Throughout the Middle East region last week, overall instances of battles continued to decrease, while remote violence events, such as airstrikes and IED attacks, also decreased following a two-month upward trend. Despite this, reported fatalities increased significantly, especially in Yemen, where the above trends were reversed. Demonstration events, meanwhile, decreased across all countries in the region.

In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the main focal point of news reports last week. On 28 February, a UN Human Rights Council probe concluded that Israeli soldiers may have committed war crimes and/or crimes against humanity in their response to the Great Return marches in Gaza, which included the fatal shooting of medics, journalists, children, and disabled persons (Times of Israel, 28 February 2019). On the same day, Israel’s attorney general announced his intention to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and other charges with just 40 days before his re-election run (New York Times, 28 February 2019). In response, Israelis took to the street of Tel Aviv and demonstrated for his resignation. Whilst hundreds of Israelis took part in the demonstration against the PM, there were reports of only a few dozen demonstrating in his support.

Meanwhile, in the southern province, a number of incendiary balloons were launched across the border from Gaza throughout the week. One such balloon exploded mid-air and caused damage to a number of homes in the Eshkol Regional Council, while another caused a fire in Kissufim forest.

In Palestine, clashes in the West Bank continued between Israeli forces, settlers, and Palestinians. Clashes were most concentrated in areas of East Jerusalem and Hebron. On Tuesday, the Waqf security forces re-opened al-Rahma Gate of Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City for worshippers, and thousands of Palestinians prayed there. A group of Israelis responded by storming the Al Aqsa compound and spray painting racist and anti-Arab slogans on the gate. There also appeared to be a general increase in property destructions and seizures carried out by Israeli forces and settlers. Hundreds of durums of land were closed off in the Jordan Valley by settlers and around 350 olive trees were uprooted in the South Hebron Hills by Israeli forces.

Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza calling for the resignation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas (Al Jazeera, 24 February 2019). At the same time, hundreds of Abbas supporters staged rallies in Jabalya, Gaza Strip, and in the Ramallah and Hebron areas of the West Bank. Members of the Fatah Movement, who led the pro-PA Jabalya demonstrations, have accused Hamas of arresting and torturing over 100 Fatah members last week (Jpost, 3 March 2019). These events are indicative of the rising tensions between various political powers in Palestine.

Elsewhere in the Gaza strip, the Night Confusion unit was once again active in leading demonstrations east of Rafah and Al Burayj. On Friday, around 8,000 Gazans attended the 49th Great March of Return along the border with Israel. At least 17 Palestinians were reportedly injured during the clashes that ensued, including a journalist and a number of health workers. Furthermore, three Hamas locations in the southern and central areas of Gaza were targeted by Israeli airstrikes on Wednesday and Thursday.

In Lebanon, hundreds of people took part in a demonstration in Beirut which demanded that the government raise the legal marriage age to 18. Another demonstration took place in Besri, where residents demonstrated against the construction of a new water dam. Throughout the week, approximately 1,500 Syrian refugees returned to Syria from both Lebanon and Jordan.

In Jordan, demonstration events remained relatively high last week, the majority of which were led by labour groups against widespread unemployment. In a continuation of the previous week’s long marches, protesters in Irbid set off on foot to Amman to demand better employment opportunities. Dozens of Jordanian industrial workers also demonstrated in Aqaba city against their company replacing current workers with foreign ones. On Monday and Tuesday, demonstrations were held by high school students in Amman, Karak, Maan, and Irbid against the newly imposed single-semester system for high school exams known as “Tawjihi”.

In Iran, demonstrations by multiple labour and interest groups, as well as by defrauded investors, continued across the country. Noteworthy were two demonstrations by hundreds of retirees, including teachers, in Tehran and Isfahan. The participants were demanding higher pensions and better health insurance benefits. Retired teachers specifically demanded the equalization of their pensions with those of other fields.

In Bahrain, riots and protests were reported across several towns and villages last week. The majority of these were organized against the 25 February High Court rulings which upheld the death sentences of a number of Shiite men in connection with two fatal bomb attacks against security forces in 2015 and 2017 (Asharq Al-Awsat, 25 February 2019). Furthermore, on 27 February, a Bahraini court handed down prison terms to 167 Bahrainis for taking part in a sit-in that lasted several months outside the house of leading Shiite cleric Ayatollah Sheikh Isa Qassim. The sit-in had been organized following the revocation of Isa Qassim’s citizenship in 2016 (Press TV, 28 February 2019).

