Protesters marched in Libya's capital Tripoli on May 21 demanding that renegade general Khalifa Haftar lift his siege of the eastern city of Derna. Demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters of the UN mission in Libya to demand an international response. Libyan High State Council member Abdelfattah al-Shilwy spojke there, charging, "The United Nations support mission in Libya has let us down. We are calling on the international community to help stop the war on Derna, lift the devastating siege, and form a neutral committee to investigate the situation here." Protesters demanded UN pressure on Haftar to open a corridor at Derna to allow evacuation of the wounded and ill. Derna has been under siege for nearly two years, but the situation has worsened since Haftar launched a new offensive this month against the Islamist factions that control the city. The protest was led by a group calling itself that Council of Elders of Tripoli. (Al Jazeera, Libya Observer)
CounterVortex editor and chief blogger Bill Weinberg will speak at the Left Forum in New York City on June 2, at the panel "Has 'the Left' Accommodated Trump (and Putin)? A Debate." Tens of millions of Americans and people around the world have regarded Trump and Trumpism as exceptional threats that must be resisted tooth-and-nail. But some voices on the "left" have argued that anti-Trumpism is itself a problem, that concerns about Trumpism are a distraction from struggles against neoliberalism and imperialism, and/or that the left should reach out to Trump's anti-establishment and populist base. Who are the deluded ones here?
The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on May 18 to send an independent commission of inquiry to investigate "all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the occupied Palestinian territory." The Council "condemned the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, including in the context of peaceful protests, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and called for an immediate cessation of all attacks, incitement and violence against civilians throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem."
The US Department of the Treasury issued new sanctions against Iran on May 17. The new sanctions target two individuals, Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi and Abdallah Safi al-Din. Both of them have been identified as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Bazzi has been identified as a financier for Hezbollah, and Safi al-Din has been identified as Hezbollah's representative to Iran. The Treasury Department stated that the sanctions "show the convergence of Iran's support for terrorism with many facets of illicit criminal activity, including narcotics trafficking." The sanctions come after President Trump's decision to leave the Iranian nuclear deal last week and to begin reimposing sanctions against Iran.
A crisis over the Yemeni island of Socotra was resolved this week, as the United Arab Emirates agreed to withdraw and turn control over to Saudi forces, which will in turn restore full Yemeni rule there. The island, just off the very tip of the Horn of Africa, has been ruled by Yemeni governments for centuries between periodic episodes of control by various European powers, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique flora and fauna, hailed as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean." Emirati forces seized it at the beginning of the month, and raised their flag over the airport and other strategic points—sparking angry protests from the island's inhabitants. Hashim Saad al-Saqatri, Socotra's governor, condemned the UAE move as an "occupation," saying it represented "a flagrant violation of Yemeni sovereignty." Even after the de-escalation, suspicions remain. Yemen's ambassador to UNESCO, Ahmad al-Sayyad, charged that "there is synergy between the roles of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There is a hidden inclination to divide Yemen." (Middle East Eye, May 18; Al Jazeera, May 17)
Two months after it was first reported that President Trump had issued an order to freeze over $200 million in "reconstruction aid" to what media accounts called "US-backed rebels" in Syria, details are finally emerging on which groups have had their aid cut. And the first to be mentioned isn't a "rebel" group at all, but the White Helmets—the volunteer unarmed civil defense force that operates in areas under bombardment by the Assad regime and its Russian backers. A spokesperson for the US State Department, which is said to provide some third of the White Helmets' budget, said the group's funding is "under active review." But speaking to Al Jazeera, White Helmets leader Raed Saleh pledged to persevere. He said the group "did not receive any direct funding from the US or any other country"—presumably meaning money was funneled through NGOs. "The White Helmets receives funding from organizations and associations. Our work has not been disrupted and all the projects we are working on will not be halted. Our volunteers are still operating on the ground."
Dictator Bashar al-Assad flew to Vladimir Putin's summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks on the prosecution of the Syrian war and their future plans for the country. Assad congratulated Putin on his new term as president, following his March re-election (amid waves of protest), and (of course) thanked the Russian military for its support in re-conquering Syria. "Stability is improving," Assad told Putin at he opening press conference. Invoking the intermittent Russia-brokered peace talks in Kazakhstan (now largely irrelevant, that most of the country has been re-conquered), Assad added that "we have always wholeheartedly supported the political process, which should proceed in parallel with the war on terrorism." (Reuters) As Assad arrived in Sochi, Putin announced that Russian military vessels with Kalibr cruise missiles would be on permanent stand-by in the Mediterranean to counter what he called the "terrorist threat" in Syria. (Moscow Times)
The independent Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has released the findings of its own investigations into the twin chemical attack in Douma that took place April 7. Drawing on accounts from survivors, eye-witnesses and paramedics as well as an analysis of forensic evidence, the report finds that the Assad regime was "probably implicated in attacking Douma City using chemical weapons." Based on its own review of accounts from the field, the report also charges that the regime has carried out no less than 216 chemical attacks in Syria—only a small handful of which won media coverage or international response. The report stresses that the regime "has demonstrated its utter disregard for the international community," repeatedly violating UN resolutions condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria. By the SNHR's count, the regime carried out 183 chemical attacks after Security Council Resolution 2118, 114 chemical attacks after Security Council Resolution 2209, and 58 attacks after Security Council Resolution 2235. The report notes that the attacks on Douma city took place just 72 hours after a Security Council meeting was held to discuss the status of the regime's chemical stockpiles and assess the implementation of Resolution 2118. (SNHR, May 11)