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M!ddleEasterners Newsblog: 16-23 November

25/11/2013

Syria

On the 17th Abdelqader Saleh, leader of Aleppo’s Liwa al-Tawhid Brigade, was confirmed killed by a regime airstrike. The death of such an important leader is expected to have real ramifications, with Syrian exiles in Qatar hoping it will provoke a backlash against the regime. ICSR’s Shiraz Maher was more cautious however, suggesting that the death of such an influential figure may fracture the Brigade’s informal hierarchy.

An accidental execution of a rebel commander by ISIS has prompted angry critique from a group of religious scholars in Aleppo, calling for the accused to leave the group. Meanwhile, last week’s PYD declaration of an autonomous Kurdish enclave in the north was not received well by all Kurdish groups, particularly the Iraq-based KDP who accused the PYD of cooperating with Assad, and last month prevented PYD leader Saleh Muslim from entering their territory.

Not all Syrian political wrangling takes place within its borders. A report on British foreign fighters in Syria has triggered an announcement by the British Foreign Office that they are investigating the phenomenon. Meanwhile the search continues for a country that is both willing and able to destroy the Syrian regimes stockpile of chemical weapons.

As winter is well underway the residents of Aleppo are in an even more precarious situation – as the regime is restricting aid from reaching rebel held areas. There is difficultly getting medical aid to Aleppo, especially problematic considering the country’s polio outbreak. The regime has come to realise just how profitable control of such resources can be.

Lebanon

In Beirut two synchronised bombings struck the Iranian embassy, causing many casualties, which were seen by Hezbollah as a reaction to the group’s involvement in Syria. Violence also flared up again in Tripoli.

One of the biggest problems is still the impact of the Syrian war on Lebanon, as a regime offensive on the border forced yet more Syrians to flee their country. The large numbers of refugees are believed to be inflicting severe economic damage on Lebanon, prompting discontent and leading Caretaker PM Mikati to suggest that future refugee camps should be set up in Syria. Alongside the economic damage, there have been reports indicating the seeping of military phenomena across the border, with the arrest of several gunmen and shells landing on Lebanese border towns. Though Lebanon has experienced many violent incidents related to the Syrian civil war, concern over their impact has not diminished.

Israel

Israel has reportedly stepped up its spying activities on the Lebanese border, and even crossed over into Lebanon to clear a minefield. Meanwhile reinstated Foreign Minister Lieberman has caused controversy by suggesting that since relations between the US  and Iran have warmed then maybe Israel will seek some new allies, it seems unlikely that Russia will be top of the list.

Palestine

Egypt opened up the Rafeh crossing, allowing in the first aid convoy since June, only to close it again two days later, with no statement on when it might reopen. The city’s severe power shortages have led to several critical services, particularly the enclave’s sewer plants, teetering on the brink of collapse. Against the backdrop of this crisis, Hamas has called for a meeting to take place next week, which will focus in part on reconciliation with Egypt and Fatah.

Egypt

The interim Egyptian President announced three days of mourning for the soldiers killed in the Sinai by a car bomb. Alongside the killings, Egypt has experienced unrest in a number of areas. A clash with striking students was broken up with tear gas, and a protest at Al-Azhar University left one student dead and the Cairo police newly empowered to enter university campuses without needing prior permission. Crowds returned to Tahrir Square for the second anniversary of the bloody Mohamed Mahmoud Street battles.

Egypt’s constitution appears to have retained military trials for civilians in certain cases, implying the finished document will not meet the minimal constitutional demands released this week by a number of civil rights bodies. Last week the Muslim Brotherhood offered negotiations without insisting on the reinstatement of Morsi.

by ICSR research intern Adam Brodie