Here’s a round-up of Al Jazeera’s Middle East coverage this week.

A look back at some of the year’s biggest stories, Netanyahu returns as Israeli PM, and Erdogan’s theory on why Ronaldo didn’t play well at the World Cup. Here’s your round-up, written by Abubakr Al-Shamahi, Al Jazeera Digital’s Middle East and North Africa editor.

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu is back as prime minister, while in the occupied West Bank Israeli forces have made 2022 the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2006 — a grim milestone that included the shooting death of Al Jazeera’s widely respected correspondent, Shireen Abu Akleh. In Iran, protesters have staged more than three months of demonstrations, refusing to back down after a 22-year-old woman died while in police custody — a sign of just how deep the public dissatisfaction with the current ruling system runs. In Lebanon, the economy tanked, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to climb out of the hole it’s in anytime soon. In Iraq, there’s calm after a tumultuous year packed with protests and violence, but it’s been replaced by a sense of dread that this thing isn’t over yet. And in Sudan, there are still dissenters after the military reached deals with its political and tribal opponents.

We’ll have more pieces looking at the year that’s gone, and the year that’s to come, in the coming week, so keep your eyes peeled.

Netanyahu Returns as Israeli PM

In Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has formed his new far-right government, which is expected to take office after a swearing-in ceremony later on Thursday. It’s a return for Israel’s already longest-serving prime minister, who also happens to be on trial for corruption. As Netanyahu spoke to the Israeli Parliament his opponents chanted he was “weak”. Why? They accuse him of being beholden to his new ultranationalist coalition partners, whose power in the government is worrying Palestinians and left-wing Israelis alike. Top of the government’s priorities: increasing the building of settlements – considered illegal under international law – in the occupied West Bank.

Footballers and Politics

Cristiano Ronaldo disappointed many with his limited on-field performances for Portugal at the World Cup, and with his off-field interview that got him kicked out of his club, Manchester United. But not everyone thinks he’s to blame, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He says a “political ban” is responsible for Ronaldo being marginalised at the tournament in Qatar, and linked it to the footballer’s apparent support of the Palestinians. The only issue is Ronaldo appears to have never made any public statements in support of the Palestinians, despite several false reports and doctored images.

But one footballing legend who has spoken out on political and human rights issues is a former striker for Iran, Ali Daei. The one-time holder of the world record for most international goals (until it was broken, coincidentally enough, by Ronaldo) has been outspoken in his support for the protest movement in Iran. Now, the Iranian authorities appear to be pushing back. On Monday, Daei said his wife and daughter had been on their way to Dubai from Tehran when their flight was diverted to Iran’s Kish Island in the Gulf, where the two were ordered to disembark.

Hezbollah ‘Supporter’ Detained After UN Peacekeeper Death

The circumstances surrounding the December 14 killing of Private Seán Rooney, an Irish peacekeeper serving with the United Nations in Lebanon, are decidedly murky. On Monday, the Lebanese army detained a suspect. A Hezbollah spokesperson described the detainee as a supporter of the Iran-backed Shia group, but said he wasn’t an actual member. Hezbollah is the dominant force in southern Lebanon, where Rooney was killed when his convoy came under fire — the first fatal attack on UN peacekeepers in Lebanon since 2015.

And Now for Something Different

The number of tourists who have travelled to Bethlehem for Christmas has been creeping back up to pre-pandemic levels. The occupied Palestinian town relies heavily on tourism, particularly Christian visitors from around the world who make the trek during the holiday season. Despite the growth, there has been very little peace on this part of Earth for many Palestinian Christians, in a year marked by so much death across the occupied West Bank.

[READ: ‘An empty seat at the table’: Christmas without Shireen Abu Akleh]

The Abu Akleh family gathered for Christmas in 2019
The Abu Akleh family gathered for Christmas in 2019 [Courtesy of the Abu Akleh family]

In Brief

Israel announces arrest of suspected bomber in November Jerusalem attacks – Turkey summons French ambassador over “anti-Turkish propaganda” at Paris protests – Suicide attack in Syria’s Raqqa kills several fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic ForcesIranian rapper wins appeal against protest-linked death sentence – Italian PM Giorgia Meloni visits Iraq to discuss closer economic ties – Israeli police kill Palestinian in Israel after accusing him of attack – Powerful Tunisian trade union calls for postponement of second round of electionsChile plans to open embassy in occupied Palestinian territories.

Quote of the Week

“It is like a little child holding a dying bird in his hand, and all he does is laugh. This is how we are treating Mother Earth.” — Hassan Bouazza, a farmer in Morocco’s Alnif region. People in the area surrounding the oasis say they have never seen a drought as bad as the one they are currently experiencing.



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