassinations. Notably, an IS fighter detonated their suicide vest in front of a Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) office in the town of Kasra.
Elsewhere in Deir ez-Zor governorate, clashes between QSD and IS fighters have temporarily ceased, in what seems to be a new agreement contingent on the evacuation of civilians trapped in the IS-controlled pocket of Baghuz, which has already begun (Reuters, 22 February 2019). However, it is not clear whether the conditions of this agreement will include the provision of safe passage for IS fighters towards a designated location.
© 2019 Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). All rights reserved.
26 February 2019