Greater Middle East
We aren't sure whether to be more alarmed or amused. Kyle Orton, an analyst with the ultra-hawkish Henry Jackson Society, has a piece entitled "The West's Inconsistent Approach to Foreign Fighters in Syria," warning that the Kurdish forces the US is backing are in an alliance with anarchists and elements of the Turkish and European armed left. It is bascally regurgitating Turkey's cynical propaganda game of conflating the secular-democratic Kurdish forces and ISIS as equally "terrorist." It portrays the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) as merely an extension of the PKK guerilla movement in Turkey, and waxes paranoid about the leftist volunteers that have come to the Rojava region join them, now apparently organized in an umbrella called the International Revolutionary People's Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF, with its own Twitter account, Facebook page, YouTube video, and manifesto on the anarchist website CrimethInc).
ISIS has claimed responsibility for an April 18 attack on a security checkpoint near the gates of St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, in which one officer was slain and four injured. Founded in the 6th century and located at the foot of Mount Sinai, St. Catherine's is believed to be the world's oldest continuously used Christian monastery, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox church. The attack came just 10 days before Pope Francis was scheduled to visit Egypt, and nine days after two deadly suicide bombings on Coptic churches, also claimed by ISIS. (Al Jazeera, BBC News, April 19)
US-led air-strikes killed 20 civilians at the ISIS-held town of Albu Kamal, in Syria's eastern Deir Ezzor governorate, local media activists reported April 17. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 13 civilians, including five children, were killed in the strike, as well as three ISIS militants. Earlier that day, a US-led strike killed seven civilians, including a child, in the nearby village of Husseinyeh, the monitor said. (Middle East Online) US-led air-strikes in northern Syria and Iraq over the past weeks have killed perhaps upwards of 600 civilians.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's referendum on granting himself sweeping powers took place in an atmosphere of terror, with opposition leaders silenced and detained. So the reuslts in favor are hardly a surpirise. International observers are yet to give the election a clean bill of health, but whether there was any actual monkey-business with the vote is almost beside the point. Some 51.3% of the more than 58 million Turkish voters apparently said "yes" to the constitutional amendment package put forth by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The amendment package was backed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and opposed by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) and leftist Kurdish-led Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third largest party in parliament. The opposition has not conceded, claiming voting irregularities.
"More Than 7,000 People Evacuated From 4 Besieged Syrian Towns." That's the somewhat misleading headline in the New York Times of April 14. Reads the lede: "After nearly two years of punishing siege and bombardment by their enemies, more than 7,000 people were bused out of four towns in Syria on Friday in the most recent population transfer during six years of war." Note the euphemistic language. This isn't "evacuation," which implies it is voluntary and in response to some objective disaster. This is "sectarian cleansing," part of an intentional Assad regime strategy to purge its growing areas of control of Sunnis, all of whom are apparently deemed official enemies. "Population transfer," as it is dubbed in the lede, is another euphemistic term, one all too familiar to those who have followed the growing consensus for territorial purging of perceived ethno-sectarian enemies in Israel.
Hearings began in Spain on April 10 regarding potential war crimes committed by President Bashar Assad's regime in Syria. The case is a result of a Spanish national's brother being abducted and tortured in Damascus before being executed in 2013. The family claims that the brother was not part of an opposition group and just a truck driver making a delivery. The family was able to identify the body after a forensic photographer smuggled the photos out of Syria. The photographer may testify in the case next month. The investigation involved nine of Assad's closest aides but not Assad himself due to his immunity. Spain is the first to hold a criminal investigation of potential war crimes into Syria, as Russia has blocked referral of the Assad regime to the International Criminal Court.
Egyptian authorities have declared a three-month state of emergency after twin ISIS bombings killed 43 at two Coptic churches in the Nile Delta cities of in Tanta and Alexandria on Palm Sunday. Dozens more were injured in the attacks, which came as the churches were filled with worshippers. The first suicide blast, at Mar Girgis (St George) Church in Tanta, killed 27. Hours later, a second blast struck outside Saint Mark's church in Alexandria, where Coptic Pope Tawadros II was leading a service, killing a further 16. ISIS warned of more attacks in its statement. "The Crusaders and their apostate followers must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large, and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God is willing," the group said in Arabic.
An apparent chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Shaykhun, Idlib governorate, left at least 80 dead April 4. After a bombing of the town, medics reported a "bloodless massacre," saying that they were treating people with symptoms including fainting, vomiting and foaming at the mouth. The hospital where gas-attack victims were being treated was itself bombed in the immediate aftermath, "bringing down rubble on top of medics as they worked," according to AFP. The opposition-run Health Department in Idlib has provided a list of the names of some 70 dead, with more still being identified. Some of the victims were brought across the border to Turkey for treatment, where several died. Turkish authorities say autopsies revealed evidence of exposure to sarin. The UN Security Council immediately called emergency talks on the attack. On April 4, US warships in the Mediterranean launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat air-base outside Homs, from where the Khan Shaykhun attack is said to have been launched. This constituted the first US attack on an Assad regime target throughout the course of the war (not counting last year's accident, immediately apologized for). (CNN, CNN, Jurist, BBC News, NYT, NPR)