Greater Middle East
The US on Oct. 4 announced it is suspending talks with Russia over the Syria war, citing the Kremlin's support of the Bashar Assad regime in the brutal bombing campaign on the besieged city of Aleppo. Secretary of State John Kerry days later called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime. Despite the seeming lack of anyone left to negotiative with, he still insisted: "We aren't going to leave the multilateral field, we are going to continue to try to find a way forward in order to end this war." (Jurist, Oct. 7; NYT, Fox News, Oct. 4) All indications point to further escalation. Moscow's Defense Ministry cautioned the US against carrying out air-strikes on Assad's forces, darkly adding that Russia now has air-defense missiles operational in Syria. Russia has just installed S-400 and S-300 air-defense systems at the Tartus naval base and Khmeimim air-base in the Assad regime's coastal stronghold of Latakia. The radius of the weapons reach may be "a surprise," the Defense Ministry's Gen. Igor Konashenkov boasted. (RT, Oct. 6; BBC, Oct. 4)
Blocked from entering Jordan, some 70,000 Syrians are camped out near a border crossing known as Rukban, one of two locations where refugees and asylum seekers are marooned in a "demilitarized zone" a few kilometers wide on the Syria-Jordan border—demarcated by ridges of bulldozed earth known as berms. Syrians began arriving at this remote, wind-battered stretch of desert in July 2014. With Jordan refusing the majority entry, the settlement has grown—and apparently been infiltrated by smugglers and rebel groups and extremist militants. Aid has been reduced to almost nothing, and the UN and donors have been trying to hash out a deal for weeks.
A global day of "Rage for Aleppo" was held Oct. 1, with protests against the siege and bombardment of the city reported from more than 30 cities across the world. Some Muslim counties had their demonstrations a day early, after the Friday prayer. (Iran-Arab Spring, Oct. 1) The joint Assad-Putin campaign of aerial terror on Aleppo remains unrelenting, and continues to make hospitals a sepcial target. Regime or Russian warplanes bombed two hospitals in the besieged rebel-held sector of Aleppo on Sept. 28. Two patients were killed in one of the strikes, and six residents queuing for bread near the hospital were killed in the other. Only about 30 doctors are believed to be left inside the besieged zone, overwhelmed by hundreds of casualties every day. Some 250,000 people are trapped in the city, with food running out. On Sept. 30, another water station in opposition-held eastern Aleppo was hit in air-strikes, leaving still more residents without water. (MEM, Spet. 30; Reuters, Sept. 29)
We really do get tired of having to say that we called it. We really do. When it was jointly announced by the US and Russia two weeks ago, we said the Syria "ceasefire" would actually mean an escalation. But even we didn't anticipate it would be this bad. The Assad regime and its Russian partners have launched more than 150 air-strikes on eastern Aleppo and surrounding towns just over the past 24 hours, leaving at least 100 dead. Far worse is sure to follow, as a water-pumping station supplying rebel-held districts of the city was hit. Rebels are accused of shutting down another station that supplies regime-held western areas of the city in retaliation. In any event, a staggering 2 million residents are without water, and the UN is warning of "catastrophic outbreaks of waterborne diseases." Ongoing bombardment prevents repair crews from reaching the stricken plants. UNICEF deputy director Justin Forsyth told the BBC: "Aleppo is slowly dying, and the world is watching, and the water is being cut off and bombed—it's just the latest act of inhumanity." (Zaman Al Wasl, BBC News, The Telegraph, Sept. 24; Al Jazeera, Sept. 23)
Last month, some 30,000 followers of the Ahmadiyya Muslim movement gathered in London for their annual conference, dubbed the Jalsa Salana, and held a march repudiating ISIS and extemism. It is telling that the supposed paucity of media coverage is what is getting play in the "alternative" media, in gloating manner. AntiMedia's headline is "30,000 Muslims Just Slammed Terrorism — Media Silent." But of course the story links to an account from... the (mainstream) media! (In this case the Daily Mail.) Similarly Mic.com headlines: "Over 30,000 Muslims in the UK Marched Against ISIS — Of Course You Didn't Hear About It." Yet they apparenrly "heard about it" from their source, The Independent.
This is about as sick as it gets. US air-strikes in Syria's Deir al-Zour governorate, aimed at ISIS positions, accidentally wiped out 62 Assad regime troops. The White House immediately issued a statement expressing "regret" for the "unintentional loss of life." Prompted by Russia, the UN Security Council has called an emergency meeting to discuss the incident. A US official even said "condolence payments" would be offered to the families of the slain troops. (BBC News, The Guardian, CNN's Barbara Starr via Twitter, Sept. 17)
Two days after the supposed Syria "ceasefire" took effect, Assad regime and Russian warplanes carried out multiple air-strikes on rebel-held towns in Aleppo, Hama, Idlib and Damascus governorates, leaving some 20 dead and many more wounded. (Orient Net, Sept. 12) Pro-Moscow news sources (Sputnik, Al Masdar News) boast that the regime has "liberated" territory in these areas from "jihadists"—but without actually naming which "jihadist" factions were engaged, leaving open the possibility that Moscow and Assad are continuing their propaganda trick of conflating all rebel forces with ISIS. Especially hyped by these sources is the regime's taking of Handarat, Aleppo, a Palestinian refugee camp whose residents seem to be factionalized and drawn into the fighting on both sides.
We've repeatedly pointed out the sinister side of Great Power cooperation in Syria: previous ceasefires and "peace deals" have only meant an escalation of the conflict—most recently, the siege of Aleppo and other regime gains. So the utmost cynicism is called for in viewing the pact announced Sept. 10 between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. Another fictional "ceasefire" is to take effect in two days, dependent on compliance by Bashar Assad's Russian-backed forces and "US-supported" rebel groups (although we question how "US-supported" they really are). If the truce holds for a week, the US and Russia will actually begin coordinating on air-strikes. "We believe the plan as it is set forth—if implemented, if followed—has the ability to provide a turning point, a moment of change," Kerry said, according to AP. But a "turning point" toward what?