Syria
Syria prisoners

Demand urgent action to protect Syrian detainees

The Syrian regime has announced the first case of COVID-19 in the country after weeks of denial, and advocates in the diaspora believe the real number of cases is likely higher. The UK-based Syria Campaign writes that an outbreak in Syria could mean “horror beyond imagination.” Thousands of displaced families living in overcrowded camps cannot self-isolate. Health infrastructures in the country have collapsed due to the systematic targeting of hospitals by the regime and Russia. Especially vulnerable are the nearly 100,000 detainees and forcibly disappeared, many of whom are held in cramped underground centers where they are exposed to horrific conditions including torture and deprivation of proper food, water, hygiene, and medical care. These cells are already perfect breeding grounds for viruses and illnesses, and if coronavirus spreads containment will be impossible. (Photo of hunger strikers at Syrian prison via Foreign Policy. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Planet Watch
Aleppo ruins

UN calls for ‘global ceasefire’ in response to COVID-19

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives… Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)

Syria
Syrian refugee children

From revolution to genocide: Syria’s grim anniversary

Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II. (Photo of refugee children on Jordanian border: Peter Biro/ECHO via The New Humanitarian)

Syria
Syria oil map

Great powers jockey for control of Syrian oil

In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF is selling oil from the those fields to the Assad regime. This is certainly an absurd irony, as US forces are backing up the SDF in control of the fields. Further evidence that, rhetoric and even official policy notwithstanding, the US is actually tilting to Assad in the Syrian war. The sales would appear to be another bid by the Kurds to win a separate peace with the Assad regime now that they are caught between foreign powers. The bitter irony is that Assad, ultimately, is also hostile to Kurdish autonomy. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Europe
Lesbos

Grim milestone for the Mediterranean

Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000. (Photo: IOM)

Syria
White Helmets

UN: Russia commits ‘war crimes’ in Syria

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report charging that Russia is responsible for war crimes in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The report focuses on indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas from July 2019 through January 2020, and apparently intentional attacks by “pro-government forces” on civilian targets such as hospitals and medical facilities. The report comes as Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a new ceasefire in Idlib province, after a meeting in Moscow. The deal creates another “security corridor,” to be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish forces—but this time several kilometers north of the previous buffer zone the two powers had been recognizing before the recent regime offensive. Areas south of the zone are effectively ceded to the Assad regime, and the line of control is closer to Idlib’s capital, which remains in opposition hands. (Photo: White Helmets)

Syria
Idlib ruins

Syria: endgame or escalation?

Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. The humanitarian catastrophe is worsening in Idlib, with over half a million displaced and pouring into camps along the Turkish border. Regime forces this week recaptured Kafranbel, an important symbolic victory, as the town was among the first to rebel against Assad and was long a symbol of the revolution. Regime and Russian aerial bombardment continues to take a horrific toll, with schools and hospitals intentionally targeted.  (Photo: White Helmets)

North Africa
Sudan rebels

Internationalization of Libya war

A senior UN official charged at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that “the arms embargo has become a joke.” The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo “by land, sea and air,” Williams said. A UN report also accuses Haftar of bringing in Sudanese rebels from Darfur to fight for the LNA, while Turkey is accused of importing Syrian rebels to fight for the GNA. (Photo: Libya Observer)

Syria
Idlib displaced

Syria: ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Idlib

Over half a million people are on the move in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province as Bashar Assad’s Russian-backed forces follow up their long aerial campaign with a ground offensive. The front line is closing on the provincial capital, the Turkish border is sealed to people trying to flee, and health services are collapsing. Aid agencies have issued a statement saying that Idlib is already a winter “humanitarian catastrophe,” with camps for the displaced overflowing. As rebel defenses collapse, displaced civilians are destroying their own homes before they flee to deny looters property they expect never to see again. (Photo: UNHCR)

North America
travel ban

Court hears arguments on Trump’s travel ban

The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit began hearing oral arguments in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration’s travel bans. The plaintiffs argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their case is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban, while the administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation. (Photo: Syria Solidarity NYC)

Syria
Syria oil map

Kurds betrayed in new Russo-Turkish alignment?

Moscow hosted the first direct meeting in years between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria’s Assad regime, supposedly deadly rivals. The head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization Hakan Fidan met with Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, a sure sign of a Russian-brokered rapprochement between the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the entrenched dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Sources said the discussions included “the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organization PKK’s Syrian component.” This is a reference to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which is ideologically aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the banned Kurdish revolutionary organization in Turkish territory. The YPG made a separate peace with the Assad regime to resist the Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory last year. It should come as little surprise that Assad is now considering their betrayal in exchange for some kind of peace with Turkey.  (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Syria
Idlib

Idlib demonstrators revive Syrian revolution

Reviving Friday demonstrations that were a tradition of the Syrian revolution, activists in besieged Idlib province in the north filled the Idlib city center, flying the Free Syria flag, chanting slogans against the Assad regime and Russia, and demanding international action against the ongoing bombardment of the province. The demonstrators especially expressed sympathy and support for the displaced from Maarat al-Nuaman, a town which has come under especially intense bombardment. The Assad regime and Russia launched their bombing campaign in April, violating the “de-escalation” zone deal reached between Russia and Turkey. Since then, some 700,000 people have been forced to flee. (Photo: OrientNet)