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M!ddleEasterners Newsblog: 2 – 9 December

11/12/2013

Syria

Last week the regime launched further air strikes against rebel areas, whilst Islamist groups kidnapped 13 nuns and 50 Kurds, oppressed the Turkmen minority and angered non-shariah lawyers. Further insight has been given into the workings of law and order in opposition-held areas, showing that Islamic courts use using an amalgam of shariah, civil and tribal law.

Syria’s suffering continues, with the persecution of women and homosexuals, while those besieged in Homs and the suburbs of Damascus are starving. In the suburb of Ghouta for example, food prices have escalated to ‘almost fictional’ levels. Desperate refugees are turning to Europe for shelter and to smugglers to get them there. Foreign jihadis are portraying a more attractive view of events, but while some assert they have no plans to return to their motherlands, a potential influx of trained jihadi-citizens is at the forefront of Western concerns. The Russians are so worried about the return of battle-hardened Chechens that they have set up a new military unit. A recent interview on the subject of Qalamoun challenges the idea that the regime is nearing victory there, and given the image of ISIS’ brutal efficiency, it’s not hard to see why a stalemate would persist. Reports from the weekend suggest that the regime has taken control of the Qalamoun highway, though the opposition is resisting both this, and the regime’s advances in Nabk.

Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles are reported destroyed. Divisions between the new Islamic Front and the FSA have broken out into conflict, with the new Islamic Front seizing some FSA arms depots. Finally, a window into the self-perception of Bashar al-Assad was provided, as the Syrian despot praised Nelson Mandela’s memory as a warning to tyrants.

Lebanon

Violence in Tripoli fluctuated last week. The army was given responsibility for the city’s security, they took over by arresting 21 people and dismantling barricades. A mixture of both peaceful and violent clashes between gunmen and soldiers ensued. Residents of a town in the Bekaa Valley set fire to tents in a camp of Syrian refugees, after it was rumoured a refugee had raped a mentally-handicapped man.

In other news the customs chief at the centre of last week’s assault on journalists apologised for it this week.  A Hezbollah commander was assassinated, Israel was blamed straight away, and in turn blamed Salafis. A set of photos of the commander in Syria has made the rounds online in the aftermath of his death. Ali Bazzi, a top Hezbollah military commander, was killed in Syria on the 8th.

Israel

An exchange of fire in the Golan Heights acted as a counterpoint to reports of Israel’s humanitarian activity across its border with Syria.

The Israeli police has demanded media outlets turn over all photos documenting Bedouin protests against the Prawer Plan, while 4 Palestinian MKs have asked John Kerry to pressure Israel into abandoning the scheme. Further Bedouin protests occurred over the weekend, here is an examination into the sentiments behind them. Israel meanwhile is back to clearing more West Bank land for settlement, and 400 Haredim have protested against the arrest of a yeshiva student who ignored his army call-up notice. A ‘historic deal’ has been brokered between Jordan, the PA and Israel, securing an additional 100 million metric cubes of water supplies for the three polities.

Palestine

In Gaza hundreds have protested Israel’s naval blockade. The investigation into the killing of a Fatah member in Ain al-Hilweh has begun, accompanied by a mass installation of security cameras.

The erection of a new city meanwhile is a symbol of resurgent pride for the inhabitants of the West Bank, though construction is hampered by wranglings with Israel. Mahmoud Abbas has committed himself to conduct peace talks for the full 9 months agreed, despite events occurring on the ground.

Egypt

The strike at Helwan Iron and Steel Company expands, while ETUF declared solidarity with the strikers. Activists fear an increasingly vengeful police, as students from several universities launch protests this week. However police anger is not solely directed at protesters, with a few hundred police protesting the Protest Law this weekend. Meanwhile three leading activists are being put on trial for violating it. Tamarod, the Salafi Nour Party and ETUF have publicly endorsed the new constitution, a General has defended the document’s enabling of military trials for civilians, and there has been much commentary on the quality of the freedoms the document allows. The detention and harsh sentencing of 21 female protesters has attracted much criticism this past week, leading the authorities to agree to release them (though not without charge) following an appeal. The regime is however not becoming more lenient in general, arresting 73 protesters during the latest pro-Morsi protests. A priceless statuette of Tutankhamun’s sister has been discovered.

by ICSR research intern Adam Brodie