In its yearly report, Human Rights Watch warns that the rise of populist leaders "poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections"—particularly naming Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. On releasing its "World Report 2017," the organization stated: "Donald Trump's election as US president after a campaign fomenting hatred and intolerance, and the rising influence of political parties in Europe that reject universal rights, have put the postwar human rights system at risk." It added that "strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality."
Blocked from entering Jordan, some 70,000 Syrians are camped out near a border crossing known as Rukban, one of two locations where refugees and asylum seekers are marooned in a "demilitarized zone" a few kilometers wide on the Syria-Jordan border—demarcated by ridges of bulldozed earth known as berms. Syrians began arriving at this remote, wind-battered stretch of desert in July 2014. With Jordan refusing the majority entry, the settlement has grown—and apparently been infiltrated by smugglers and rebel groups and extremist militants. Aid has been reduced to almost nothing, and the UN and donors have been trying to hash out a deal for weeks.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, the centripetal tendency in world affairs seems to hold sway—a further Great Power convergence against ISIS. When the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaches its position off Syria's coast, it joins a Russian guided missile cruiser already there—and cooperation between the two powers appears imminent. "Under the Russian president's decree, the General Staff is working out joint anti-terrorism operations with the French Navy," said Col-Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, deputy chief of staff, according to Moscow's state news agency Tass. "With the arrival of the Charles de Gaulle warship to the Syrian shore we will organize joint military operations." Citing Kartapolov, Tass also claimed, "Russian warplanes have destroyed about 500 fuel tank trucks that were illegally transporting oil from Syria to Iraq for refining." While not stated, this presumably means ISIS oil. (NPR)
Israeli forces entered the al-Aqsa Mosque compound's southern mosque on Sept. 15 during the third straight day of violent clashes at the third holiest site in Islam. Israeli forces were reported to have fired stun grenades, tear-gas canisters, and rubber-coated steel bullets at Palestinian worshipers inside the mosque. Officials from the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Endowment office in Jerusalem told Ma'an News Agency that Israeli forces entered the compound at 6:30 AM, deploying across the compound before advancing on the southern mosque. They began to close the mosque's doors with chains and steels, but during the ensuing clashes with Palestinian worshipers they entered the site, witnesses said.
An unusual two-day ceasefire is about to take effect in three Syrian towns, brokered by regional enemies Turkey and Iran—the former a patron of the Syrian rebels and the later a sponsor of the Damascus regime. The two groups that have agreed to the truce are the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction and Iran-backed Hezbollah. The truce was ostensibly organized to allow delivery of humanitarian supplies to rebel-held Zabadani (heavily damaged by regime barrel bombs), and government-held Fou'a and Kafraya. All three are in Idlib governorate, near the border of the Alawite heartland of Latakia, traditionally a bastion of support for the regime. (Syria Deeply, Haaretz, BBC News, Reuters)
The new ISIS propaganda video showing the immolation of a captive Jordanian pilot is very professionally done, its special creepy quality coming from the mix of slick production and utterly barbaric content. Before the big climax, we are shown several images of mangled children, purported to be victims of bombardment by the US-led coalition. Each image is engulfed by photo-shopped flames, symbolizing the explosions that left them dead or maimed. Then the eerily ritualistic finale, in which the pilot stands erect in an orange jump-suit, inside a metal cage in a bombed-out site, surrounded by an impassive phalanx of masked thugs with machine-guns. One thug approaches with a torch, and it becomes clear the captive has been drenched with gasoline. His body is quickly engulfed by real flame, and the camera lovingly details his agonizing death. The implication is that this is just retribution for the lives claimed by the air-strikes. Fox News is one of the few media outlets to display the full video (with the warning: "EXTREMELY GRAPHIC VIDEO"). Fox only wants to make the point that ISIS is a barbaric enemy (as if we didn't know), but there are other points to be made here too...
US ground forces fought their first direct battle against ISIS militants, Iraq's Shafaq news agency reported Dec. 16. The battle came when ISIS forces launched an attack on Ain al-Assad base, 90 kilometers from Ramadi, capital of Anbar governorate. Sheikh Mahmud Nimrawi, a local tribal leader, said that "US forces intervened because...ISIS started to come near the base." He added that he welcomed the US intervention, saying he hoped it will "not be the last." The US troops seem to have been backing up a mixed force of Iraqi government soliders and local tribal fighters. Nimrawi said that the "US promised to provide tribal fighters who are in that region...with weapons." (Shafaq News, Dec. 16)
Over 80 people were treated for respiratory problems on both sides of the Israel-Jordan border Dec. 4 following a massive oil spill that flooded the highway leading into Eilat. The vast majority of those affected were in Jordan. The leak, near the village of Be'er Ora, was caused by a leak from the Trans-Israel Pipeline, that runs between the Red Sea port of Eilat and the Mediterranean hub of Ashkelon. Be'er Ora sits in the sparsely populated Arava region, home to multiple nature reserves that protect indigenous flora and fauna, including rare acacia trees and over 280 deer. The Environmental Protection Ministry said that it has so far removed 6,000 tons of contaminated soil from the Avrona nature reserve, in an attempt to contain the impact of the disaster. The Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company now says the flow of oil has been halted, and that the breach was likely due to a "maintenance failure." The Environment Ministry has dispatched its "Green Police" to investigate the cause of the incident. Ministry official Guy Same said the spill could take years, to fully clean up. (Times of Israel, Times of Israel, Dec. 6; Times of Israel, ThinkProgress, Dec. 4)