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A first look at today’s most notable stories from the Middle East, selected by ACLS experts

21 April 2023


Eid Celebrations in The Region

  1. Muslims End Ramadan, Begin Eid al-Fitr Holiday Amid War, Reconciliation (VOA). Large parts of the Muslim world marked the end of the fasting month of Ramadan at sundown Thursday and ushered in the holiday of Eid al-Fitr. Still, the festivities were overshadowed by raging battles for control of Sudan and a deadly stampede in Yemen. In other parts of the region, the holiday came against reconciliation and rapprochement between former rivals. The Islamic calendar is lunar and depends on the sighting of the moon — something Muslim religious authorities tend to disagree on. Ramadan sees worshippers fasting daily from dawn to sunset, ending with Eid al-Fitr celebrations. This year again, the holiday comes amid fighting and devastation, particularly in the Middle East. In Sudan, the holiday was eclipsed by raging battles between the army and its rival paramilitary force, despite two attempted cease-fires. The fighting since Saturday has killed hundreds of people and wounded thousands. In Yemen, the Arab world’s most impoverished nation, a stampede late Wednesday at a charitable event in the rebel-held capital of Sanaa killed at least 78 people and injured 77. Religious authorities in Sudan and Yemen said they would mark the start of Eid al-Fitr on Friday. 
  1. Fireworks Light Up The Kingdom’s Sky On The First Day Of Eid Al-Fitar (Al Akhbaria). The General Entertainment Authority has designated specific locations for launching fireworks during the first days of Eid Al-Fitr. As part of the 2023 Eid celebrations, these displays will light up the night sky across various cities in the Kingdom, showcasing vibrant colors and spreading joy to mark the occasion. The fireworks are scheduled to begin promptly at 9:00 PM.
  1. 2.5 Million Worshipers Witness the Completion of the Qur’an in the Grand Mosque (Al Khaleej Online). Since Wednesday morning, throngs of worshipers have flocked to the city of Makkah Al-Mukarramah, filling the Grand Mosque’s various areas, floors, courtyards, and corridors, according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA). The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Grand Mosque and the Prophet’s Mosque has mobilized its resources and capabilities, implementing a comprehensive work system to serve the worshipers. They have provided 5,000 regular vehicles and around 3,000 electric vehicles.


  1. Iranian Regime:  Israel Sowing Mischief on Iran’s Northern Borders (Tasnim News). In Baku, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who has taken extraordinary measures to give Israel a foothold in the backyard of Iran. His recent decision to open an embassy in Israel and appoint an ambassador to Tel Aviv raised tensions with Iran, which sees Israel-Azerbaijan relations as driven by mutual mischief toward Iran. After Azerbaijan, Cohen flew to Ashgabat on Wednesday night to open Israel’s “closest” embassy to Iran.  
  1. Every Country Iran Touches Becomes A Failed State, Says Israel’s Ex-PM (Iran International). Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett compared Iran to a failed state which has infected every country it touches in the region with its dysfunction. Bennett was speaking in an exclusive interview with Iran International’s Arash Alaei in Washington DC, just hours after the ex-PM had met officials from the Biden administration and been reassured that the US would not tolerate a nuclear Iran.
  1. Iranian Navy Claims to Warn Away US Submarine in Hormuz Strait (Tasnim News). On Thursday, Rear Admiral Shahram Irani said that the homegrown Iranian submarine has identified and warned away the USS Florida nuclear-powered submarine in the Strait of Hormuz. The commander said the American submarine had submerged and was silently approaching the Strait of Hormuz. Still, the Iranian Navy’s Fateh submarine detected it and maneuvered to force the US watercraft to surface and cruise the strait above the sea. 
  1. US Navy Denies Iran’s Claim on Harassing Submarine in Gulf Waters (Al-Monitor). The US Navy denied on Thursday Iran’s claim that it forced a US cruise-missile submarine to surface in the Strait of Hormuz after Washington had deployed the vessel to the region in a show of force towards Tehran earlier this month. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, flatly denied the interaction occurred…“Iran’s claim is absolutely false. A US submarine has NOT transited the Strait of Hormuz recently. The claim represents more Iranian disinformation that destabilizes the region,” the command said on Twitter.


