Greater Middle East
It requires a really special kind of cynicism to pull this one off—the kind born of complete impunity, when the world gives you a blank check to carry out any kind of atrocity. Saudi fighter jets on Aug. 21 carried out air-strikes on a peaceful rally in Yemen's capital Sanaa that had been called to protest Saudi air-strikes. Most recent accounts put the death toll at three, but it seems very likely to rise. The protesters were mostly armed, and began firing on the warplanes with their AK-47s after the air-strikes, in a useless act of defiance. The rally was called after Doctors Without Borders (MSF) withdrew its staff from six Yemen hospitals in response to a Saudi sir-strike on a hospital that left 19 people dead in the northern province of Hajja. It was the fourth health facility supported by MSF to be hit by Saudi-led coalition air-strikes over the course of the war, now in its 17th month. The US continues to have military advisors directly supporting the Saudis' air war in Yemen. This week, their number was cut from about 45 to five, although US officials said this was not due to concern over civilian casualties. (Nine News, Australia, Aug. 21; BBC News, Aug. 20; NYT, Aug. 18)
How telling that just as all the Great Powers were making nice and divding their turf in Syria, it starts to look like the US could get drawn into the war against Assad—against its will. Until now, the US has been giving Bashar Assad a wide berth, not interfering with his relentless campaign of aerial terror, but instead concentrating its battle on ISIS. But on Aug. 18, the US for the first time scrambled jets (presumably from Incirlik air base in Turkey) in response to Assad regime aggression after its Kurdish anti-ISIS partners came under bombardment. The US has special forces troops embedded with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which were bombed by regime warplanes near Hasakah, Aleppo governorate. (BBC News, Aug. 20; WP, NBC, EA Worldview, Aug. 19) This should put paid to the persistent calumny that the Kurds are collaborating with Assad. But it obviously also holds the risk of direct superpower confrontation, as Russian warplanes are backing up the Assad regime.
The latest in continuing reports of chemical weapons attacks by the Bashar Assad regime comes from besieged Aleppo Aug. 11. The UN is investigating evidence of an apparent chlorine attack on a rebel-held area of the city, which reportedly left several dead and many injured. The UN special envoy for Syria said a chlorine attack, if confirmed, would amount to a "war crime." Footage obtained by the BBC shows people with breathing difficulties being treated at a hospital. Men, women and children are shown being fitted with oxygen masks by medical staff. This at one of the few hospitals still functioning in Aleppo following the vicious campaign of bombing hospitals by the Assad regime and its Russian partners.
A major Syrian opposition body announced on Aug. 6 that rebel fighters have broken the devastating months-long siege of Aleppo by the Bashar Assad regime and allied forces. The Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition said on Twitter: "Rebels break Aleppo's siege." The Ahrar al-Sham rebel group also posted that rebels had seized control of the strategic Ramosa military school on the southwestern edges of the city and thereby "opened the route to Aleppo." Regime forces completed their circle Aleppo on July 17, closing off the last opposition-controlled route into the city. The battle for Ramosa was apparently led by a coalition of rebel groups, Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest). Jaish al-Fatah includes Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front. A quarter of a million civilians still live in Aleppo's opposition-controlled eastern districts. (Al Jazeera, ARA News)
Just after announcing an investigation into air-strikes that apparently claimed scores of civilian casualties at the north Syrian town of Manbij, the US military last week said that more civilians may have been killed in another strike around the same town. Reports indicate up to 70 may have been killed in the new strike. (The Guardian, July 28; ABC, July 27) But at least when the US does this kind of thing, it makes headlines. The ongoing aerial terror of the Assad regime and its Russian accomplices is exacting a similar toll on a near-daily basis—to comparative media silence. The latest entry in their atrocious campaign of bombing hospitals was registered just two days after the new US strike on Manbij. A maternity hospital in rural Idlib governorate was hit in what Amnesty International called "part of a despicable pattern of unlawful attacks deliberately targeting medical facilities." (AI, July 29) But of course there was no talk of an investigation from either Damascus or Moscow—and you had to turn to Amnesty for the details. There was little coverage from the mainstream media, and for the so-called "alternative" media in the West—not a peep.
Maryam al-Khawaja, co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR) and a leading rights defender in Bahrain—now exiled from her homeland—spoke in New York City July 30, at a small gathering organized by the MENA Solidarity Network. It was hosted at Moustache Pitza Middle Eastern restaurant in the East Village. Al-Khawaja spoke about the ongoing protests and extreme repression in her country—and how the Arab regimes are exploiting sectarianism to pit the regional revolutions against each other.
US-led coalition air-strikes near the northern Syrian town of Manbij July 19 "accidentally" killed between 56 and 160 civilians—including many women and children. The strike was conducted in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their ground offensive against ISIS. The civilians in the ISIS-controlled village if Tokhar were apparently assumed to be militants. (The Telegraph) Russia, meanwhile, continues to be a senior partner in the Assad regime's ongoing aerial terror, taking a similar toll in civilians casualties on a near-daily basis. On the same day as the disastrous US strike on Tokhar, Russian and regime aerial bombardment of besieged Aleppo killed 21. (AFP) The following day, Russian and regime on Aleppa and Douma killed at least 51 civilians, including 15 children. (Reuters) But this ongoing carnage fails to win the same kind of headlines.
The Bahrain High Civil Court on July 17 ordered al-Wefaq, the main Shi'ite opposition group in the country, to be dissolved. The Bahraini court previously issued a three-month suspension of the group. The court found that the group has engaged in "terrorism, extremism, and violence." The dissolution order requires al-Wefaq's assets to be liquidated and transferred to the state treasury. The order has sparked criticism from many sources, such as UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, as being repressive and preventing political freedom.