Greater Middle East

Children's suffering in Syria at its worst: UNICEF

Grave violations against children in Syria were the highest on record in 2016, said UNICEF in a grim assessment of the conflict's impact on children, as the war reaches six years. Verified instances of killing, maiming and recruitment of children increased sharply last year in a drastic escalation of violence across the country. At least 652 children were killed—a 20% increase from 2015—making 2016 the worst year for Syria’s children since the formal verification of child casualties began in 2014. A total of 255 children were killed in or near a school. More than 850 children were recruited to fight in the conflict, more than double the number recruited in 2015. Children are being used to fight directly on the frontlines and are increasingly taking part in combat roles, including as executioners, suicide bombers or prison guards. There were at least 338 attacks against hospitals and medical personnel.

Kurdish forces hand over villages to Assad regime?

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are accused of handing over territory in northern Syria to the Assad regime, in a deal brokered by Russia. The handover of five villages west of Manbij, Aleppo governorate, is the first transfer in what is said to be a developing alliance, made amid a Turkish-rebel offensive in Syria's north. "The handover has taken place," Sharfan Darwish, spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, the SDF's local command, said in a statement reported by Reuters. The development follows the taking of the strategic town of al-Bab by Turkish-led forces. Pro-Assad forces meanwhile advanced south and east of al-Bab, linking with Kurdish-controlled territory for the first time.

UN to investigate Turkey over detained judge

The Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) referred Turkey to the UN Security Council on March 6 for failing to release a detained judge. Turkey has held Judge Aydin Sefa Akay since September on suspicion of being involved in last July's failed coup. In a public ruling, the court's president condemned Turkey's actions. "Turkey's non-compliance materially impedes the Appeal's Chamber's considertion of the merits of this case and threatens the independence of the Mechanism's judiciary." Akay was one of 40,000 people accused of being part of the failed coup against the current government. Earlier in March around 330 individuals were put on trial for alleged involvement in the attempted coup.

Jordan: rights groups condemn mass execution

In response to the mass execution of 15 prisoners in Jordan on March 4, several human rights groups, including Amnesty International, condemned the hangings as secretive and conducted "without transparency." This mass execution was largest ever in one day in Jordan's history. Samah Hadid of Amnesty's regional office in Beirut called the executions "a big step backwards on human rights protection in Jordan." Among the executed, 10 had been convicted for some form of terrorist activity, but Hadid expressed concern that some may have made their confessions under torture or duress. Over the past several years, more than 100 have been sentenced to death in Jordan, in hopes of deterring terrorist activities.

Yemen: US warplanes strike Qaeda targets

US warplanes and drones struck supposed al-Qaeda targets in Yemen for a second straight day March 3, killing at least 12 suspected militants, according to local officials. The Pentagon said it had carried out more than 20 strikes overnight targeting al-Qaeda positions in the southern provinces of Shabwa and Abyan, and the central province of Baida. In the latest strikes, US fighter jets hit three houses in the Yashbam Valley before dawn, one of them reportedly the home of al-Qaeda's Shabwa province commander, Saad Atef, local sources said. Tribal sources said that several civilians were wounded, including women and children. One resident said it had been a "terrifying night." (Middle East Online, Al Jazeera, BBC News)

Egypt: Mubarak acquitted of 2011 killings

The Egypt Court of Cassation on March 2 acquitted former president Hosni Mubarak in a retrial of charges that he ordered the killing of protesters during the civil uprising of 2011 that ended his 30-year reign. Mubarak was initially convicted on these charges and sentenced to life in prison in 2012. But he strenuously maintained his innocence over the years, and an appeals court later ordered a retrial that ultimately brought the case to the Cassation Court. The retrial was postponed in November as it was moved from the high court building in Cairo to a different location. The Court rejected demands from lawyers for the victims and their families to initiate or reopen civil suits, which means that any remaining option for appeal or retrial is now closed.

US bombs post-Nusra militants fighting Assad

A militant said to be al-Qaeda's second-in-command was killed by a US drone strike in Syria's Idlib governorate, rebel leaders said Feb. 27. Egypt-born Abu al-Khayr al-Masri (formerly Abdullah Muhammad Rajab Abdel Rahman), the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was reportedly a close aide to al-Qaeda's current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The drone attack on his vehicle was reported by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Levant Liberation Body, HTS), a newly formed alliance led by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former Nusra Front. (MEE, BBC News, Feb. 27) Two days earlier, HTS claimed responsibility for a suicide blast in Homs that killed a Syrian senior military intelligence official who was reportedly close to dictator Bashar Assad. The official, Gen. Hassan Daabul, was slain along with several others when a suicide bomber penetrated a security complex in the city. An HTS statement said its "inghimasi fighters" were responsible for the raid, and claimed that some 40 personnel were killed. (LWJ, Feb. 25)

Turkey: investigate arrests of opposition leaders

The People's Democratic Party (HDP) of Turkey filed an application Feb. 20 asking the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to address what it called the unlawful imprisonment of the party's co-chairs. Thirteen HDP politicians have been detained since November, and 10 still await trial. The HDP declared that these arrests "constitute a violation of the right to freedom and security, freedom of speech and the right to free elections as protected by both the [Turkish] Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights." Moreover, the HDP insisted that the arrests have strategically prevented HDP politicians from voting in an upcoming referendum that would expand President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's powers. While the HDP already stated these concerns in an application filed in the Turkish Constitutional Court, the party has yet to receive a response.

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