Yemen truce fails reports Protection Group International (PGI)
The 48-hour truce in Yemen failed to be extended, and the ceasefire itself was marred by fighting during and after the pause began.
Despite growing international pressure, the prospects of a diplomatic resolution to the conflict in Yemen remain remote. The situation in Syria also continued to deteriorate, most notably in Aleppo where a government offensive has forces all hospitals in the rebel-held east offline. Underscoring the complexity of the conflict in Syria, Ankara blamed Damascus for attack on its forces near al-Bab and the first US soldiers was killed in an IED blast near Raqqa.
Reports of a foiled assassination attempt on Egypt’s president are notable and demonstrate the continued threat from Islamist militants despite large-scale operations against their strongholds in the Sinai.
PGI’s Weekly Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Briefing provides an overview of key developments from across the region in the past seven days.
Suspected terrorist surrenders in Illizi – 24 November
Defence officials said that two militants surrendered to security forces in Tamanrasset, handing over two machine guns and ammunition. Initial reports did not confirm what prompted the surrender but there have been several instances of suspected terrorists surrendering in southern areas in recent months.
Militant surrenders in In Amenas – 22 November
The defence ministry said that a “terrorist” known as Ali Bouamama surrendered to authorities in In Amenas, 1,600 km southeast of Algiers. Security forces recovered a Kalashnikov style rifle from the individual, however no details about his affiliation or reasons for handing himself in were provided. A number of alleged militants have surrendered to Algerian authorities over 2016.
Car bomb kills eight soldiers in Sinai – 25 November
Eight Egyptian soldiers were killed in a car bomb attack at a military checkpoint near al-Arish in northern Sinai province, though few specific details were given on location and time of attack. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility, but Islamic State-affiliated militants are known to frequently carry out attacks against the Egyptian forces in Sinai. A military statement claimed three militants were also killed during the incident. There were also conflicting reports that the assailants fired two rocket-propelled grenades at the checkpoint near el-Arish.
PM concedes to land demands of protesting Nubians near Aswan – 23 November
According to an army statement, security forces killed 23 suspected Islamist militants during fighting in the North Sinai since 13 November. Officials said that soldiers neutralised three IEDs and foiled a vehicle-borne IED attack on a checkpoint, contradicting Islamic State claims to have attacked a checkpoint south of al-Arish and carried out three IED attacks. There have been frequent clashes between militants and security forces since the ouster of Islamist former President Muhammad Morsi in 2013.
Workers shut down sugar factory, demand pay rise – 21 November
Workers in Hamool beet sugar factory continued striking for a second consecutive week to demand higher wages amid rising sugar prices. Workers are staging a sit-in and are denying movement of goods in or out of the factory. The general manager of the company argues that the factory is under maintenance and has stopped production because it has not received any raw materials in weeks.
Prosecutor brings cases against 292 Sinai Province suspects – 21 November
The public prosecutor brought 292 suspected members of Islamic State affiliate Sinai Province before the military judiciary. One-hundred and fifty-one of the suspects are in custody while seven are on bail and the remainder are on the run. The suspects allegedly belong to 22 terror cells and conducted 19 attacks, including the killing of judges. Authorities also said some of the accused were linked to plots to assassinate President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
Militants execute two in Sinai, including elderly Sufi cleric – 19 November
Islamic State (IS) militants in Egypt’s Sinai published a video purporting to show the execution of two men accused of “practicing witchcraft.” One of the victims is a 100 years old Sufi cleric by the name of Sheikh Sulaiman Abu Haraz. IS has had a presence in Sinai since 2014 when a local group called “Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis” pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In October 2015, the local branch, known as Sinai Province, claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian passenger plane which killed 224 people.
Authorities report busting militant cell in east – 22 November
Deputy Interior Minister Hossein Zolfaqari has told local media that intelligence authorities busted a “terrorist team” in the country’s east, without specifying exactly when or where this took place or what militant cell was involved. He said that one of the terrorists was killed, three were arrested, and explosives were seized from the scene. Iranian forces have been engaged in frequent clashes with militant groups in Sistan and Baluchestan province, and in recent months the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have claimed the militant groups are funded by Saudi Arabia.
IED north of Raqqa claims first US soldier death in country – 24 November
An IED exploded near Ayn Issa, in Kurdish-held territory north of Raqqa, killing a US Special Forces soldier, the first from the US forces to be killed since the deployment to Syria to fight Islamic State (IS) in 2014. Few details were provided over the circumstances of the IED attack. More than 300 members of the special forces are in Syria to help recruit, train and advise Kurdish and Syrian fighters who are working to re-take Raqqa, the IS stronghold.
