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Israel Says Airstrike Likely Caused Deadly Fire in Gaza

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TOP HEADLINES:

  • Israel Tells US Rafah Strike Shrapnel May Have Ignited Fuel Tank
  • Egyptian and Israeli Troops Exchange Fire at Rafah Border
  • Biden Admin Told Allies not to Condemn Tehran’s Nuclear Violations
  • U.S. Likely to Lift Ban on Offensive Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia
  • Türkiye in Talks with China to Make Thrace a Nuclear Energy Hub

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★ ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

  1. Israel Tells US Rafah Strike Shrapnel May Have Ignited Fuel Tank

Israeli officials informed the Biden administration that shrapnel from an Israeli strike in Rafah might have ignited a fuel tank, causing a fire that killed dozens of displaced Gazans. The IDF stated the strike targeted two senior Hamas terrorists, was based on intelligence, and used precision weaponry. The White House is actively engaging with Israel and other partners to determine the facts. The IDF emphasized that the strike did not occur within the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone and reiterated its commitment to minimizing civilian harm. Major General Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, the IDF’s Military Advocate General, announced an investigation into the airstrike that allegedly killed 35 people. 

  1. IDF Denies Hamas Claim of Captured Soldiers in Gaza

The IDF denied Hamas’s claim that it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Hamas released an unverified video showing a body being dragged in a tunnel, but the IDF said no Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. The Hamas statement came after intense fighting in Jabaliya, where the IDF has targeted Hamas cells. The video also showed military gear and submachine guns not commonly used by the IDF.

  1. Hamas Rockets Hit Tel Aviv Area for First Time in Four Months

On May 26, Hamas fired eight rockets at central Israel from Rafah, marking the first such attack in four months. Three rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome, while five landed in open areas. Shrapnel hit a house in Herzliya, causing minor injuries. The attack came as the IDF advanced into Rafah, aiming to dismantle Hamas’s stronghold. Israeli forces killed terrorist operatives, uncovered weapons caches, and targeted tunnel shafts in Rafah.

  1. Gantz Calls for Independent Commission of Inquiry into Hamas Invasion

National Unity leader Benny Gantz has proposed a state commission of inquiry into the October 7 Hamas invasion and the ongoing Gaza conflict, aiming to scrutinize political, military, and intelligence decision-making, as well as Israel’s compliance with international law. Gantz warned he would leave the government if Prime Minister Netanyahu does not present postwar plans for Gaza by June 8. The proposal faces slim chances of passing in the Netanyahu-led cabinet. Meanwhile, during a visit to the IDF Urim base near the Gaza border, Gantz emphasized the necessity of military operations in Rafah and condemned Hamas as war criminals.

  1. US Naval Vessels Run Aground Near Temporary Gaza Pier

American vessels disconnected from a floating pier near Gaza on Saturday due to stormy seas, becoming stuck on Israeli beaches, US Central Command reported. Four ships broke free, with no reported injuries and the aid pier remaining operational. Two ships washed up near the pier, while another was stuck in Ashdod. Recovery efforts are ongoing with help from the Israeli Navy. The US reiterated no personnel would enter Gaza. The pier aims to deliver 150 truckloads of aid daily to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

  1. Hamas Planned Attacks on Israeli Embassy and U.S. Base in Germany

German security services revealed that a Hamas terrorist cell planned attacks on the Israeli embassy in Berlin and a U.S. military base in Germany, as reported by Welt am Sonntag. The suspect, of Lebanese origin, was arrested in Berlin in December and found with target locations on his smartphone. Prosecutors accused him of seeking hiding places for weapons. He received instructions from Hamas officials in Lebanon. This aligns with a January statement from the Prime Minister’s office about Hamas’s European network targeting Jewish and Israeli sites. The arrest prevented a potential attack, and investigations are ongoing.

