The Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (L) intercepts rockets (R) fired by the Hamas movement towards southern Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip as seen in the sky above the Gaza Strip overnight on May 14, 2021. Photo: ANAS BABA/AFP
The Israeli Iron Dome missile defence system (L) intercepts rockets (R) fired by the Hamas movement towards southern Israel from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, as seen in the sky above the Gaza Strip overnight on May 14, 2021. Photo: ANAS BABA via Getty Images

What Happened in the Middle East in 2021, As Told Through 7 Powerful Photos

Conflict, economic hardship, drought and heatwaves produced some remarkable images of sorrow and joy.

Palestine-Israel: Another chapter of conflict

In May, the planned evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah were the catalyst for a new 11-day-war between Israel and Palestinian militant groups that killed 256 people in the Gaza Strip and 13 in Israel.

One significant development in this round of fighting was the improved ability of rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to evade Israel’s Iron Dome defence system. In the above photo, the Iron Dome mobilises to intercept a barrage of missiles fired from Beit Lahia towards southern Israel.

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Lebanon: Economic meltdown and power cuts 

A woman knits by the light of a torch in the Lebanese capital Beirut during the country’s rolling electricity blackouts. The Lebanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value in the past two years, causing supply shortages such as medicine, and fuel for powering generators.  Almost all of the country is now enveloped in darkness at night. 

A resident knits by torchlight in an apartment during a power cut at night in Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Photo: Francesca Volpi via Getty Images

A resident knits by torchlight in an apartment during a power cut at night in Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021. Photo: Francesca Volpi via Getty Images

Iraq: Suffocating heatwaves and drought

The Iraqi government continued to struggle with security issues caused by both ISIS and Iranian-backed militias, an ongoing crisis that peaked this year with a drone assassination attempt against the country’s prime minister.

But despite the turbulent security situation and internecine politicking after general elections over the formation of a new government, most Iraqis would tell you that this summer’s unprecedented heatwaves were their biggest problem. Temperatures reached up to 50 degrees Celsius in August in most parts of the country. In this photo, young boys cool off with a swim in the Shatt Al-Arab river in the port city of Basra, on the Persian Gulf. 

Iraqi youth swim in the Shatt Al-Arab river by the port of Maqil amid a heatwave in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on June 29, 2021. Photo: HUSSEIN FALEH via Getty Images Iraqi youth swim in the Shatt Al-Arab river by the port of Maqil amid a heatwave in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on June 29, 2021. Photo: HUSSEIN FALEH via Getty Images

Iraqi youth swim in the Shatt Al-Arab river by the port of Maqil amid a heatwave in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on June 29, 2021. Photo: HUSSEIN FALEH via Getty Images Iraqi youth swim in the Shatt Al-Arab river by the port of Maqil amid a heatwave in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on June 29, 2021. Photo: HUSSEIN FALEH via Getty Images

Iran: A water crisis

A woman kneels on the ground to drink from a puddle in the Iranian city of Khuzestan during summer protests sparked by anger at the government’s water management policies. Water levels sank to a new low this year and sparked multiple demonstrations. Iran’s economic hardships, exacerbated by US sanctions over its nuclear ambitions and fallout from the pandemic, have not eased under hardliner president Ebrahim Raisi

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An Iranian women drinks non-potable water off the street in Khorramshahr, Iran. Water protests in Khuzestan are turning violent as security forces crackdown on people demanding drinkable water. Photo: Middle East Images

An Iranian women drinks non-potable water off the street in Khorramshahr, Iran. Water protests in Khuzestan are turning violent as security forces crackdown on people demanding drinkable water. Photo: Middle East Images

Syria: Relative calm

This year marked a decade since the start of Syria’s civil war. By the violent standards of the conflict, the fighting has mostly stopped, the regime of Bashar al-Assad effectively victorious. Around 500,000 people have died in the war, while more than half of the country’s population have fled or been displaced internally. Fighting is now mostly confined to northwestern Idlib province and the surrounding countryside, and clashes can still be intense. In this photo, locals in the Idlib town of Ariha enjoy a lull in the fighting and respite from the summer sun at a roadside shop and café.

Cars driving in front of Abu Ali's cafe, set up on the ground floor of a building heavily damaged during the civil war, in the Jabal al-Arbain hilltop residential area, in the Syrian town of Ariha in the rebel-held northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on July 11, 2021. Photo: AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images

Cars driving in front of Abu Ali's cafe, set up on the ground floor of a building heavily damaged during the civil war, in the Jabal al-Arbain hilltop residential area, in the Syrian town of Ariha in the rebel-held northwestern Syrian Idlib province, on July 11, 2021. Photo: AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images

Afghanistan: The Taliban’s crackdown on women-led protests

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August this year shocked the world, particularly the chaotic scenes at Kabul’s airport as civilians and foreign troops were evacuated.

The Islamist group’s return to the capital and President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country ended two decades of Western-backed governments in the country.

The increasingly image-conscious Taliban initially aimed to portray themselves as a less brutal version of the past. But the group soon cracked down on media coverage of women-led protests demanding the right to education and work. In this photo, a Taliban fighter lunges at the photographer to stop him from working.

A Taliban member (L) attacks a foreign photographer covering a women's rights protest in Kabul on October 21, 2021. - The Taliban violently cracked down on media coverage of a women's rights protest in Kabul on October 21 morning, beating several journalists. Photo: BULENT KILIC via Getty Images

A Taliban member (L) attacks a foreign photographer covering a women's rights protest in Kabul on October 21, 2021. - The Taliban violently cracked down on media coverage of a women's rights protest in Kabul on October 21 morning, beating several journalists. Photo: BULENT KILIC via Getty Images

Yemen: Football brings a rare moment of happiness

Yemen's under-15 football team were victorious over their hosts, Saudi Arabia, in the West Asian Junior Championship in December. The late win – on penalties – sparked rare moments of joy across the war-torn country, with people pouring into streets to celebrate. This photo is from a stadium in the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.

The seven-year-old conflict between a Saudi-led coalition fighting to restore Yemen’s government and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has mired Yemen in one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in modern history

Yemeni fans gather at a stadium to watch on a screen the West Asian Junior Championships Cup football match between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, in the Huthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 13, 2021. Photo: MOHAMMED HUWAIS via Getty Images

Yemeni fans gather at a stadium to watch on a screen the West Asian Junior Championships Cup football match between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, in the Huthi-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 13, 2021. Photo: MOHAMMED HUWAIS via Getty Images