THE EARLY PHOENIX
A first look at today’s most notable stories from the Middle East, selected by ACLS experts
22-24 April 2023
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- US Evacuates Diplomats, Shuts Embassy in Violence-Torn Sudan (Times of Israel). A second US official confirmed that US troops safely left Sudanese airspace after airlifting American embassy personnel out of Khartoum’s capital. President Joe Biden ordered American troops to evacuate embassy personnel after receiving a recommendation from his national security team earlier Saturday with no end to the fighting.
- Saudi Arabia Evacuates over 150 Foreign Nationals from Sudan (Arab News). Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry announced the “safe arrival” of 91 citizens, along with nationals from Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, Egypt, Tunisia, Pakistan, India, Bulgaria, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Canada, and Burkina Faso.
- Borrell Announces Evacuation of European Union Mission from Sudan (Al Sharq Al Awsat). However, Borrell highlighted that the Union’s ambassador continues his work in Sudan, emphasizing that the Union “is committed to working to stop the fighting in Sudan and to assist all besieged civilians.”… Despite repeated calls for calm, with the most recent coming from Pope Francis on Sunday, the sounds of gunfire and explosions echoed throughout Khartoum and its surroundings on Sunday.
- Sudanese Health Ministry: 30 Hospitals Out of Service; Injured Count Rises to 1,929 (Al Arabiya). The Sudanese Health Ministry reported that the Rapid Support Forces members attacked three hospitals in Khartoum… This occurred despite both parties announcing yesterday, Friday, that they agreed to a truce during the days of Eid al-Fitr, following a week of bloody clashes that left hundreds dead.
- Sudanese Police Source: Former Regime Figures Moved to Safe Location After Prison Break (Al Jazeera). A Sudanese police source told Al-Jazeera that [figures from] the former regime were kept in a safe place, after they were deported from Kober Prison (north of Khartoum), which witnessed a mass escape of inmates on Sunday. Earlier, a source in the Sudanese Ministry of Interior informed Al Jazeera that the number of escaped inmates is estimated to be in the hundreds, including prisoners sentenced to death, and noted that political prisoners were not among the group that fled.
- Anti-Israel Rhetoric Intensifies In Iran As Some See Shadow Of War (Iran International). Politicians close to the core of the Iranian regime have increased their anti-Israel rhetoric as Tehran boasts of destabilizing its arch-enemy by proxy attacks. At the same time, Israeli officials are visibly angry at what they insist is Iranian orchestrated multi-front attacks from Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria.
- Iran Raps Provocative U.S. Comments on Tehran’s Military Activities (Tasnim News). In a statement on Sunday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson lashed out at US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for his comments about Washington’s plans to disrupt Iran’s military activities and impose new sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
ISRAEL AND PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- Israel Arrests Jordanian MP for Trying to Smuggle 200 Guns into West Bank (Times of Israel). Israel arrested a Jordanian parliamentarian on suspicion of smuggling over 200 guns and gold into the West Bank, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday. According to Jordan’s Ammon news outlet, the arrest occurred Sunday morning at the Allenby Bridge border crossing as MP Imad al-Adwan was heading into Israel by car. Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the episode.
- Israeli-Ukrainian Volunteer Captured, Killed by Russian Forces in Bakhmut (Jerusalem Post). Oleksandr Dubovik, whose call sign was Partyzan, was reportedly killed on December 23 after being seriously wounded and captured by Russian soldiers in Zaitseve, in the Bakhmut region. As per the Ukrainian report, Dubovik was born in Dnipro before making aliyah to Israel.
- Israel’s Security Chiefs Split on Supporting Sudan’s Burhan, Hemedti (Al-Monitor). A top Israeli diplomatic official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that Israel was still undecided about its role in the conflict. “The problem with Israeli involvement is that we have not decided whom we support, and we are playing a double game, helping both Burhan and Dagalo.”
- Al-Sudani’s Intention to Carry out a Cabinet Reshuffle Raises Fears of Political Differences (Al Sharq Al Awsat). During a recent televised interview, Al-Sudani disclosed that he had proposed to his ministers that they would be subject to a performance evaluation after six months, which could result in a change of those who prove incapable of fulfilling their duties. This move would hold his coalition partners in “the State Administration” accountable for their responsibilities.
- Head of High Electoral Commission Resigns Amid Pressure from Pro-Iranian Parties, Raising Fraud Concerns (Al Iraq News). Sources from within the High Electoral Commission revealed on Sunday that the President of the Commission, Adnan Jalil Khalaf, resigned from his post due to “political threats to dismiss him from his post during the next stage by some political actors”…A member of the Commission’s Board of Trustees, speaking anonymously, said that political forces aim to form a new commission without judges and have parties select their members based on the old method and according to the quota system.
- 12 Dead and Wounded in Houthi Massacre Turning Eid into Funeral in Taiz (Al Hadath). The victims, who are from the same family, were visiting a relative when the Houthis fired the shell to turn the joy of Eid into a funeral.
- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov Discusses the Situation in Syria, Yemen, and Sudan with UAE (Syria TV). Bogdanov met with Anwar Gargash, diplomatic advisor to the President of the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai on April 22…The UAE and Russia back the Syrian regime and its endeavors to regain standing on Arab and international levels, despite the numerous war crimes and human rights violations it has been accused of. They also supported the initiative to reinstate the regime to Syria’s suspended seat in the Arab League, which recently failed.
- “Rejecting Normalization with Assad: Mass Demonstrations Inside and Outside Syria” (Syria TV). This followed a call by Syrian activists to organize mass demonstrations in northern Syrian cities and numerous host countries to express their opposition to normalization efforts pursued by some Arab nations with the Assad regime. Activists promoted the multi-day demonstrations through a widespread campaign on social media platforms, featuring the slogan and hashtag “#No_to_normalization_with_the_criminal_Assad.”
- Russia Intensifies Harassment of US Forces in Syria (Syria TV). Russian planes have routinely flown in Syrian airspace previously agreed upon as being under US control. Russian fighter planes have approached US warplanes in that airspace, coming as close as 500 feet (approximately 200 meters). Since the beginning of last March, Russian warplanes have flown over US ground sites more than 20 times.
- Leaked Document Confirms Ukraine Planned Attacks on Russian Forces in Syria (Zaman Al Wasl). As reported by the Washington Post, these attacks aimed to inflict losses on the Russian army and the private military company “Wagner.” The hope was that the failures in Syria would compel Russia to redeploy some of its forces from Ukraine. However, the plan was not executed after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ordered a halt.
- Assad-ISIS Conspiracy Poses Threat to United States and Allies (North Press). Since an Islamic State (ISIS) leader confessed in a video clip from January 2023 to targeting individuals on a hit list created by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security services, concerns have grown across Northern Syria that the regime is enlisting the most significant terrorist group in the region to eliminate its remaining adversaries.
- Austrian Judiciary Accuses Former Assad Intelligence Officer of War Crimes (Zaman Al Wasl). The Austrian Public Prosecutor’s Office for Economics and Corruption prepared an indictment for war crimes in Syria against the former regime intelligence officer, Brigadier General Khaled Al-Halabi. Al-Halabi was smuggled out by the Israeli “Mossad” from France and granted political asylum in Austria. The 80-page indictment, compiled with the assistance of the Commission for Justice and International Accountability (CIJA) and other international human rights organizations, accuses Al-Halabi of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes during his tenure as the head of a security institution in Syria.
- Israeli Bombardment Targets Site Housing Militias Linked to Lebanese Hezbollah Near Occupied Syrian Golan (Syrian Observatory For Human Rights). Quneitra Governorate: Israeli ground forces based at Mount Hermon observatories launched over 20 shells at the Qasr al-Nafil site, located west of the town of Hader in the Quneitra countryside near the occupied Golan. No information on casualties has been reported thus far.
- Political Debate Arises Over Deportation of Syrian Refugees from Lebanon (Enab Baladi). The Progressive Socialist Party, led by Walid Jumblatt, released a statement on Saturday, April 22, denouncing the recent deportations. The information urged the Lebanese government and military to uphold human rights principles. Furthermore, the report emphasized that returning Syrian refugees to Syria must be part of a comprehensive political solution and should only occur under safe and voluntary conditions.
- Banker Marwan Kheireddine Returns to Beirut Following His Indictment in France (L’Orient Today). Lebanese banker and former minister Marwan Kheireddine returned to Beirut on Saturday from France, where he had been indicted and placed under judicial supervision in the French investigation into the European assets of Lebanon’s central bank chief Riad Salameh, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported. The former minister was received at the Beirut international airport by the head of the Lebanese Democratic Party, former Druze MP and minister Talal Arslan, who is also his brother-in-law, at the head of a delegation of politicians, clerics and supporters. Kheireddine, who runs the private bank al-Mawarid, was indicted in France at the end of March for criminal conspiracy.
- Turkiye’s Undecided Voters Could Sway Erdogan’s Fateful Elections (Al-Monitor). With less than four weeks until the elections, up to 15% of voters remain undecided. Pollsters say that their last-minute decisions will likely sway the race’s outcome. Undecided voters, particularly young people who will vote for the first time, are increasingly at the center of the campaign.
- Türkiye Interior Minister Accuses US of Creating a ‘Terrorist State’ on Its Borders” (Al Sharq Al Awsat). Turkish Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu asserted that “this threat will not dissipate unless the influence of America in the region is removed.” On Saturday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar affirmed that the military forces persist in their determined efforts to counter terrorism in northern Syria and Iraq, successfully eliminating 21 “terrorists” in the region over the last four days.
- All Eyes on Black Sea Grain Deal as ‘Expected’ Closure Looms (Daily Sabah). Russia’s refusal to approve any new vessels for the safe export of Ukraine’s grain through the Black Sea, unless their operators guarantee the transits will be done by May 18, “the expected date of … closure,” could result in the winding down of the existing deal as early as this week.