  1. Nikki Haley Arrives in Israel for Diplomatic and Humanitarian Visit

Nikki Haley, former U.S. presidential candidate and ambassador to the UN, arrived in Israel on Sunday for a diplomatic and humanitarian visit. Haley will tour the Gaza Envelope and northern border areas and meet with senior government and security officials, returned hostages, IDF soldiers who fought on October 7, and survivors of the Nova Music Festival massacre. During recent speculation about her as a potential running mate for Donald Trump, Haley reaffirmed her support for Trump in the upcoming election.

  1. Israeli Military Prepares for Northern War with Extensive Drill

The IDF concluded a major military exercise simulating a maneuver into Lebanon, involving the 146th Division and the 205th Armored Brigade. The drill focused on rapid deployment, coordination within division and brigade headquarters, and combat readiness. The 551st Brigade, which previously saw action in Gaza, practiced maneuvering through wooded terrain, emergency mobilization, and simulated battles in Lebanon. The exercise aimed to enhance logistical and communication coordination, ensuring the military’s preparedness for potential conflict in northern Israel.

  1. Ex-Mossad Chief Accused of Threatening Former ICC Prosecutor

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen reportedly pressured former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to halt an investigation into Israeli war crimes, according to The Guardian. Cohen allegedly acted as Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “unofficial messenger” and made veiled threats, suggesting potential risks to Bensouda’s security and that of her family. Reports also indicate Mossad monitored Bensouda’s family and attempted to discredit her. Cohen, led Mossad from 2015 to 2021. The Israeli government denied the allegations.

  1. Eizenkot Says War with Hamas Will Continue for Years

Israeli war cabinet member Gabby Eizenkot told the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that the conflict with Hamas will persist for years, despite claims of significant damage to Hamas’s battalions. Eizenkot said 21 Hamas battalions remain capable of fighting and that a complete end to the war or securing all hostages is unrealistic. Eizenkot suggested pursuing a hostage deal and a temporary ceasefire, emphasizing Israel’s obligation to return civilians and soldiers. He stressed that any initiative should be from a position of strength, allowing for strategic pauses to achieve long-term goals.

  1. Netanyahu Denies Blocking Hostage Deal, Calls Rafah Strike a ‘Tragic Error’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, addressing the Knesset, vowed to continue fighting in Gaza and denied accusations of hindering a hostage deal with Hamas. He described the Rafah strike, which killed numerous civilians, as a tragic error despite efforts to avoid such outcomes. Netanyahu emphasized his commitment to achieving all war objectives and rejected claims of stalling negotiations for the hostages’ release. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid criticized Netanyahu, insisting he cannot remain prime minister without securing the hostages’ return. Netanyahu asserted his approval of all requests for negotiation flexibility and condemned leaks suggesting otherwise.

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★ IRAN

  1. Iran Sidelines U.S. Envoy McGurk in Strategic Diplomatic Shuffle

The Iranian regime has shifted its diplomacy with the United States, and one of Tehran’s objectives appears to be to sideline Biden administration envoy Brett McGurk. Axios disclosed on 17 May that  McGurk and acting Iran envoy Abram Paley have been holding secret indirect talks with the Iranian regime in Oman and Qatar. Following the helicopter crash that killed Iran’s president and foreign minister, the Iranians disclosed that Supreme Leader Khamenei appointed Ali Shamkhani, former Secretary-General of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, to take over as Iranian lead for nuclear negotiations with the United States, but Khamenei reportedly decreed that an Iranian minister was too senior in diplomatic rank to engage with lower-ranking officials such as McGurk. This directive was confirmed by the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson, who emphasized that future discussions on lifting sanctions will be managed by senior officials. Khamenei’s directive would appear to preclude McGurk from engaging with Shamkhani or with Iran’s Foreign Minister–likely a deliberate recalibration in Tehran’s approach to these high-stakes negotiations.

