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Significant Middle East Developments
Turkey-Syria. Turkey returned fire into Syria today after a new Syrian shell landed in the Turkish town of Akcakale. Today’s fire exchange comes two days after Syrian artillery fire across the border killed five Turkish civilians--a women, her three children, and a relative. Yesterday, while not explicitly naming Syria, the parliament gave the Turkish government blanket authorization to conduct military operations across its borders for the remainder of the year. Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan reaffirmed his desire for peace with Syria but added that testing Turkey would be a “fatal mistake.”
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council approved a unanimous statement Thursday calling for an immediate end to such violations of international law and for Syria to “to fully respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors.” Syrian ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja’afari said that the Syrian government had not apologized because it is waiting for the findings of an investigation into the situation. Syria did express condolences to the families and to the people of Turkey for the deaths. Ja’afari also called on Turkey to “act wisely, rationally and responsibly” and to prevent cross-border crossings of “terrorists and insurgents.” Inside Syria, warplanes bombed Homs today while four thousand Republican Guards stormed the Qudsaya suburb of Damascus. Rebels announced the capture of an air defense base with a cache of missiles outside of Damascus.
Jordan. King Abdullah dissolved parliament yesterday paving the way for parliamentary elections expected early next year. The announcement came on the eve of an Islamist-led demonstration in Amman today calling upon the king to enact faster and more extensive democratic reforms. The turnout today was significantly lower than the fifty thousand that the IAF, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party and the demonstration’s organizer, had expected. Yesterday, the Jordanian government cancelled a planned pro-government demonstration scheduled for the same time as today’s opposition protest to avoid clashes and violence. Jordanian police arrested eight individuals in the lead-up to today’s demonstration after finding guns in three minibuses headed into central Amman.
Iran. Iran experienced its first significant public unrest in two years on Wednesday, when security forces clashed with money changers and protesters in the heart of Tehran. The demonstrations were spurred by anxieties after the Iranian rial experienced a 40 percent drop against the dollar in the past week. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blamed the fall on currency speculators and tied it to U.S.-led sanctions. At least sixteen people were arrested for trading excessively outside the banking system. With a heavier than normal police presence on the streets, merchants reopened for business on Thursday amongst relative calm.
Libya. Libyan prime minister Mustafa Abushagur announced Friday that he would withdraw his proposed cabinet line-up, a day after over one hundred protesters stormed the General Assembly to voice discontent and forced the session’s delay. Once the Assembly reconvened late Thursday evening, it voted to reject the prime minister’s nominations. Meanwhile, an FBI investigative team from the U.S. finally reached Benghazi on Thursday, nearly one month after the site was attacked and four U.S. officials were killed.
Quotes of the Week
- “This last incident is pretty much the final straw…There has been an attack on our land and our citizens lost their lives, which surely has adequate response in international law.” – Turkish deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc said on Wednesday after Syrian mortar fire killed five civilians in Turkey
- “Maybe we have some violations from time to time, but it is not a widespread phenomenon.” – Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’ deputy foreign minister told the BBC regarding Human Rights Watch recent report on Gaza
- “Iran is overcoming the psychological war and conspiracy that the enemy has brought to the currency and gold market and this war is constantly fluctuating.” – Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, a close Khamenei ally, said according to Fars news agency
While We Were Looking Elsewhere
Tunisia. Protesters today stormed the seat of local government in Sidi Bouzid where the first revolution of the Arab uprisings began. Sidi Bouzid, where fruit seller Mohammad Buazizi immolated himself and set off nation-wide protests in late 2010, has seen periodic demonstrations since. Meanwhile, interim president Moncef Marzouki apologized today to a woman raped by two police officers and then charged with indecent behavior last September. The president received the woman and her fiancé at the presidential palace today and called the police officers’ behavior an aberration.
Gaza. Human Rights Watch released a report on Wednesday accusing Hamas’ security forces of committing severe abuses, including torture of detainees, execution after forced confessions, warrantless arrests, and subjecting civilians to military courts. Deputy Middle East Director of HRW, Joe Stork, said that “after five years of Hamas rule in Gaza, its criminal justice system reeks of injustice, routinely violates detainees’ rights, and grants impunity to abusive security service.”
Yemen. The U.S. State Department added Yemeni group Ansar al-Sharia to its list of terrorist organizations yesterday. A released statement called Ansar al-Sharia a rebranding attempt by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in order to recruit more people. The UN’s Al Qaeda sanctions committee also listed Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist group. The Southern Movement, an alliance of Yemeni groups that want independence for the southern part of the country, declared on Wednesday that they would not attend a national dialogue proposed for next month by the government.
Iraq. Iraq experienced another wave of bombings on Sunday, capping the deadliest month in over two years. Insurgents coordinated attacks in various cities that targeted Shiite neighborhoods and security forces, killing twenty-six people and wounding at least ninety-four.
This Week in History
This week marks the eightieth anniversary of Iraq’s independence from Britain. On October 3, 1932, Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations as an independent state ruled by the monarch King Faysal. However, British troops did not complete their withdrawal from Iraq until after World War II. The monarchy fell in 1958 to revolutionary forces led by General Abd al-Karim who proclaimed Iraq a republic. Members of the royal family, including the king and the crown prince, as well as Nuri as-Said, who had served as prime minister, were all killed.