Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok replaced seven ministers with caretakers Thursday to mollify protestors angry about poor living conditions and make room in the cabinet for representatives of the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel group coalition. Senior transitional government sources informed Asharq al-Awsat last week to expect a cabinet reshuffle as demonstrators turned out in droves despite COVID-19. Al Jazeera's Hiba Morgan reported Thursday, "People have been complaining about the shortage of fuel saying they have to stand in line for hours, sometimes days. We have also seen people line up for bread; that is what triggered the anti-government protests in 2018 that eventually led to the ousting of Omar al-Bashir." The cabinet reshuffle also follows an SRF delegation visiting Khartoum to negotiate an end to the various insurgencies across the country. Leaders of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, an SRF member group, subsequently claimed they will receive ministerial portfolios. The reshuffle involved the finance, foreign, energy, agriculture, transport, health, and animal resources ministers.
Russia and China vetoed Tuesday a UN Security Council resolution, drafted by Germany and Belgium, to reauthorize for one year two aid corridors, not subject to Damascus's oversight, on the Turkish border. Then on Wednesday, the Security Council rejected Russia's resolution to reauthorize for six months just one of two existing aid corridors. With the mandate for the existing aid corridors elapsing on Friday, Germany and Belgium introduced a compromise resolution on Thursday authorizing the two Turkish crossings for six months. The Security Council will announce Friday the results of the vote on the compromise resolution. Moscow and Beijing, who are aligned with the Assad regime, maintain cross-border aid corridors are unnecessary because aid to rebel-controlled areas can be channeled through government-controlled territory.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Thursday the Russian-backed 5th Corps of the Syrian army arrived at the frontline in southern Idlib amid several days of heavy regime shelling. Meanwhile, three Turkish military columns, consisting of nearly 70 vehicles, entered Idlib Thursday.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' (OPCW) Executive Council voted 29-3, with nine countries abstaining, to pass a measure Thursday requiring Syria within 90 days to: (1) disclose where the chemical weapons used in three March 2017 attacks were developed, produced, stockpiled, and operationally stored for delivery; (2) declare all of the chemical weapons it currently possesses as well as chemical weapons production facilities; and (3) resolve all of the outstanding issues regarding its initial declaration of its chemical weapons stockpile and program. The Council also decided its Technical Secretariat will conduct inspections twice a year, until the Council decides to cease them, at two sites – the Shayrat and Hama airbases – identified in an OPCW Investigation and Identification Team report as directly involved in launching the aforementioned chemical weapon attacks. Russia, China, and Iran were the three countries that voted against the measure.
The Saudi-led coalition backing President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's internationally recognized government announced Thursday destroying two Houthi boats filled with explosives near Hodeidah's Salif port. Yemeni government official Baha Khalefa told Arab News, "Houthis will continue to pose a threat to Yemen and international navigation as along as they control Hodeidah" and advocated scrapping the 2018 Stockholm Agreement that ended the Saudi-led coalition's offensive to take the city.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi Thursday denied Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's allegation yesterday that US and partner forces interdicted on June 28 an Iranian arms shipment to the Houthis "including 200 RPGs, more than 1,700 AK rifles, 21 – 21 surface-to-air and land-attack missiles, several anti-tank missiles, and other advanced weapons and missiles." Musavi maintains Washington is "trying to provide excuses to continue their maximum pressure on Iran" and extend the 13-year-old UN arms embargo expiring in October 2020.
Two days after Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah said on al-Manar television that his group initiated discussions with Iran to supply refined oil products in exchange for Lebanese pounds, Lebanese Energy Minister Raymond Ghajar stated, "There is no plan to negotiate with Iran at present about importing fuel and the current discussion is with Iraq." Secretary Pompeo said Wednesday about Nasrallah's proposal, "It would be sanctioned product for sure, and we'll do everything we can to make sure that Iran cannot continue to sell crude oil anywhere, including to Hezbollah."
Government of National Accord (GNA) operations to seize Sirte and al-Jufra airbase appear imminent after reinforcing their positions around those targets and declaring Thursday Abu Grein, al-Wishka, and Buwairat Hasson to be military zones where movement is prohibited. Last June, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi threatened to intervene militarily to prevent the fall of Sirte and al-Jufra airbase.
A bill introduced in parliament Wednesday would guarantee "full confidentiality" for sexual assault victims to "protect their reputations" and thereby encourage filing criminal complaints. Egyptian police recently arrested Ahmed Bassam Zaki, who is accused of committing sexual crimes against around 100 women. Prosecutors assert many of his victims hesitated to report him because of fears of being blamed for the assaults.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum