Greater Middle East

China prepares to deploy elite forces to Syria

China is preparing to deploy elite troops to Syria in support of dictator Bashar al-Assad's forces, fearing the presence of Islamist militants in its far western territory of Xinjiang, according to media reports in the region. The Chinese Ministry of Defense intends to send two units known as the "Night Tigers" and the "Tigers of Siberia" from the People's Liberation Army Special Operations Forces to aid Assad regime troops against militant factions, according to an Arabic-language report in the UAE's New Khaleej. Some 5,000 ethnic Uighurs from Xinjiang are fighting in various militant formations in Syria, the Syrian ambassador to China Imad Moustapha told Reuters earlier this year. Last week, during a meeting with Syrian presidential advisor Bouthaina Shaaban, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi praised the regime's efforts at tackling militants from the supposed East Turkestan Islamic Movement. (The New Arab, Nov. 29; Middle East Monitor, Nov. 28)

Yemen: rights group accuses UAE of war crimes

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR-UK) on Nov. 28 called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate allegations of war crimes in Yemen by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), especially concerning the recruiting of foreign nationals to serve in an army of mercenaries. AOHR-UK sent letters to the governments of Australia, Chile, El Salvador, Colombia and Panama, all countries where the recruitment has taken place, asking that they "withdraw their citizens from these dangerous formations and take measures against the UAE in accordance with the International Convention Against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries of 1989." (See text of Convention.)

US to demand arms back from Rojava Kurds

The Donald Trump administration plans to ask Kurdish fighters in Syria to return weapons "loaned" for the fight against ISIS, an unnamed official told Al-Monitor. This was revealed the same day the White House made its first official comment on claims by the Turkish foreign minister that US support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) would be coming to an end. "Once we started winning the campaign against ISIS, the plan and part of the process is to always wind down support for certain groups," White House mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing on Dec. 1. "Now that we're continuing to crush the physical caliphate...we're in a position to stop providing military equipment to certain groups. But that doesn't mean stopping all support of those individual groups."

Egypt: Sufis targeted in Sinai mosque massacre

At least 235 have been killed and over 100 wounded in a suicide attack as people gathered for Friday prayers at a mosque in Egypt's North Sinai Nov. 24. Women and children are among the dead. President Sisi vowed a "brutal" response to what is the deadliest militant attack in the country's history. Militants reportedly opened fire on worshippers after the bomb blast, which took place at al-Rawdah mosque in the town of Bir al-Abd, 40 kilometers from the North Sinai provincial capital of al-Arish. Before the attack, the mosque was surrounded by all-terrain vehicles, cutting off escape from the massacre. The mosque is said to be run by a local Sufi order, and includes a zawiya—a lodge used by order members for prayer and chanting. Although no group has yet claimed responsibility for the massacre, followers of Sufi Islam have faced numerous attacks by ISIS cells operating in the Sinai Peninsula.

Turkish officials ban LGTBI group events

Turkish officials on Nov. 20 banned all events by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) non-governmental groups in Ankara, the country's capital, asserting that the measure will ensure public security. Officials cited Article 11 of the State of Emergency Law, which allows for certain measures to be taken to ensure public safety, stating that these events may garner hostility, jeopardizing crime prevention, general health and morals, or the protection of rights and freedoms of others. Events such as cinema, theater, panels, interviews, exhibitions are banned until further notice, in deference to "social sensitivities."

Syria: 'de-escalation' zones become kill zones

When the Astana "peace" deal for Syria was announced earlier this year, we predicted that the proposed so-called "de-escalation" zones would actually become kill zones. A condition of every "ceasefire" agreement sponsored either by Russia (like the Astana pact) or the US is that the rebels declare war on the Qaeda-linked factions to have emerged from the (now ostensibly disbanded) Nusra Front. But already beseiged by the Assad regime and Russia, the rebels are in no plight to do so—they've been put in an untenable situation. It was clear the Astana plan was not about peace but about propaganda—providing a cover for continuance of the war. So we were grimly vindicated to see the Nov. 18 New York Times headline, "Marked for 'De-escalation,' Syrian Towns Endure Surge of Attacks."

Russia vetoes Syria chemwar investigation —again

The Russian Federation on Nov. 17 vetoed a measure before the UN Security Council (UNSC) that would have extended the mandate of a UN panel investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria for 30 days. The UNSC had established the Joint Investigative Mechanism with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2015 with a two-year mandate following the use of chemical weapons in Syria in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

SDF declare Raqqa 'fully liberated' from ISIS

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on Oct. 17 announced that they have "fully cleared" Raqqa of jihadist fighters and "liberated" the city from ISIS. The last group of hold-outs reportedly surrendered. The operation, launched in June, was named for Adnan Abu Amjad, an Arab commander with the SDF who was killed in August in the battle for Raqqa. The SDF coordinated their offensive closely with the US-backed coalition. More than 3,000 bombs have landed on Raqqa since January, devastating schools, hospitals and residential buildings. Less than one percent of Raqqa's 300,000 pre-war population is thought to remain in the city. The city has no electricity or water, and its last functioning bakery was destroyed recently. The Syrian Network for Human Rights counts more than 900 civilians killed over the course of the operation, including at least 570 in coalition air-strikes.

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