  1. Saeed Jalili Emerges as Key Candidate in Iran’s Presidential Election

Iran has set its presidential election timetable, with candidate registration open from May 30 to June 3. Candidates must be aged 40-75 and hold at least a master’s degree. The Guardian Council will review candidates from June 4 to June 10, with the final candidate list announced on June 11. Campaigning runs from June 12 to June 26, followed by a day of electoral silence on June 27, with elections on June 28. Saeed Jalili, known for his previous role as Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and close ties to Supreme Leader Khamenei, is emerging as a key candidate. Additionally, a senior political source revealed that former parliament speaker Ali Larijani recently met with Ayatollah Khamenei to discuss a potential presidential bid. Larijani, once a hardliner turned advocate for Western engagement under Rouhani, was barred from running in 2021, surprising many. His public demands for transparency from the Guardian Council over his disqualification highlighted internal tensions. Allowing Larijani to run now would signify a major change in the regime’s policy. Other potential candidates include Muhammad Baqir Qalibaf, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Muhammad Reza Arif, and acting President Muhammad Mokhber. The Guardian Council faces the challenge of ensuring legitimacy while orchestrating a favorable election outcome.

  1. Iran Plans to Increase Oil Production to 4 Million Barrels per Day

Iran announced plans to boost its oil production to four million barrels per day, without providing a specific timetable for achieving this goal. Currently, Iran produces over three million barrels per day. The U.S. Treasury recently accused Iran of evading oil sanctions through Malaysia, with Iranian oil then being transported to China through Singaporean waters. U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson has embarked on a two-day trip to Malaysia and Singapore to address Iran’s revenue and finance proxy factions.

  1. Biden Administration Reportedly Told European Allies not to Condemn Tehran’s Nuclear Violations

Western sources reveal a divide between the US and its European allies regarding the Iranian nuclear file at the IAEA. While European capitals planned to push for a resolution condemning Tehran’s violations of nuclear restrictions, the Biden administration reportedly discouraged the resolution so as to avoid escalating tensions with Tehran. Despite Iran’s unresolved issues with the IAEA, including unexplained uranium particles and obstruction of inspection teams, the US hesitates to pursue further action. The recent death of Iranian President Raisi further complicates negotiations, delaying talks on Iran’s nuclear compliance until his successor is elected. 

  1. Confusion Deepens Over Iranian President’s Helicopter Crash

More than a week following the helicopter crash that killed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the exact cause remains shrouded in mystery. The Iranian military has ruled out the possibility of the helicopter being shot down, but have yet to determine the primary cause and say further investigation is needed. Adding to the intrigue, President Raisi’s personal bodyguard reportedly was absent from the flight. The official timeline details the president’s entourage traveling from Tehran to various locations before the fatal crash near Khoda Afarin, but there have been questions regarding last-minute changes in passenger arrangements and the potential for sabotage. The regime claims to have communicated for a few hours by phone with a cleric who somehow initially survived the crash, without explaining how he survived or how he had another passenger’s phone. The Iranian regime also has claimed the helicopter flew in favorable weather conditions with adequate safety measures, but conflicting accounts and delayed rescue operations have fueled speculation about the crash.

  1. Will the Saudi Crown Prince’s Visit to Tehran Ever Materialize?

Iranian state media has reported that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has agreed to an invitation to visit Tehran, but no specific date has been set for this potential visit, which would be the first by a Saudi royal in over two decades. Despite this announcement, similar claims were made last year without any follow-through, casting doubts on the immediacy of such a visit. The report comes during ongoing diplomatic attempts to mend ties, following a seven-year pause, with both nations reopening embassies and resuming dialogues. However, relations remain tense with unresolved issues like the conflict in Yemen and disputes over energy resources continuing to fuel mistrust and regional instability.

  1. Iran’s Hard-Line Parliament Begins 12th Session After President’s Death

Iran’s Parliament commenced its twelfth session under the shadow of President Raisi’s recent death. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei emphasized national unity and avoiding political disputes in his opening speech. Alaeddin Boroujerdi was elected as the temporary speaker, with Mohammad Baqir Qalibaf, Mojtaba Zolnour, and Manouchehr Mottaki nominated for the permanent position. Later in the day, the Iranian media announced that Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf was re-elected as Speaker with a significant majority, securing 198 out of 287 votes. Fundamentalist factions now control the majority of the 290 seats.

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★ YEMEN

  1. Yemen Agreement Progresses Despite Houthi-Saudi Tensions

A forthcoming agreement between Saudi Arabia, the US, and Oman aims to resolve Yemen’s crisis by forming a new presidential council with Houthi participation, unifying Yemen’s central bank and currency, and having Saudi Arabia pay public sector salaries for six months. The deal, expected to be signed in Riyadh, would also include reopening airports and ports, prisoner exchanges, and resuming oil and gas exports. Saudi Arabia also pledged $9.75 million in aid to Yemen at the WHO General Assembly. The agreement will be hindered by the Houthis’ apparent coordination with an Iraqi militia to threaten Saudi Arabia, as reported by Al-Akhbar. This coordination surfaces as Gulf Cooperation Council meetings in Riyadh focus on countering the “axis of resistance.”

  1. MeK Report Uncovers Iranian Regime’s Clandestine Support for Houthis

A report by the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (MEK) has revealed how Iran bolsters the Houthi militia in Yemen through sophisticated smuggling networks and high-level military support. Iranian General Gholam Ali Rashid and Major General Abdul Reza Shahlai are key figures in orchestrating the transfer of drones, missiles, and other weapons via secret routes and covert methods. 

  1. Houthis Claim Oil Reserves, Aim to Seize Marib and Hadramaut Sources

The Houthi militia announced the discovery of significant oil reserves in territories under their control, with intentions to capture oil-rich territories in Marib, Hadramaut, and Shabwa from the legitimate government. Houthi leader Hussein Al-Ezzi highlighted “preliminary indicators” of oil exploration showing promising reserves. He declared the militia’s goal to control and distribute these resources, criticizing the current government for allegedly hoarding oil in occupied regions. Over recent years, the Houthis have attempted to seize these vital oil areas, resulting in prolonged conflicts.

  1. British and US Forces Intensify Naval Operations to Counter Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea

The British Ministry of Defense announced the deployment of HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, to replace HMS Diamond in the Red Sea, aiming to safeguard shipping routes from Iranian-backed Houthi attacks. The same day, the Houthi militia announced they had targeted three civilian ships and two American military destroyers in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, claiming successful hits. This follows a pattern of increased Houthi missile and drone assaults since November, including the firing of two anti-ship missiles on May 25, as confirmed by US Central Command. In response, US forces have destroyed several Houthi drones to protect commercial and military vessels. British Minister of State for the Middle East, Lord Tariq Ahmed, reaffirmed UK support for Saudi peace initiatives and condemned Houthi actions. Meanwhile, China has called for an end to attacks on civilian ships, noting significant disruptions to global shipping and Suez Canal revenues. The US and UK have conducted joint strikes on Houthi positions in Yemen since January to ensure maritime safety.

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★ THE GULF

  1. Qatar Energy Secures Long-term Urea Supply Deal with U.S. Firm

Qatar Energy has entered into a 15-year agreement to supply up to 0.74 million tons of urea annually to Cook Fertilizers Company starting in July 2024. This agreement reinforces the partnership between Qatar Energy and the American firm, supporting agricultural sectors in the U.S. and other international markets. Saad bin Sherida Al-Kaabi, Qatar’s Minister of State for Energy Affairs, highlighted the deal as a milestone in promoting growth and mutual value. Mark Luiters, Vice President of Cook Industries, expressed satisfaction with strengthening the relationship.

  1. U.S. Likely to Lift Ban on Offensive Weapons Sales to Saudi Arabia

The U.S. is reportedly preparing to lift a ban on selling offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, a move expected within weeks. This ban, imposed by President Joe Biden early in his tenure due to concerns over potential weapon use in Yemen, is under reconsideration following a 2022 UN-brokered truce in Yemen that reduced civilian casualties. The shift is seen as an indicator of the significantly improved U.S.-Saudi relations. Discussions between the two nations have also advanced on defense and nuclear cooperation, potentially paving the way for Saudi Arabia’s normalization of relations with Israel, contingent on progress towards a Palestinian state.

