Last week in the Middle East, pro-Hadi forces in Yemen captured strategic locations near Ad Dirjaj from pro-Southern Transitional Council (STC) fighters, while Houthis captured areas in the Medghal and Raghwan districts from pro-Hadi forces. In Syria, Israeli warplanes continued aerial strikes against pro-Iranian militia forces in southern Syria, while Turkish forces intensified their shelling of areas in Estern Syria controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD). Meanwhile, in Iraq, a two-day operation against the Islamic State (IS) by the Iraqi military and Coalition forces in Salah Al Din resulted in the death of several IS fighters. In Turkey, over 100 current and former military and police forces were arrested for their alleged connection to the Gulen movement, only one week after over 300 people were sentenced to life in prison for their alleged involvement in the 2016 coup attempt. Elswhere, a teenage Palestinian boy was killed by Isreali forces during a violent demonstration in Palestine. Finally, several students were injured following a physical altercation between supporters of the Lebanese Forces (LF) party and Hezbollah.
In Yemen, tensions remain high between pro-STC forces and pro-Hadi military forces with significant clashes on the At Tariyah, Wadi Salah, and Ash Shaykh Salim frontlines. Pro-Hadi military forces also reportedly captured a number of strategic sites from pro-STC forces near Ad Dirjaj (Mareb Press, 5 December 2020) and near the city of Jaar (Mareb Press, 4 December 2020). Last week, STC-infighting erupted in Aden as pro-STC Aden Security denied the pro-STC Support and Reinforcement Brigades access to the An Nasr Coast Guard Office (for more on the Support and Reinforcement Brigades, see this recent ACLED piece). As a result, both forces deployed in different areas around the city (Al Masdar Online, 1 December 2020). While no armed clashes occurred, Aden Security reportedly targeted a vehicle belonging to the 3rd Support and Reinforcement Brigade with an explosive device (Al Wafaq, 1 December 2020).
Pro-Hadi military forces and the Saudi-led coalition continued their clashes with Houthi forces. Houthi forces made gains in Marib, capturing Al Futaykhah and Al Ajuz in the Medghal district and 141 Brigade and 133 Brigade camps in the Raghwan district from pro-Hadi forces. Houthi shelling of the At Tadawin military camp reportedly killed eight Saudi military officers (Al Jazeera, 30 November 2020). Amid Houthi gains, there have also been reports of defections from pro-Hadi forces, including some unconfirmed reports that the leader of the Al Izz Brigade and Daham tribal forces defected to the Houthis (Saba Net, 2 December 2020).
Houthi forces’ shelling of Hodeidah proved especially deadly for civilians last week. Shelling of Al Qazah village in Ad Durayhimi district killed 11 civilians and injured six others, while shelling of the Thabit Brothers Industrial Complex in Al Hudaydah killed nine civilians and injured seven others.
In Saudi Arabia, military forces announced that they had intercepted a Houthi-operated drone rigged with explosives. Houthi military forces regularly attempt to strike Saudi assets with explosive-laden drones (as well as using missiles and boats rigged with explosives). Last week, the US military reportedly deployed a THAAD anti-missile system next to the Prince Bandar airbase not far from Al Kharj in Riyadh governorate, pointed in the northeastern direction toward Iran (Twitter, 3 December 2020).
For the third consecutive week, Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting pro-Iran militia forces in Rural Damascus and Quneitra provinces in southern Syria. Meanwhile, Turkish forces and opposition rebels operating under Operation Peace Spring escalated their shelling barrages on QSD held areas in eastern Syria, resulting in numerous casualties. In the Syrian desert, IS continued their attacks against regime and pro-regime militia forces in Homs and Ar-Raqqa provinces, prompting Russian airstrikes.
In Iraq, anti-government demonstrations continued last week across the country. In Basrah, demonstrations turned violent as clashes were reported against Iraqi Security Forces in an attempt by the latter to disperse rioters gathered near the main square in the city. Injuries were reported on both sides. In northern Iraq, thousands of teachers protested in Sulaymaniyah, demanding the payment of their salaries. Protesters were met by tear gas and a campaign of arrests; 23 arrests were reported. Finally, joint anti-IS operations by the Iraqi military and Coalition forces took place in Makhol Mountain in Salah Al Din, spanning two days and resulting in the deaths of at least seven IS fighters.
Meanwhile, over 60 active-duty military personnel and over 40 former police officers were arrested in Turkey on 1 December. The operation was part of a four-year-long crackdown targeting suspected supporters of Turkish religious leader and businessman Fethullah Gulen, who resides in the United States. The Turkish government accuses Gulen of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt, but Gulen has vehemently denied the charges (Al Jazeera, 1 December 2020). The arrests on 26 November follow the sentencing of 337 people — including alleged leaders of the coup — to life in prison on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, assassinate the President, and commit murder (CNN, 27 November 2020). In the past four years, over 290,000 people have been detained, nearly 100,000 have been jailed pending trail, and more than 2,500 have received life sentences over alleged links to Gulen and the attempted overthrow of the government (Al Jazeera, 26 November 2020). Furthermore, some 150,000 have been fired from government jobs, causing frequent demonstrations — including one last week in Adana – that call on the government to revoke the dismissals. The attempted coup and the ensuing crackdown continue to cause divisions in Turkey.
In Palestine, a teenage boy died after he was hit by an Israeli forces bullet while demonstrating against the construction of a settlement in Al Mughayyir village. The Israeli military said that demonstrators were throwing stones and had attempted to “roll large boulders and burning [tires]” onto a road (The Guardian, 7 December 2020). The Israeli government is frequently criticized for violating international law, which prohibits the use of lethal force against children other than in circumstances where a direct threat to life or of serious injury is present (DCI-Palestine,6 December 2020). More than 230 Palestinian children have been injured by Israeli forces in 2020 (UNICEF, 4 December 2020), while at least over half a dozen have been killed.
Finally, in Lebanon, several students at Saint Joseph University in Beirut were injured after a physical altercation broke out between supporters of the LF party and Hezbollah during student elections. Knives, stones, and sticks were reportedly used by some students, while others threw firebombs (Naharnet, 2 December 2020). With Lebanon’s voting age set at 21, student elections are considered an important alternative platform for student activism in Lebanon (Steer-Leb, March 2020). There has been a rise in independent movements across universities with independent student groups detached from political parties winning student elections in recent months (The 961, 4 December 2020). Some suggest this is an indicator of disenfranchised Lebanese youths steering away from political parties, which might spill over into greater political change in the years to come (Middle East Eye, 4 December 2020).
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