Death toll for Baghdad Shi’a pilgrim attack reaches 100 – 24 November
About 100 people are believed to have been killed in the suicide truck bomb attack, claimed by Islamic State (IS), which targeted Iranian Shi’a pilgrims at a petrol station in the southern city of Hilla, south Baghdad. The pilgrims were on route back to Iran from the holy Shi’a city of Kerbala when they were attacked. The incident comes amid an intensification of terrorist attacks by IS on Baghdad as the group is under increasing pressure in a US-backed military offensive against its strongholds in Mosul and Raqqa.
Kurdish, Shi’a forces agree to coordinate after encircling Mosul – 24 November
Iraqi Kurdish forces and Shi’a paramilitary militia known as the Popular Mobilisation, formed in part by the Iran-backed Bard Organisation, have agreed to coordinate movements after they completed the encirclement of Mosul, cutting Islamic State (IS) off from supplies and escape routes. The agreement was made between commanders of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in Sinjar and Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Badr Organisation. Popular Mobilisation took the western town of Tal Afar from IS on 23 November, after US-backed Kurdish and government forces had already cut Mosul off from the east and southeast. Mosul is IS’s last stronghold in Iraq.
Car bomb injures several people east of Baghdad – 24 November
The Baghdad Operations Command has reported that several people were injured by the explosion of a car bomb which was parked in the Baqubah old garage in al-Mashtal area, east of Baghdad. The exact number of casualties was not reported. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, though Islamic State has increased its suicide and car bomb attacks on the capital in recent months as it comes under increasing pressure from the military campaign against its last remaining stronghold in Mosul.
Militants attack southern Baghdad, killing pro-government fighter – 21 November
Unidentified militants attacked southern Baghdad’s al-Rasheed area, killing one volunteer fighter for the pro-government al-Hashd al-Shaabi forces, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. The attack also left another injured before security forces arrived at the scene. The Popular Mobilization Forces have been leading the siege of Mosul from the west, and are reportedly close to taking the Tal Afar area, which could cut off Islamic State from its last supply route.
Security forces kill Palestinian wielding knife at West Bank – 22 November
Israeli police told media that security forces shot and killed a Palestinian who approached checkpoint guards wielding a knife at Qalandia, between the northern West Bank and Jerusalem. The police said the alleged assailant attempted to cross the checkpoint through the vehicle lane and approach the guards with the knife, prompting them to “neutralise the terrorist”. The incident is the latest in a wave of knife attacks against Israelis and security forces by Palestinians since October 2015, leading to at least 240 Palestinians and 36 Israelis being killed.
Clashes along Gaza border kill one Palestinian – 18 November
Hundreds of people demonstrated against a proposed bill in Israel’s parliament that would prohibit the use of loudspeakers at mosques during the Muslim call to prayer. Some 100 Israeli Arab protested in the southern city of Rahat while more than 500 others took part in various protests in the north. Hundreds of people attended a demonstration along the Gaza border fence east of the al-Bureij camp that escalated into clashes with Israeli security forces. One Palestinian was killed and three others were wounded after troops opened fire, reportedly after protesters stormed a fence.
Amman university suspends operations after assailants attack campus – 25 November
The University of Jordan (UJ) has suspended operations after a gang of assailants armed with sticks attacked the campus in Amman. Campus security clashed with the assailants before escorting them out of the premises. The attack is believed to be linked to “regional loyalties”, according to a local students’ rights activist group called Thahbahtoona. The attack follows a clash between hundreds of students earlier in the week.
Eastern security forces arrest wife of prominent militant – 21 November
Authorities from eastern Libya’s Tobruk-based government said that they had arrested a woman suspected to be the wife of prominent Algerian jihadist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who led the January 2013 attack on the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria. Belmokhtar’s wife, a Tunisian woman, was detained with a second woman after she travelled to Derna to give birth. According to press reports, the women had been staying with Belmokhtar in a militant camp in Libya’s Jufra region before travelling to Derna. The women claimed Belmokhtar, who has been repeatedly declared dead only to resurface, was alive and based in lawless southern Libya.
Benghazi car bomb kills three and injures 20 – 21 November
A car bomb targeting the first-aid unit of the Jalaa Hospital in Benghazi killed three and injured 20, several severely. There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Recent advances of the Libyan National Army have been met by car bombings by the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council and the Islamic State.
