ACLED Regional Snapshot – Middle East (May 8-21, 2021) – Occupied Palestinian Territory
Over the past two weeks in the Middle East, an 11-day military conflict has erupted between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip, as Arabs and Jews engaged in political violence inside the Gaza Strip. ‘Israel and throughout the occupied West Bank. Across the Middle East, hundreds of protests were organized in solidarity with Palestine. Meanwhile, airstrikes were carried out by Russia and Israel in Syria, while the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) launched a full-scale security operation against the Islamic State (IS) in the Deir campaign. ez-Zor. Riots broke out in Iraq following the murder of a prominent activist in Kerbala. In Yemen, the general level of political violence continued to decline as fighting calmed down in Marib and Taizz governorates, although Sadah’s Houthi stronghold was the target of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. saudi arabia. Elsewhere, fighting between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Turkish military forces has intensified in Turkey and northern Iraq. Finally, Syrians in Lebanon voting in the Syrian presidential election have been targeted by angry Lebanese rioters for their support for President Bashar Assad.
Across the Middle East, including Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Yemen, hundreds of protests were staged in support of the Palestinians. On May 10, the simmering tensions between Israel and Palestine resulted in the most intense violence since the Gaza war in 2014. For 11 days, Israel and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip engaged in a violent exchange of fire. According to the Israel Defense Forces (May 21, 2021), Hamas and allied Islamic Jihad fired more than 4,300 rockets and mortars at Israel, about 90% of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome. At least 12 Israelis were reportedly killed during the conflict.
Meanwhile, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip with heavy airstrikes, targeting Hamas and allied Islamic Jihad militants and infrastructure, including an extensive network of tunnels. The bombing took a heavy toll on Palestinian civilians. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (May 22, 2021), at least 129 of the more than 250 Palestinians killed were civilians, including more than 60 children. Israel destroyed more than 180 residential and commercial properties during the conflict, including buildings housing several local and international media outlets (Al Jazeera, May 19, 2021). Israel justifies the bombardment of residential buildings by claiming that they housed military resources, but strong international criticism has been expressed against its brutal campaign and the choice of targets (Times of Israel, May 26, 2021). An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire began early on May 21 and has been held so far this week.
Over the past two weeks, tensions have also been high in the West Bank and predominantly Arab towns in Israel, as well as towns with mixed Arab and Jewish populations. More than 400 riot events were recorded during this period, involving clashes between Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, and Israeli security forces as well as Jewish Israeli rioters. More than 20 Palestinians and at least one Israeli Arab citizen have been killed in the clashes. In addition, more than 70 incidents of settler violence against Palestinians and their property have been reported, while Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel have engaged in more than 10 cases of violence against Israeli civilians and their properties. In addition, in at least 20 cases, Palestinians attacked Israeli military forces with guns, knives and vehicles.
Meanwhile at SyriaRussian warplanes carried out dozens of airstrikes on northern Latakia and the Idleb countryside to the west. The attacks on the village of Tardeen injured several civilians. Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike targeted a vehicle carrying ammunition along the Syrian-Lebanese border in the area adjacent to the Lebanese region of Harmel. The vehicle probably belonged to the regime and / or a pro-regime militia (Naharnet, May 14, 2021). In eastern Syria, QSD carried out a large-scale anti-ISIS security operation in the Deir-ez-Zor countryside following the murder of several of its operatives. During the operation, hundreds of Arab civilians were arrested, including members of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS). While some were subsequently released, others were kept in detention. In Quneitra, an agreement was reached under Russian mediation between the regime’s military intelligence and local dignitaries in Um Batna. This follows a prolonged period of negotiations and threats from regime forces to launch military operations in the city. The agreement provides for the relocation of 30 wanted people with their family members to northern Syria. In turn, the regime would end the blockade imposed on Um Batna (Asharq Al Awsat, May 21, 2021).
In Iraq, unknown activists assassinated a prominent activist in the town of Kerbala on May 8. The assassination sparked riots involving clashes with security forces in several parts of Iraq, including Basra, Nassriya and Baghdad. Rioters burned tires outside the Iranian consulate in the city of Kerbala on May 9. Two days later, demonstrators burned photos of the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Police attempted to disperse the crowd with live ammunition, injuring dozens of protesters (Rudaw, May 9, 2021).
