Greater Middle East

Clashes in Egypt's Sinai; militants attack Israel

Two attacks in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula killed at least 30 troops Oct. 24. At least 27 people died in the first attack, a car-bomb blast at a checkpoint in the al-Kharouba area northwest of al-Arish, near the border with the Gaza Strip. Hours later, a gun-battle then broke out in al-Arish town, leaving another three dead. (Reuters, BBC News, Oct. 24) One day earlier, attackers inside Egypt fired an anti-tank missile and automatic rifles at a military vehicle in Israel, wounding two soldiers. The Israeli military has asked residents in the area to remain in their homes while an investigation is underway, and suggested the skirmish came as troops foiled a "violent drug smuggling attempt." (Al Jazeera, Oct. 23)

Lebanon: Sunni militants battle army in Tripoli

Clashes erupted Oct. 24 between the Lebanese army and Sunni gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli, leaving a militant leader dead and two soldiers wounded. The fighting began when a group of some 20 militants attacked an army post in the neighborhood of Khan al-Askar after dusk. Authorities believe the attack was launched in response to rumors that a suspected ISIS militant arrested the previous day in north Lebanon had died in custody. The detained militant, Ahmad Salim Mikati, was captured in a raid in the Dinnieh region. Security sources said that Mikati admitted to belonging to ISIS and was plotting to kidnap soldiers. Mikati's nephew, Bilal Mikati, was allegedly involved in the beheading of a captive Lebanese soldier in August. The Tripoli clashes were the first since the outbreak of Syria's war to break out in the city's historic souks area, being considered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. (Daily Star, Lebanon, Middle East Eye, Oct. 24)

Assad plays Kurdish card to divide opposition

Lebanon's NaharNet, citing Syria's official SANA news agency, reports the absolutely maddening claim from Bashar Assad's Information Minister Omran Zohbi that the regime's armed forces have been providing support to the Kurdish fighters defending ISIS-besieged Kobani. "The state with its military forces and planes has been providing military and logistical support, and has supplied ammunition and arms to the town," he said. While not actually claiming the regime is coordinating with the US air-drops of aid to the Kurdish militia, he said Damascus "will continue to give military aid to Kobane at the highest level. From the outset of the battle, the state has not hesitated to play its military, political, social and humanitarian role" because the town is "Syrian territory and its residents are Syrians."

Saudi Arabia sentences Shi'ite cleric to death

Sh'iite Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was convicted Oct. 15 of sedition and other charges in Saudi Arabia's Specialized Criminal Court and sentenced to death, raising fears of unrest from his supporters in neighboring Bahrain. Al-Nimr has been a vocal critic of the majority Sunni government in Saudi Arabia and was a key leader in the 2011 Arab Spring-inspired Sh'iite protests in the country. Al-Nimr was found guilty of not obeying King Abdullah, not pledging allegiance to him or the state, incitement of vandalism and sectarian strife, demonizing Saudi rulers, calling for the collapse of the state, and insulting relatives and companions of the Prophet Muhammad. Disobeying the ruler is a charge punishable by death. Prosecutors unsuccessfully asked that the body and head be put on public display, a severe punishment only rarely carried out. Al-Nimr will likely appeal the sentence, as activists are typically given long jail sentences on appeal despite harsh verdicts.

Kobani Kurds between Erdogan, ISIS and Assad

Today's good news from Kobani is tempered by some very disturbing news. Medhaj News, citing sources on the ground in the ISIS-besieged town in northern Syria, reports that Kurdish fighters have now captured more than 80% of Kobani, with just two ISIS-held pockets left in the east. This is a dramatic turn-around from just a week ago, when ISIS was in control of some 40% of Kobani. Simultaneously, however, the Syrian opposition network in its electronically coordinated consensus process, agreed to adopt the slogan "Yes to Turkey's Conditions for Intervention"—with the announcement on Facebook actually showing the image of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a glorified pose.

Turkish fighter jets bomb PKK positions

Turkish fighter jets carried out air-strikes on supposed positions of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Dağlıca district of southeastern Hakkari province near the Iraqi border late Oct. 13. The Turkish General Staff said the targeted PKK forces had been involved in "assassination, armed incidents and attacks on security bases" after last week's nationwide Kurdish protests. A Dağlıca military guard post had been attacked with rocket-propelled grenades by the PKK for three days, Turkish authorities said. Clashes were also reported between the military and PKK fighters in the Tunceli area of east-central Turkey. The fighting is the first since the PKK's imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan called a unilateral ceasefire in March 2013 to mark Kurdish New Year as part of a wider peace process.

US warns Lebanon over Iranian military aid

Lebanon's Hezbollah movement on Oct. 7 claimed a bomb attack against Israeli troops on the ceasefire line between the two countries that wounded two soldiers. Hezbollah fighters "detonated an explosive device on the Shebaa hills against a motorized Israeli patrol causing a number of injuries among the occupation's soldiers," the group said. The statement said the attack was carried out by the "martyr Hassan Ali Haidar unit," named for a Hezbollah militant killed Sept. 5 when an Israeli listening device in Lebanon was detonated remotely as he tried to dismantle it. Israel confirmed two soldiers were wounded in the blast, and an army spokesperson said the attack took place "on the Israeli side of the border." (AFP, Oct. 7) Days later, local media reported that the US had threatened to cut off military aid to Lebanon if it accepts a recent offer of arms from Iran. Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, announced last week that Iran will donate arms to the Lebanese army, prompting US diplomats to send a stern warning to Lebanese officials. (Al Akhbar, Oct. 10)

Saudi Arabia slammed over persecution of activists

Saudi Arabia is persecuting rights activists and silencing government critics, according to a report issued Oct. 10 by Amnesty International (AI). AI finds that members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA) have been persecuted since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. The Saudi government has reportedly targeted 11 of the founding members of the ACPRA since 2011, eight of whom are currently detained, with the remaining three awaiting outcome of their trials. The director of AI's Middle East program, Said Boumedouha charged that "Saudi Arabian authorities have sought to wipe out all trace of ACPRA, just as they have sought to stamp out all critical voices demanding peaceful reform." AI urged the Saudi government to cease its campaign against these political protesters:

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