Middle East – North Africa News Brief

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MENA BRIEF, SITREP July 10 – July 16: Middle East and Northern Africa Regional Low Intensity Conflicts.

[FEATURES]: United States and Qatar sign agreement to fight terrorism; The United States (US) and Qatar signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on JUL11. The MoU spells out the two countries’ commitment to combat the financing of terrorism. Representing the US was US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and representing Qatar was Tillerson’s Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani. The agreement, according to Tillerson, “represents weeks of intense discussions between experts and reinvigorates the spirit of the Riyadh summit.”

Qatar is currently embroiled in a disrupting diplomatic tussle with its neighboring countries, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE (as well as the non-neighboring Egypt) over Qatar’s alleged ties with, among others, Iran. Part of the accusation that Qatar faces from its neighboring gulf state countries is that through its affiliation with Iran, it is financially supporting terrorism. In response to the Qatari-US agreement, the aforementioned countries, released a joint statement claiming credit for pressing Qatar into signing the MoU, and underlining their own commitment to not just combating the financing of terrorism themselves, but also to monitor Qatar’s actions.

While individual parties in the dispute often voice their will and need for a “diplomatic and political” solution to the situation, they equally often state that a political solution is far from happening. The UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar al-Gargash, stated on Twitter that the UAE government is preparing for a “long estrangement” with Qatar.

Secretary Tillerson spent the following days meeting with heads of states from the estranged gulf states, traveling from Kuwait to the western Saudi city of Jeddah. Tillerson’s visit to Saudi Arabia included talks with King Salman and his son, crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. He also met with the foreign ministers of the four countries in the anti-Qatar bloc. The discussions were primarily regarding the Qatar situation, but also about ongoing trade and defense agreements. During the talks with the royal house of Saud, Tillerson was informed that the MoU, in its current shape, is not considered “enough.”

Tillerson attempts to mend ties with Turkey; US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was optimistic that relations between Turkey and the US are on the mend. “America’s strained relationship with a key NATO ally is ‘on the mend,’ Secretary Tillerson said JUL10, at a gathering at the US Consulate in Istanbul, “I think our relationship here in Turkey, which has been under some stress for some time; I hope we are beginning to put it on the mend”.

Turkish-US ties have been strained since the attempted coup against the Erdogan government in 2016 July . Members of the Turkish government have directly accused the US, and NATO, to have played a large part in orchestrating the attempt, and of offering safe haven for opposition leaders. US support for Kurdish militia groups, classified by Turkey as terror groups, in Syria has further divided the two NATO allies.

Two European tourists fatally stabbed at Hurghada Resort, Egypt; 2 German tourists were stabbed to death at the Zahabia Hotel beach resort, and 4 others wounded at the Sunny Days resort, in Hurghada on July 14. The individual who carried out the deed is identified as 29-year-old Abdel-Rahman Shams El-Din, from Kafr el Sheikh Province. A student at the Al-Azhar University Business school. Abdel-Rahman is described as having had an extended talk, in German, with the two individuals before the attack began. After carrying out the attack at the Zahabia Hotel beach, he fled the scene to the neighboring Sunny Days resort, where he stabbed 4 female tourists. Of the four tourists at Sunny Days, 2 were Armenian, 1 Russian, and 1 from the Czech Republic. The Sunny Days victims are described as being in stable condition. Abdel-Rahman is described by eyewitnesses to have been shouting, in Arabic, to “Stay back, I am not after Egyptians”. Security stationed at the Sunny Days hotel apprehended him as he attempted to escape the scene.

At present, no group has claimed the attack, and there is no public information that indicates that the attack is likely to have been the result of an outside party’s directions.

[BAHRAIN]:

Opposition Shiite groups continue to call for daily protests and public gatherings against the Sunni-led government throughout the week. Small gatherings and protests were held, but with little impact or local coverage. No gathering reached critical mass, which would have resulted in Bahraini security forces interjecting. Single digit arrests have been reportedly made of individuals involved in the protests.

JUL10, Bahrain; The Ministry of Interior (MoI) announced that they have arrested a member of the Iran-based Shiite militia group al-Ashtar Brigades (AAB) for the JUN18 Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attack that killed 1 policeman and injured 2 others. The authorities are searching for one accomplice.

[SAUDI ARABIA]:

JUL11, al-Qatif, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia; The Ministry of Interior (MoI) stated that the Saudi government has executed 4 Shiite men for their involvement in a series of attacks against security forces in the area.

JUL13, al Rams, al-Qatif, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia; 1 soldier from the Royal Saudi Land Forces (KSA), Sergeant Mohammed Hussein Hazazi, was killed during an ambush on a patrol by gunmen unknown. 1 other KSA soldier was injured, but his injuries were not described as critical. Al-Qatif continues to see an active Shiite insurgency against the Wahhabi-Sunni Saudi state, targeting government installations and personnel. Last week there were at least 2 ambushes against military patrols around industrial zones of the province. This matter, like those before it, is being described as an act of terrorism by the Riyadh government.

JUL14, Saihat, al-Qatif, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia; A police raid on a residential safe house resulted in the death of known Shiite militant Jafar al-Mubaireek.

[EGYPT]:

JUL11, Aswan, Egypt; Security forces arrested 5 individuals with suspected ties to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The 5 are accused of belonging to a militant cell of the brotherhood, and to have been planning to “sow chaos”.

