Greater Middle East
The partial "ceasefire" in Syria definitively ended April 28 when a strike by regime or Russian warplanes destroyed a hospital in Aleppo, killing scores, including several children and two doctors—one, the city's last pediatrician. (BBC News, The Guardian, Daily Mail) The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grave concern over a "monstrous disregard for civilian lives," and urged all sides in the Syrian conflict to refrain from targeting civilians. (Jurist) How much time did Democracy Now devote to this that day? A total of two lines of regurgitated wire copy that was not even featured on the front page of the program's website. (There was a follow-up blurb on Aleppo, of similar harsh brevity, on May 2.)
Fierce fighting between Kurdish-led YPG forces and Arab factions aligned with the Free Syrian Army is deepening a split within the Syrian resistance to both ISIS and Assad. The YPG suffered a very bad propaganda blow in clashes over the contested Azaz enclave this weekend, when its fighters paraded some 50 bodies of slain enemy forces on an open-top trailer-truck through the village of Ayn-Dakna. The bodies were taken to Afrin, seat of the local Kurdish autonomous canton, where this grisly triumphalist display waas repeated. The coverage on Turkey's official Anadolu Agency was gloating; for once they had facts to back up their disingenuous habit of refering to "YPG terrorists."
President Barack Obama is set to announce plans to send 250 more US troops to Syria, media accounts indicate—but they are vague on exactly which forces the troops will be backing. There are already some 50 Pentagon special operations troops embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but accounts say the new effort will be to bring more Arab militias into the fight against ISIS. The SDF itself was created to ally the Kurdish YPG militia with Arab factions, to give the US-backed anti-ISIS forces greater legitimacy with the Syrian opposition and Arab states. So will the new effort be to bring more Arab fighters under the SDF umbrella, or to have US forces backing Arab factions that resist allying with Kurds?
Thousands marched in Cairo on April 15 to protest President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's decision to turn two disputed islands over to Saudi Arabia. Crowds chanted slogans such as "Sisi – Mubarak," "We don't want you, leave," and "The people want the downfall of the regime"—the iconic slogan of the Arab Revolution. Security forces responded with tear-gas; at least 25 were detained and are being held on charges of violating Egypt's controversial anti-protest law. More protests are planned for this weekend, and on April 22 security forces carried out pre-emptive arrests of noted activists in an apparent effort to head them off. Cafes in downtown Cairo were raided and activists seized from their homes, prisoners' rights group Freedom for the Brave said in a statement on Facebook. Pre-emptive arrests were also reported in Alexandria and in Gharbeyyia governorate.
One of the greatest tragedies on the global stage now is that revolutions are going on in both Syria and Turkey—and they are being pitted against each other in the Great Game. First we look at Syria, where the partial "ceasefire" in place for over a month is finally breaking down. The critical event seems to have been the April 18 bombing of a marketplace in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Noaman by regime warplanes, killing dozens. The town is controlled by Nusra Front, which was not included in the "ceasefire," but the victims of the bombardment were overwhelmingly civilians. The town's residents had no love of Nusra, and civil resistance activists had repeatedly taken to the streets there over the past month to oppose the jihadist militia and the Bashar Assad regime alike. (NYT, April 19) In the aftermath of the market bombing, the Jaysh al-Nasr, on the of main FSA-aligned militias, announced the opening of a new "battle" against regime forces. (Reuters, April 18)
An exhaustive investigation, written up as "The Assad Files" by Ben Taub, appears in this week's issue of New Yorker magazine. It reports the findings of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), an independent investigative body founded in 2012 in response to the Syrian war. Over the past four years, its network—aided by a high-placed mole—has smuggled more than 600,000 documents out of Syria, many "from within Assad's highest level security committee, called the Central Crisis Management Cell." Established after the initial 2011 uprising against the Bashar Assad dictatorship, the cell met daily in Damascus and was chaired by Mohammad Said Bekheitan, a leader of the ruling Baath Party. CIJA lawyers say the documents clearly implicate Assad and his circle in war crimes including the systematic torture and execution of opponents. Stephen Rapp, a former chief UN prosecutor in the Rwanda genocide cases, told the New Yorker: "When the day of justice arrives, we'll have much better evidence than we’ve had anywhere since Nuremberg."
Among the luminaries at the Bernie Sanders rally in Brooklyn's Prospect Park this Sunday, April 17, is to be Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), who has emerged as one of the populist candidate's foremost partisans. Gabbard made headlines in February when she stepped down from the Democratic National Committee to endorse Sanders. Her resignation statement (video online at Facebook) railed against "interventionist wars of regime change," winning easy applause from the peaceniks. "As a veteran of two Middle East deployments, I know firsthand the cost of war.," she promisingly opened. But scratch the surface of her rhetoric just a little and it quickly becomes apparent that Gabbard's politics are downright sinister...
Turkey has been forcibly returning up to 100 refugees to Syria per day since mid-January, Amnesty International (AI) reported April 1. In addition to Turkish authorities rounding up refugees in migrant camps near the border, AI has also alleged that some migrants attempting to register in Turkey were, instead, removed back to Syria. The report criticized the recent migrant deal between Turkey and the EU, expressing concern over the possible future of the refugees to be sent back to Turkey after arriving in Greece. "If the agreement proceeds as planned, there is a very real risk that some of those the EU sends back to Turkey will suffer the same fate" AI said. If true, the allegations are illegal under not only international law, but the laws of the EU, and Turkey itself.