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THE EARLY PHOENIX – Oct 18, 2023

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Executive Summary: Urgent developments are unfolding across the MENA region, which seems poised on the edge of a widening conflict. As President Biden visits Israel, outrage in the Gulf states over the Gaza hospital incident is reaching a boiling point, risking diplomatic fallout. The Iranian regime’s militant proxies are using the Gaza explosion to spark riots near US Embassies. A drone attack on U.S. forces in Iraq elevates the risk, as pro-Iran politicians issue direct threats against U.S. assets. Russia and China are rapidly solidifying their alliance, challenging U.S. global leadership and adding urgency to recalibrate American foreign policy. Syria’s Damascus Airport resumption is a fragile sign of normalcy as Israeli airstrikes continue. Türkiye’s guarantor ship proposal for Israel-Palestine peace comes at a time when Israel itself is grappling with internal divisions, adding another layer of volatility. Egypt’s firm stance against Palestinian displacement to Sinai signals potential for regional spillover. The situation is at a tipping point

Top 5 Headlines:

  • Drone Attack on US Forces Intercepted in Iraq.
  • Israeli Army Arrests 750 Palestinians in West Bank During Gaza Conflict.
  • Iran Urges Islamic Countries to Sanction Israel.
  • Iraqi Faction Deploys 5,000 Fighters to Israeli Border.
  • OIC Convenes to Address Gaza Crisis; Saudi Arabia Calls for Aid.

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USA

  1. Drone Attack on US Forces Intercepted in Iraq – report. The US military in Iraq intercepted several drones that were targeting Iraq’s Al-Asad air base. The US has forces at Al-Asad and several other facilities in Iraq. Two drones were intercepted, two US officials told Reuters. “The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to say who was suspected of the attack,” the report said. The attack comes as US President Joe Biden is flying to Israel and in the wake of an explosion at a hospital in Gaza which some countries in the region have blamed on Israel. Since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 several high profile pro-Iran politicians in Iraq have threatened the US. They have asserted that if the US is seen as supporting Israel then US forces could be targeted in Iraq (Jerusalem Post). 
  2. Blinken Offers Condolences to Abbas for Gaza Hospital Victims. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken expressed condolences to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for the victims of the Gaza hospital explosion. During a phone call, Blinken also reiterated support for the “legitimate aspirations” of Palestinians. The call followed a regional tour by Blinken and addressed the tragic incident at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, which resulted in numerous casualties. President Joe Biden had previously conveyed his condolences for the incident (Sharq Awsat).
  3. Biden Supports Israel’s Account of Gaza Hospital Blast. U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Israel and expressed solidarity in its war against Hamas. He backed Israel’s account that the blast at a Gaza hospital was caused by militants, not an Israeli airstrike as claimed by Palestinian officials. The incident led to the cancellation of a planned summit with Arab leaders. As tensions escalate, Western leaders call for caution (Reuters).

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ISRAEL & PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES 