Rival militias clash over bank branch protection – 20 November
Two rival militia groups engaged in an armed exchanged due to a dispute over which would protect a local branch of the National Commercial Bank. It is understood that a militia group named “The Rapid Intervention Force” was protecting the branch for some time before the clash. Another group called “Misratan” challenged their control before the clash ensued. There were no reports of injuries. It is not known which group controls the branch now.
Kidnappers release two defence ministry staff – 20 November
Kidnappers released two of three defence ministry staff abducted on 15 November at the Asshajara Hotel in Dahra, Tripoli, by unidentified gunmen. Officials did not immediately comment on the kidnappings and initial reports did not confirm what prompted their release. Abductions have proliferated across Libya amid a weak security environment.
Clashes in Sebha leave 16 dead – 19 November
According to Reuters, a health official said that four days of clashes between rival factions in the southern city of Sebha left 16 people dead and 50 others wounded. The clashes were triggered after a monkey, owned by a member of the Gaddadfa tribe, attacked a group of schoolgirls from the Awlad Suleiman tribe. Local officials did not confirm the incident. Clashes between rival groups are common in Libya and minor incidents can often escalate into armed clashes.
Police arrest suspected terrorists in Azrou – 20 November
According to local media, police arrested a suspected militant in Azrou. Authorities said that the man had links to the Jubhat Fateh al-Sham armed group, formerly the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusrah Front. Initial reports did not confirm whether the suspect was planning an attack. Arrests of suspected militants are common in Morocco, though clashes with militants have been very rare in recent years.
Hundreds protest in al-Hoceima – 19 November
Hundreds of people protested in al-Hoceima to demand justice for the death of a fish vendor who died after his wares were seized by police in the city on 28 October. Demonstrators also called for social justice as the region has typically seen less investment than other parts of Morocco. The death of the fish vendor has triggered repeated protests nationwide, condemning police brutality and calling for those responsible to be arrested.
Rebels fire rockets into Najran province – 20 November
Local media said that Yemen-based Houthi rebels fired rockets into the Najran province of Saudi Arabia. The Houthis said that the attack was in response to Saudi shelling villages near the border. Initial reports did not confirm casualties. The attacks come towards the end of a 48-hour truce declared by pro-government forces at 1200 hrs local time on 19 September.
Houthi-missile attack kills soldier hours before truce – 19 November
The interior ministry said that a Saudi soldier was killed in the southern province of Asir by a missile fired from Yemen based Houthi rebels. The attack came hours before a 48-hour truce was due to commence at 1200 hrs local time. Tens of Saudi soldiers and civilians have been killed in fighting and shelling along the border since the conflict widened in March 2015.
Gunfire kills policeman in Dammam – 19 November
A Saudi police officer was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Dammam, Eastern Province. The officer was killed as he got of his car. It was the third time in the past two months that a police officer has been gunned down in the restive majority Shi’a region. No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
US-backed rebels display new anti-aircraft missiles – 24 November
US-backed rebels belonging to the Ansar al-Islam militia have issued a video displaying new anti-aircraft missiles. The weapons shown in the video include 9k32 Strela-2 missiles, a Soviet design, and it is unclear how the rebel groups acquired the new weapons. The rebels said the missiles will be used against Syrian government warplanes in southern areas of Syria, though the video also raises concerns of the threat to commercial airliners flying over the south of the country.
Islamist militants reportedly open fire to stop Aleppo residents fleeing – 23 November
Islamist militants belonging to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, (previously known as al-Nusrah Front), have been opening fire on civilians trying to flee the besieged city of Aleppo, according to reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. About 10 civilians succeeded in escaping the Islamist-held eastern part of the city’s Bustan al-Pasha district in the past week, though hundreds of others have failed. The militant group has denied the reports, instead claiming that the civilians are reluctant to escape Aleppo due to a lack of trust in the Russia-backed government forces.
Ankara blames Damascus for deadly attack on Turkish soldiers in north – 23 November
Turkey has claimed that Syrian government forces were responsible for a deadly attack on Turkish forces in northern Syria’s al-Bab area which left three troops dead and 10 injured. The attack, which was originally blamed on Islamic State (IS) by news media, took place at around 0330 hrs local time and marks the first incident of conflict between Turkish and Syrian government forces since Turkey sent troops into northern Syria on 24 August. Turkey has said the goal of its “Euphrates Shield” campaign is to clear the border area with Syria of IS and Kurdish militants.