  1. Gulf Condemnation of Israeli Airstrikes in Rafah 

Saudi Arabia and Qatar condemned Israel’s recent airstrikes in Rafah, Gaza, which targeted tents housing displaced Palestinians and disrupted ongoing mediation efforts. Saudi Arabia described these actions as continuous massacres and blatant violations of international norms, urging global intervention to prevent further atrocities. Meanwhile, Qatar highlighted the attacks’ detrimental impact on diplomatic efforts aimed at establishing a ceasefire and addressing prisoner exchanges, with discussions between the Qatari Emir and the President of the European Council emphasizing the need for urgent international response to the escalating humanitarian crisis.

  1. Arab-Islamic Delegation Intensifies Efforts to End Gaza War

A delegation from the Arab-Islamic Ministerial Committee, led by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, continues its diplomatic mission to mobilize international support for ending the eight-month-long Israeli war on Gaza. The committee, formed during the November 2023 extraordinary Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh, recently visited Brussels after stops in Paris, China, and Russia. In Brussels, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan discussed enhancing regional and international efforts to end the conflict and ensure sustainable humanitarian aid delivery. The delegation met with European leaders to discuss immediate cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid delivery, and international recognition of an independent Palestinian state.

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★ LEBANON

  1. Israeli Military Drills Simulate Conflict in Southern Lebanon

The Israeli military has conducted exercises simulating warfare scenarios in southern Lebanon and focusing on combat readiness and rapid troop mobilization. The object of the exercises is reportedly to enable Israel to establish control over southern Lebanon and transform the region into a buffer zone so as to stabilize Israel’s northern border and reassure Israelis of their safety after months of Hizballah missile and drone attacks.

  1. Israeli Raid in Lebanon Claims Casualties, Hezbollah Retaliates

Israeli forces reportedly targeted Hezbollah by striking a motorcycle in Bint Jbeil and bombing Hezbollah members in Yaroun and Hula. Hezbollah retaliated by targeting an Israeli military building in Margaliot. The Israeli strikes reportedly ignited fires from phosphorus munitions. Hezbollah confirmed it suffered losses, while Israel claims to have killed seven Hezbollah operatives. 

  1. French Effort to Resolve Lebanese Political Crisis

French Special Envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian is returning to Beirut to address Lebanon’s presidential deadlock. Le Drian plans meetings with Speaker Nabih Berri and caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati. French President Macron reportedly plans to discuss Lebanon with U.S. President Biden at a summit on 7 June, though Lebanese officials oppose Macron’s proposal for international forces on the Syria-Lebanon border. Western negotiators so far have sought to bolster Lebanese army and UNIFIL presence in the south, while Hezbollah insists it will not agree to a ceasefire with Israel until there is a ceasefire in Gaza.

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★ SYRIA

  1. French Court Sentences Syrian Officials to Life in Prison for War Crimes

A French court sentenced three senior Syrian regime officials, including senior intelligence officials Jamil Hassan and Ali Mamlouk, to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity and war crimes related to the deaths of two French-Syrians arrested in Syria in 2013. Tried in absentia, the officials remain subjects of international arrest warrants. The case, hailed as a historic ruling, marks the first time France has prosecuted senior Assad regime members. The trial highlighted severe torture practices and property seizures by the Assad regime. 

  1. Dual Strikes in Syria: Israeli Drone Targets Hezbollah, Explosion Near Iranian Embassy

Three days ago, an alleged Israeli drone strike killed two Hezbollah fighters in central Syria near Qusayr in Homs province, marking the third such attack within a week. On the same day, an explosion in the al-Maza neighborhood of Damascus, home to the Iranian embassy, killed one person with close ties to Iran. This latest explosion follows a series of recent attacks in the area, including a major strike last month attributed to Israel, which killed senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps members. There has been no official comment on either incident. In response to the strike that killed a Hezbollah operative outside a hospital in south Lebanon, Hezbollah launched rocket barrages at northern Israel on Monday. Approximately 25 rockets targeted Kiryat Shmona and 35 rockets hit Mount Meron, causing fires but no injuries. The IDF retaliated by striking the rocket launchers and other Hezbollah targets.

