Last week in the Middle East, fighting between pro-Hadi forces and Houthis continued in Yemen, with intensified clashes reported in and around Taizz city. Amid stalled power-sharing negotiations, pro-Hadi and pro-Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces engaged in minor clashes in Abyan, while there was a decline in Houthi drone strikes against Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Syrian regime shelling reportedly killed at least four civilians in Idleb, while attacks by the Islamic State (IS) killed over 10 regime and pro-regime fighters in the Syrian desert. Elsewhere, clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Basra on 31 October fueled further anti-government demonstrations across Iraq. In Palestine, the Israeli army carried out the biggest demolition of Palestinian houses in a decade. Finally, several demonstrations took place in Turkey, demanding an end to violence against women.
In Yemen, pro-Hadi forces reportedly continued to make gains in Al Jawf governorate, while clashes with Houthi forces continued on most frontlines. Clashes intensified in and around Taizz city, with no significant changes to territory. Houthi forces reportedly carried out a number of artillery strikes on the city, injuring civilians including children (Asharq al Awsat, 5 November 2020). Additionally, Houthi forces continue to push towards the Mas Military Camp, a strategic post that controls the northwestern approach to Marib City. Notably, pro-Hadi forces have re-opened a front with Houthi forces in southeastern Al Bayda governorate, after a prolonged calm had reached the area.
Pro-STC and pro-Hadi forces continued to exchange artillery fire and engage in minor clashes in Abyan governorate. The clashes are representative of the failed state of negotiations to achieve a power-sharing government, as agreed to in the Riyadh Agreement. In addition to clashes between the two major forces, several clashes and attacks were reportedly conducted by unidentified armed and tribal groups in the governorate. The increase in activity by such actors may indicate the degradation of local security as the STC and Hadi governments remain at an impasse.
Elsewhere, In Saudi Arabia, Houthi forces continue to launch drone attacks into southern regions of Saudi Arabia. On 5 November, the Saudi military claimed to have intercepted an explosive-laden Houthi drone targeting southern areas of Saudi Arabia (Arab News, 5 November 2020). The sole attack claimed last week represents a significant decrease in attacks. Saudi forces have claimed Houthi forces have fired dozens of drones and missiles over previous weeks, prompting a warning from the US embassy to American citizens in Saudi Arabia (The New Arab, 29 October 2020).
In northwest Syria, regime forces shelled the town of Ariha in southern Idleb, killing at least four civilians, including an aid worker, and wounding several other civilians. In this context, Russian warplanes carried out several airstrikes on areas in Jabal Al Zawiyah in Idleb amid ongoing, albeit sporadic, armed clashes (Al Jazeera, 4 November 2020). In eastern Syria, an IED detonated in a vegetable market in Al Hasakeh’s Ras Al Ain, killing at least one civilian. Elsewhere, Turkish forces set up a military base near the M4 highway in Ein Issa sub-district of Al Raqqa. US forces operating under the Global Coalition conducted several patrols in Quamishli, Al Malikeyyeh, and Tal Tamer sub-districts. In Darbasiyah sub-district, Turkey and Russia conducted joint patrol in the area. While Russia suspended its cooperation with Turkey in northwest Syria due to repeated attacks, mainly by unidentified armed groups, both states continue to cooperate in the east. Meanwhile, attacks by IS continued against regime and pro-regime militia forces in the Syrian desert, having launched at least three attacks last week and killed over 10 fighters.
Meanwhile, In Iraq, anti-government demonstrations continued in several locations across the country. Protests were fueled by recent clashes in Basrah on 31 October, where security forces violently dispersed crowds. Again, clashes broke out in Basrah between security forces and protesters, leading to the death of a protester and the injury of at least 10. Furthermore, security forces arrested over 100 protesters across the governorate, which coincided with a visit from Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi. This puts additional pressure on the PM, whose main message to the protest movement since his appointment was of justice, accountability, and the right to protest (Al Mirbad, 1 November 2020; Shafaq News, 2 November 2020).
In Palestine, the Israeli military demolished 76 structures — including homes, animal shelters, toilets, and solar panels — in the Bedouin village of Khirbet Humsa in the Jordan Valley. This has led to 74 people, including 41 minors — who make up three-quarters of the community — to lose their homes (Guardian, 5 November 2020). The incident has been described as the biggest single demolition in the past decade and the largest forced displacement in over four years (OCHA, 4 November 2020). Israeli authorities downplayed the incident, claiming that the “enforcement activity” had only involved seven tents and eight animal pens that were built “illegally” in a so-called firing zone (CNN, 5 November 2020). Khirbet Humsa is one of the 38 Palestinian communities located within designated Israeli army training areas in the occupied West Bank (BBC, 5 November 2020). Although Israeli military law prohibits the expulsion of permanent residents from a firing zone, the Israeli High Court ruled in 2019 that Khirbet Humsa’s residents were “intruders who use these areas for grazing” (Time of Israel, 5 November 2020). This is despite the fact most families have lived in the area for generations (Al Jazeera, 4 November 2020).
Finally, in Turkey, several demonstrations were staged across the country on 7 November to call for an end to violence against women, denouncing the government for not doing enough to combat the issue. Violence against women, especially domestic violence, is a widespread problem in Turkey (Deutsche Welle, 24 July 2020). According to the women’s rights group We Will Stop Femicides Platform, more than 470 women were murdered in Turkey last year, the majority of them by male family members and current or former partners (Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu, 20 January 2020). There are fears that the release of men from prisons due to the coronavirus pandemic may have further aggravated domestic abuse in the country (CNN, 26 September 2020). Women’s right groups have held several demonstrations in Turkey in recent months amid speculations that President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party might pull out of the Istanbul Convention. Signed in Istanbul in 2011, the international agreement aims at stopping violence against women (Al Jazeera, 5 August 2020). Not only in Turkey, but also in parts of Europe, the treaty has been harshly criticized by conservative, nationalist and right-wing groups for allegedly threatening national sovereignty, and promoting “gender politics” and pushing an “LGBT ideology” (New York Times, 25 August 2020).
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