Tehran confirms 1,000 Shi’a fighters killed in Syria since 2011 – 23 November
More than 1,000 Shi’a fighters sent by Iran to Syria have been killed since the start of the civil war in 2011, according to Mohammad Ali Shahidi Mahalati, the head of Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs who was quoted by Tasnim news agency. He did not specify the nationalities of the Shi’a fighters killed, though it is believed Iran has recruited fighters from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to fight on the side of President Bashar al-Assad. Tehran officially continues to deny having any military presence in Syria, insisting it is merely providing military advice to the government forces.
US claims senior al-Qaeda leader killed in Sarmada air strike – 22 November
The US Department of Defence has claimed that a US drone strike killed a senior al-Qaeda leader in northwestern Syria’s Sarmada area on 18 November. The victim was identified as Abu Afghan al-Masri, an Egyptian who was previously operational in Afghanistan before arriving in Syria. The authorities did not specify his rank in the militant group. US air strikes in Syria tend to target Islamic State, but a number of other militant groups have also been hit, including al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (al-Nusra Front).
Regime forces advance in eastern Aleppo – 22 November
Pro-government forces made further territorial gains in the divided city of Aleppo, where they seized around one third of the Masaken Hanano neighbourhood. More than 140 civilians have died in a renewed offensive by government forces and their allies on rebel-held eastern Aleppo that began on 15 November. The intense fighting in Masaken Hanano prompted a number of civilians to flee the area.
Hospitals in rebel-held Aleppo no longer functioning — 19 November
After days of heavy air strikes, the World Health Organisation said that all hospitals in opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo were out of service. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 27 people had been killed in intense air strikes on eastern Aleppo on 19 November, and heavy clashes also occurred in the Bustan al-Basha district. Attacks on civilians by pro-regime forces have provoked widespread international criticism of Damascus and its chief ally, Moscow.
Students throw petrol bombs at school in Kasserine – 23 November
Protesting students reportedly threw petrol bombs at the walls of a school in Kasserine, causing minor burn injuries to at least three students. The incident took place around 1400 hrs local time. A director of the school told local media the protest and attack may have been linked to an ongoing dispute about the examination system.
Assailants abduct one in Tunis, demand USD 8,700 ransom – 21 November
Local media said that unidentified assailants abducted a man in the Zahrouni area of Tunis, demanding USD 8,700 in local currency for his release. The interior ministry said that police ambushed the kidnappers and recovered the abductee. There is a moderate risk of abduction in Tunisia, though security measures have limited the kidnap rate in recent years.
United Arab Emirates
Court jails two for membership of Islamist group – 14 November
The State Security Circuit of the Supreme Federal Court jailed one man for ten years and another for seven years for membership of the al-Islah Islamist organisation, linked to the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The prosecution said that one of the men had planned to overthrow the government. The government occasionally carries out crackdowns on Islamists, particularly following the 2011 Arab Uprisings.
Coalition air strike kills 12 civilians at Hajjah – 23 November
Local residents and an official from Hajjah province reported that an air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition killed at least 12 civilians who were travelling in a pick-up truck in Hiran district. The civilians were driving to a local market when their vehicle was destroyed by the air strike. The coalition has not commented on the report, and has maintained it does not target civilians. However, the UN claims air strikes have caused the majority of 4,125 civilian deaths in Yemen since March 2015.
Clashes after truce breakdown leave 40 dead near Taiz – 22 November
The day after a 48-hour truce ended and failed to be renewed by either side, at least 40 fighters were killed in the Taiz area as Saudi-backed government forces advanced into Houthi territory. The Red Cross reported heavy fighting throughout the city of Taiz, with hundreds injured from indiscriminate sniper fire and shelling by both sides. Amnesty International also claimed that the Saudi-backed troops were threatening medical workers in the city who have complained of harassment and intimidation. Multiple efforts to establish long-lasting ceasefires in the Yemen conflict have failed since March 2015.
Clashes escalate towards end of 48-hour truce – 21 November
Hundreds of people protested over deteriorating conditions in Houthi-controlled Sana’a, and the southern city of Aden, where Yemen’s recognised government in exile is based. Demonstrators were critical of authorities in both cities due to unpaid salaries and shortages of both fuel and power. In Sana’a, pro-Houthi security forces maintained a heavier than usual presence and used force to break up the protest.