Greater Middle East

Egypt: terror blast targets Coptic church

A bombing during Sunday Mass at a chapel attached to Cairo's main Coptic cathedral killed at least 25 and wounded some 50 others Dec. 11.  Most of the victims are reported to have been women and children. St Mark's Cathedral is the main institution of Egypt's Coptic Christians and home to the head of the church, Pope Tawadros II.  The blast coincided with celebrations of Mawlid, a national holiday in Egypt marking the birth of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest targeting Egypt's Christians since a New Year's Day bombing at a church in Alexandria in 2011 that killed 21 people. President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has condemned the Cairo attack and declared three days of national mourning. There are around 9 million Coptic Christians in Egypt, around 10% of the country's population. (EuroNews, AfricaNews, Crux, Dec. 11)

General Assembly demands halt to Aleppo siege

Expressing "outrage" at the escalation of violence in Syria, and particularly Aleppo, the UN General Assembly on Dec. 9 adopted a resolution demanding an immediate and complete end to all attacks on civilians, as well as a lifting of all sieges on cities and towns. The Canada-sponsored resolution was adopted by a vote of 122 in favor, 13 against and 36 abstentions. The text also expressed grave concern at the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country and demanded "rapid, safe, sustained, unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access throughout the country for UN...and all humanitarian actors."

Turkey: thousands of Kurds displaced in crackdown

Tens of thousands of residents of Diyarbakır's Sur district, part of the city's UNESCO world heritage site, are among an estimated half million people forced out of their homes as a result of a brutal crackdown by Turkish authorities over the past year which may amount to collective punishment, Amnesty International says in a new report. As the suppression of opposition Kurdish voices by the Turkish government intensifies, the report "Displaced and Dispossessed: Sur Residents' Right to Return Home," reveals the desperate plight of families forced out of the historical center of Diyarbakir as a result of intensive security operations toward the end of last year and an ongoing round-the-clock curfew. Homes in the once-bustling district have been destroyed by shelling, or demolished and expropriated to pave the way for a redevelopment project that very few former residents are likely to benefit from.

Egypt: top court upholds law restricting protests

Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court on Dec. 3 upheld a law that effectively bans protests. The law requires individuals seeking to protest to inform the interior ministry, at least three days prior, of any public gathering with more than 10 people, allows security forces to break up unapproved protests with water cannons, tear gas, and birdshot, and imposes up to five years of jail time for violation of various protest restrictions. The lawsuit had contended the law violated Article 73 of the Constitution, which provides for the "right to organize public meetings, marches, demonstrations and all forms of peaceful protest while not carrying weapons of any type, upon providing notifications as regulated by law." Despite upholding the law generally, the court did find unconstitutional a provision that allows the interior ministry to deny protest requests. In response to the ruling, human rights lawyer Gamal Eid said, "There isn't a court in Egypt that has mercy on the people."

Are Kurds aiding Assad in Aleppo offensive?

As thousands of civilians flee the Assad regime's advance on eastern Aleppo, rebel groups are charging that the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) are collaborating in the offensive. The YPG and rebels aligned with the Free Syrian Army have clashed several times in Aleppo, mostly around the Kurdish-controlled Sheikh Maqsoud enclave. In recent days, as the pro-regime forces press their advance on the east, Kurdish fighters have taken over several areas abandoned by the rebels. Photos and video showing the regime flag and the yellow YPG banner raised on top of a building were circulated on social media, suggesting that the Kurdish forces and Syrian national army were in fact fighting together. The YPG, however, said the images were faked, and denied any cooperation with the Syrian army.

War crimes charges brought against Bashar Assad

A group of German lawyers have filed a criminal complaint against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Speaking at a press conference in Berlin on Nov. 28, attorney Mehmet Daimaguler said they were optimistic the German federal prosecutor will open a formal investigation following their complaint. German law allows prosecutions under the principle of universal jurisdiction, holding that nations can charge foreigners for grave crimes committed abroad. The lawyers cited Amnesty International reports and individual accounts by asylum-seekers in Germany in arguing overwhelming evidence of multiple atrocities committed by Assad in Aleppo between April and November. "We're experiencing genocide in Aleppo in slow motion," Daimaguler said, citing the targeted bombing of hospitals, cluster bombs on civilians and forced expulsion.

Trump victory: green light for Aleppo's destruction

Backed by unrelenting Russian air-strikes, Syrian pro-regime forces are now making rapid advances into rebel-held eastern Aleppo. The fall of the city's Masaken Hanano district is a harsh symbolic blow, as it was the first area the rebels took in the summer of 2012. There is a mass exodus of residents ahead of the regime forces. Up to 20,000 have been displaced just over the past 72 hours, the Red Cross said Nov. 29. (BBC News, BBC News, AFP) But there is really nowhere to run. "This week I've changed locations three times," a medic in east Aleppo said via social media. "In the shelter, we had dead people who we couldn't take out because the bombardment was so intense." (ReutersOrient Net) Regime forces are apparently continuing to use chemical weapons. The activist Aleppo Media Center tweeted disturbing photos of what it said were victims of a chlorine attack in east Aleppo.

Egypt: court strikes down Morsi's life term

Egypt's Court of Cassation on Nov. 22 overturned the life sentences of former president Mohamed Morsi and 16 other members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi had been convicted of conspiring with the Palestinian Hamas and other foreign militant groups. The court ordered a retrial in the matter, though a new hearing date is yet to be scheduled. The court also performed the same for Brotherhood spiritual leader Mohammed Badei and fellow members accused of spying for Hamas and Iran. Last week the court had