  1. Israeli Army Arrests 750 Palestinians in West Bank as Gaza Conflict Escalates. Palestinian sources report that the Israeli army has arrested 750 Palestinians in the West Bank since the recent outbreak of fighting in Gaza. This number excludes workers or detainees in Gaza. The arrests, which include at least 65 Palestinians from the West Bank and Jerusalem, have raised concerns due to allegations of abuse and escalating criminality by Israeli forces. Many of those arrested face administrative detention or charges related to incitement, particularly in Jerusalem. Accessing information related to the detainees has become increasingly difficult due to new military orders enacted by the Israeli army (Sharq Awsat).
  2. Gaza’s doctors struggle to save hospital blast survivors as Middle East rage grows. Doctors in Gaza City faced with dwindling medical supplies performed surgery on hospital floors, often without anesthesia, in a desperate bid to save badly wounded victims of a massive blast that killed civilians sheltering in a nearby hospital after Israeli bombings and a blockade of the territory. The Hamas militant group blamed the blast on an Israeli airstrike, while the Israeli military blamed a rocket misfired by other Palestinian militants. At least 500 people were killed, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said. Rage at the hospital carnage spread through the Middle East as U.S. President Joe Biden landed in Israel in hopes of stopping a spread of the war, which started after Hamas militants attacked towns and cities across southern Israel Oct. 7 (AP).
  3. Moscow Calls on Tel Aviv to Prove Innocence in Gaza Hospital Massacre. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern over the Gaza hospital strike, calling it a “horrific disaster” and emphasizing the need to halt the conflict. While the Russian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attack on the Baptist Hospital, spokesperson Maria Zakharova cautiously avoided directly blaming the Israeli government. Instead, she urged Tel Aviv to provide satellite images and data to prove its lack of involvement. Zakharova criticized Western policies, holding them responsible for escalating violence in the Middle East. She referenced European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s remarks on Hiroshima to underscore Western accountability (Sharq Awsat).
  4. Chinese President Xi Jinping Welcomes Russian President Putin as “Old Friend” at the Belt and Road Forum. During discussions at the Belt and Road Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping warmly greeted Russian President Vladimir Putin, referring to him as an “old friend.” The two leaders’ meeting focused on the Belt and Road Initiative and highlighted their countries’ growing alliance in the face of opposition to the U.S.-led world order, support for Iran, and condemnation of recent events in Israel (Jerusalem Post). 
  5. Guterres Calls for Humanitarian Ceasefire in Israel-Palestine Conflict. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. He emphasized the need to alleviate human suffering and urged Hamas to release hostages while requesting Israel to allow unrestricted humanitarian aid into Gaza. Guterres condemned the October 7 Hamas attacks but stressed they should not justify collective punishment of Palestinians (Sharq Awsat).
  6. Netanyahu’s Accountability Looms as Public Anger Swells. Public dissatisfaction with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is escalating, with only 21% of Israelis wanting him to remain in office, according to a Maariv newspaper poll. The government is criticized for weakening Israel’s security and mishandling the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Netanyahu’s silence on his personal responsibility for the crisis is further fueling public anger, even as key officials admit to failures. The war’s impact on Netanyahu’s foreign policy goals and his party’s political future is increasingly uncertain (Al Nahar).

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IRAN

  1. Iranian President Warns Gaza Hospital Attack’s Flames Will Engulf Israel. Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the Israeli airstrike on Gaza’s Baptist Hospital and warned that the flames from the attack would soon engulf Israel. He declared a day of “public mourning” in response to the hospital bombing, which occurred amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. Iran’s Foreign Ministry also condemned the attack as a “brutal war crime” and “genocide.” Thousands gathered in Tehran to show support for Palestine and condemn the hospital attack (Anadolu Agency)
  2. Iran Urges Islamic Countries to Sanction Israel. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian called on members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to impose sanctions on Israel, implement an oil embargo, and expel Israeli ambassadors. This appeal was made during an urgent OIC meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where Islamic countries gathered to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (US News). 
  3. Iranian FM Accuses Blinken of Being in Zionist Operations Room. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian criticized US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during an emergency meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Jeddah. Abdollahian accused Blinken of being in the Zionist operations room while advising others to exercise restraint. He expressed concern about the region’s loss of self-control and called for practical measures to address the escalating situation in Gaza (Al Jazeera).
  4. Western Politicians and Media Criticize Arab-Origin Football Players for Supporting Palestinians. Several European football players of Arab descent faced criticism and calls for expulsion from their clubs due to their public support for Palestinians. Moroccan player Nassir Mazraoui, a Bayern Munich player, received demands for expulsion from a German politician. Algerian player Youssef Atal, who plays for Nice, faced backlash for his criticism of Israel. This highlights the complex dynamics surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even in the world of sports (TRT Arabic).

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SYRIA

  1. Damascus Airport Resumes Operations After Israeli Airstrikes. Damascus International Airport is operational again after undergoing repairs to airstrips damaged by Israeli airstrikes. The Assad regime’s General Civil Aviation Organization and Cham Wings Airlines confirmed the resumption of flights. The airport will conduct test flights to assess runway conditions before resuming normal traffic on October 19. This follows a similar resumption of air traffic at Aleppo International Airport, which was also targeted by Israeli airstrikes. Israeli officials stated that the strikes aimed to send a warning to Iran not to interfere in the Gaza conflict (Sham News).
  2. Oman Declines to Host Syrian Constitutional Talks; Geneva Still in Question. Oman has refused to host meetings for the Syrian Constitutional Committee, according to sources in the Syrian opposition. UN envoy Geir Pedersen is reportedly insisting on holding the meetings in Geneva, despite Russia’s objections due to Western sanctions. The committee has failed to make significant progress in its four years of existence. Meanwhile, Egypt is showing initial interest in hosting the next round of talks, but it’s unclear how receptive the parties would be to this proposal. Pedersen is said to be considering a “dangerous project” to hold the meetings in Geneva without foreign interference, risking the fate of the committee (Shaam News).
  3. Asma al-Assad Seizes Fugitive Katerji’s Assets During Scandal. Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has seized the properties of Hossam Katerji after he fled Syria. Katerji is implicated in the murder of his relative, Sidra Katerji, and has likely fled to Venezuela. His assets, including hotels and an Islamic Bank in Aleppo, were closed two weeks ago following the murder scandal. Asma al-Assad took over these properties through the “Syrian Trust for Development” and the “Martyrs’ Office.” Katerji had been a key mediator between the Syrian regime and various factions for oil supplies and was under U.S. sanctions since 2018 (Syria TV).