In Turkey, multiple protest movements continued from earlier weeks across the country. These included labour demonstrations to demand unpaid salaries, as well as demonstrations against the recent execution of nine men in Egypt after an alleged unfair trial, and against the treatment of Uyghurs in China’s East Turkestan region. In addition, the partial hunger strike by MP Leyla Güven reached 116 days last Saturday, and continues to receive support by both Kurdish political groups, as well as prisoners. The hunger strike began in protest of the treatment of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, as well as other political prisoners. Güven was released from prison on 25 January, but has continued her agitation despite health concerns (Ahval News, 4 March 2019).

Meanwhile, clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces continued in the southeast, as well as northern Iraq. Last week, PKK militants attacked at least two Turkish positions in Sirnak and Agri provinces with bombs and artillery. In the latter, six soldiers were reportedly killed when an IED targeted their vehicle in Somkaya village of Dogubeyazit district. In northern Iraq, at least eight Turkish airstrikes hit PKK positions in the governorates of Dahuk and Erbil, although no casualties were reported. Turkey has been consistently targeting the remote areas of Iraqi Kurdistan, which the PKK and other Kurdish militant groups use as a staging ground for attacks into their own countries.

Elsewhere in Iraq, clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants occurred across several governorates, with the group continuing to employ more discreet tactics such as IED attacks. Over recent weeks, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) have increasingly been the target of such attacks, especially in Anbar, Sala al-Din, and Ninewa (for more on recent PMF activity, see this ACLED analysis). In Mosul city alone, four PMF soldiers were reportedly killed by IS militants last week. Two additional IED attacks in Mosul reportedly killed one civilian, and injured 24 more. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces and members of the Global Coalition have continued to target and destroy IS hideouts, tunnels, and weapons caches.

In Yemen, fighting continued in several key areas between pro-Houthi and anti-Houthi forces, the latter backed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. Intense clashes took place in Kushar district of Hajjah, where Houthi forces clashed with Hujur tribal militia fighters and their Coalition allies. Ongoing battles are taking place in Kitaf district of Sadah governorate, where anti-Houthi forces are attempting to take control of Houthi held territory; minor gains by the former were reported last week. In the same district, a Houthi-fired ballistic missile hit a popular market near the Saudi-Yemen border, reportedly killing at least 12 anti-Houthi soldiers.

Meanwhile, at least ten civilians were reportedly killed by Houthi shelling and mines throughout the week, with anti-Houthi forces and Saudi-led coalition airstrikes allegedly responsible for at least 11 more.

Lastly, protest demonstrations took place in several major cities across the country. Demonstrators in Houthi-held territory reportedly denounced the United States’ actions in Venezuela, while those in areas not under Houthi control protested against enforced disappearances, poor government services, and the sale of public lands by officials.

In Syria, regime and rebel forces – particularly Hayat Tahrir al Sham (HTS) and Ansar Al Tawhid – continued to clash and exchange shelling in and around the DMZ in the governorates of Idleb, Hama, and the Aleppo countryside (for more on Syria’s DMZ, see this recent ACLED infographic). Several civilians were reportedly killed as a result of artillery fire.

Meanwhile, in the east, fighting between Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD), supported by Global Coalition airstrikes, and IS fighters continued in the last remaining areas under IS control. Last week, QSD forces launched a seemingly final offensive against IS remnants in the countryside of Baghuz village, Deir-ez-Zor governorate. This assault follows a period of relative calm during which civilians and some IS fighters managed to escape the area (France 24, 2 March 2019). Some territorial gains were reported by QSD by the end of the week.

Elsewhere, suicide attacks and assassinations against HTS continued in the Greater Idleb area, mostly perpetrated by IS sleeper cells or unidentified groups. On 2 March, HTS executed ten individuals with alleged links to a local IS cell after a suicide attack targeted an HTS gathering the day before. Eight people, including civilians, were reportedly killed in the attack.

© 2019 Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). All rights reserved.

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Regional Overview – Middle East
5 March 2019
Tom Hart
Tom Hart
Middle East Research Manager
Tom Hart is a Middle East Research Manager with the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), and a part-time brewer and genealogist. He received his BA in International History from Carleton University in Ottawa, where he focused on colonial relationships, intercultural interaction, and geocultural perspectives. Mr. Hart is currently based out of Ottawa, Canada, and is fluent in English and French.
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