Amnesty International (AI) claimed Feb. 23 that the Egyptian military failed to take adequate precautionary measures to avoid civilian casualties in an attack on the Libyan city of Derna last week. The airstrikes occurred in the early morning hours of Feb. 16, and AI argues that indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations, such as this attack by the Egyptian military, amount to war crimes. The AI article cites eyewitness testimonies from local residents who claim there are no military targets near the largely residential area of Sheiha al-Gharbiya, where two missiles were fired resulting in the deaths of seven civilians. Additionally, Sheiha al-Gharbiya is located near the city's university. The international community is largely restricted to eyewitness accounts of missile attacks within urban areas of Libya due to the hostile conditions for journalists in the country. The Egyptian airstrikes were executed in retaliation for the slaughter of 21 Egyptian Christians [by presumed ISIS militants]. AI urges the Egyptian military and all warring parties in Libya to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians and to ensure that their forces do not carry out direct attacks on civilians or attacks which are indiscriminate or disproportionate.
ISIS forces put the Mosul library to the torch Feb. 22—over vociferous pleas and protests from the city's notables. "ISIS militants bombed the Mosul Public Library," said Ghanim al-Ta'an, director of the library. "They used improvised explosive devices." Among the many thousands of books it housed, more than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts were burned. The library was established in 1921, the same year that saw the birth of the modern Iraq. Among its lost collections were manuscripts from the 18th century, Syriac (Aramaic) language books printed in Iraq's first printing house in the 19th century, Iraqi newspapers from the early 20th century, and some rare antiques such as an astrolabe used by early Arab mariners. The library had hosted the personal libraries of more than 100 notable Mosul families over the past century. Bloggers and activists in Mosul got out the word of the building's destruction over the Internet. (Fiscal Times via Yahoo News, Feb. 23)
Hundreds of Palestinians were evacuated from their homes Feb. 22 amid flooding in the Gaza Valley, or Wadi Gaza, with water rising up to three meters. Evacuated families were sent to shelters set up by UNRWA. The flooding comes in the wake of a severe winter storm, which displaced dozens and caused hardship for many more—including the some 110,000 left homeless by Israel's assault over summer. But the Hamas administration in Gaza charged that Israeli authorities unleashed the flooding by releasing storm water backed up behind dams into the coastal enclave. The Wadi Gaza is a wetland located in the central Gaza Strip between al-Nuseirat refugee camp and al-Moghraqa. It is called HaBesor in Hebrew, and it if fed by two streams—one that flows from near Beersheba, the other from near Hebron.
Iran reportedly executed Saman Naseem, a juvenile offender who was 17 years old when sentenced to death, despite international pressure to halt the execution. According to Iran Human Rights (IHR), it is unclear if the execution occurred on Feb. 19 or 20, but Naseem's family was asked to collect his body. Now 22, Naseem was charged in July 2011 with "enmity against God" and "corruption on earth." The juvenile was arrested because of membership in Party For Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) after a battle with the Revolutionary Guards. One member of the Revolutionary Guard was killed and three others injured. Naseem reported he did not have access to a lawyer during the investigations and was tortured prior to confessing. Both UN human rights experts and Amnesty International urged Iran to halt the execution. Iran is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and pursuant to Article 37(a) capital punishment is prohibited for persons below 18 years of age. However, the Islamic Penal Code permits the death penalty for juveniles under certain circumstances.
An Egyptian court on Feb. 23 sentenced activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah to five years in prison in a retrial on charges stemming from the 2011 uprising. Abdel-Fattah, a secular activist, was initially charged in November 2013 and later sentenced to 15 years under the country's law criminalizing unauthorized protest. While Abdel-Fattah's sentence was reduced on retrial, many supports have criticized the court's decision, claiming he should have been set free. Judge Hassan Farid also ordered that Abdel-Fattah and his co-defendants be subjected to police surveillance for a period of time after released from their prison sentences.
Hundreds of Turkish troops in armored vehicles crossed into northern Syria Feb. 22—apparently to evacuate forces guarding an historic tomb, demolishing it, and moving the remains to a different site. The remains of Suleyman Shah were moved to a location in Syria closer to the border, and a Turkish flag raised at the new burial site near Esmesi (Aleppo governorate). Turkey considers the site sovereign territory, so it is unclear if it has now abandoned claims to the previous site and transfered them to the new one. The Damascus regime (which has long since lost control over the north) condemned the incursion as "flagrant aggression," saying Turkey had informed its Istanbul consulate of the operation but not waited for Syria's consent. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his armed forces had carried out a "successful operation which is beyond all kinds of appreciation." Ominously, the column of Turkish armor swept through the border city of Kobani on its way to the site—an unsubtle message to the autonomist Kurdish fighters there. (BBC News)
Daniel Neep of Georgetown University in Discover Society last month provided a refreshingly skeptical overview of the various plans for redrawing the boundaries of the Middle East, in a piece entitled "The Middle East, Hallucination, and the Cartographic Imagination." We call it the balkanization agenda of the most hubristic neo-conservatives, although Neep doesn't use those terms ("DC policymakers," he says). He discusses how these ideas have been broached by imperial officialdom, e.g. in Lt. Col. Ralph Peters' writings in the Armed Forces Journal, and Wilson Center wonk Robin Wright in the New York Times. Neep's piece is most interesting for its comparative maps of all the schemes that have been floated. They all pretty much amount to the same thing: Iraq and Syria divided into Sunni and Shi'ite zones, an independent Kurdistan, Hijaz breaking off from Saudi Arabia, and so on. The irony is that all these theorists blabber on about how the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement created "articial states," while the drawing of new maps by Beltway wonks merely replicates the hubris of Sykes-Picot!
Last month's US-India nuclear deal obviously signaled a rise in Sino-Indian tensions, seen by Beijing (accurately) as part of an encirclement strategy. The deal called for inclusion of India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which drew immediate criticism from China. The NSG is comprised of 46 nuclear supplier states, including China, Russia and the US, that have agreed to coordinate export controls on civilian nuclear material to non-nuclear-weapon states. The group has up to now been made up of signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—which, as China was quck to note, does not include India (or Pakistan, or the "secret" nuclear nation Israel). More to the point, India is not a "non-nuclear-weapon state." (The Diplomat, Feb. 14; Arms Control Association)