The lines are starkly drawn in Pittsburgh—and, hopefully, across the country—in the wake of the Oct. 28 synagogue massacre that left 11 dead. Today, President Trump visited the synagogue, and was joined by the Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer. This took place over the protests of Pittsburgh's Mayor Bill Peduto, who asked the White House to delay the trip in light of the sensitive situation in the city. While the rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the massacre site, welcomed Trump, many members of his own congregation clearly dissented. More than 35,000 people signed an open letter to Trump from the local chapter of the progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc, stating: "You are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism." Hundreds demonstrated against Trump's visit under the standard of another Jewish progressive formation, If Not Now, with banners reading "ANTI-SEMITISM = WHITE NATIONALISM" and "ANTI-SEMITISM UPHOLDS WHITE SUPREMACY."
Will an "October surprise" in the prelude to the mid-term elections in the US be the outbreak of world war—that is, direct superpower conflict? Things are escalating fast on the frontlines with both of the United States' major imperial rivals. The US Navy's Pacific Fleet has drawn up a classified proposal to carry out a "global show of force" as a warning to China. The draft proposal reportedly calls for the Pacific Fleet to conduct a series of exercises in the coming weeks, involving warships, combat aircraft and troops, to demonstrate that the US can "counter potential adversaries" quickly on several fronts. (CNN) The plans come after a near-skirmish between a US warship and a Chinese destroyer in the disputed South China Sea on Oct. 2. The two vessles came within yards of each other, compelling the US ship to abruptly switch direction. US officials called the Chinese vessel's behavior "unsafe and unprofessional." while Beijing is accusing the US of violating its sovereignty. (WaPo)
A vivid illustration of just how out of wack things have become on the American "anti-war" (sic) "left" (sic—neither of these terms are accurate). As every Friday since March, on the evening of Sept. 28, I was standing with the Syria Peace Vigil in New York's Union Square. As usual, I was on leafleting duty. As my comrades (including some local Syrian-Americans) stood with signs reading "FREE SYRIA" and "PROTECT IDLIB," I was giving out our statement to passing commuters and strollers. Usually, amid the massive indifference from passers-by, we inevitably get some heartfelt expressions of support (generally from Syrians or other folk of Middle Eastern background)—and lots of hostility from those who have swallowed the pro-Assad line that is purveyed by left, right and center in this country. But that night, the hostility was particularly egregious...
The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a "buffer zone" in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in the south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a "demilitarized" zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. There are numerous unanswered questions. Reports indicated the deal stipulates that "all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the zone"—but does that apply to the Russian and Turkish patrols? It is also mandated that what Putin called "radically-minded" rebel fighters would have to pull out of the zone entirely, which is presumably a reference to the Nusra-affiliated jihadist factions. These factions control parts of Idlib city, and it is not clear if the provincial capital will be included in the zone. (BBC News, Haaretz)
Venezuela has agreed to open at least seven oil-fields to private companies in contracts "similar to ones rolled back under late socialist leader Hugo Chávez," Reuters reported Sept. 10. The plan was revealed in a televized ceremony Aug. 28 in which representatives of the companies met with President Nicolás Maduro to sign "joint service agreements" with the state oil company PDVSA. Terms of the deals were not disclosed. But in a draft contract obtained by Reuters, PDVSA offers to turn over the fields for six years on condition that the companies provide the required investment to boost production. PDVSA president Manuel Quevedo said at the ceremony that the plan would require $430 million for an increase of 641,000 barrels per day. Quevedo said the plan involves 14 companies, although only seven were present for the ceremony and the others were unnamed. The seven include five Venezuelan firms: Petrokariña, Enfriadores de Venezuela, Consorcio Rinoca Centauro Kariña, Consorcio Petrolero Tomoporo and Well Services Cavallino. The remaining two are Helios Petroleum Services of Panama and Shandong Kerui Holding Group of China. The fields in question were formerly operated by Italy's Eni and the French Total.
In the latest of ongoing weekly demonstrations in Syria's besieged Idlib province, thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers Sept. 14, calling on the world to act to prevent the impending massacre there. One of the biggest demonstrations was held in the city of Maarat al-Nouman in central Idlib, where some 25,000 people, including residents from outlying villages and towns, gathered for the march called by the civil resistance. "There will be no solution in Syria without Assad's fall," read one prominent banner. Russian-led air-strikes have already opened on Idlib ahead of the anticipated offensive by the Assad regime and its allied forces to take the province, now the last significant area of Syria still controlled by the opposition. Air-strikes last week reportedly destroyed a hospital run by the White Helmets in the town of Hass. The UN has provided Russia with the GPS coordinates of 235 schools, hospitals and other civilian sites in Idlib, in the hope that the move will help protect them from being attacked. But Russia and Assad have been repeatedly accused of intentionally bombing hospitals over the course of the Syrian war.
As the Assad regime and its Russian backers prepare an offensive to take Idlib, the last area of opposition control in Syria, the people of the northern province have been holding demonstrations, organized by the civil resistance, waving the Free Syria flag and calling on the world to act to prevent the impending massacre there. Hundreds of civilians have fled the front-line area in the south of the province, as the first Russian-led air-strikes opened this week. A summit between the leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran is underway in Tehran to try to arrive at consensus over Idlib's fate, but Moscow and the Islamic Republic refuse to abandon their commitment to an invasion of the province of 3 million, which already faces grave humanitarian conditions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Syrian army is "getting ready" to clear the "cradle of terrorism" in Idlib (EA Worldview, AFP, Al Jazeera, BBC News) Reuters ran gut-wrenching photos of Idlib residents fitting their children with improvised gas-masks—fashioned from plastic sheeting and plastic cups filled with cotton and charcoal—in anticipation of a chemical attack.
A disturbing report from the Assyrian Policy Institute provides details on an incident in the northern Syrian town of Qamishli in which Kurdish militia fighters supposedly opened fire during a protest by local Assyrian Christians. Footage of the incident was first posted on YouTube, and tweeted by opponents of the Kurdish autonomous administration. According to the report, the unrest began on Aug. 28 when private Assyrian schools in Qamishli were invaded by a mixed force of "militiamen belonging to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD)," and allied Sutoro and Dawronoye militias. The PYD militia, the People's Protection Units (YPG), is the central pillar of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Sutoro, affiliated with the Syriac Military Council, and Dawronoye are both leftist Assyrian formations in the orbit of the PYD. The militia forces attempted to order the schools closed; staff resisted, and protesters gathered. Children reportedly held signs reading "Don't deprive us of our right to education" and "We want our schools, our freedom, and our childhood." Protestors chanted, "We will remain Assyrians and die in this land." The report actually said it was Sutoro fighters that fired in the air to break up the protest—contrary to representations on YouTube and Twitter portraying Kurdish troops firing on the demonstrators.