- The Atlantic published an article highlighting the 10 biggest Middle East Stories of 2011.
- American Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich again spoke out against Palestine this week, calling them “terrorists” who teach terrorism in schools during a candidate debate, a move that Palestinian leaders said was inviting more conflict in the Middle East. A senior official at the Arab League called the statement racist and a cheap stunt to get votes. Over the weekend a Palestinian protester died after being struck in the face by a tear-gas canister launched from mere meters away by an Israeli soldier, with further clashes taking place between mourners at his funeral and soldiers on Sunday. On Sunday, Israel closed a wooden walkway to Jerusalem’s holiest site Haram al-Sharif over fears of a fire or collapse risk, sparking Palestinian anger with Hamas calling the move a declaration of religious war (it was later reopened); while the Israeli settlement council gave final approval for the building of 40 new houses in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli Cabinet also voted unanimously to finance a $160 million program to stop the flow of illegal African migrants by stepping up construction of a border fence and detention centre. On Tuesday, dozens of extremist Jewish settlers broke into an army base in the West Bank and lit fires, damaged vehicles and threw stones at a senior officer; just hours after another group took over an abandoned building in a closed military zone on the Jordanian border; the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris while President Abbas attended a ceremony; while a new report by Defence for Children International claimed that Israel had shot at children on at least 28 occasions while gathering building materials like gravel or working by the fence between March 26, 2010 and October 3, 2011. On Wednesday, Iceland formally recognized Palestine as an independent state and established diplomatic relations with it; the UN and its diplomatic partners underlined their appeal to Israel and Palestine to create an atmosphere conducive to the resumption of stalled peace talks; tens of thousands of Gazans took to the street for an anniversary rally for the ruling Hamas; while a Palestinian mosque near Ramallah was set on fire by people thought to be Jewish settlers, after Israeli forces tore down structures in a settler outpost built without government approval. The PM vowed to take action to halt the growing number of extremist incidents. On Thursday, the American Congress proposed a new legislation that would allow economic aid to Palestine to continue next year only as long as the country is not admitted as a state into any more UN organizations; while Israel said it was unifying its special forces under one command to help it strike countries like Iran. Amnesty International issued a joint press release announcing that there have been a record number of unlawful demolitions by the Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank over the past year, displacing a record number of Palestinian families.
- On Saturday, the new national unity government was sworn-in in Yemen and will lead the country for a three-month transitional period, after which President Saleh is expected to formally step down after 33 years in power. On Monday, at least 16 prisoners, including al-Qaeda members escaped from a prison in the south. A day later, the interior minister announced that hundreds of protesters detained by authorities would be released. On Friday, the UN special envoy to the country announced that the government has taken new measures to restore peace and stability including instructions that roadblocks be removed, soldiers return to their barracks and militias go back to their villages.
- On Sunday, at least 10 people (some say at least 20) were reportedly killed in clashes across Syria as opposition activists called a general strike; while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he holds President al-Assad responsible for all that has happened in the country and the UN human rights chief warned that the country was moving close to a full civil war, appealing for observers to be allowed to enter. On Monday, fierce clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors spread to new areas killing some 13 on the day of local elections, amid fears the conflict was now spiraling towards civil war. On Tuesday, a reported 35 peoplewere killed by security forces; some eight soldiers died in an ambush outside of Hama; while the UN human rights chief estimates the death toll for the past nine months of protest has now surpassed 5,000. On Wednesday, rebels claimed to have killed 27 members of the security forces in clashes that killed some 12 civilians, including a seven year old; clashes across the country killed a reported 26 civilians; while Human Rights Watch named 74 senior officials and commanders for investigation for crimes against humanity, alleging that army commanders ordered troops to halt protests “by all means necessary” and often gave explicit instructions to fire on demonstrators. On Thursday, Russia surprised all after it circulated a UN Security Council resolution condemning violence by both the government and the opposition, but stop short of mentioning sanctions, which France said it considered “unacceptable”. On Friday, potentially hundreds of thousands protested to demand action by the Arab League, who indefinitely postponed a meeting on the crisis because of divisions over how to stop the bloodshed. Security forces are said to have opened fire, killing at least 17 people.
- On Sunday, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard in Iran said that his country would not return the American surveillance drone captured last week, but indicated willingness to reach a deal. On Monday, state TV reported that local experts were in the final stages of recovering data from the drone that would be used in a lawsuit against the US and claimed that they had the capability to reproduce the drone through reverse engineering. On Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said that US President Obama should apologize for sending the drone into Iranian territory rather than asking for it back after it was seized; while Iran reportedly indicted 15 people on char...
[continued at http://apeaceofconflict.com/2011/12/18/this-week-in-middle-eastern-...]