20 Mar 2017 - NPWJ News Digest on Middle East and North Africa Democracy

Articles

Syria conflict: Aircraft pound rebel-held eastern Damascus
By BBC, 20 Mar 2017

Syrian government forces are reportedly bombarding eastern areas of the capital, Damascus, a day after rebel fighters launched a surprise offensive. Activists said opposition-held parts of Jobar had been targeted repeatedly by aircraft and artillery, amid fierce clashes along the frontlines. Air raids were also reported in neighbouring Qaboun and Arbin. Earlier, state media said the military had recaptured all of the territory it had lost in Sunday's rebel assault. Free Syrian Army factions and allied jihadist groups were involved in the attack on government-controlled Jobar and Abbasid Square, only 1.2km (0.7 miles) north-east of the Old City. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, said pro-government fighters and 21 rebels and jihadists were killed in the fighting. There were no immediate reports of any casualties from Monday's air strikes, but Syrian Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman described them as "intense". "The government and allied forces have retaken the initiative and are striking the groups that launched yesterday's assault," he told AFP news agency. The Local Co-ordination Committees, an opposition activist network, reported that Jobar had been hit by dozens of air strikes, as well as shell- and rocketfire.

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UAE calls Swiss Ambassador over Bahrain human rights statement
By Middle East Monitor, 20 Mar 2017

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Sunday the Swiss Ambassador to denounce a report made by Switzerland before the UN Human Rights Council on human rights situation in the Kingdom of Bahrain. State news agency WAM said the UAE Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation for Legal Affairs, Abdul Rahim Al-Awadhi has summoned Ambassador of Switzerland to the UAE, Maya Tissafi to express his country’s “denunciation” over the Swiss statement last week against Bahrain at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). “It was better if such issues were resolved through established bilateral channels between Bahrain and Switzerland,” Al-Awadi is reported to have told Tissafi. He added that the Swiss statement has ignored Bahrain steps to promote human rights issues. Al-Awadhi informed Ambassador Tissafi that the security and stability of Bahrain is integral to security and stability of the UAE, “and such statements give a pretext for committing destructive and terrorist acts”. The Gulf Cooperation Council has strongly condemned on Saturday the Swiss report slamming the “accusations and distortions” regarding the situation of human rights in Bahrain.

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ISIL after Mosul: Insurgency and rivalry
By Al Jazeera, 19 Mar 2017

"The battle now is in the final stages," Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi said on March 14 of the government offensive to retake Mosul from ISIL. "They are cornered, and if they will not surrender they will definitely get killed." But what will be the broader repercussions of Mosul's liberation for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS)? Firstly, on the tactical level, ISIL will continue to devolve into an insurgency - leaving civilians extraordinarily vulnerable. Suicide bombings on soft targets are set to increase, as will attacks on pilgrims, funeral processions and infrastructure.Unfortunately, ISIL's leaders will feel comfortable with this gear-change. Many of them cut their teeth as insurgents in post-invasion Iraq, under the banner of predecessor groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the Islamic State of Iraq. The second impact of the liberation of Mosul will be felt in Syria, where ISIL increasingly finds itself in the crosshairs of both Turkish-backed and Kurdish forces. Finally, as ISIL's proto-state is assaulted and its men fan out across the region, we may see an uptick of competition with a quietly assertive al-Qaeda. In Syria, for example, al-Qaeda has been a dominant presence within the armed opposition, operating officially under the banner of Jabhat al-Nusra until July 2016, and unofficially as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS) since. Its leaders aim at a genuine grassroots insurgency, and have sought to gradually assimilate into Syrian society. In North and West Africa, al-Qaeda is resilient. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has withstood the chokehold of the Algerian security services, US drones, and the French-led intervention in Mali, to launch a range of attacks in recent years, whether storming a beach resort in Ivory Coast or conducting a low-level insurgency in northern Mali.

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Clashes in Damascus after rebels tunnel into government-held areas
By The Guardian, 19 Mar 2017

Fierce clashes broke out in the Syrian capital on Sunday after insurgents infiltrated government-held parts of the city through tunnels overnight in a rare advance after months of steady losses elsewhere in the country. It was a surprising breach of the security perimeter in Damascus, where the government has effectively walled itself off from opposition forces encamped in two enclaves in the eastern parts of the city. Bashar al-Assad’s government has endeavoured to maintain a veneer of normality in the capital as his forces bomb opposition areas on the edges and suburbs of the city. Residents said artillery shells and rockets had landed in the heart of the city. Damascus Today, a Facebook group run by activists, reported government airstrikes in the area where the clashes took place. Government infantry and tank reinforcements arrived to repel the attackers in the afternoon, the group said. With its military depleted after six years of fighting and defections, the Syrian government relies on a blend of official and semi-official forces to defend its territory, including Shia militias from Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries.

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