Fierce clashes broke out between Syrian rebel factions and Kurdish fighters in Aleppo province this week, as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continue to battle ISIS in Raqqa. Fighting erupted in Derat Ezza in the western Aleppo countryside on June 13, after Kurdish fighters attempted to take a rebel base in the area, opposition media reported. The assault was thwarted after the rebels regained the positions with support from Turkish artillery. At least 32 fighters from Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel groups were reported killed in the clashes, as well as dozens of Kurdish militants. (The New Arab, June 14)
ISIS claimed responsibility for simultaneous attacks on Iran's Majlis (parliament) and the mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini on June 7, through a statement from the official Islamic State news agency Amaq. At least 12 are reported dead at the Majlis, and several wounded at the mausoleum. Reports indicate four gunmen, disguised as women, entered the visitors' hall of the Majlis building and opened fire, while a suicide-bomber pre-positioned inside the building blew himself up. Two other suicide-bombers meanwhile detonated at the Khomeini shrine. Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards accused Saudi Arabia and the US of being behind the attacks. "This terrorist action, coming one week after the meeting of the president of the United States with the leader of one of the region's reactionary governments...shows they are involved in this savage action," it said in a statement.
In a strange imbroglio, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Yemen and the Maldives on June 5 all announced that they are breaking off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. All but Egypt also cut off all travel links with the country. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of "adopting various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region including the Muslim Brotherhood Group, Daesh (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, " and of "supporting the activities of Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Days earlier, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain all blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based news websites after Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was quoted as saying "There is no reason behind Arabs' hostility to Iran"—an obvious reference to the Saudis and Bahrain. Qatar quickly responded that the comment had been "fabricated" when hackers took control of the official Qatar News Agency website (which appears to still be down, although the QNA Twitter account is up). (BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 5; BBC News, Al Jazeera, May 25)
Cholera has spread at an alarming rate in Yemen over the past month, from a few thousand cases to roughly 70,000. There have been over 600 deaths, and most areas of the country are affected. UNICEF now warns that cases could quadruple in the next month to 300,000, with regional director Geert Cappelaere calling the situation "incredibly dire." (NYT, Al Jazeera) Amid all this, Saudi warplanes on June 4 struck a hospital in Qahza, Sa'ada governorate, where cholera patients were being treated. Several were said to be killed in the strike, and the building destroyed. But, too tellingly, for reports on the Qahza strike we must rely on sources such as Iran's Tasnim News Agency and Venezuela's TeleSur.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continued to express outrage over US President Donald Trump naming the Hamas movement—Gaza's de facto ruling party—in a list of terrorist organizations during a speech in Riyadh before 50 leaders of Arab and Muslim-majority countries on May 20. Palestinians in Gaza from across the political spectrum united in denouncing the remarks, which have been interpreted as a blanket condemnation of all forms of Palestinian resistance. "No description of the suffering and depravity can begin to capture its full measure. The true toll of ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and so many others, must be counted not only in the number of dead. It must also be counted in generations of vanished dreams," Trump said, in his first speech delivered abroad since taking office.
UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion Ahmed Shaheed stated May 22 that Houthi de facto authorities in Yemen must end the campaign of harassment against the Bahá'í community in Sana'a. Shaheed's statement was prompted by reports of increased arbitrary arrests and detentions against the Bahá'í community. In addition to demanding Bahá'í community members be released, he also said that authorities must open an inquiry into the disappearance of Bahá'í who were arrested by Houthi-controlled political police in April and whose whereabouts are unknown. Shaheed said "the new wave of court summons and arrest orders appears to be an act of intimidation pressuring the Yemeni Bahá'ís to recant their faith." Such discrimination and harassment against the religious minority threatens the Republic of Yemen's independence and is a violation of Yemeni individuals' rights.
Turkish police on May 16 arrested two sisters and deported them to Saudi Arabia after receiving a formal complaint from their family living in the kingdom. The complaint was lodged by their father in March, claiming they are ISIS loyalists. Areej and Ashwaq al-Harby pleaded for help in a video that went viral on social media as they were being taken to a Turkish police station by immigration officers. In the video, they said their abusive family has been spreading lies to get them deported. The sisters, who fled Saudi Arabia in February, were seeking for asylum in Turkey, fearing they will be criminally charged and face execution if returned to their home country. (India Today, May 17)
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Ben Emmerson on May 5 said that Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism laws are too broad and pose a threat to individual rights. He noted that Saudi Arabia's definition of terrorism, which includes "endangering 'national unity' or undermining 'the reputation or position of the State,'" is over-inclusive and should conform to international law, which maintains that terrorism must include "acts or threats of violence." Emmerson also expressed concern about the reported prosecution of writers and activists for non-violent actions. He urged Saudi Arabia's government to establish an "independent national security and due process review mechanism" to re-examine those prosecuted for political expression.