Middle East round-up: Talks, then a ‘pogrom’ in Palestine

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(Al Jazeera)

Israeli settlers rampage through Palestinian villages, Syria’s president is getting friendly with several Arab states, and attacks against African migrants in Tunisia. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.

With the backing of the United States, Israeli and Palestinian officials met at a Jordanian resort on Sunday in an attempt to reach a deal to end more than a year of intense violence. By the end of it, the two sides said they had agreed to work closely together, to bring about a “de-escalation on the ground”. And, according to a joint statement, Israel even said it would suspend the building of any new settlement units in the occupied West Bank.

Or, at least, that was the optimistic reading.

On the ground, the reality of the situation in the West Bank was something quite different. There, a Palestinian gunman killed two Israeli settlers travelling in a Palestinian village called Huwara, just south of Nablus. Then, 400 or so settlers took it upon themselves to seek “retribution”- by setting Huwara, and several other villages, on fire. One Palestinian was killed, hundreds were injured, and dozens of cars and buildings were destroyed. To make matters worse, videos appear to show Israeli soldiers were, at best, unable to do anything to prevent the settlers, or at worst, idly standing by during the rampage.

[READ: Settler violence forcing out Bedouins in the West Bank]

In the wake of the attack, several Israeli politicians, including government ministers, implicitly backed the actions of the settlers, with the far-right finance minister going so far as to say that Huwara should be “wiped out” by “the state of Israel”. An Israeli general, on the other hand, called the attack on Palestinians a “pogrom”.

And, as for suspending any new settlements? Well, only a few short hours after the statement was released, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied that would be happening.

Assad in from the cold?

Damascus has received a lot of visitors this week. First, it was a delegation of parliamentarians from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Libya, Oman and the UAE. Following on from that was the first visit by an Egyptian foreign minister since 2011, the year a mass uprising began against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which launched a civil war that came close to getting rid of him.

The way al-Assad and his government responded to the uprising, particularly the mass killings and human rights abuses, contributed to the Syrian leader being frozen out of the Arab diplomatic sphere. His close ties with Iran, a major rival of a number of Gulf Arab countries in particular, helped cement the animosity.

And yet, a number of those same governments have been making overtures to al-Assad for years now, as it became ever more apparent that he was going to hold onto power. Last month’s devastating earthquakes then presented an opportunity. With the death toll now standing at more than 6,000 people in Syria (a number that keeps rising), the need for help that that’s created has also provided an opening for those who wish to patch up their relations with the one-time outcast, with humanitarianism providing a useful defence against any critics. But, as this analysis explains, politics and self-interest loom large.

Anti-Black hate speech in Tunisia

The president of Tunisia, Kais Saied, does not seem particularly bothered by accusations he’s an authoritarian. If anything, his speeches seem to be becoming ever more incendiary. In one, he turned his ire towards people arriving from sub-Saharan Africa, ordering the expulsion of anyone without documentation, and saying that immigration from other parts of Africa is an attempt to change Tunisia’s Arab and Muslim identity.

Saied’s comments have been widely described as racist, and protesters in Tunisia have staged rallies to denounce them. Meanwhile, the African Union has condemned Tunisia, and warned it to “refrain from racialised hate speech”.

[READ: Tunisia judge imprisons politicians, businessman amid crackdown] 

And now for something different

Artificial intelligence is the talk of the internet right now, with companies racing to unveil their new search-chatbots, and journalists like me worried that ChatGPT is about to take away our jobs. The power of AI, of course, extends well beyond the writing of listicles. In Jordan, one engineer-turned-farmer has developed a smart-farming technique that uses AI to detect pests in date palms instead of the indiscriminate spraying of pesticides. Fascinatingly, it deciphers tiny noises inside trees to find out where the infestation is, before it’s too late.


Twitter under fire for censoring Palestinian public figures | Cholera outbreak in northwest Syria kills two | Why are schoolgirls being mysteriously poisoned in Iran? | Iran expels two German diplomats in reprisal against Germany | Sudanese protester killed in demonstration against military rule | Turkey’s Erdogan indicates elections will take place on May 14 | Rights groups, UN experts express concern over Bahrain arrests | Turkey investigates 612 people for earthquake violations | Syrian refugees in Turkey face return to quake-stricken areas | Oman joins Saudi Arabia in opening airspace to Israeli carriers |

Suffering in Darfur

This week marks 20 years since the beginning of the war in Sudan’s western province of Darfur. By UN estimates, 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and 2.5 million have been displaced. A deal in 2020, between the government and rebel groups, may mean that the worst of the fighting is over, but there are still outbreaks of violence. Abdelwahab El-Affendi, a politics professor at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, recalls how the conflict started, its period of international prominence, and what he argues are the agreements that have done little to help the war’s millions of victims.

Quote of the week

“I apologise to the people on behalf of myself and all my colleagues because we couldn’t keep Pirouz alive.” | Amir Moradi, the head of Tehran’s Central Veterinary Hospital, where doctors had been trying to save an Asiatic cheetah cub, Pirouz, who had captured the hearts of millions of Iranians before dying from acute kidney failure this week. The endangered animal was one of three cubs to have been raised by humans after being rejected by their mother. The other two cubs have also died. The plight of the cubs have been used by many Iranians to highlight wider issues in the country, such as environmental issues and mismanagement.

Source: Al Jazeera