JUL11, Sinnuris, Faiyum Province, Egypt; The Ministry of Interior (MoI) has confirmed that an individual, suspected of being involved in the militant offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood called Hasm, was killed during a shootout with security forces in Sinnuris. Egyptian security forces carried out a raid against a suspected Hasm-safe house. During their initial approach against the house, a motorcycle-borne gunman opened fire on the police insertion team. During the ensuing fire exchange, one gunman was killed. Two additional suspects were able to evade capture. The police are still searching for these men, and believe to have at least one of them positively identified. The raid on the safe house resulted in the seizure of one firearm, ammunition for said firearm, and several vehicles.

JUL12, al-Marj, Northern Cairo, Egypt; MoI stated that a male individual suspected of being a Hasm militant was killed during a shootout with security forces. Security forces attempted to apprehend the man for his alleged involvement in attacks against security forces in 2016. The man opened fire using a small caliber handgun upon the police entering the apartment that he was residing in. The handgun is described as having been an Egyptian made 9mm pistol.

JUL13, Egypt; Due to the destabilizing security situation, and increased threat profile, vis-à-vis Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt, church leaders ordered the postponement of all events and activities outside of churches throughout July. Instead these events may be held in churches equipped with fixed security installations.

[TURKEY]:

State security has been on an increased alert throughout the week. This is in anticipation of the 1-year anniversary of the attempted 2016 July coup d’etat. The attempted coup resulted in the solidification of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powerblock, and led to massive political crackdowns against opposition parties and individuals throughout the country. The upcoming anniversary has increased the nationwide pressure put on Kurdish movements, as well as extremist groups operating throughout the region, by the security forces. Local media outlets have reported at least 270 individuals have been arrested in the past week. The majority of arrests, as described by the state, have been of people with affiliations with the Islamic State.

For instance, in a single day, JUL12, Turkish security forces raided 12 locations in Istanbul. These raids resulted in the arrest of at least 31 individuals. Of the 31 individuals arrested, 6 have been described as Turkish nationals, with the remainder merely being described as foreign nationals. Local reports imply that 18 of the 25 foreigners arrested were Syrian citizens. During the JUL12 raids, police discovered IS-related documents, as well as a multitude of small arms. The documents, according to reports, indicate that all, or some, of the individuals were planning to travel to Syria to join various factions of IS.

Similar raids were carried out on JUL12, on houses in Hatay, Izmir, and Malatya.

Nationalistic sentiment has surged in preparation for the 1-year anniversary of the attempted coup. This has entailed public displays of support of the president and his government from public institutions and popular gathering points, such as mosques. Mosques nationwide held a special Friday prayer service on JUL14 for this purpose. On JUL15 a “National Unity March” in Istanbul culminated with President Erdogan delivering a speech at a monument near the July 15 Martyrs Bridge.

In response, demonstrators took to the street on JUL9 in the largest opposition rally in years, protesting Erdogan’s large scale crackdowns against political freedoms. Hundreds of thousand joined protests against “widespread injustice and oppression by the government” at the Maltepe Parade Ground, in Istanbul. The protest was organized by the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party. The parade ground was also the final destination of the 450km (280-mile) march from Ankara, the capital, led by the leader of the Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

JUL12, Dortokka Street, Meram district, Konya, Turkey; Security forces raided a house believed to be operating as a “Daesh hotel”. The raid resulted in the death of 5 suspects, and the injury of 4 police officers. The police encountered what was described by local media as “intense” resistance, causing the raid to go on for at least 3 hours. The police discovered 5 AK-47s, 1 Turkish made 9mm pistol, and ammunitions for all weapons on the scene. The police also found ammunition for weapons not found on the scene. According to the government affiliated news outlet, Anadolu Agency, at least “3 kilograms of TNT explosives and an explosive vest” were found. Worth noting is that the term TNT is colloquially often used in the region to describe any type, or mixture, of packaged explosives.

[ISRAEL and PALESTINE]:

JUL13, Jerusalem, Israel; US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, announced an Israeli-Palestinian water agreement on JUL13. The World Bank-sponsored Red-Dead water project aims to build a pipeline from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, along with a desalination plant in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. When completed, the pipeline will be nearly 200-km (120-mile) long.

Under the agreement, freshwater supplies will increase for Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. The project also intends to help manage the rate of decline of the water levels of the Dead Sea. Israel also agreed to increase water sales to Palestinian controlled areas by 20 to 30 million cubic meters a year. According to the Israeli government, the project will take another 4-5 years, and cost about $900 million US dollars, before completion. Even though Mr. Greenblatt is tasked with reviving peace talks between Israel and Palestine, he declined to answer any questions on that issue ,instead stating that the topic at hand was clear.

JUL14, Lions Gate, Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, Old City Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel; An attack on Israeli police officers by 3 Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin occurred near the Lions Gate/Lube Samri, inside the Old City of Jerusalem. The early morning fire exchange resulted in the death of two Israeli Police officers and the 3 attackers. According to reports, the attackers used 2 Carl Gustav machine guns, and a .45 ACP pistol. In response to the attack, the al Quds Mosque was closed for security inspection during Friday prayer. The Consulate General of the United States, in Jerusalem, issued a security alert to its employees, and affiliated individuals, ordering all to refrain from entering the Old City of Jerusalem until Saturday.

LIMA CHARLIE, MENA Desk

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