Week of February 3

A Yemeni boy waves from inside a bus before boarding a United Nations plane at Sanaa International airport, Yemen, Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. The United Nations medical relief flight carrying patients from Yemen’s rebel-held capital was the first in over three years. Credit: AP Photo/Hani Mohammed

On Monday, the Qatar campus of Northwestern University cancellend an event featuring a prominent Middle East band whose singer is openly gay, after an online backlash sparked safety concerns. Members of Lebanese indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila were scheduled to take part in a discussion about “media revolutions in the Middle East”, but after hostile online comments against the appearance, Northwestern said it had mutually agreed with the band to move the event to its U.S. campus. “The decision to relocate was made out of abundance of caution due to several factors, including safety concerns for the band and our community,” Northwestern’s Director of Media Relations Jon Yates told Reuters by email. Critics used an Arabic hashtag on Twitter to demand the event be canceled. The Qatar Foundation, one of the school’s partners in the country, rejected the university’s explanation, arguing that there was no security threat but that the event did not correlate with Qatari laws or the country’s cultural and social customs.

On Tuesday,  Reuters obtained a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning an Israeli plan to annex its settlements in the West Bank in a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel peace proposal. The draft text, circulated to council members by Tunisia and Indonesia, would likely face a U.S. veto, but offered some members’ dim view of the peace plan that Trump rolled out. Diplomats said negotiations on the text would likely begin in the week. The resolution “stresses the illegality of the annexation of any part” of occupied Palestinian territories and “condemns recent statements calling for annexation by Israel” of these territories, according to the draft seen by Reuters. In the past week, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the European Union also rejected all or parts of Trump’s Middle East plan

On Thursday, President Trump confirmed that the United States had “conducted a counterterrorism operation” that killed al-Qaeda’s top leader in Yemen. The New York Times reported on January 31st that Qassim al-Rimi was killed in a January airstrike. In his statement, Trump claimed that the leader’s death “further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qaeda movement,” bringing the United States closer to eliminating the group. AQAP, along with other militant groups, has flourished in the chaos of the war between the Yemeni government and the Houthi rebels. But analysts say the group’s abilities on the ground have dwindled over the years. “Al-Rimi’s skills as a military planner will be missed, but AQAP’s ability to operate on the ground in Yemen had already diminished greatly,” said a researcher at the University of Oxford.

Flights transporting Yemeni medical patients from rebel-held areas continued Saturday when a plane carrying 24 patients took off from Sanaa bound for Jordan’s capital, the World Health Organization reported. There has been no announced explanation for the medical flights but they could be a result of talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis. The first flight transported eight patients and their families on Monday. The flights are seen as a humanitarian breakthrough in the more than five-year-old conflict in the Arab world’s poorest country. The Houthi rebels criticized the U.N. for the small number of patients airlifted out of Sanaa. The rebel-run health ministry has said that 32,000 people need urgent medical and surgical intervention, such as kidney transplants and heart surgeries.  

On Sunday, Israel banned the export of Palestinian produce via Jordan, marking an escalation in a trade dispute between Israel and the Palestinians that began in October. According to the office of Israel’s defense minister, the move is part of the sanctions that Israel placed on the Palestinian Authority after the PA limited the import of calves from Israel. The sanctions are tiered, and will be increased so long as the crisis remains unresolved. “Let it be stressed that as soon as the Palestinian Authority reverses its decision to harm the cattle trade with Israel and the free market” the order will be rescinded, according to another Israeli official who coordinates Israeli activities in the Palestinian territories. 

Lebanese doctors take part in anti-government demonstrations in Beirut in November. Credit: Patrick Baz/AFP via Getty Images


NPR reported last week on how Lebanon’s worsening economic crisis has had dire consequences for the country’s medical care. Doctors have staged sit-ins at hospitals to warn of shortages of lifesaving medicines and supplies, which can no longer be obtained from international suppliers due to a shortage of U.S. dollars. Patients began skipping doctor visits, vaccinations and prescriptions because they could no longer afford them, as insurance policies lapsed amid widespread unemployment. Furthermore, as the protest movement gained strength in October, Lebanese banks closed for two weeks. When the banks reopened, they restricted lines of credit and the central bank began to limit U.S. dollar withdrawals. Hospitals have stopped performing nonessential surgeries and closed entire wings for lack of patients; economists believe that though is unlikely there will be a complete breakdown in the health care system, the availability of expensive and critical life-saving medicines, including cancer drugs, will decline. 

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