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Conflict and Peace

Stories related to violent conflicts, diplomatic tensions, and conflict prevention, mediation and resolution.

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Iran seizes Israel-linked container ship in the Gulf of Hormuz

Iran seizes Israel-linked container ship in the Gulf of Hormuz

Amid heightened tension in the Middle East, and an expectation of some sort of Iranian attack on Israel, it was announced on Saturday (13 April) that Iranian Revolutionary Guards naval units had seized an Israeli linked container ship in the Straits of Hormuz. “A container ship named ‘MCS Aries’ was seized by the Sepah (Guards) Navy Special Forces by carrying out a heliborne operation,” IRNA, the Iranian state news agency reported, adding that the operation took place “near the Strait of Hormuz” and “this ship has now been directed toward the territorial waters” of Iran. Several media sources have aired a video that shows commandos raiding a ship near the Strait of Hormuz by helicopter. The video showed the attack earlier reported by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations. It described the vessel as being “seized by regional authorities” in the Gulf of Oman off the Emirati port city of Fujairah, without elaborating. The vessel involved is likely the Portuguese-flagged MSC Aries, a container ship associated with London-based Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. Zodiac declined to comment and referred questions to MSC, which did not immediately respond. The MSC Aries had been last located off Dubai heading toward the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. The ship had turned off its tracking data, which has been common for Israeli-affiliated ships moving through the region. Regional media reported that 20 Filipinos were on board the ship.
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US sees Iran moving military equipment including drones and cruise missiles

US sees Iran moving military equipment including drones and cruise missiles

The US has observed Iran moving military equipment, including drones and cruise missiles, around the country, signalling that it may be preparing to attack Israeli targets from within its own territory, two intelligence officials told CNN reporters. However, it is not clear whether Iran is preparing to strike from its soil as part of an initial attack, or whether it is posturing to try to deter Israel or the US from a possible counterstrike on its territory.  One of the intelligence officials said the US had observed Iran preparing as many as 100 cruise missiles.

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Sombre mood across the Islamic world as Muslims think of Gaza at the start of Ramadan

Sombre mood across the Islamic world as Muslims think of Gaza at the start of Ramadan

Muslims round the world today marked the first day of fasting at the start of the Islamic Holy month of Ramadan in a sombre mood, as communities reflected on the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza. In Gaza the population is on the verge of starvation, and in other Palestinian territories the shadow of war is not far away either, with tensions high in East Jerusalem. Thousands of Israeli police have been deployed around the narrow streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of worshippers are expected every day at the Al Aqsa mosque compound, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Israel's relentless campaign in Gaza has caused increasing alarm across the world as the growing risk of famine threatens to add to a death toll that has already passed 31,000. In the ruins of Gaza itself, where half the 2.3 million population is squeezed into the southern city of Rafah, many living under plastic tents and facing a severe shortage of food, the mood was correspondingly sombre. "We made no preparations to welcome Ramadan because we have been fasting for five months now," said Maha, a mother of five, who would normally have filled her home with decorations and stocked her refrigerator with supplies for the evening Iftar celebrations when people break their fast. "There is no food, we only have some canned food and rice, most of the food items are being sold for imaginary high prices," she said via chat app from Rafah, where she is sheltering with her family.
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Opinion
Opinion: Clarity, Consistent Rhetoric, and Multitrack Diplomacy Still Lacking in Armenia-Azerbaijan Normalisation Talks

Opinion: Clarity, Consistent Rhetoric, and Multitrack Diplomacy Still Lacking in Armenia-Azerbaijan Normalisation Talks

It was touch and go for a while. Even a day before this year’s prestigious Munich Security Conference it was unclear whether both Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev would attend. In the past, Armenian leaders have more often shunned the event and even despite December’s much-lauded bilateral COP-29 joint statement made bilaterally by Baku and Yerevan, the war of words between the sides unfortunately continues.
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Gulf relief agencies seek to fill UNWRAs funding gap as humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens

Gulf relief agencies seek to fill UNWRAs funding gap as humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens

The Humanitarian crisis in Gaza continues to worsen every day. Amid talk of an imminent ceasefire during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, famine and starvation and completely inhumane conditions now affect the entire population of the territory. The problem has been exacerbated by the decision of a number of western donors to stop or suspend funding to the main UN humanitarian agency in Gaza, UNWRA, based on claims that some of its staff were involved in the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. Relief agencies in the Gulf states and others are now moving to try to fill the funding gap. On its part, the European Union, one of the largest donors to Palestinian humanitarian relief, has reviewed its stance on the funding of UNWRA. In a statement on Friday, the European Commission said it " has decided to allocate an additional EUR 68 million to support the Palestinian population across the region to be implemented through international partners like the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. This comes in addition to the foreseen EUR 82 million of aid to be implemented through UNRWA in 2024, bringing the total to EUR 150 million. The Commission will proceed to paying EUR 50 million of the UNRWA envelope next week. Furthermore, the Commission has allocated EUR 125 million of humanitarian aid for Palestinians for 2024. The Commission is contracting the first EUR 16 million today. Meanwhile Gulf countries are stepping up  their support for UNWRA to fill remaining gaps." Dr Abdullah Al Rabeeah, supervisor general of Saudi Arabia's top aid agency KSrelief, said Riyadh and regional and international partners were working to fill the funding gaps for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNWRA), caused by major donor cuts. "We are counting on other partners in the region and beyond," Dr Al Rabeeah told the UAE newspaper, The National, at the Human Capability Initiative conference in Riyadh.
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Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers meet in Berlin as German diplomacy emerges out of the shadows to save the day for Europe

Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers meet in Berlin as German diplomacy emerges out of the shadows to save the day for Europe

German diplomacy has been in the South Caucasus from the day after the three countries declared their independence in 1991. Germany was the first country to set up embassies in the region, but generally German diplomacy has been low-key – preferring to let others, namely France, and later the EU, to do the heavy lifting when it came to issues like supporting the Armenia-Azerbaijan peace process. This has changed recently. After the untimely intervention of French president Emanuel Macron in the process that was led by EU Council president Charles Michel in 2022, and given Azerbaijan’s refusal to negotiate in this framework because of what it claims is French bias towards Armenia, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in 2022 reluctantly persuaded to engage with the process directly, and join the Macron-Michel tandem. Nothing at first seemed to have come out of that, and German diplomacy got overshadowed by some missteps in Paris and Brussels, not to mention some awkward phrases of its own foreign minister when she visited the region last year. But it seems that behind the scenes, German diplomacy persisted. Earlier in February Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, travelled to Munich to attend the annual security conference, and on the margins had a long-awaited meeting, bilaterally and later with Chancellor Scholz. At the meeting concrete decisions were taken on follow-up, and thanks to the usual German efficiency the foreign ministers of the two countries were in Berlin on Wednesday (28 February) for detailed talks about the peace treaty. Most of the discussions were in the bilateral format, but there was also a meeting of the Ministers with their German counterpart. The talks continue today. It is the latest episode in a long saga, but not an insignificant one. Germany is a political and economic heavyweight, and its direct involvement may just be what is needed to get the ongoing negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan across the line. At a time when other elements of European diplomacy appear not to be so effective the German intervention is also seen as saving the day for Europe, that needs to remain present and visible in the region.
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The prospect of  more Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Ramadan unsettles moderate Arab and Muslim states

The prospect of more Israeli atrocities in Gaza during Ramadan unsettles moderate Arab and Muslim states

With Ramadan fast approaching – likely to start on 10 March –  and with Israeli prime minister Benyamin Natanyahu  repeatedly threatening to launch a direct assault on Rafah, a last haven where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are now taking shelter in the most difficult situations imaginable, moderate Arab governments, especially those who have established relations with Israel, and others who were considering doing so, find themselves under huge pressure from their domestic public opinion. Having just vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease fire in Gaza, the United States, acutely aware of the fragility of the situation, is now desperately pushing for a cease fire during Ramadan. Already, nearly 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October, many of them women and children. A direct assault on Rafah is likely to result in many more fatalities. The prospect of a Palestinian bloodbath during Ramadan is considerably unsettling Arab governments, who whilst not often  directly influenced by the views of their populations, cannot ignore them either when feelings are running high. Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims, but it is also an occasion for social gatherings. Families and friends come together, and in the long nights when the fast is broken they share views on those things that matter to them. Gaza will no doubt this year be a leading topic, as people remember that whilst they break the fast with big meals and delicacies, in Gaza, the Palestinians are starving. Western countries, whose reputations in the Arab and Muslim worlds have been greatly damaged by their position on Gaza, are now frantically trying to avoid this by pushing for a ceasefire during Ramadan.
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Anger across the Muslim world and the Global South as US vetoes Gaza cease fire resolution for the 4th time

Anger across the Muslim world and the Global South as US vetoes Gaza cease fire resolution for the 4th time

Commentators and opinion shapers across the Muslim world and the global south on Wednesday (21 February) were unanimous in their condemnation of the American veto of an Algerian resolution in the UN Security Council which called for an immediate cease fire in Gaza. Many commentators in Western countries were similarly appalled after for the fourth time since the start of the war in Gaza, the US on Tuesday vetoed a draft UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in the embattled territory. It said such a resolution would interfere with ongoing, “sensitive” negotiations, led by Washington, that are attempting to broker an end to the hostilities. Thirteen of the 15 council members voted in favor of the resolution, which was drafted by Algeria. The UK abstained. In addition to the call for an immediate ceasefire, the Arab-backed draft resolution did also demand the immediate release of all hostages. It also rejected the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, called for the unrestricted flow of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, and reiterated council demands that both Israel and Hamas “scrupulously comply” with the rules of international law, especially in relation to the protection of civilians. It also condemned “all acts of terrorism,” without explicitly naming either side.