Greater Middle East
Turkey has been forcibly returning up to 100 refugees to Syria per day since mid-January, Amnesty International (AI) reported April 1. In addition to Turkish authorities rounding up refugees in migrant camps near the border, AI has also alleged that some migrants attempting to register in Turkey were, instead, removed back to Syria. The report criticized the recent migrant deal between Turkey and the EU, expressing concern over the possible future of the refugees to be sent back to Turkey after arriving in Greece. "If the agreement proceeds as planned, there is a very real risk that some of those the EU sends back to Turkey will suffer the same fate" AI said. If true, the allegations are illegal under not only international law, but the laws of the EU, and Turkey itself.
That's the delicious claim in the Los Angeles Times headline of March 26: "CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria." Obviously, it is getting lots of circulation on Facebook, with its imputation of imperial incompetence. This refers to the fighting between the Kurdish YPG militia and FSA-aligned factions at Azaz and elsewhere in Aleppo governorate. There is no doubt that the Pentagon has aided the YPG. As the story notes, there are some 50 Pentagon special operations troops embedded with the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The story doesn't mention widespread reports that the Pentagon has established an air-base ar Rmeilan, Hasakah governorate, to coordinate aid to the SDF. But we have questioned how much (if any) CIA aid has reached the FSA—and especially the Islamist factions at Azaz. There the article is short on specifics, asking us to accept that these factions are "CIA-armed" on tautological grounds. If everyone says it, it must be true.
The Assad regime has announced the taking of Palmyra and its adjacent archaeological site from ISIS, though Russian air-strikes appear to have been the decisive factor. Russian state media (RT, Sputnik) shamelessly crow of the city's "liberation." The Western media have hardly been less ebullient. Daily Mail displays footage released by the regime, showing no sign of damage to the ancient ruins, but bloodstains on the wall of the amphitheater, which was used for public executions. (In fact, temples were destroyed at the site.) But Muzna al-Naib of Syria Solidarity UK spoke on British TV in much darker terms about the city's transfer. She called Assad and ISIS "two faces of the same coin," and said she spoke to activists in the city who told her "nothing has changed." She pointed out that even before ISIS took the city last May, artifacts were looted by Assad's Shabiha militia. She recalls that Palmyra was the site of a regime prison where many have been tortured to death and hundreds massacred over the years. She says that 50% of city's neighborhoods have been destroyed by the regime's cluster bombs in recent days. She calls the city's change of hands part of a "propaganda game" by both Assad and ISIS. The city "was handed to ISIS," and the threat to its ancient artifacts exploited to get international attention; now its recovery "is being used for the same thing." She protests that people in the West seem "more concerned about the artifacts than the people on the ground." (Via Facebook)
Amnesty International on March 25 expressed concern over the conviction of journalist Alaa Brinji by the Saudi Arabian Specialized Criminal Court. Alaa Brinji has been in detention since May 2014 and has not been allowed access to a lawyer. He was convicted this week on charges of insulting the rulers of the country, inciting public opinion, accusing security officers of killing protestors, ridiculing Islamic religious figures and violating the Anti-Cyber Crime Law. All of the charges are based on tweets by Alaa Brinji expressing oppositional views. Some of of the tweets expressed support for women's rights, human rights defenders, and prisoners of conscience. The sentence includes five years in prison, an eight-year travel ban, and a heavy fine. The court also ordered that his Twitter account be closed. In its press release, Amnesty called Alaa Brinji "a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully expressing his views." AI has called for his release, and urged Saudi Arabia to take accountability for "its gross and systematic violations of human rights."
The US military killed "dozens" of AQAP fighters in an air-strike that targeted a training camp in western Yemen March 22. The Pentagon claims that the strike—on a camp in Hajr, in mountains west of the port city of Mukallah—will deny AQAP "safe haven," but the air campaign waged by the US against the al-Qaeda franchise since 2009 has done little to halt its advance. Since launching an offensive last year, AQAP has gained control of at least eight cities and towns in Yemen, including the provincial capitals of Hadramout (Mukallah), Abyan (Zinjibar) and Lahj (Houta). (See map.) (Long War Journal, BBC News, March 23)
In a move of towering cynicism and hypocrisy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on March 20 called for the prosecution of his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad by the International Criminal Court. Speaking to state TV, Erdogan demanded that Assad be charged with "state terrorism," saying he is responsible for the death of 500,000 people, and rhetorically asked how the Syrian dictator can receive "red carpet treatment" in Russia while killing his own people with barrel bombs. (Jurist, March 31) This from the guy who is waging his own vigorous campaign of state terror against the Kurds of Turkey's east, even burning civilians alive in Diyarbakir, and all too clearly esclatintg towards a genocidal threshold.
The mounting terror campaign in Turkey just scored its latest entry with a suicide attack in a busy shopping area of Istanbul that killed at least four and injured some 35. It was probably just a happy coincidence for the perpetrators that the dead include two Israelis with dual US nationality and an Iranian. (BBC News, March 19) This comes five days after a deadly terror blast in Ankara—that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed on Kurdish militants, despite no claim of responsibility and a modus operandi that points instead to the jihadists that he is conniving with in Syria. Just a day before the new Istanbul blast, Erdogan raised the stakes by warning that Europe could be targeted next...
Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)