Middle East round-up: Syria rejoins the Arab League

Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East coverage this week.

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[Omar Sanadiki/Reuters]

Syria returns to the Arab League, Israel bombards Gaza with air attacks, and it’s almost time for the Turkish elections. Here’s your round up of our coverage, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.

Prisons full of dissidents, hundreds of thousands of people killed and millions of refugees. Despite all that, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will find himself once again sitting at the head table, alongside his fellow leaders at the Arab League summit in Riyadh later this month. The Arab League’s re-embrace of Al-Assad, despite 12 years of war on his own people, did not come as a surprise. Syria’s return to regional favour has been signposted for months, with early normalisers, such as the UAE, passing on the baton of acceptance to Saudi Arabia, whose foreign minister was recently in Damascus.

Arab League member states agreed to welcome Syria back into the organisation on Sunday. The country had been suspended more than a decade ago, punishment for the vicious crackdown on the Syrian opposition who had dared to rise up against al-Assad in 2011. But realpolitik, much like al-Assad, has for the moment emerged victorious. With a weak opposition in control of only a small portion of Syria, and a realignment of the regional order after Saudi Arabia patched things up with Iran, the sense in Arab capitals has been that freezing out al-Assad no longer serves a purpose.

[READ: Syria’s return to the Arab League leaves opposition dismayed]

Will the rest of the Arab League get anything in return? Justice is obviously a nonstarter, so the focus instead appears to be on, well, Captagon, an amphetamine-like drug mass-produced in Syria that has exploded in popularity in the Gulf. At a meeting in Amman on May 1, Damascus said it will clamp down on Captagon smuggling. And then on Monday, a day after Syria was welcomed back into the Arab League, a Jordanian air attack reportedly killed a suspected Syrian drug smuggler and his family in southern Syria. Hmm, quid pro quo?

Israel bombards Gaza, again

The death of a Palestinian hunger striker, Khader Adnan, in an Israeli prison last week led to a brief exchange of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, and Israeli air attacks on the besieged territory. A regionally mediated truce quickly came into effect, but that was then suddenly broken in the early hours of Tuesday morning by a spate of Israeli air attacks that killed three top leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), as well as 10 others. All civilians. Including children.

This was the start of what Israel has called Operation Shield and Arrow. Factions in Gaza eventually fired rockets back at Israel on Wednesday, but the vast majority have been intercepted by Israel’s missile defence system. For its part, Israel continued to pound Gaza, where at the time of this writing 27 people had died, the majority civilians.

The spectre of war has therefore returned to Gaza, brought home in a shocking manner during a live broadcast by Al Jazeera’s Youmna El Sayed, when the horizon suddenly lit up with rockets launched from across Gaza.

Israel, having launched the attacks on the PIJ, now looks to be trying to de-escalate. And yet at the same time, the indications are that the Israelis are unwilling to give reassurances that the killing of PIJ leaders will stop anytime soon. Some analysts believe that this latest assault on Gaza has essentially been a political gambit more than a military operation: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to face growing opposition at home, where members of the far-right within his cabinet have raised the pressure to attack Gaza. The bet has been that Hamas won’t take the bait and fight back, which would cause a far more expansive conflict—a calculated risk that could lead to far more death and destruction if Netanyahu has guessed wrong.

Still no justice for Shireen Abu Akleh

Exactly one year ago, our colleague Shireen Abu Akleh, Al Jazeera’s long-time Palestinian correspondent, was killed by Israeli forces while she was reporting in the occupied West Bank.

Eyewitness reports and detailed investigations aside, even the Israelis have admitted that it was highly probable one of their soldiers killed Shireen. But the reality is that we’re no closer to any justice. Al Jazeera submitted a case to the International Criminal Court in December, but we’re no closer to a prosecution. It appears, according to some, that the ICC doesn’t have much interest in moving the investigation forward, instead choosing to focus on Ukraine and Russia.

Whatever that says about the ICC and its pursuit of justice, Shireen’s memory will live on at Al Jazeera, across the region and the rest of the world. A journalist who was doing her job, and was killed for it.

It’s almost time for the Turkish elections

As we get closer to the electoral D-day that is Sunday, May 14, temperatures are rising in Turkey, with reported attacks on both opposition and government politicians. We’ve been rolling out more of our coverage as Turkey plans to vote in some of the most consequential presidential and parliamentary elections in decades.

[READ: Don’t take our votes for granted, warn Kurdish voters in Turkey]

With President Recep Tayyip Erdogan facing his biggest test yet, here’s a guide to the vote.

By this time next week we should have the parliamentary results and that of the presidential election (or at least the first round). Watch this space.

And now for something different

Stand-up comedy is exploding in popularity all over the globe, and Syria is now getting in on the act. Members of Styria, billed as the country’s first stand-up comedy troupe, perform every week in Damascus, to tell all kinds of jokes about the situation in the country. Well, not all kinds. In Bashar al-Assad’s Syria, politics is still a red line.


Sudan doctors targeted by threats, smear campaigns | Six dead after attack near synagogue in Tunisia’s Djerba island | EU delegation in Israel cancels Europe Day event over planned presence of far-right minister | More Iranian actresses summoned for not wearing hijab | Top Biden aide discusses Yemen peace efforts with Saudi Arabia’s MBS | Iraq court issues death sentence to killers of prominent academic | Israel hands over Jordanian MP accused of arms smuggling | Syrians still fear building collapses three months on from earthquakes | Will Ethiopia and Eritrea be dragged into Sudan’s war? | Iran executes two Quran burners, a Swedish-Iranian dual national, and the ‘sultan of cocaine’ | US congresswoman introduces bill to restrict aid to Israel | HRW: Academic held by Egyptian authorities at risk of death | Biden urged to halt US aid to Tunisia over authoritarian turn | Egyptian ex-MP planning presidential bid says relatives arrested |

Quote of the Week

“[The Rapid Support Forces] told [a warehouse security guard] to go get a gun and help himself … they said guns are available everywhere, they told him that [Sudan] is the land of guns.” | Nadir el-Gadi, a Sudanese pharmaceutical supplier, recalling how one of the security guards at his warehouse tried to get the RSF to stop looters, but was met with indifference. El-Gadi also had his home and business raided by the paramilitary RSF, currently fighting the country’s army despite ongoing ceasefire talks in Saudi Arabia.

Source: Al Jazeera