Elsewhere, the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga have established a joint operations center in Khanaqin district, Diyala province. The Joint Operations Center was established to better coordinate counter-ISIS operations between the Iraqi military and the Peshmerga in areas of internal conflict in Iraq. Both Arabs and Kurds accused the lack of coordination between these two forces to be the reason for continuing IS attacks where their areas of control overlap (Basnews, May 20, 2021). Finally, on May 21, IS militants shot and killed the head of the Tarmiyah Youth Association in Baghdad, a local volunteer relief group (Bagdad Today, May 21, 2021).
In Yemen, political violence continued its downward trajectory observed since mid-March, with ACLED recording the lowest level of violence in the week of May 15 since the start of the year. This is mainly due to a significant decrease in activity in the governorates of Marib and Taizz. Political violence in Marib, which initially increased by 38% in the week of May 8, fell sharply to over 44% in the week of May 15. This represents a fluctuation in the frequency of clashes between pro-Hadi forces and Houthi forces along the main front lines of Al Kasarah and Al Mashjah, west of the city. In addition, clashes between pro-Hadi forces and members of local tribes on May 19 testify to the fragility of the situation in the anti-Houthi camp. The clashes took place east of the town of Marib, on the main road to the Safer oil and gas facility, and caused more than 25 oil and gas trucks to burn (Twitter, May 20, 2021).
In Taizz, political violence increased dramatically during the week of May 8, mainly in Al Mudhaffar district, north and northwest of Taizz town, where pro-Hadi forces claimed to have thwarted several attempts to infiltrate the Houthis. Despite the decline in political violence that followed during the week of May 15, attacks on civilians escalated. Three citizens were killed by a Houthi supervisor and an explosion was reported in the Al Hawban qat market, which left two civilians dead and 21 others injured.
In other areas, Sadah’s Houthi stronghold has seen a sustained rise in levels of political violence over the past two weeks, with Saudi-led coalition airstrikes accounting for the majority of events. On May 18, one of these airstrikes reportedly destroyed a health center and killed one of its employees (Yemen News Agency – SABA, May 18, 2021). Meanwhile, in Ad Dali, political violence has declined dramatically over the past two weeks after clashes between pro-Houthi and anti-Houthi forces erupted in late April.
In Saudi ArabiaThe Houthi attacks continued at a steady pace during the week of May 8. Houthi forces targeted the Asir region for three consecutive days. They also targeted various locations in the town of Najran with more than 10 bomb-laden drones and missiles on May 13 – all of which Saudi forces say they intercepted. In contrast, only one Houthi attack was recorded against Saudi Arabia during the week of May 15, reverting to January levels.
Elsewhere, fighting between the Turkish army and PKK forces escalated in the north Iraq and turkey. PKK militants have increasingly carried out drone attacks against Turkish military installations, with seven attacks recorded in Iraq and three inside Turkey in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, a high-ranking Kurdish activist, Sofi Nurettin, was killed in a Turkish airstrike in Iraq on May 8. Turkish officials – who have long claimed that the People’s Protection Units (YPG) are the “Syrian extension” of the PKK – claim that Nurettin acted as the head of operations for the 2015 “Syrian wing” of the PKK to 2020 (Vatan, May 18, 2021). According to Turkish security officials, Nurettin is the highest ranking member of the armed wing of the PKK ever killed (Daily Sabah, May 17, 2021).
Finally, in Lebanon, supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad who were heading to the Syrian embassy to vote for the Syrian presidential election were attacked by angry Lebanese riot groups. The cars were pelted with stones and the windshields were smashed. In another incident, a group of Syrians was run over by a Lebanese driver. The next day, several Syrian stores were vandalized in Wadi Khaled due to their owners’ participation in the elections. This follows a call by the leader of the Lebanese Forces – a far-right Christian political party – for Assad’s voters to return to Syria, saying the regime “does not pose a threat to them” (Middle East Eye, May 20, 2021). While in recent years the fighting in Syria has subsided, according to the UN, the country is not ready for the return of the refugees in the absence of a peace agreement (Associated Press, May 20, 2021).