Greater Middle East

Saudis behind Somali refugee massacre: reports

More than 40 people, including women and children, were killed when an Apache helicopter fired on a boat carrying Somali refugees in the Red Sea off war-torn Yemen March 17. A coast guard officer in the Hodeidah area, controlled by Houthi rebel forces, told Reuters the refugees, carrying UNHCR documents, were on their way from Yemen to Sudan when they were attacked near the Bab al-Mandeb strait. The rebel-controlled Saba news agency accused the Saudi-led coalition of being behind the attack. The coalition immediately released a statement denying responsibility. While the International Organization for Migration said 42 bodies have been recovered, the death toll may be much higher. The UNHCR said 140 passengers were believed to have been aboard the vessel. 

Pentagon behind Syria mosque massacre: reports

The US military is denying reports that it bombed a mosque in northwestern Syria during evening prayers March 16, killing at least 50. There is even controversy over whether the Omar Ibn al-Khattab Mosque in al-Jinah (Jeena) village, Aleppo governorate, is still standing. The Pentagon admits to a an air-strike that supposedly killed several al-Qaeda militants in the village, which is held by Islamist factions including Ahrar al-Sham. The Pentagon released a statement saying the strike was "across the street from a mosque," with footage (supposedly taken minutes after the strike) showing that a mosque next to a destroyed building remained standing. (Al Jazeera, BBC News, Reuters) But Bilal Abdul Kareem, a US national who operates On the Ground News from northern Syria, recorded his own video from the purported bombing site. Kareem shows what he calls part of the "mosque compound" in ruins, and claims the mosque was operated by Jamaat Tablighi, a proselytization group that has hosted prayers there every Thursday for the past four years. (LWJ)

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.