Cross-border violence between Israel and Lebanon, the Saudi ambassador to Yemen meets the Houthis, and Iran’s hijab crackdown. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
First, there were the reports of a single rocket flying across the border from Lebanon into Israel. Then another. And then the news that more than 30 had been launched. The majority were intercepted by Israel, but the attack led to the most violent confrontation between Lebanon and Israel since 2006, a sign that the increasing violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is threatening to spread across the region.
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The rockets were fired in retaliation for Israeli police attacks on Palestinian Muslims worshipping at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israel responded with aerial attacks on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip but, interestingly, they were limited, and did not hit targets belonging to the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah. That’s because Israel accused Palestinian fighters based in Lebanon of being behind the rocket attack, and not Hezbollah. But the Iran-backed Shia group has control over security in southern Lebanon, and it’s very hard to imagine an aerial assault, launched on Israel from their territory, without their explicit approval.
So, why did Israel not take things further and go after Hezbollah? One theory suggests it’s the lack of appetite for a regional conflict – although Israel continues to hit targets in Syria. Or, maybe it’s the difficult domestic situation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s been facing huge protests against his government. And then it gets weird, with the Pentagon suggesting that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, has actually supported those protests, which are aimed at preventing Netanyahu from weakening the judiciary.
On the ground there was more death – in Israel, and the occupied West Bank. On April 7 in Tel Aviv an Italian tourist was killed after being rammed by a car, while two Israeli sisters were killed after being shot by Palestinians near a settlement in the occupied West Bank – their mother also later died from her injuries. On April 10, Israeli forces killed a 15-year-old Palestinian boy as settlers, led by several government ministers, marched to an illegal settlement near Nablus.
Meanwhile, as Christians of various denominations celebrate Easter, there is a growing spotlight on the increasing difficulties they face in the Holy Land. In Jerusalem, Christians say that violence against them has increased under the current far-right Israeli government, and the Greek Orthodox church publicly criticised Israeli authorities for restrictions placed on the number of Christians allowed to attend Easter services. “[Christianity] is the biggest religion in the world and yet Christians are being kept out of their quarter of the holy city on the holiest day of the year for them,” one Anglican chaplain told Al Jazeera.
Peace in Yemen?
Elsewhere in the Middle East, diplomatic initiatives are being aimed at easing certain regional rivalries, particularly after Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to work towards fully restoring relations. But I still did a double-take when I saw photos of the Saudi ambassador to Yemen meeting the Houthis in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa. The visit was the first for a Saudi ambassador to Yemen since the beginning of Riyadh’s military involvement in Yemen’s war in 2015, and is a clear sign that the Saudis and the Houthis are growing ever closer to a deal, in large part thanks to Omani mediation.
There’s now talk of a soon-to-be announced agreement, including another ceasefire, an end to import restrictions, more flights to Sanaa and, most significantly, a Saudi withdrawal from Yemen.
The Saudis have been trying to extricate themselves from Yemen for a while now, and these negotiations seem to be a big step in that direction. But does that mean an end to the devastating war in Yemen? There’s a lot of hope, particularly with a big prisoner swap expected in the coming days. But the Saudis and the Houthis are not the only parties in this war. The Yemeni government and the southern separatists will want to have their say, too. Ignoring them, or the millions of Yemenis worried about a full Houthi takeover, won’t make Yemen’s war go away.
Iran’s Hijab Crackdown
There are now troubling signs in Iran even though anti-government protests that started in September have died down. Those protests started after a woman died in police custody after being accused of failing to adhere to Iran’s dress code. Many women refused to wear their mandatory headscarves in protest, and the sight of unveiled women has become increasingly common in some parts of Tehran. The authorities have now decided that that has gone too far, and are installing surveillance cameras to identify women not wearing the hijab. In response, some Iranian women have been posting photos online of themselves without a headscarf, defying authorities.
And Now for Something Different
Moza Almatrooshi is baking bread. But there’s a crowd watching, because this is art. The chef and artist’s performance at Art Dubai was designed to highlight the people who make the staple food of billions of people worldwide, and the intersection of art and food.
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Quote of the Week
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