Greater Middle East

Who is behind attack on White Helmets?

Seven volunteers of the White Helmets civil defense organization were killed on Aug. 12 by a gang that raided their headquarters in Sarmin, Idlib province, in northwest Syria. The victims were shot in the head. The attackers stole money, two mini-buses serving as ambulances, and equipment. The bodies were discovered soon after dawn by the next shift of volunteers arriving for duty. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but it came amid tension in the area. Idlib province is currently being rocked by clashes between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, the Nusra Front offshoot aligned with al-Qaeda) and the rival Ahrar al-Sham. Sarmin is controlled by HTS, which has denounced the attack.

Syria: regime rejects Rojava elections

The Kurdish-led autonomous administration in northern Syria has set dates for local council and regional assembly elections—a move immediately rejected by the Bashar Assad regime. Deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad told reporters from Damascus that the elections "will be a joke. Syria will never ever allow any part of its territory to be separated... We believe that in the north of Syria we have Syrian citizens who will not endanger the situation in the country or move ahead to any manifestation of dividing Syria. Those who will move in those directions know what price they have to pay."

US tilt to Assad: now it's official

Washington has now made it official that its enemy in Syria is just ISIS and al-Qaeda—and explicitly not the Bashar Assad dictatorship. US Army Col. Ryan Dillon told CNN last week that the Coalition has issued a directive to rebel forces operating out if its base in southern Syria (presumably al-Tanf) that they must be exclusively focused on fighting ISIS and not the Damascus regime. "The coalition supports only those forces committed to fighting ISIS," Dillon said. One rebel faction, Shohada al-Quartyan, has refused to accept this ultimatum, and left the base. An unnamed Coalition representative stated: "We are not in the business of fighting the regime. They [the rebels] can't have multiple objectives and we need to be singularly focused on fighting ISIS." (The New Arab, July 27)

Tunisian revolutionaries betray Syrian revolution?

The democratic transition in Tunisia since the 2011 overthrow of long-ruling president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been the one real success story of the Arab Revolution, and the Tunisian uprising was also the first that served to spark the subsequent wave. So the Tunisian pro-democracy forces have international responsibilities, seen as keepers of the flame. When the Syrian revolution started in March 2011 (by school-children who painted anti-regime slogans on a wall), it was directly inspired by the successes in Tunisia and Egypt. But while Egypt has slipped back into dictatorship, Tunisia continues to consolidate its new democracy. Holding special responsibilities are Tunisia's progressive-left forces—and in particular, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). A leading force in the 2011 uprising, the UGTT was also a pillar of the Tunisia Quartet, which in 2015 won the Nobel Peace Prize for its effort to broker dialogue between various factions and save the country from following Syria, Libya and Yemen into civil war, or following Egypt into a new dictatorship. So it is distressing to read that the UGTT (or its leadership, at least) appears to be following the misguided Western "left" into sympathy for the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.

Malnutrition and cholera in war-torn Yemen

In Yemen, the world's worst cholera outbreak is unfolding amid the world's largest humanitarian crisis, according to the heads of three United Nations agencies. "The country is on the brink of famine, with over 60% of the population not knowing where their next meal will come from," said the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), World Food Programme (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) in a joint statement. The agencies noted that nearly 2 million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished, and "malnutrition makes them more susceptible to cholera; diseases create more malnutrition [in] a vicious combination." A fact-finding mission to Yemen over the last three months documented 400,000 suspected cholera cases and nearly 1,900 associated deaths. The country's health workers are struggling to stem the outbreak, but have not been paid in months.

Egypt sentences anti-Mubarak protesters to life

An Egyptian court sentenced 43 individuals to life in prison July 25 for crimes of vandalism, rioting and attacking authorities. The acts for which the protesters were convicted took place in 2011, amid the outbreak of demonstrations against then-president Hosni Mubarak. The defendants were also fined a combined 17 million Egyptian pounds (approx. $1 million). Ten other protesters were handed down lesser sentences of five or 10 years, while 96 protesters were acquitted of their charges. The convicted parties may appeal their sentences.

Raqqa endgame heightens Kurdish contradictions

Among the formations now in the field against the ultra-reactionary ISIS is the first explicitly LGBT military unit in the Syrian war—the Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA). With a slogan of "These faggots kill fascists," the militia is part of the International Revolutionary People's Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF), which is in turn part of the International Freedom Battalion, made up of leftist volunteers from Europe, America and elsewhere who have been drawn by the anarchist-influenced politics of the Rojava Kurds, now leading the ground offensive against ISIS in northern Syria.

Syria: new popular uprising against al-Qaeda

Residents of Saraqeb town in Syria's Idlib province rose up and drove off fighters of the local al-Qaeda affiliate after jihadists fired on a protest demonstration. The incident began July 18, when Saraqeb residents held self-organized elections for the town council, and raised the Free Syria flag from the radio tower in celebration. Fighters from Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) responded by tearing down the flag, trampling it, and firing in the air in a display of defiance. This sparked general protests against the group's presence in Saraqeb. The following day local media activist Musaab al-Ezzo was killed as HTS militants fired on demonstrators. This only escalated the protests; after his funeral the next day, residents marched on HTS positions chating "Out, out, cowards out!" and "Saraqeb is free, Jolani out!"—a reference to HTS commander Abu Mohammed al-Jolani. HTS again opened fire, but in the face of nearly universal opposition among residents they finally withdrew from the town. 

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