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CrisisWatch N°133 - 1 September 2014

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The fight for control of Libya between the Misrata-led Islamist-leaning coalition and the Zintan-led forces is escalating by the day. Hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced in over six weeks of clashes and heavy artillery fire. The Misrata side emerged victorious in the battle over Tripoli’s international airport, taking control of the capital, and made advances around Benghazi, but the larger political divide remains unresolved. A newly formed parliament convened in Tobruk and has the backing of the Zintan-led anti-Islamists and the international community; but the previous legislature in Tripoli challenges its authority. Without a minimum of consensus, Libya is likely to have two ineffectual governments with militias exerting real control on the ground.

Yemen’s Huthis continued to challenge the government’s authority, potentially undermining the already-fragile transition. Throughout the month Huthis organised mass anti-government protests in the capital Sanaa while armed supporters gathered around the city. In late August, their leaders rejected a government offer to resign; ongoing negotiations are hung on the complicated issue of fuel subsidies. Counter rallies largely attended by rivals from the Sunni Islamist Islah party and supported by President Hadi only served to escalate tensions. (See our latest report on the Huthis.)

For the first time since 2011, the U.S. intervened militarily in Iraq in August. Although the operation was initially explained by the need to avert a potential “genocide” of the northern Yazidi community and protect U.S. personnel and assets from the jihadi Islamic State (IS; formerly ISIL), its objectives were later expanded to include the protection of critical infrastructure such as Mosul dam. Meanwhile in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki finally agreed to step down after most of his domestic and international backers joined in supporting his nominated replacement, fellow Dawa party member Haider al-Abadi. (See our recent commentary on IS.)

Syria’s northern armed opposition faced an increasingly dire situation as regime forces continued advancing in Aleppo and jihadis from IS gained territory north of the city. IS also continued its push to extend and consolidate control in the east, where it executed hundreds of tribal members in response to a local uprising against its rule in Deir al-Zour province and captured the regime’s last remaining stronghold in Raqqah province.

In one of the most serious spillovers of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon, the border town of Arsal witnessed heavy clashes between Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and Syrian rebels that left as many as 100 dead. Militants attacked checkpoints and seized official buildings before a counteroffensive by the Lebanese army, aided by Syrian Air Force raids, reclaimed the city after a 5-day battle.

The death toll from Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the Gaza Strip continued to mount: by the time a ceasefire agreement was reached on 26 August, more than 2100 mostly civilian Palestinians, at least 66 Israeli soldiers and 6 civilians inside Israel had been killed since the start of hostilities in July. Initial reports on the details of the ceasefire agreement suggested terms were vague and discussions of core issues had been deferred to later talks. (See our latest briefing and commentary)

Mass anti-government protests in Pakistan are threatening to undermine the country’s fragile democratic transition and have raised fears of an impending military intervention (see our recent Conflict Alert). For weeks, protests leaders have called for Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff’s resignation, the dissolution of parliament and new elections. In mid-August they led supporters into Islamabad’s “Red Zone”, home to several key government buildings. The military later came directly into the fray, with army chief General Raheel Sharif reportedly intending to mediate and then act as guarantor of a negotiated settlement between government and protesters.

India-Pakistan relations deteriorated sharply as the two states again clashed over Kashmir. Deadly exchanges-of-fire along the Line of Control resumed, with each side claiming civilian casualties. India cancelled foreign secretary-level talks aimed at setting an agenda for resuming the countries’ dialogue process after Pakistan’s High Commissioner met Kashmiri separatist leaders in New Delhi.

Fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine escalated sharply. While the army attempted to encircle major cities Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia stepped up support for the rebels and reportedly deployed troops inside Ukraine. According to UN estimates, the total number of casualties more than doubled in the past month.

July’s ceasefire agreement between armed groups in the Central African Republic failed to translate into a truce on the ground. Scores, many civilians, were killed in deadly fighting fueled by internal divisions among Seleka, attacks on the Muslim community in Boda by anti-balaka militias, and ongoing attempts to consolidate territorial control. Violence between Seleka and international troops also rose, with over 60 Seleka and two peacekeepers killed in early August clashes.

Nigerian Islamist sect Boko Haram intensified attacks in Cameroon’s Far North, after high-profile political kidnappings in Kolofata in late July. Heavy clashes between militants and Cameroonian forces were reported in late August, days after Nigerian soldiers were seen crossing the border for safety.

Clashes between Degodia and Garre clans intensified in Kenya’s northeast, killing over 77 in late August according to reports from the Kenyan Red Cross. Meanwhile, recent Al-Shabaab attacks fuelled revenge ethnic killings and kidnappings in coastal Lamu County, prompting authorities to extend the curfew in the region.