In 2019, Mideast countries face challenges as wars wind down

In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with 100 million people, job creation lags far behind an explosive population growth of more than 2 million per year. (Reuters)
Updated 19 December 2018
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In 2019, Mideast countries face challenges as wars wind down

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started the year with a gift from Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then moved the US Embassy to the city in May
  • In Iraq, it’s been a year since the government declared victory over Daesh, but challenges remain, including the rebuilding of devastated cities

AMMAN: As the Middle East ushers in 2019, the decade’s ruinous conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq seem to be winding down after exacting a painful price — many thousands killed, millions uprooted from their homes and entire cities reduced to rubble.
Yet the potential for unrest remains high, including in countries that escaped civil war after the 2011 uprisings, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Millions of young people in the region remain locked out of economic and political participation as governments fail to tackle soaring youth unemployment and other deep-seated problems.
Yemen’s government made some progress with the Iran-linked Houthi militias toward a UN-sponsored peace deal last week, a first after four years of fighting. A new round of talks is set for January, with expectations that US pressure could lead to further de-escalation.
In Syria, President Bashar Assad, aided by Russia and Iran, crushed a seven-year-old rebellion and the opposition’s dream of ousting him from power. The war is not over, with major fighting still ahead in the opposition-held north. Assad’s inner circle and allied entrepreneurs stand to make a fortune from reconstruction, even if the West won’t contribute in the absence of a political settlement.
In Iraq, it’s been a year since the government declared victory over Daesh, but challenges remain, including the rebuilding of devastated cities. Rioting against corruption and poor services in the oil-rich southern region of Basra signalled the urgency of addressing Iraq’s economic problems.
In Libya, rival governments in the east and west have agreed to meet at a national conference in early 2019 to pave the way for a general election. Oil production remains below its pre-2011 levels, and lack of security still prevents major foreign investment or economic growth.
In Iran, hit hard by renewed US sanctions, the currency wildly fluctuated, but the Islamic Republic did not see the same widescale protests that opened the year.
In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with 100 million people, job creation lags far behind an explosive population growth of more than 2 million per year. Investor confidence is improving, but inflation surpassed targets set by the International Monetary Fund.
In politically paralyzed Lebanon, decades of mismanagement and corruption are finally catching up, with a debt of $84 billion heightening concerns of impending economic collapse.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started the year with a gift from Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then moved the US Embassy to the city in May. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas froze ties with the US administration, accusing it of pro-Israel bias concerning the most sensitive issue of the conflict, which sputtered along in 2018.
Israel kept building settlements in the West Bank, Hamas led mass border marches against a decade-old blockade of the Gaza Strip and lone Palestinian assailants carried out sporadic attacks against Israelis. Dozens were killed in 2018, the vast majority Palestinians.
With Israeli elections to be held sometime in 2019, a peace plan that calls for even minimal concessions could tear apart Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. He might not get to run for re-election if a pair of corruption cases moves forward, after police recommended charges against him.


Israel strikes Hamas post after gunfire at troops

Updated 22 January 2019
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Israel strikes Hamas post after gunfire at troops

  • An informal truce between Hamas and Israel has brought relative calm to the border in recent weeks
  • Hamas is labelled a terrorist organization by the US and the EU, and banks are hesitant to make the transfer

GAZA CITY, Palestinian territories: An Israeli tank shelled a Hamas site in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday after gunfire at soldiers near the border fence, the army said.
There were no reports of injuries in either incident. Hamas said two of its military wing’s observation posts had been hit east of Beit Hanoun.
An informal truce between Hamas and Israel has brought relative calm to the border in recent weeks.
But there have been warnings of another escalation since Israel reportedly held up the latest cash transfer from Gulf state Qatar to Gaza, set to take place under the truce.
The payments are controversial in Israel, where they have sparked opposition from right-wing activists and politicians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is campaigning for re-election in April 9 polls.
Qatar’s ambassador to Gaza said Monday that the $15 million (13 million euros) in cash, to pay the salaries of Hamas civil servants in the enclave, is expected to be delivered via Israel this week.
Israel’s government has not commented. Its permission is required since the cash must be delivered via Israeli territory.
Hamas is labelled a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, and banks are hesitant to make the transfer.
The payment would be the third of six planned tranches, totalling $90 million, in connection with the truce.
Israel has also allowed deliveries of Qatari-financed fuel to the blockaded enclave to help ease a severe electricity shortage.
Mass protests and clashes erupted on the Gaza-Israel border in March last year.
The weekly protests have been calling for Palestinian refugees in Gaza to be able to return to their former homes now inside Israel.
Israel accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out violence.
At least 243 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March, the majority during protests and clashes. Others have died in airstrikes or shelling.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period, one by a Palestinian sniper and another during a botched special forces operation inside Gaza.
Israel and Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, have fought three wars since 2008.