  1. Israeli Force Incursion into Syrian Territory in Quneitra

An Israeli military force of dozens of personnel and armored vehicles penetrated Syrian territory in Quneitra, bordering the demarcation line, and proceeded to clear trees and agricultural lands without prior warning. The operation is part of an ongoing project to construct a road and establish a new border strip to safeguard the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Previously, an Israeli force apprehended a Syrian individual and later disposed of his body near the border line.

  1. ISIS Strikes Iranian Convoy in Central Syria

Suspected ISIS gunmen attacked a convoy of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in eastern Homs, central Syria. Using a shoulder-fired missile and machine guns, they targeted a military vehicle loaded with weapons and ammunition near Palmyra, injuring an IRGC member and causing significant damage to an IRGC headquarters. This attack follows Syrian government forces and pro-Iranian factions’ recent campaign against ISIS cells in the Palmyra Desert.

  1. World Bank Reports Severe Economic Decline and Rising Poverty in Syria

The Syrian Central Bank reported an annual inflation rate of 122% in April. Food prices are soaring despite reduced consumption, with staples like rice and lentils becoming increasingly expensive. Experts criticized the Assad regime’s economic policies for exacerbating the crisis, with some estimating inflation rates as high as 800%. Concurrently, the World Bank highlighted severe economic decline and rising poverty in Syria, with over a quarter of the population, or approximately 5.7 million people, living in extreme poverty. The economic contraction is expected to continue with a 1.5% decline projected this year, and inflation remains high due to currency depreciation and potential subsidy cuts. Many Syrians are dependent on remittances from abroad.

  1. Iraqi Militants Engage in Human Smuggling for Cash in Deir ez-Zor

Members of the Iraqi Hezbollah militia have turned to human smuggling as a new source of revenue in Deir ez-Zor, Syria. Charging up to $5,000 per person, they transport individuals from Albukamal to Iraq using commercial trucks and refrigerators. The fees vary based on the individual’s status—civilian, military, or wanted by the Syrian regime. This operation includes smuggling former ISIS members with Syrian civil cards from areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Civilians are primarily smuggled for work opportunities or to obtain Iraqi citizenship. This activity is part of a broader smuggling network, which also includes livestock smuggling to Iraq.

  1. ِAssad Regime Repairs Gas Plant Damaged by Turkish Airstrikes in SDF-Controlled Area

Syrian engineering and technical teams have managed to repair the Suwaydiyah gas plant in Hasakah’s countryside, previously damaged by Turkish airstrikes, according to regime media. The plant, controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), is currently in a trial operation phase, with expectations to resume normal production soon. The regime media claimed the plant’s repairs cost an estimated $1 billion and involved significant resources and expertise. Once fully operational, it will produce 660,000 cubic meters of gas daily for domestic use and generate 40-50 megawatts of electricity for Hasakah province. This development follows unofficial reports that the SDF has restarted the gas filling unit at the plant.

  1. SDF Continues Efforts to Evacuate Al-Hol Camp

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are intensifying efforts to evacuate Al-Hol camp in Hasakah, aiming for its complete closure. Maher al-Hussein, a Deir ez-Zor Civil Council official, announced that 89 families from Deir ez-Zor are set to leave the camp tomorrow, with the possibility of more departures based on security assessments. This follows a recent release of 69 families earlier this month. Iraqi National Security Advisor Qasim al-Araji has urged countries to repatriate their citizens from Al-Hol to facilitate its closure. The camp hosts tens of thousands of people, including many women and children associated with ISIS fighters, living under challenging humanitarian conditions.

  1. SDF Leader Calls for De-escalation and Recognition in Syria

Mazloum Abdi, commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has called for an end to escalating tensions with Turkiye and other parties and called for international recognition of the institutions of the Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria. Speaking at the Syrian clans’ forum in Hasakah, Abdi highlighted that regional interventions are exacerbating the Syrian crisis and urged for the honorable return of people to cities like Sere Kaniye, Tal Abyad, and Afrin. He also reiterated the SDF’s commitment to their promises to tribal leaders and the ongoing partnership with the international coalition to combat ISIS. Abdi stressed the necessity of building a new, unified, and decentralized Syria.

