Greater Middle East
Levant Basin

Hydrocarbons at issue in Israel-Lebanon dispute

US-mediated talks opened between Israel and Lebanon, aimed at resolving the long-standing maritime border dispute between the two countries. At issue in the talks, held in Lebanon’s coastal border town of Naqoura, is an 860-square-kilometer patch of the Mediterranean where each side lays territorial claim. The conflict stems from differing demarcation methods: Israel marks the border as being at a 90-degree angle to the land border, while Lebanon marks it as a continuation of the land borderline. The issue grew more pressing with the discovery of abundant hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean’s Levant Basin. Lebanon, which sought to pursue gas drilling off its coast, submitted its demarcation of the maritime borders to the UN a decade ago, claiming this area as within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Israel called this an infringement of its rights, and submitted its own version of the border demarcation to the UN. (Photo: US Energy Information Administration)

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Yemen

UN experts: refer Yemen war crimes to ICC

A UN group of experts has called on the Security Council to refer human rights violations and war crimes committed in the ongoing Yemen conflict to the International Criminal Court. The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded in a new report that the governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Southern Transitional Council are responsible for rights violations including “arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the recruitment and use in hostilities of children.” The report also alleges thatde facto authorities” in the capital Sana’a (the Houthi rebels) are responsible for the same violations. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

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Lujain al-Hathloul

Saudi detention state under scrutiny

Saudi Arabia has denied prominent detainees contact with their family members and lawyers for months, Human Rights Watch said in a letter requesting access to the country and private prison visits with detainees. The situation raises serious concerns for the detainees’ safety and well-being, the rights group said. Saudi authorities have banned in-person visits with prisoners across the country since March to limit the spread of COVID-19. But Saudi activists and other sources say that authorities have also unduly denied numerous imprisoned dissidents and other detainees regular communication with the outside world. Prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul had been on hunger strike for six days before Saudi authorities finally allowed her parents to visit on Aug. 31, according to family members. Al-Hathloul had spent almost three months before that under incommunicado detention. (Image: social media post with the word “traitor” stamped on the faces of activists detained in 2018, including Loujain al-Hathloul, top center. Via Middle East Eye.)

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Bierut blast

What Beirut blast could mean for battered Lebanon

As rescue workers continue to look for survivors amid the rubble of a massive explosion that killed a reported 130 people in Beirut’s port, the implications of the blast for Lebanon appear grim. Lebanon’s economy has been in freefall for months, unemployment is rising, and the foreign minister Nassif Hitti resigned one day before the blast, warning that the country risks becoming a “failed state.” Now hundreds of thousands more have been left homeless, critical port facilities are destroyed, and local hospitals are overwhelmed. Lebanon was already battling COVID-19 before the blast, and last week it instituted a new lockdown to try to control a spike in new infections. (Photo via Beirut.com)

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al-bokari

Saudi Arabia imprisons Yemeni dissident blogger

A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh in April, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained “sexual references” and “violated public order and morals.” This was apparently a reference to the line: “Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people.” Sources told Human Rights Watch that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discreditedpractice used to seek “proof” of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with “violating public morality” and “imitating women.” (Image: Amnesty International)

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bahrain

Bahrain upholds death penalty for protesters

The high court of Bahrain upheld a decision to execute two protesters, despite evidence that suggests their confessions were unlawfully extracted. The two men, members of Bahrain’s traditionally excluded Shiite majority, were sentenced to death in 2014 for planting a bomb in the village of al-Deir that killed a police officer involved in repression of a riot in the village. After multiple appeals, the high court, known as the Court of Cassation, overturned the death sentences in 2018. The court accepted evidence of medical records showing signs of torture. However, in January a lower court successfully reinstated the death penalty, which the Cassation Court has now reaffirmed. (Photo of 2011 protests in Bahrain: Wikipedia)

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Yemen

Yemen: secret torture centers revealed

In an exhaustive report, the independent monitor Mwatana for Human Rights documents a chilling aspect of Yemen’s more than five-year war that has gone overlooked, precisely because of its secretive nature: “enforced disappearances,” torture, and killings at illegal detention centers across the country. The report documents abuses by all parties to Yemen’s war, some of which it says may constitute war crimes. The Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, and the Houthi rebels are all accused of running detention centers—some on military bases or intelligence compounds, some in cellars below private homes or requisitioned public buildings. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

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hegazi

Egyptian LGBT activist a suicide in exile

Three years after her arrest and torture by security forces in her native country, Egyptian LGBT activist Sarah Hegazi killed herself in exile in Canada, prompting an outpouring of sympathy and anger on social media. Hegazi, 30, an openly gay woman and rights advocate, was among a group of activists arrested in September 2017 after raising a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert of the Lebanese indie band Mashrou Leila, which includes gay members. Hegazi was charged with joining an illegal group promoting “deviant thought.” She fled to Canada after being released on bail in January 2018. The incident was followed by a harsh crackdown on Egypt’s LGBT community. (Photo via Middle East Eye)

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Yemen

COVID-19 concern in war-torn Yemen

With testing capacity low and the health system ravaged by five years of war, nobody really knows how many people are infected or dying of COVID-19 in Yemen, but the outlook does not seem good. Hundreds of people in Aden have reportedly died with symptoms that appear consistent with the coronavirus, while in the Houthi-controlled north there are unconfirmed but persistent rumors of a cover-up to mask a rising case count. To make matters worse, the UN—concerned it can’t protect its staff from the virus inside their compound—has pulled half of its remaining international workforce out of Sana’a. (Map: Perry-Castañeda Library)

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NEOM

Tribesman killed for resisting Saudi robot city?

Saudi activists and dissidents are disputing official accounts alleging that a tribesman who refused government orders to surrender his home to make way for a new mega-project was killed in a shoot-out with security forces. Authorities say Abdul Rahim Ahmad al-Hwaiti, from Tabuk province on the Red Sea, was a “wanted terrorist” who opened fire on State Security agents who arrived at his home. But the incident came two days after al-Hwaiti posted a video statement saying he and other local residents were being pressured by the government to give up their properties and accept relocation. Al-Hwaiti, a member of the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe, accused the government of a policy of “forced displacement.” The project at issue is the NEOM, a planned “special economic zone” for high-tech industry, to cover an area bigger than Belgium, where robots will outnumber human residents. (Image via NeoScribe)

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KSA

Saudi Arabia abolishes flogging, execution of minors

Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court announced that it has abolished flogging as a form of punishment, part of a series of reforms to advance human rights in the kingdom. Court-ordered floggings sometimes extended to hundreds of lashes, and the punishment could be imposed for offenses such as extramarital sex and breach of the peace. The ruling came along with a royal decree ending the death penalty for individuals convicted of crimes when they were minors. These reforms follow unprecedented international criticism that Saudi Arabia received in 2019 for its human rights record, which included 184 executions, 84 of which were for non-violent drug crimes. (Photo: Pixabay via Jurist)

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Yemen

Yemen’s southern separatists declare self-rule

Yemen’s southern separatist group declared self-rule in the parts of the country it controls, leading to fears of a new and even more dangerous conflict after five years of war. The Southern Transitional Council said in its announcement that it plans to govern several southern provinces, including the de facto capital city of Aden,which the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi also claims as its seat. (Map of Yemen before 1990 unification via Wikipedia)