Escalating violence in Israel and Palestine, a drone attack in Iran, and an investigation into a terrible chemical attack in Syria. Here’s this week’s round-up, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
The amount of killing, the raids, the imprisonments and the demolition of people’s homes has just been staggering. If you’ve been paying any attention at all over the past year, you’ll know that the conditions created by the Israeli state are such that Palestinians are being pushed really, really hard. The temptation in news circles is to use a cliche, to say that ‘tension’ has been growing below the surface in the occupied Palestinian territories.
But has it really been as subtle as that suggests?
More than 170 Palestinians had already been killed by Israelis in the occupied West Bank last year, as well as at least 49 more in a three-day assault by Israel on the Gaza Strip in August. Then, this year, a new far-right government came in and ramped up the raids, which Israel says are part of a crackdown on Palestinian armed groups. The raids had already led to 20 deaths before last Thursday’s operation in Jenin, when ten more were killed – the worst single death toll in a raid in years – scenes reminiscent of the Second Intifada – a Palestinian uprising 20 years ago.
After Jenin, I asked the question that has been on my mind for a while. Are we already in the throes of a new intifada? Will we look back, only to realise that the next uprising has already started? The events of the days following the killings in Jenin have served to reinforce that view. On Friday, a Palestinian man killed seven Jewish Israelis in an attack in an East Jerusalem settlement – again, one of the worst attacks in years.
The days that followed resulted in more raids and more killings of Palestinians, bringing the total number of dead in January to at least 35, as well as airstrikes on Gaza. There were also more attacks and attempted attacks by Palestinians. Where’s it stop?
Israel’s government has responded by trying to push through legislation that many Palestinians say would amount to ‘collective punishment’. It would result in the expedited demolition of the homes of family members of Palestinians who’ve carried out attacks, as well as plans to make it easier for Israelis to get guns.
Iran Drone Attack
Israel was behind an audacious drone attack on an Iranian military facility in the city of Isfahan, according to both US and Iranian officials. Iran said the attack basically failed, and only caused light damage. At the same time as the Isfahan incident, a fire broke out at an oil refinery in Tabriz. It’s unclear if the two events are related. Israel has targeted Iran in the past, in an apparent effort to derail its nuclear programme.
Syria Chemical Attack
The pictures from the Douma chemical attack in 2018 are some of the most shocking to emerge from the war in Syria, a reminder of the callous attitude towards life in the conflict. Now, the global chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, has said that there are ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that the Syrian government was behind the attack, as the Syrian opposition and locals have claimed all along. The OPCW said the attack killed 43 people. The Syrian government, which now controls Douma after defeating opposition forces there, has rejected the OPCW’s findings.
Now for Something Different
After 85 years, BBC Arabic radio has been dropped from the airwaves, as part of cost-cutting measures at the British public broadcaster. The news has been greeted with a wave of sadness from across the Arab world, particularly among older generations for whom it was the one source of reliable news. One Sudanese listener told Al Jazeera that there was no point keeping his radio now that the service had been cancelled. The radio station ended its run on Friday, with its signature voice, newsreader Mahmoud al-Mossallami, signing off with the station’s catchphrase, Hunna London — This is London. They’ll be missed.
UK government faces High Court battle over arms sales to Saudi Arabia | Torture leaves Bahraini prisoners with long-lasting wounds: report | Turkish opposition vows to strengthen democracy ahead of presidential, parliamentary votes in May | Erdogan says Turkey may accept Finland in NATO but not Sweden | Earthquake kills three in Iranian city of Khoy | Italy’s Eni signs $8bn gas deal with Libya amid energy crunch | Attack kills security guard at Azerbaijan embassy in Iran | Lebanon devalues official exchange rate by 90 percent | UK documents reveal George W. Bush ordered CIA to find replacement for Yasser Arafat | Egyptian content creators arrested over comic prison visit video | French forces seize shipment of weapons headed from Iran to Yemen |
Few Turn Up to Vote in Tunisia, Again
Tunisians appear to be sending President Kais Saied a message at the ballot box — again. In the second round of parliamentary elections held on Sunday, the official turnout mirrored December’s first round — only about 11 percent. That pitifully low number is indicative of Saied’s dismal support following his decisions over the last two years to entrench power in his own hands. These include suspending the previous parliament, and then effectively gutting its powers in a constitution he pushed through. And according to Tunisian academic Haythem Guesmi, Saied’s turn to the International Monetary Fund, to bail him out economically, will mean the “death knell for his authoritarian and undemocratic regime”.
Quote of the Week
“From the United States’ point of view, let’s be real: They don’t give a damn about Palestinian lives.” — George Bisharat, professor at UC College of Law, San Francisco, after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel and Palestine. Blinken’s trip was seen as an effort to bring calm after a week of violence, but according to analysts, the trip served to remind Palestinians that the US is more interested in maintaining the current situation as it is, rather than finding a way to end the Israeli occupation.