  1. Dwindling Support at Brussels Conference:  €7.5 Billion Pledged for Syria for 2024-2025

During the “Brussels 8 Conference,” €7.5 billion in aid was pledged for Syrians, exceeding last year’s UN appeal but marking an overall decline in assistance for Syria. Commitments include €5 billion in grants, with €3.8 billion for 2024 and €1.2 billion for subsequent years, and €2.5 billion in loans. The EU pledged €2.12 billion for 2024-2025 to support Syrians in-country and in Lebanon, Turkiye, Jordan, and Iraq, aiming to alleviate economic crises and refugee frustration. Jordan expressed concern over dwindling support for its 1.3 million Syrian refugees and insisted on the need for their voluntary return. 

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★ IRAQ

  1. Pro-Iranian Militias Launch Drone Attack on Southern Israel

Pro-Iranian Iraqi militias claimed responsibility for a drone attack on Eilat, Israel’s southern port city. The incident occurred on Monday, with the Israeli army intercepting two objects near Eilat, preventing casualties. Kataib Hezbollah, backed by Iran and among Iraq’s most formidable militias, operates under the Islamic Resistance in Iraq umbrella. This assault follows previous drone strikes on Eilat by the same group since the Gaza conflict began.

  1. Iraqi Interior Minister Orders Shakeup After Bombings of American Restaurants in Baghdad

Iraqi Interior Minister Abdul Amir al-Shammari has ordered changes within security forces following bombings that targeted American restaurants in Baghdad over the weekend. The attacks caused damage but no casualties. Minister al-Shammari visited the sites, reopened the restaurants, and emphasized restoring public trust. Several suspects have been apprehended, with ongoing investigations. An Iraqi brigade commander was dismissed and detained for negligence, and security troops in the targeted areas were suspended for a month.

  1. Muqtada al-Sadr Calls for Expulsion of US Ambassador from Iraq

On Tuesday, Shiite National Movement leader Muqtada al-Sadr demanded the expulsion of the US ambassador to Iraq and the closure of the US embassy. In a post on X, al-Sadr criticized US support for Israel, describing it as a “settlement entity” causing regional instability., emphasizing non-violence to maintain Iraq’s security. He also called on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League to take action against the ongoing violence in Gaza, condemning their silence on these issues.

  1. Iraq-China Trade Volume Surpasses $50 Billion in Two Years

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry revealed that trade with China exceeded $50 billion in two years, mostly in oil and gas. Deputy Foreign Minister Hisham Al-Alawi highlighted the importance of Arab-Chinese relations, which he said have reached $400 billion in financial cooperation. Alawi said the recently announced “development road” project will Iraq’s regional role and economic integration, while Chinese Ambassador Cui Wei said the development road and China’s Silk Road initiative will benefit both countries.

  1. Iraq Acquires Combat Drones from China

Iraq has procured Cai Hong-5 drones from China’s arms manufacturer CASC. The CH-5 reportedly has a 60-hour flight endurance and the capacity to carry up to 16 munitions. With an operational range of 250 km expandable to 2,000 km via satellite communication, the Iraqi ministry of defense intends the acquisition to complement its collaboration with other foreign powers such as Italy, exemplified by the Eurofighter Typhoon presence at a Baghdad exhibition.

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★ EGYPT

  1. Egyptian and Israeli Troops Clash at Rafah Border, Leaving One Egyptian Soldier Dead

Recent hostilities at the Rafah border crossing led to the death of an Egyptian soldier and sparked an exchange of fire between Egyptian and Israeli forces. The incident has intensified the already strained relations between Egypt and Israel. Investigations are underway by both nations, although reports conflict regarding which side initiated the gunfire. The situation is further complicated by the recent Rafah massacre, which resulted in significant Palestinian casualties. The Egyptian community is mourning the fallen soldier, and media coverage is restricted due to the sensitive political implications of the events.