  1. Gallant: Iran gives Hezbollah $700m a year, is ‘driving force’ of current escalation (The Times of Israel). Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday said in a briefing that Iran funds the Hezbollah terror group in Lebanon with $700 million a year, as well as “knowledge and strategic weaponry” such as precision-guided munitions. The Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip is funded by Iran with $100 million annually, with additional funding worth tens of millions of dollars going to the second largest terror group in the Palestinian enclave, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Gallant said.  
  1.  Pledged Israeli measures to boost cash-strapped PA back on track after delay (The Times of Israel). A series of small Israeli measures aimed at financially boosting the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority are now in place after over a month-long delay, a senior National Security Council official told The Times of Israel on Thursday. The top official said that Israeli authorities this week granted final approval to lower the handling fee Jerusalem charges Ramallah for fuel transfers from three percent to 1.5%; raise the percentage of revenues it transfers to Ramallah from the fees it collects from travelers at the Allenby border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan, and expand the list of tax-free imports that it facilitates on the PA’s behalf.
  1.  Israelis, Palestinians Share West Bank Iftar ‘to End Hatred’ (Arab News). South of Bethlehem, Palestinian Territories: Dozens gathered in the occupied West Bank to break the fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but the food is kosher, and Israelis are honoring a Palestinian guest.
  1.  After the “David’s Sling”… Israel seeks to sell the “Sahm ​​3” system to Germany (Sky News Arabia). On Thursday, the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced that it had begun talks to sell an advanced missile defense system to Germany, a month after it sold David’s Sling missile system to Finland, a move that could draw Russia’s attention in the midst of the Ukraine war.


  1. Turkiye’s Kilicdaroglu Garners Record Attention in Video Discussing His Alevi Faith (Al-Monitor). Opposition presidential candidate Kilicdaroglu’s tweet, which included the video viewed more than 73 million times as of this writing, marks the first time he has spoken about his faith since the start of the election campaign. His faith has been one of the top contentious issues in the lead-up to his presidential candidacy, as many — including officials of the Republican People’s Party (CHP)-allied Good Party — have argued that Turkiye’s conservatives and Islamists would shy away from voting for an Alevi.
  1.  Türkiye Launches Black Sea Gas Deliveries in Historic Milestone (The Daily Sabah). Türkiye Thursday started natural gas production from a vast reserve discovered in the Black Sea, which promises to curb the country’s external dependence and cut consumer energy prices…Meanwhile, Erdoğan Thursday also announced that natural gas used in kitchens and for hot water, equivalent to 25 cubic meters per month on average, would be free for a year. He also said all households would be offered a month of free natural gas for domestic consumption.
  1.  Head of Turkish Opposition “Good” Party Pledges to Deport Syrians If Elected (Sham News Network). During an election rally speech, Aksener declared that the Syrians would inevitably face deportation. Aksener supports the opposition leader of the Turkish Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, as a presidential candidate in the context of the “Six-Party Table” alliance.


  1.  Syria’s Kurds make their pitch as Arab states court Assad (Al-Monitor). As Arab governments and Turkiye seek to mend fences with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the Kurds have unveiled a new initiative to make peace with Damascus, saying that Western governments opposed to normalization should not stand in their way.
  1.  Syrian Dissidents Warn Arab Countries in Joint Message: Assad Offers No Gains (Halab Today TV). A group of Syrian opposition members has urged Arab countries to reassess their policies to normalize relations with Assad’s regime and reintegrate it into the “Arab fold.” They highlighted the growing dangers of Syria’s fragmentation and loss of identity as the conflict enters its thirteenth year.
  1.   Qatar: Crimes against the Syrian People Cannot be Subject to a Statute of Limitations (Syria TV). In an interview with the Qatari newspaper Al-Sharq, a Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson stated that the stance on Syria’s re-entry to the Arab League is not solely a Qatari position. The decision to reintegrate Syria into the Arab League is a collective Arab decision, noting that most Arab countries that acted against the Syrian regime have not yet found reasons to end the membership freeze, as the underlying issues persist.
  1.  Netanyahu links the Saudi Moves Toward Damascus to Normalization with Israel (Enab Baladi). In an interview with CNBC, Netanyahu said that recent Saudi overtures towards the Syrian regime and Riyadh’s hosting of leaders from the Hamas movement and the Palestinian Authority are intended to send messages ahead of a potential peace agreement with his government. He stated, “Saudi Arabia might be signaling that they should prepare for the next phase or instructing them to cease their activities.”
  1.  Israel Increasing Syria Attacks to Prevent Iranian Weapon Deliveries – Gallant (Jerusalem Post). “In the first quarter of 2023, we doubled the number of attacks in Syria,”  Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said. “We are systematically harming Iranian abilities and assets in the area. We will not allow Iran to set up a Syrian army to turn the Golan Heights into Lebanon.”
  1.  UAE’s Al-Bayan Reports Plans to Establish Arab Committee on Syria at Amman Meeting (Sham News Network). According to the Emirati newspaper Al-Bayan, Arab countries plan to establish an Arab committee on Syria during the upcoming Amman meeting. Foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan agreed to hold the meeting after Eid al-Fitr. The committee aims to achieve a political solution to the Syrian conflict at regional and international levels.