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TURKIYE

  1. Turkish Foreign Minister Reaffirms Commitment to Anti-Terror Operations. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan emphasized Turkiye’s dedication to combating terrorism, particularly through cross-border anti-terror operations in northern Syria and Iraq. Fidan discussed various foreign policy issues, including the situation in Syria, Israel’s actions in Gaza, the Abraham Accords, and the presence of the U.S. aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean. He also mentioned potential visits by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and highlighted growing internal divisions in Israel regarding its approach to Iran (Anadolu Agency). 
  2. Türkiye Proposes Guarantorship Model for Israel-Palestine Conflict Resolution. Türkiye’s Foreign Minister, Hakan Fidan, has presented a guarantorship model to address the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. Fidan emphasized the need for regional responsibility and a two-state solution during discussions with Ankara Bureau Chiefs (Daily Sabah).
  3. Erdogan Dismisses Turkish Immigration Chief During Crisis. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dismissed Gozde Azkurul, the Director General of the Foreigners Department at the Presidency of the Immigration Department, just three months after her appointment. The move comes during a major migration crisis in Turkiye and follows a series of leadership changes in the department. No specific reason was provided for Azkurul’s dismissal. Meanwhile, Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya announced that strict measures against illegal immigration are showing results, with a significant number of illegal immigrants leaving the country (Syria TV). 

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IRAQ

  1. Iraqi Faction Deploys 5,000 Fighters to Israeli Border. An Iraqi armed faction, Al-Waad Al-Sadiq, announced the deployment of 5,000 fighters to the borders of Israel, with an additional 10,000 on standby. The Secretary-General, Muhammad Al-Tamimi, stated that these forces are ready to enter the battle in Gaza. This comes alongside details of a drone attack targeting the American Ain al-Asad base in western Iraq. Two drones were intercepted, and heightened security measures have been implemented at the base. The developments follow an Israeli strike on a hospital in Gaza, escalating tensions in the region (Elaph).
  2. Iraqi PM Al-Sudani Invited by Sisi for Emergency Summit on Gaza Crisis. Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia al-Sudani has received an official invitation from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for an emergency summit in Cairo. The summit aims to discuss the ongoing situation in Gaza and the attacks against Palestinians, gathering various Arab and regional leaders. Last updated on October 17, 2023 (Iraqi News). 
  3. Iraq Announces Three-Day National Mourning for Gaza Hospital Attack Victims. Iraq declares three days of national mourning to honor victims of a deadly attack on a Gaza hospital. Iraqi PM Mohammed Shia’ al-Sudani urges unity and a moment of silence, while calling for a UN Security Council resolution to halt the aggression. The attack killed at least 500 people (Bas News).

