Greater Middle East
The evacuation of rebel fighters and civilians from eastern Aleppo has begun, with a truce in the stricken city said to be holding. More than 3,000 were bussed out on the first day of the evacuation Dec. 15, but the UN says as many as 50,000 remain trapped. And the evacuees are just leaving one war zone for another. Most will be taken to rebel-controlled areas in neighboring Idlib governorate—likely the regime's next target for recapture. While the world's attention has been focused on Aleppo these past weeks, Idlib has been repeatedly hit by regime air-strikes, with dozens of deaths reported. And Idlib is the domain of extremist jihadi factions—in contrast to the more secular militias that liberated eastern Aleppo in summer 2012, ending the regime's reign of terror there. So secularists are likely to find no refuge from either regime or opposition forces in Idlib. The fall of Aleppo signals a double defeat for Syria's secular revolutionaries. (BBC News, CNN, Dec. 16)
A fragile ceasefire has taken effect in Aleppo as pro-Assad forces seize most of the city, but the regime is failing to follow through on a pledge to evacuate residents to a "safe zone." The last-minute agreement, brokered by Russia and Turkey, calls for rebel fighters, their families, and other civilians to be allowed to leave the city. The displaced will go to opposition-controlled Idlib governorate; from there, they can move to other locations, including the effective Turkish "buffer zone" in the north of Aleppo governorate. Regime forces have brought in buses to facilitate the evacuation but none have left yet, reports say. The regime is said to be demanding the simultaneous evacuation of its own injured fighters and civilians from nearby towns that are encircled by rebel forces. (EA Worldview, BBC News, Dec. 14)
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Dec. 13 accused Syrian pro-government forces of going door-to-door and systematically killing civilians in at least four neighborhoods of the re-taken city of Aleppo. The killings have reportedly resulted in at least the deaths of 82 civilians, including 13 children. The situation on the ground is causing residents to take to social media to relate what is happening and give good-byes to friends and loved ones. The commissioner pleaded with the international community to act to call a halt to the stopping the killing of civilians.
Pro-Assad forces are on the verge of capturing all remaining opposition-held areas of Syria's largest city Aleppo, with fears of death or detention for tens of thousands of civilians. Regime troops and allied Iranian-led foreign and paramilitary forces, supported by intense Russian air-strikes, took all but a few remaining districts on Dec. 12. Claims circulate of the execution of scores of civilians in districts that have fallen to pro-regime forces. Residents and activists spoke of widespread detention of fighting-age men. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office issued a statement voicing alarm over "reports of atrocities against a large number of civilians, including women and children, in recent hours in Aleppo." UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said Assad and Russia will be held "accountable for any and all atrocities that the victorious militias in Aleppo are now committing."
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)
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."
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'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."