  1.  Qaani Created the Regional “Missile Platform” from Beirut, Completing Soleimani’s Strategy (Al Nahar). The “Wall Street Journal” reported about the supervision from Beirut of the commander of the Quds Force, Ismail Qaani, over the recent missile attack on Israel from Lebanese territory. The newspaper pointed out that Qaani mobilized Iran’s allies in the Middle East to launch a new wave of attacks on Israeli targets. In recent weeks, he held a series of secret meetings with militant leaders across the region, including some in Syria and Iraq.
  1.  Harsh Criticism In Lebanon Over Rocket Attack On Israel: South Lebanon Is Turning Into ‘Hamas-Land’; Country May Be Dragged Into Another War With Israel (Memri). Harsher criticism was voiced by Lebanese former prime minister Fouad Al-Siniora, who called to keep Lebanon from becoming a base for firing rockets at Israel, especially without the consent of the Lebanese government and the Lebanese people. He said this contravenes UN Security Council Resolution 1701, endangers Lebanon, and further aggravates its problems.


  1.   Baghdad Court Issued an Order Summon to Patriarch Louis Sacco (Twitter). The court charged the patriarch with falsifying and illegally selling property and real estate for Christians. 
  1.   Iran’s Ambassador in Baghdad Says Exit of the Sadrist Movement Creates a Political Vacuum (Fares Agency). In a statement to the Al Sharqiya channel, Ambassador Al Sadiq said, in response to a question about whether the balance would be disturbed by the absence of the Sadrist movement from the political arena in Iraq, “Naturally, Sadr’s absence creates a vacuum. The presence of the current in the political process is necessary…I hear from the Iraqi brothers that they are attempting to persuade His Eminence Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr to return to the political process.”
  1.   Iraqi Prime Minister Dismisses Head Green Zone Security after a Prominent Prisoner Escaped (Al Arabiya). In response to “this incident and the report detailing the escape of former head of the Sunni Endowment in Iraq Saad Kambesh,” Prime Minister Al-Sudani decided to dismiss the Special Division Commander, Lieutenant General Hamid Al-Zuhairi, due to the “inadequate measures” taken. Saad Kambesh died while being arrested by security forces in the city of Mosul on Thursday. 


  1.   RSF Agrees to a 72-Hour Truce..and No Eid Prayer in Khartoum (Sky News Arabia). Clashes renewed in Sudan during the last hours of Thursday, while several mosques in the capital, Khartoum, announced the cancellation of Eid prayers after the return of fighting. The Rapid Support Forces announced their agreement to a 72-hour truce, starting from Friday morning.
  1.   Sudan’s Confrontations Continue for a Seventh Day… Rapid Support Forces Say Khartoum is waking up to a sweeping attack by the army (Al Jazeera). The Rapid Support Command said on Friday that the neighborhoods of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, are waking up on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr to the impact of aircraft bombs and heavy artillery in a sweeping attack by the army. In contrast, the Armed Forces Command said it is carrying out a ground combing operation in the entire state of Khartoum after what it described as “the success of a decisive aerial operation that targeted militia presence points in Khartoum at dawn today.”
  1.   Pentagon is sending Reinforcements in Anticipation of the Possible Evacuation of The US Embassy in Khartoum (Al Arabiya). A Pentagon statement announced, “We are deploying additional forces to the region to secure US embassy personnel and facilitate their potential evacuation from Sudan if necessary.” The statement did not disclose the number of reinforcements or their deployment location. However, a high-ranking US official later informed AFP that the extra US military personnel would be stationed in Djibouti.
  1.   Sudan Conflict Rages; Intense Efforts to Broker Eid Truce Underway (Al Hadath). The army added, in a statement posted on its Facebook page, that the head of the Sovereignty Council had received calls from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan, as well as the Qatari foreign minister and director of Egyptian intelligence.
  2.  After Mediating Return of Egyptian Soldiers, Can UAE End Sudan Conflict? (Al Khaleej Online). Sudan’s military and political situation is currently marked by uncertainty, and there are indications that the conflict may escalate into a proxy war in the region. Reports suggest that the Emirati military has supported the Rapid Support Forces. In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported on April 19, 2023, that Egypt had dispatched warplanes and pilots to assist the Sudanese army. Retired Libyan general Khalifa Haftar, an ally of Abu Dhabi, reportedly sent ammunition to the Rapid Support Forces.
  1.   Egypt: Egyptian Soldiers in Sudan Safely Reached the Egyptian Embassy in Khartoum (Al Hadath). The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the success of its efforts, in coordination and cooperation with the sister country of the United Arab Emirates, to secure the safety of the remaining Egyptian soldiers in the Republic of Sudan with the Rapid Support Forces and hand them over to the Egyptian Embassy in Khartoum.


  1.   One of the Largest Stampede Incidents in the World (Al Arabiya). A Houthi security official informed AFP that 85 people were killed and over 322 injured, including 50 in critical condition, due to the stampede. The official, who spoke anonymously, noted that women and children were among the fatalities… Eyewitnesses reported hearing gunfire before the onset of the stampede.

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