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THE GULF REGION & YEMEN

  1. OIC Convenes to Address Gaza Crisis; Saudi Arabia Calls for Aid. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an extraordinary meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to discuss the Israeli aggression in Gaza and its humanitarian impact. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan emphasized the need to lift the siege on Gaza and establish an independent Palestinian state. He also called for international action to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe. The meeting, attended by the majority of the OIC’s 57 member states, comes in the wake of a devastating attack on a hospital in Gaza that resulted in over 500 deaths (Al Khaleej Online).
  2. Gulf Nations Erupt in Protests Over Gaza Hospital Bombing. Public outrage has surged in Gulf countries following the Israeli army’s massacre at the Baptist Hospital in Gaza, which resulted in over 500 deaths. Demonstrations took place in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain, with calls to expel American and Israeli ambassadors. The protests also sparked online campaigns and statements from public figures condemning the Israeli aggression and Western complicity. The events have intensified the debate on international intervention and the role of the U.S. in supporting Israel (Al Khaleej Online).
  3. UAE and Russia Call for Emergency UN Security Council Meeting on Gaza. The United Nations Security Council is set to hold an emergency meeting at the request of the UAE and Russia following a devastating bombing in Gaza that targeted a hospital, resulting in hundreds of deaths. The meeting comes as U.S. pressure mounts to postpone a Brazilian draft resolution aimed at bringing aid into Gaza. The U.S., which has veto power, has not yet indicated whether it will allow the resolution to pass. The situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, with over 3,200 deaths and 11,000 injuries reported (Al Khaleej Online).
  4. Kuwaiti Public Calls for Expulsion of U.S. Ambassador Over Gaza Bombing. Kuwaitis are demanding the expulsion of the American ambassador in response to the U.S. support for Israel following the bombing of the Baptist Hospital in Gaza. The Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry has condemned the attack and called for international intervention. Demonstrations have taken place in Kuwait, and a social media campaign under the hashtag “The expulsion of the American ambassador from Kuwait is a popular demand” has gained traction. The bombing in Gaza has resulted in over 3,200 deaths and 11,000 injuries so far (Al Khaleej Online).

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EGYPT & NORTH AFRICA

  1. Egypt’s President Warns Against Gaza Displacement to Sinai. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi voiced concern over ongoing military operations in Gaza, fearing their security and military repercussions. He warned against displacing Palestinians to Sinai, which could turn it into a base for attacking Israel. El-Sisi emphasized Egypt’s commitment to peace and called for allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz supported not expanding the conflict in Palestine (Sharq Awsat). 
  2. Jordan and Egypt Reject Hosting Gaza Refugees as Tensions Rise. Jordan’s King Abdullah II declares that neither Jordan nor Egypt can host Palestinian refugees from Gaza, calling it a “red line.” The statement comes ahead of a tri-nation summit involving the U.S., Egypt, and Jordan, and coincides with escalating Israeli attacks in Gaza that have killed over 2,750 people (Egypt Independent). 
  3. Egypt Retaliates Over Israel’s Rafah Crossing Stance. An Egyptian security source responds to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to open the Rafah crossing, stating, “Egypt will not allow the evacuation of foreigners in the Gaza Strip, and the escalation will be met with an escalation.” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi emphasizes that forced displacement of Palestinians is unacceptable and suggests transferring civilians to the Israeli Negev Desert temporarily (Sky News Arabia).
  4. US Envoy Highlights Egypt as Libya’s Peace Broker. In a comprehensive interview, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland underscores Egypt’s pivotal role in fostering Libyan stability. Norland touches on key issues such as Libya’s sovereignty, the regrettable US role in the 2011 crisis, and the importance of political solutions. The discussion comes ahead of a significant tri-nation summit (Egypt Independent). 
  5. Egypt’s House Mourns Palestine Victims with Lowered Flags. The House of Representatives in Egypt lowers its flags to half-staff to mourn the victims of the bombing in Gaza’s National Baptist Hospital and other Palestinian casualties. The action follows President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s declaration of a three-day period of national mourning across Egypt, effective from October 18 to October 20, 2023 (Ahram Gate).

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LEBANON

  1. Hezbollah Targets Israeli Tank Amid Rising Tensions. Hezbollah claims to have hit an Israeli Merkava tank with an anti-tank missile, causing casualties. The attack targeted an Israeli army position near the Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab. This follows the death of five Hezbollah fighters in south Lebanon, escalating border tensions with Israel. Hezbollah also called for a “day of rage” to protest an Israeli strike on a Gaza hospital, which resulted in at least 500 deaths. The Israeli army is currently verifying the missile attack reports (Nahar Net).
  2. Hezbollah Declares Solidarity with Gaza Following Hospital Bombing. The head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, Hashem Safi al-Din, expressed strong condemnation and “extreme anger” at the Israeli bombing of the Baptist Hospital in Gaza, which resulted in nearly 500 deaths. Speaking at a solidarity stand in Beirut, Safi al-Din accused the United States and the West of being complicit in the “genocidal massacres” in Gaza. He emphasized that the bombing was a premeditated act, violating international laws that protect hospitals from being targeted. The statement comes as widespread demonstrations sweep across Lebanon and other Arab countries in support of Palestine (Janoubia).

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