Yemen + 4 more

ACLED Regional Overview - Middle East (30 July - 5 August 2022)

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Last week in the Middle East, overall political violence levels remained relatively stable in Yemen, as the UN-mediated truce was extended a second time for a two-month period, now running until 2 October. In Syria, violence against civilians increased last week. In Iraq, large demonstrations in the Baghdad Green Zone, calling for early elections and constitutional reform, continued for the second week. In Turkey, armed clashes between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) left four PKK militants killed, while remote explosive attacks by the PKK’s Free Women’s Units (PKK-YJA STAR) left one Turkish military village guard dead and others injured. In Israel and Palestine, the Israeli military launched a pre-emptive operation — Breaking Dawn — targeting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement (PIJ) in the Gaza Strip, leading to an exchange of hostilities between the two sides.

In Yemen, UN Special Envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg announced a new extension to the UN-mediated truce on 2 August, which now runs until 2 October.1 The extension includes a commitment to intensify negotiations for an expanded truce agreement, which would include a new item on civil servant salaries and civilian pensions, and pave the way for a formal ceasefire and political process (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, 2 August 2022). While overall levels of violence remained relatively stable during the first week of the extension, armed clashes significantly increased from the week prior. Notably, forces affiliated with the Internationally Recognized Government (IRG) thwarted three Houthi offensives in Taizz governorate (see ACLED’s Yemen Truce Monitor for more on truce violations).

In the south of the country, Chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council (PLC) Rashad Al Alimi announced new governors in Hadramawt and Socotra on 31 July (Yemen News Agency, 31 July 2022; Yemen News Agency, 31 July 2022). The replacement of PLC member Faraj Al Bahsani as governor of Hadramawt followed his attempt, the week prior, to dismiss his deputy for the Hadramawt valley.

Amid the political upheaval, tensions appear to be brewing in southern Yemen, with the movement of forces reported across the region last week. In the Hadramawt valley, some sources claim that forces from the 1st Military District started a withdrawal toward Al Jawf governorate to be replaced by Hadrami Elite forces from the 2nd Military District, which are commanded by Al Bahsani (Al Omana, 30 July 2022). In neighboring Shabwah, forces affiliated with the Islah party coming from Marib governorate and forces affiliated with the Southern Transitional Council (STC) are reportedly deploying in preparation for clashes around the governorate’s capital, Ataq (Masa Press, 30 July 2022).2 In Abyan, a convoy of an STC-affiliated commander was ambushed by unidentified gunmen, contributing to the 200% increase in violence in the governorate over the past week relative to the past month, as flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker.

In Syria, violence against civilians increased significantly in rebel and Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD)-held areas in northern Syria last week. At least 20 journalists were detained by QSD as part of its civilian detention campaigns in Al Hasakeh and Ar-Raqqa provinces. ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in Al Hasakeh in the past month. Meanwhile, Turkish and rebel shelling and drone attacks on QSD and People’s Protection Units (YPG)-controlled areas declined significantly last week following a surge the week prior. Likewise, armed clashes and shelling between regime forces and rebel and Islamist factions in the frontline areas of Hama, Aleppo, Idleb, and Lattakia provinces declined last week compared to the week prior.

In Iraq, supporters of the Sadrist Movement protested in major cities across Iraq last week for the second consecutive week in response to the nomination of Mohamed al Sudani for prime minister by the pro-Iran Coordination Framework. Thousands of Sadrist protesters launched a multi-day sit-in in and around the Iraqi parliament building in the Green Zone in Baghdad (Al Jazeera, 30 July 2022), demanding early elections and constitutional reform. The sit-in triggered a counter-protest by the Coordination Framework in the same area.

Meanwhile, violence significantly increased in Salah Al Din province last week, where unknown militants attacked civilians with small arms and IEDs, and Iraqi forces clashed with Islamic State (IS) militants north of Samarra city. These trends contribute to the 155% increase in violence in Salah Al Din last week relative to the past month flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker, which first warned of increased violence to come in Salah Al Din in the past month.

Elsewhere, fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK fell last week to the lowest levels since the beginning of Turkey’s Operation Claw Lock in April. The geographic scope of fighting also became more limited, with fighting decreasing in Erbil province and Turkey pausing airstrikes in Ninewa province. Fighting between Turkey and the PKK nonetheless continues to be a key driver of violence in Iraq, contributing to the 30% increase in violence in the past month relative to the past year flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month.

In southeast** Turkey**, four PKK militants and one Turkish military village guard were killed in separate clashes and attacks last week. Two PKK militants were killed in an armed clash with Turkish gendarmerie and police forces in the Siirt district, while another two PKK militants were also killed in the Agri mountain region. Meanwhile, the PKK-YJA STAR, the women’s wing of the PKK, targeted Turkish military village guards with explosive devices in the Sirnak and Hakkari districts, leaving one village guard dead and several others injured. This violence contributed to the 47% increase in violence in Turkey in the past month relative to the past year flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month.

In Israel and Palestine, tensions flared between the PIJ and the Israeli military with the launching of the pre-emptive Israeli operation codenamed Breaking Dawn on 5 August. Israeli forces said the operation was launched to thwart alleged planned rocket attacks by the PIJ (The Guardian, 6 August 2022). The Israeli military conducted airstrikes targeting various locations in the Gaza Strip last week, killing at least 10 Palestinians, including two senior PIJ commanders and one child. The PIJ responded by firing some 100 rockets at Israel. While nearly half fell short in the Gaza Strip, over 40 rockets crossed the border, of which the Iron Dome intercepted 33. The rest fell in open areas, causing no injuries (Times of Israel, 5 August 2022). The Israeli military stated that the operation could last a week, but mediation efforts by neighboring Egypt and Hamas inaction could help bring a swifter ending to the hostilities (BBC, 8 August 2022).3 The latest bout of violence is the most serious flare-up between Israel and Gaza since the 11-day conflict in May 2021.

Earlier in the week, Israeli forces carried out a military operation in Jenin, arresting Bassem Saadi, reported to be the head of PIJ in the West Bank. Saadi’s arrest — and subsequent rumors of his injury during the raid — and the killing of a PIJ militant during the military operation likely contributed to stoking tensions between the two sides (Times of Israel, 22 August 2022).