M!ddleEasterners Newsblog 17-25 June
Sunni cleric Ahmed al-Assir has recently been making headlines as armed supporters of his have been engaging in battles against pro-Hezbollah fighters. Assir has justified creating an armed movement due to the government’s failure to protect Sunnis against Hezbollah fighters. Tensions and violence have continued to rapidly increase in Tripoli, Sidon and the Bekaa Valley. Lebanon is no stranger to civil unrest after its own 15 year civil war (1975-1990) and fears are rising of a possible renewed civil war engulfing the country as tensions between Sunnis and Shi’as transition into violence as a result of the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
The deployment of the Lebanese Army in Abra on the outskirts of Sidon against Assir and his supporters early this week resulted in the deaths of 12 Lebanese soldiers as clashes ensued between the cleric’s supporters at a Mosque complex. Assir had made calls to the public to protect them from being ‘massacred’ as they were surrounded by the army. Jihadi groups in and out of Lebanon have called for a ‘holy war’ in support of Assir in fighting Hezbollah and Assad’s forces dangerously fuelling sectarian and religious divides.
So it seems that Syria’s conflict has met all predictions of spilling over into Lebanon where violence looks set to increase as such events rapidly unfold. Tensions between the small Alawite neighbourhood of Jabal Mohsen and predominately Sunni district of Bab al-Tabbaneh have witnessed an increase in violence since the beginning of the Syrian conflict as Sunni neighbourhoods have supported the Sunni rebels opposing Lebanese Shi’as in support of the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad and Hezbollah’s role in the conflict. During Hezbollah’s battle against The Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the city of Qusayr a deal was struck where injured rebel fighters were permitted entry into Lebanon for treatment for the freeing of captured Hezbollah fighters.
After the American Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in support of providing military aid to Syrian opposition over a month ago, President Obama has honoured those calls by deciding to further this action. President Putin of Russia has criticised this decision by questioning where the weapons may end up and highlighting the possibility of them ending up in the hands of designated terrorist groups such as Jubhat Al Nasr. Putin also expressed concerns that a forced and rapid exit of Bashar Al-Assad could leave a ‘political vacuum’ that may engulf the region into further conflict. Human rights groups have also publicly opposed the arming of both the Syrian government and rebels as citing the risk of an increase in war crimes committed by both sides.
Meanwhile advances have been made by rebel groups in Aleppo. The group calling itself The Ahrar al-Sham brigade were behind a car bomb that killed 12 government soldiers and 6 rebel fighters. According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights over 533 people were killed between 20th – 25th June, including 8 in Zamalka killed by poisonous gases reigniting concerns over the use of chemical weapons.
After reports of rockets fired into Israel a number of targets in the Gaza Strip were struck. No injuries were reported on either side and no one has yet to claim responsibility for the breaking of the ceasefire.
An Israeli was shot dead at the scene of the Western Wall after he was shot several times by a security guard for shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’. The reason for the Jewish man shouting the Islamic expression remains unclear but the security guard’s motive, which is being investigated, was after supposedly seeing the man pull something from his pocket as he shouted.
Israel replaced Stanley Fischer with the surprise candidate of Jacob Frenkel as the new Bank of Israel governer. He previously held the post between 1991-2000 and it is widely thought that he will continue with the same polices as Fischer.
Meanwhile the newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minster Rami Hamdallah, whose appointment by President Mahmood Abbas was condemned by Hamas as jeopardising the reconciliation agreement between the two parties, has stepped down after only two weeks. He cited corruption in the country for forcing him to resign and called for political reform.
Palestinians from both the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip were euphoric after Mohammad Assaf won Arab Idol last weekend. Although reality tv may be a surprisingly popular trend in the Middle East compared to what else is happening in the region the way in which it has managed to unify all Palestinians has been deemed a success. President Abbas even hailed Assaf a good-will Ambassador upon his return home, and the United Nations has appointed him as the first regional youth ambassador for United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Interestingly, even though Hamas declared the show un-Islamic it did not crack down too hard on viewings and celebrations for fear of a backlash.