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ACLED Regional Overview - Middle East (14 - 20 May 2022)

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Last week in the Middle East, violent activity decreased in Yemen following a spike in violence the week prior. In Iraq, violence between Turkish forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) also fell despite ongoing Turkish operations. In Syria, Israeli strikes continued to target regime forces and pro-Iran militias in Rural Damascus for the second consecutive week. In Palestine, Israeli police forces clashed with Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Finally, a significant increase in violence was recorded across Lebanon, coinciding with national elections on 15 May.

In Yemen, political violence decreased last week, after an uptick the week prior that saw the highest levels of violence since the two-month UN-sponsored truce came into effect on 2 April (for more on truce violations, see ACLED’s Yemen Truce Monitor). Despite the overall decrease in violence, violence increased significantly in Ad Dali governorate last week, with heavy drone activity from both Houthi and Saudi-led coalition forces in Qataabah district. These drone strikes contributed to the 127% increase in violence over the past month in Ad Dali relative to the past year, as flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Threat Tracker. Houthi drone strikes also injured three civilians in Marib governorate. Although political violence in Marib has considerably dropped since the first weeks of the truce, weekly offensives continue to be reported (Yemeni Army, 21 May 2022).

No Saudi-led coalition air raids from fighter jets were reported for the seventh consecutive week last week, and no Houthi drone or missile attacks on Saudi Arabia for the eighth consecutive week.

At the political level, last week saw the first commercial flight flying out of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in almost six years (Associated Press, 16 May 2022). While welcoming this new step, UN Special Envoy Hans Grundberg also drew attention to ongoing failures, including the failure of parties to the truce to agree on opening roads in Taizz (Office of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen, 16 May 2022). The lack of progress on this item led to several protests in Yemen last week. The International Crisis Group argues that road access around Taizz will play a crucial role in the potential renewal of the truce (International Crisis Group, 19 May 2022).

Meanwhile, unidentified gunmen attacked a sailing vessel in the Red Sea close to the Yemeni shore, in an event that remains under investigation (EU Naval Force, 19 May 2022). Iranian naval forces also claim to have come under attack in the Red Sea last week (Al Masirah, 18 May 2022). While violence in the South Red Sea has not been common, it has become increasingly volatile, resulting in a shift from a place of ‘low risk’ to being considered an area of ‘growing risk’ by ACLED’s Volatility and Risk Predictability Index.

In Syria, both Israel and Islamic State (IS) continued to carry out anti-regime attacks in Damascus last week. Israel targeted regime forces and pro-Iran militias for the second consecutive week, with strikes in several areas in Rural Damascus. Meanwhile, IS militants attacked a regime checkpoint in Tanf, killing one regime fighter. These trends contributed to the 118% increase in violence in the governorate last month relative to the past year as flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Threat Tracker, which first warned of increased violence to come in Rural Damascus in the past month.

Meanwhile, Turkish and rebel shelling of People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (QSD) targets continued last week at a similar pace to the week prior. Shelling centered on Menbij and Ain Al Arab districts in Aleppo province. This violence contributed to the 105% increase in violence in Aleppo last month relative to the past year as flagged by ACLED’s Subnational Threat Tracker, which first warned of increased violence to come in Aleppo in the past month.

In Iraq, violence between Turkish forces and the PKK decreased last week, with a notable drop in Duhok province, which has been the main target of Turkey’s Operation Claw Lock. Despite this decrease last week, Operation Claw Lock activity has contributed to the 78% increase in violence in Iraq last month relative to the past year as flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month.

Elsewhere, tribal violence doubled last week, with clashes in Baghdad city and Maysan province. Violence in Maysan has been volatile though not common; however, last week it became more common, resulting in a shift from a place of ‘growing risk’ to being considered an area of ‘extreme risk’ by ACLED’s Volatility and Risk Predictability Index.

Violent clashes between Turkish forces and the PKK also took place in Turkey last week. Turkish forces clashed twice with PKK militants in the mountainous regions of Sirnak province. Meanwhile, Jinen Tirejen Roje militants, a Kurdish women militia, attacked a police vehicle with firearms and improvised explosives in Hakkari city, reportedly injuring a police officer and a watchman. ACLED’s Subnational Surge Tracker first warned of increased violence to come in Hakkari in the past month.

In Iran, while protest activity significantly decreased last week compared to last month, demonstrations continued in several major cities over increases in food prices, low pension payments and poor health insurance coverage. Police dispersed protesters in Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari, Tehran, and Isfahan provinces.

Last week in Lebanon, national elections on 15 May prompted a significant outbreak of election-related violence. The national elections were the first elections since the country’s national protest movement in 2019, which unfolded during one of the worst economic depressions recorded (BBC News, 17 May 2022). ACLED records 28 riot events last week related to disputes over election results between members and supporters of different political parties. The outbreak of rioting came despite the nationwide deployment of the Lebanese military prior to voting to “maintain the security of the election process” (El Nashra, 14 May 2022). Election-related violence contributed to the 300% increase in violence in Lebanon last week relative to the past month flagged by ACLED’s Conflict Change Map, which first warned of increased violence to come in the country in the past month.

In Palestine, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians in the Al Aqsa Compound in East Jerusalem on several occasions last week, and a Palestinian man was shot and arrested after attempting to carry out a stabbing attack in the West Bank. On 16 May, hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli police forces in the Al Aqsa Compound (Haaretz, 16 May 2022), resulting in injuries to dozens of Palestinians and six Israeli police officers. The clashes occurred during the funeral of a Palestinian who died from injuries sustained during a clash in the compound last month. Meanwhile, Israeli forces shot and arrested a Palestinian man after he tried to stab an Israeli soldier near the Huwwarah checkpoint in the West Bank.