Saudi Arabia bombed Houthi targets in Sanaa and Hodeidah province Monday after intercepting missiles on Saturday that the Iran-backed group claims were aimed at Riyadh and areas near the kingdom's border with Yemen. Saudi Civil Defense announced that falling missile debris injured two civilians in Riyadh.The targets in Sanaa included the presidential palace compound, a military school, and an air base. This exchange breaks more than three months of calm in which the Saudis considerably reduced airstrikes in Yemen while the Houthis halted drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia.
An official in the Saudi energy ministry said Monday, "The kingdom plans to raise its petroleum exports by 600,000 bpd from May, so total exports will increase to 10.6 million bpd." After the breakdown in oil price stabilization negotiations with Moscow earlier this month, Riyadh announced raising exports to 10 million bpd in April from 7 million bpd before the OPEC+ agreement collapsed.
A day after Saudi Arabia barred entry and exit into Jeddah and imposed a 3 PM curfew in the port city – measures already taken in Riyadh, Mecca, and Medina – Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah announced Monday that King Salman will cover all COVID-19-related medical expenses for citizens and residents.
Several ISIS detainees escaped from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-run Ghweranprison in Hasakah during a prisoner riot over the weekend. The SDF forces have yet to regain full control of the facility and do not know the number or identities of the escaped ISIS members. The US-led military coalition against ISIS is providing aerial surveillance to help the SDF recapture the escapees. The SDF is responsible for all of the 11,000 to 12,000 ISIS fighters imprisoned in the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Syria.
Syria's health ministry confirmed its first COVID-19 fatality Sunday as the reported number of cases rose to 9. However, the civil war impedes effectively tracking the virus and there are concerns that the large Iranian military presence in Syria makes the country particularly vulnerable because Iran is experiencing the worst outbreak in the Middle East. To contain the disease's spread, Damascus on Sunday announced it is not calling up any more army reservists after previously ending conscription. The military is also enforcing a ban on movement between provinces. Military defectors report that Damascus is trying to prevent mingling between Syrian officers and Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias. Indicating that Syria is dramatically undercounting cases of COVID-19, the governor of Iraq's Karbala Governorate complained that the "vast majority" of new infections detected on Saturday originated in Syria and that provincial authorities are "implementing a health and security campaign to track down all Iraqis who came from Syria recently."
President Hassan Rouhani stated on Saturday that the government will allocate 20 percent of the annual budget to fighting COVID-19, $6.3 billion at the rial's free market exchange rate. Tehran has officially confirmed 41,495 cases and 2,757 deaths.
Reportedly to curb inflation and hoarding, Egypt's central bank Sunday instructed banks to impose a 10,000 Egyptian pound ($635) daily limit on individual withdrawals and deposits, a 5,000 pound limit on ATM deposits and withdrawals, and a 50,000 pound cap for companies, excluding withdrawals to pay salaries. Due to Egypt's overwhelming dependence on food imports and fears of COVID-19-related shortages, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday directed the General Authority for Supply Commodities to boost strategic reserves of staple goods.
US-led coalition forces withdrew from K1 Air Base in Kirkuk Governorate Sunday, transferring control of the base and $1.1 million of equipment to the Iraqi government. This is the third base coalition troops evacuated in March as part of a plan to drawdown and concentrate coalition forces in Iraq. The coalition plans to withdraw in the coming days from the Nineveh Operations Command in Mosul and the Taqaddum military airport outside the city of Habbaniya.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE on Monday requested, in light of COVID-19, that the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) postpone by one year Expo 2020 Dubai, a World Fair scheduled between October 2020 and April 2021 and expected to draw 25 million visitors. BIE Secretary General Dimitri S. Kerkentzes welcomed the request and expressed "full confidence in the UAE's ability to host a World Expo that inspires and delights millions, when the time is right."
After next Tuesday's cabinet meeting on the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Hassan Diab will unveil a mechanism for repatriating Lebanese stranded abroad. Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri Saturday threatened to withdraw support for Diab's government if no plan was forthcoming.
To enforce the COVID-19 curfew, authorities on Saturday forcibly dispersed the remaining tent-dwelling protestors in Beirut's Martyr's Square. Starting last October, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the square to protest the ruling elite's corruption and economic stagnation, resulting in then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation.
As airlines around the world ground their fleets, Qatar Airways is not only maintaining scheduled flights to airports that remain open, it is adding new destinations to increase market share. On Sunday, Qatar Airways added 28 additional flights to Australia, including its first route between Doha and Brisbane.Despite this, Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker warned that, like most other airlines, Qatar Airways could soon run out of cash and require government assistance.
The Yamina faction sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing concerns about reported concessions Likud is making in coalition negotiations with Benny Gantz's Israel Resilience party and warning that Yamina will not join a unity government if Netanyahu compromises on too many right-wing priorities. Some of the mentioned concessions include revocation of the Kaminitz Law, which reduced illegal construction in the Arab sector; amending the 2018 Nation State basic law; giving Gantz a veto over extending sovereignty over parts of the West Bank; and abandoning plans to remove African asylum seekers in Israel.
Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz and MK Itzik Shmuli will join the emerging unity government, becoming respectively the economy and industry minister and the social affairs and social services minister. The remaining Labor MK, Merav Michaeli, along with the Meretz faction that ran on a joint list with Labor in the last election, refuse to join the unity government.
Micah Levinson is a Washington, DC resident fellow at the Middle East Forum.