🌍 Inside The Middle East — June 24

New Iran President Problem for the West, Palestine Cancels Israel Vaccine Swap, Lebanese Army Pleads for Help, Global War On Children, Assad Idlib Shelling

Hello folks! It’s that time of the week where we dissect the most important news from the most important region in the world.

Today we’ll visit Iran whose new hardline president poses more problems for the West; the West Bank where the PLA sent back 90,000 Israeli Covid vaccines over expiration dates; Lebanon whose army chief pled to world powers for aid to prevent unthinkable consequences; Syria where President Bashar al-Assad continued his offensive to recapture the all-important Idlib province; and we finish with a UN report detailing the grave war violations of the world’s children.

Be sure to check out Daniel’s column from Monday asking us what makes us feel rich other than money 🤔. And keep an eye out for Sophie's news round up from the rest of the world tomorrow.

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A couple of datasets referenced in today’s edition…

  1. Vaccines — Stacks of global vaccine data, from Our World In Data

  2. List of Shame — List of state and non-state parties that have no measures to improve the protection of children, from the UN

Iran Elects New Hardline President

We start in Iran where Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline judiciary chief, won the country’s presidential election in a landslide. He’ll replace the more moderate Hassan Rouhani, who became president in 2013 and was prohibited from running a third time in line with the country’s constitution. Voter turnout was just 48.8 percent, the lowest since the 1979 revolution. And for the first time, voided votes finished second.

Raisi’s victory has been criticised by human rights groups, due to U.S. sanctions over abuses from his place on the 1988 ‘Tehran death committee’ that’s accused of murdering as many as 3,000 political prisoners. He was also involved in the state crackdown during the 2009 Green Movement protests.

The new leader poses problems for Joe Biden’s administration, who hopes to revive the 2015 nuclear deal and stop Iran’s uranium enrichment program in return for lifting crippling U.S. sanctions. Raisi has so far refused to meet or talk to Biden, and is instead expected to work with Iran’s regional allies, China and Russia. His cabinet picks are also likely to be more difficult to cooperate with than Rouhani’s U.S.-educated officials.

Lebanese Army Appeals for Help

To Lebanon whose army is appealing to world powers for aid after the country’s economic collapse has left soldiers “suffering and hungry’’ like the rest of the country. In a virtual meeting of world powers organised by France, Lebanon’s army chief Joseph Aoun said the military was the sole guarantor of security and stability, and terrible consequences were coming if the crisis persisted and military salaries continued to fall. Representatives from multiple Gulf Arab states attended, though not from Saudi Arabia.

Lebanon fell into economic crisis in 2019 after years of corruption and mismanagement, which resulted in the collapse of multiple sectors. The Lebanese pound has lost almost 85 percent of its value against the U.S. dollar, which is now the country’s primary currency. The crisis is considered so extreme that the World Bank ranks it among the three worst since the mid-19th century, with more than half the population living below the national poverty line.

Last Time on Inside The Middle East…

🌍 Inside The Middle East — June 17

🌍 Inside The Middle East — June 10

🌍 Inside The Middle East — June 3

🌍 Inside The Middle East — May 27

Palestine Cancels Israel Vaccine Swap

We visit the West Bank next as the Palestinian Authority cancelled a deal that involved Israel and the PA exchanging around one million Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines. PA health minister Mai Alkaila said they were told they'd receive doses that would expire in July or August, but when they arrived the expiration date was June, not leaving enough time to distribute and use them. A PA spokesman said the first tranche of around 90,000 doses had been sent back to Israel. The World Health Organization has advised countries to hold onto expired vaccines while research into their viability continues.

The speed at which Israel has vaccinated the majority of its nine million people has been impressive, but has been heavily criticised for not vaccinating Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel is obliged to do so under the Geneva Conventions, but the government says it’s relieved of these obligations because the Oslo Accords designate responsibility for medical care provision to the Palestinian Authority.

Assad Shelling Forces 5,000 Civilians to Flee

We visit Syria next where tensions have flared once more in its decade-long civil war. Government shelling targeting the last rebel-stronghold of Idlib in north-west Syria forced around 5,000 civilians to flee, according to a local aid agency. The area is home to about 3.5 million people and is now the only territory outside the regime’s control apart from the Kurdish north-east.

Since the beginning of June, at least 31 people have died as Assad ramps up the number of attacks on civilian infrastructure including hospitals, displacement camp schools and a civil defence HQ. The latest shelling violates a ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia last year, which stopped a brutal offensive that forced more than a million people to flee north toward the Turkish border. The renewed violence comes after Assad secured a fourth term as Syrian president earlier this month, in an election once again considered a sham.

Impact of War on Children ‘Alarmingly High’

Almost 20,000 children affected by war last year were victims of grave violations such as recruitment or rape, according to the UN’s annual Children and Armed Conflict report. Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen were among the countries that saw the highest number of abuses recorded, including 8,400 youngsters killed and nearly 7,000 recruited to fight. The number of abductions increased by 90 percent from the previous year, while sexual violence rose 70 percent.

The UN said the Covid pandemic had “aggravated existing vulnerabilities of children, including by hampering their access to education, health and social services, limiting child protection activities and shrinking safe spaces”. In a statement commenting on the report, Save The Children criticised the CAAC for failing to add numerous parties to its ‘list of shame’. The charity singled out the Saudi and U.A.E.-led coalition that killed or injured at least 194 Yemeni children last year.

Save The Children added “It [the coalition] was taken off the list last year, with a commitment by the Secretary General to relist them unless there was a ‘sustained significant decrease in killing and maiming’. By not relisting the coalition, [António] Guterres sends the message that reducing the number of child casualties to about two hundred is ‘good enough’ progress”.

See you tomorrow for Picks of the Week! 👋