Greater Middle East
Kurdish forces will have to hand over control of their enclave of Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo to the Damascus regime by the end of the year, according to an Assad military advisor. The statement from the advisor, named as Ali Maqsud, was reported in a Dec. 22 tweet from independent Kurdish news agency Rudaw. After Syrian victory in eastern Aleppo, the government will take control of the whole city, Ali Maqsud told Rudaw. The Syrian government will prompt the People's Protection Units (YPG) to hand over their positions in the city to the Syrian army, he said. The ultimatum came as the Damascus regime announced that it is now in control of all Aleppo after the last civilians and rebel fighters were evacuated the eastern neighborhoods.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (PDF) Dec. 21 to establish an independent panel to investigate possible war crimes in Syria. The resolution, approved by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions, will establish an "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011." The mechanism will work closely with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. The resolution:
Alarmed at the "devastating" humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, where thousands of civilians remain trapped, the Security Council Dec. 19 called on the United Nations to carry out "neutral monitoring and direct observation on evacuations from the eastern districts" of the war-ravaged city. The unanimously adopted resolution requested immediate deployment of staff for monitoring and reporting on the evacuations. The French-led resolution also calls on all parties to respect and protect all medical and humanitarian personnel, "their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities throughout the country." The vote came as thousands of civilians awaited resumption of evacuations.
The Turkish government has been silencing the media on a massive scale to prevent scrutiny or criticism of the government's "ruthless crackdown" on its enemies, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report Dec. 15. The report was based on interviews with journalists, editors, lawyers, and press freedom activists, and a review of court documents relating to the prosecution and imprisonment of journalists. According to HRW, since the failed coup in July, the attack on critical journalism has "accelerated...denying Turkey's population access to a regular flow of independent information from domestic newspapers, radio, and television stations about developments in the country." The report stated that Turkey was abusing the criminal justice system to prosecute and imprison journalists on false charges of terrorism, insulting of public officials and crimes against the state. HRW also documented physical attacks on journalists, interference with journalistic independence, government takeover or shutdown of private media companies and critical television stations.
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."