An Israeli far-right minister stirs controversy in Jerusalem, Yemenis hope 2023 will be as calm as 2022, and Ronaldo is welcomed in style in Saudi Arabia. Here’s your round-up, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.
Itamar Ben-Gvir has gone from being a frightening but fringe far-right activist in Israel, to being a frightening and powerful far-right government minister. Along the way, he’s maintained his supremacist beliefs, and his appetite for provocation. On Tuesday, Israel’s latest national security minister appeared to set the tone for the new government, sworn in last week, when he ignored many warnings and marched into Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem. His act of defiance led to intense anger from Palestinians, as well as widespread regional and international condemnation.
So, what’s the big deal? He’s a minister only “visiting” a religious site that is holy to both Muslims and Jews – besides, it’s just a little 15-minute walkabout, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, as evidenced by a Ben-Gvir security contingent armed to the teeth. The whole thing has dragged up issues of occupation, identity and Palestinian fears over the potential takeover of their national symbol. To really understand how sensitive the issues over Al-Aqsa Mosque are, and what Ben-Gvir was likely up to, I recommend this explainer.
Israel’s far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has entered the Al-Aqsa compound in what Palestinians say is an ‘unprecedented provocation’ – as only Muslim worshippers are allowed at the site ⤵️
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 3, 2023
Meanwhile, the new Israeli government has begun its term by resuming some of the previous administration’s old policies, starting with raids in the occupied West Bank, which in 2022 killed more than 150 Palestinians. On Monday, Israeli forces killed two men, followed by the death of a 15-year-old boy the next day, and a 16-year-old on Thursday.
Separately, the Syrian military said that Israel had attacked Damascus Airport on Monday, killing at least two soldiers in an aerial assault, and knocking the airport out of service for a few hours.
All in all, it wasn’t a great start to 2023.
Yemenis Worried About 2023
A six-month truce last year brought welcome relief to Yemenis exhausted by war. Yes, it was clear that huge divides still separated the warring parties, and that the humanitarian disaster that resulted from the conflict wasn’t going away. Still, for Abdu, it was an opportunity to return from Saudi Arabia, where he had been living after he had smuggled himself across the border. With the truce in place, he reasoned, he was willing to take his chances again in his home country. Now, though, with the truce over, he’s hoping things remain calm. Others in Yemen aren’t so sure.
Ronaldo Reaches Riyadh
Cristiano Ronaldo said that his “work is done” in Europe. So now, I guess, it’s time for him to take his slightly fading skills and superstar status to the Middle East and Saudi Arabia. The 37-year-old Portuguese forward was unveiled as Al Nassr’s newest, and easily most famous, footballer. And the fans sure turned out in Riyadh, with a packed stadium clearly delighted by CR7’s arrival. If Ronaldo wasn’t sure what to expect from the Saudi Pro League, he’ll have gotten a taste from his rapturous unveiling.
And Now for Something Different
A wooden sarcophagus from ancient Egypt has been repatriated after being looted years ago and shipped to the United States. The beautiful wooden artefact is believed to date back more than 2,300 years, and might have belonged to an ancient priest. But it’s been through a lot since it was last in Egypt, having initially been smuggled through Germany into the US in 2008 after being looted from Abu Sir Necropolis, north of Cairo. In recent years, Egypt has brought home thousands of relics smuggled abroad, but still demands others be returned – not least the Rosetta Stone, held by the British Museum since 1802.
Iran renews vow to avenge 2020 killing of General Qassem Soleimani – Strike paralyses transport system in Tunisian capital, adding to President Saied’s woes – Dubai drops 30 percent tax on alcohol to attract tourists, expats – Iran indicts two French nationals for ‘spying’ – Libyan authorities find mass grave in former ISIL stronghold – Attack on police checkpoint in Egypt’s Ismailia kills four – UN passes resolution, calls on International Court of Justice to render opinion on legal consequences of Israeli occupation – Two die after boat carrying migrants and refugees capsizes off coast of Lebanon – Israel charges two soldiers for revenge attack on Palestinians – Attack in eastern Syria kills at least 10 oil workers – Top Algerian journalist, government critic Ihsane El Kadi arrested, accused of receiving foreign funding – Syria opposition uneasy after Turkish outreach to al-Assad government
Quote of the Week
“We have been writing about the same issues, the same circumstances, the same news of military escalations, and the same suffering, without changing anything.” – Maram Humaid, Al Jazeera Digital’s Gaza correspondent, reflecting on 2022, and whether anything can change in the blockaded territory.