  1. Egypt Condemns Israeli Strikes on Rafah Displacement Tents

Cairo condemned the deadly Israeli airstrikes on displacement tents in Rafah and called for immediate international intervention to secure a ceasefire. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs labeled the attack a violation of international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Egypt urged the UN Security Council and global actors to act swiftly to stop the violence. The airstrikes, which hit a designated safe zone in Tal Al-Sultan, killed at least 35 people, mostly women and children, and left dozens injured. 

  1. Egypt Arrests Opposition Leader Ahmed Tantawy

Egyptian opposition leader Ahmed Tantawy was arrested during a court session on Monday. Tantawy, a prominent potential challenger to President Sisi in the upcoming December elections, was appealing a February court decision that sentenced him to one year in prison and barred him from elections for five years. He and his campaign manager, Mohamed Aboul Diyar, were accused of circulating unauthorized election-related papers. Tantawy had withdrawn from the presidential race in October, citing intimidation and a crackdown on his supporters and relatives.

  1. Sisi and Xi Jinping to Discuss Gaza Conflict

China is set to deepen its engagement with the Middle East and North Africa through a series of high-level meetings and agreements. On May 28, 2024, President Xi Jinping and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will commemorate the 10th anniversary of their comprehensive strategic partnership in Beijing. This meeting will include discussions on the Gaza conflict and will conclude with the signing of various cooperation agreements aimed at promoting industrial and technological collaboration. Concurrently, Xi Jinping will host leaders from the UAE, Bahrain, and Tunisia to discuss regional stability and potential trade advancements. These discussions are part of the 10th Ministerial Conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, highlighting China’s growing diplomatic influence in the region.

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★ TURKIYE

  1. Türkiye in Talks with China to Make Thrace a Nuclear Energy Hub

Türkiye is negotiating with China to construct a nuclear power plant in the Thrace region. Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar announced plans to build four nuclear reactors, aiming to finalize an intergovernmental agreement within a few months. During his visit to China, Bayraktar highlighted opportunities for extensive cooperation in energy. He emphasized the need to increase investments to meet rising energy demands and reduce import dependency and carbon emissions. Bayraktar also stressed the importance of renewable resources, nuclear energy, natural gas, and new technologies in achieving Türkiye’s energy goals.

  1. Erdogan Continues Crackdown on 2016 Coup Plotters, Eight Years On

Over eight years since the failed 2016 coup, Turkiye’s President Erdogan continues his vigorous campaign against the Hizmet group led by Fethullah Gulen, which he accuses of orchestrating the coup. Despite extensive purges, recent arrests, including high-profile figures linked to mafia activities and facilitating a key witness’s escape, highlight the group’s lingering influence. The government has taken legal action against over 693,000 individuals, aiming to eradicate the group’s remnants from the judiciary and other state sectors. Erdogan recently said Turkiye needs a new constitution to guard against coups. 

  1. Türkiye Sacks General Involved in Smuggling Syrians

The Turkish Armed Forces retired General Bilal Tugay, commander of the 16th Motorized Brigade, for his involvement in human smuggling across the Syria-Turkiye border using official army vehicles. This follows a judicial and administrative investigation, after which the Turkish Ministry of Defense confirmed the arrest of individuals involved and the termination of contract employees’ agreements. Additionally, the Syrian-Turkish Joint Committee denied reports of withdrawing temporary protection cards from Syrian refugees entering Turkiye from third countries.

  1. Türkiye Warns Against “Illegitimate” Elections in Eastern Syria

Turkiye has issued a warning regarding upcoming elections planned by the Autonomous Administration in northeastern Syria. Türkiye asserts that these elections, scheduled for next month, undermine Syria’s territorial integrity and facilitate the region’s separation. Recent plans by the Autonomous Administration include local elections based on a new social contract, replacing references to the Syrian Arab Republic with terms like “North and East Syria Region.” Türkiye views these moves as attempts by Kurdish factions to legitimize 

autonomy, potentially leading to separatism.

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📌 In case you missed it,

📰 THE EARLY PHOENIX  May 24, 2024

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