Syria: mounting civilian toll of US air-strikes

Over the past month, air-strikes carried out by the US and its coalition partners in Syria have killed the highest number of civilians on record since the bombing campaign began in September 2014, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A total of 225 civilians, including 36 women and 44 children, were killed in the period between April 23 to May 23 by the Observatory's count. At least 122 ISIS fighters and eight members of militias loyal to the Syrian regime were also killed in US-led strikes over the same period.

Syria: US targets pro-Assad forces for second time

US jets attacked a convoy of forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in southern Hama governorate May 18—ironically within one of the "deconfliction zones" established by the US and Russia. The convoy was apparently approaching the base at al-Tanf, which is used by FSA forces and US advisors. "We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian army and Iranians in this point, and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy," said Muzahem al-Saloum of the local FSA militia, Maghawir al-Thawra (also rendered Maghaweer al-Thawra). The pro-Assad militia targeted in the raid was named as Saraya al-Areen, apparently an Alawite force commanded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The regime was also said to be moving Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary forces into the area.

Trump betrays Kurds in schmooze with Erdogan

In their White House meeting May 16, President Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan of course pledged cooperation in the fight against terrorism. But what is signficant is that Trump, probably none too sophistcated about the complexities of factional politics in the region, was sure to mention the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) by name: "We support Turkey in the first fight against terror and terror groups like ISIS and the PKK, and ensure they have no safe quarter. We also appreciate Turkey's leadership in seeking an end to the horrific killing in Syria."

Syria: 'crematorium' at regime death camp?

The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad has installed a crematorium at the notorious Saydnaya military prison outside Damascus in order to destroy the remains of thousands of murdered prisoners, the United States charged May 8. "We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison," said Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. The State Department also released commercial satellite photographs showing what it said is a building in the prison complex that has been modified as a crematorium. Jones said Washington's information came from "credible humanitarian agencies" and from the US "intelligence community," and that as many as 50 people per day are thought to be hanged at Saydnaya. In presenting the photographs, Jones said Assad's regime "has sunk to a new level of depravity" with the support of Russia and Iran.

Syria: Trump approves plan to arm Rojava Kurds

President Donald Trump on May 9 announced approval of a plan to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the anti-ISIS coalition led by the Rojava Kurds. The aid—including heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, armored cars and engineering equipment—will boost the prowess of the People's Protection Units (YPG), territorial defense militia of the Rojava autonomous zone and the central pillar of the SDF. "The Syrian Democratic Forces, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future," said a Pentagon statement. The move is being taken over strenuous Turkish objections to arming the Syrian Kurds, and will certainly be a contentious point when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Trump in Washington next week. (ANF, NYT, May 9) 

HRW: multiple chemical weapon attacks in Syria

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said May 1 that it has found new evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in at least four recent attacks targeting civilians. The report, "Death by Chemicals: The Syrian Government's Widespread and Systematic Use of Chemical Weapons," states that local residents and activists in Khan Sheikhoun town identified at least 92 people who likely died from chemical exposure. It also named three pieces of additional evidence to support the finding that the government has been committing crimes against humanity:

Syria: a No-Fly Zone for Rojava?

Following last week's Turkish air-strikes on Kurdish forces in northern Syria, the autonomous administration in the region is said to have issued a call for a "no-fly zone." Tev-Dem, the self-governance structure for Syria's Kurdish autonomous zone, reportedly issued the call after Turkish raids killed at least 20 fighters of its militia force, the People's Protection Units (YPG). Because US-backed Kurdish forces are basically calling for international protection from US ally Turkey, this development further heightens the contradictions that Washington faces in northern Syria. It is telling that the Tev-Dem statement is aggressively touted by Kremlin mouthpiece Sputnik. It has also been reported by Syria Deeply and UPI.

Iraq: Turkish air-strikes heighten contradictions

The Turkish military carried out air-strikes overnight on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) forces both in Iraq's Sinjar mountains and in northeastern Syria, ostensibly to prevent these regions from being used as a staging ground for attacks within Turkey. "To destroy these terror hubs which threaten the security, unity and integrity of our country and our nation and as part of our rights based on international law, air-strikes have been carried out….and terrorist targets have been struck with success," the Turkish army said in a statement. (Reuters) US State Department spokesman Mark Toner responded: "We are very concerned, deeply concerned that Turkey conducted air-strikes earlier today in northern Syria as well as northern Iraq without proper co-ordination either with the United States or the broader global coalition to defeat IS.... We have expressed those concerns to the government of Turkey directly." The US continues to back the YPG Kurdish-led militia in Syria, which is allied with the PKK guerillas in Turkey—placing Washington in an increasingly contradictory position. (BBC News)

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