US officials say the timetable for Donald Trump's withdrawal of all 2,000 troops from Syria has been extended from 30 days to four months. The statements came a day after Trump met with his ally Sen. Lindsay Graham, a critic of the withdrawal order, who was apparently instrumental in getting the president to blink—amid the predictable irruption of blustering and face-saving tweets. The New York Times, in reporting the policy shift, states: "Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who resigned in protest over Mr. Trump's decision, said that leaving Syria in 30 days would jeopardize the fight against the Islamic State, betray its Syrian Kurdish-Arab allies on the ground, and cede the eastern part of the country to the Syrian government and its Russian and Iranian allies." But the leadership of the Kurdish autonmous zone of Rojava in Syria's east see a more imminent threat from Turkey, which is preparing to cross the border to expunge the revolutionary Kurdish forces. Residents of the Rojava town of Kobane, near the border, have launched a "human shield" encampment to block any incursion by Turkish forces. At the border village of Qeremox, the unarmed encampment was organized by Kobane's autonomous administration, and has been joined by international supporters. (EA Worldview, ANF)
Israel demolished 538 Palestinian homes and facilities across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in 2018, leaving 1,300 Palestinians, including 225 children, homeless, according to a year-end report by the Abdullah Al-Hurani Centre, an affiliate of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The report stressed that these demolitions were carried out in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international norms. It charged that Israel "continues its policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem," pointing out that, in addition to the demolitions, Israel issued 460 "stop-building orders" during the same period.
Following the announcement of a US withdrawal of its troops embedded with Kurdish forces in Syria, the Kurds are again making overtures for a separate peace with the Assad regime. Kurdish fighters of the People's Protection Units (YPG) are reported to have turned over the flashpoint town of Manbij to regime forces—marking the first time that the Assad regime's flag has flown over the northern town for more than six years. "The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive," Ilham Ahmed, an official of the Kurdish autonomous administration, told The Telegraph. "If the Turks' excuse is the [YPG], they will leave their posts to the government." A statement released by the YPG said they had invited regime forces to the town, as they are "obliged to protect the same country, nation and borders."
Bolivia has seen strikes and protests since the Dec. 4 ruling by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) allowing President Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in the 2019 election. The ruling was met with marches, road blockades and work stoppages that caused varying degrees of disruption in eight of Bolivia's nine departments. A student mobilization in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern department of Santa Cruz, heart of anti-Morales sentiment, ended in violence, with the regional offices of the electoral tribunal burned to the ground. Hunger strikes were launched in six cities, with at least 20 still ongoing.
Russia this week completed a high-tech security fence along annexed Crimea's border with mainland Ukraine. The fence, more than 60 kilometers long, is topped with barbed wire and equipped with hundreds of sensors. Russia's FSB security agency in a statement called the fence a "boundary of engineering structures," and said it is necessary to prevent "infiltration attempts by saboteurs," also citing traffic in drugs, arms and other contraband. The statement boasted of "the most complicated system of alarm sensors in the Isthmus of Perekop," the stretch of land where annexed Crimea borders the Ukrainian mainland.
Protests have been mounting across Sudan in response to the nation’s acute economic crisis. Inflation reached 70% in November and many have been forced to spend significant portions of their income on bread, leading to local media designating the demonstrations as "bread protests." Protesters have repeatedly called for President Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power since 1993, to step down. President Bashir promised reforms on Dec. 25 after police blocked protesters who marched on his presidential palace. The protests have been organized by professional organizations and trade unions as well as Sudan's principal opposition group, the Umma Party. Sudan's government on Dec. 20 shut off internet access to prevent the protesters from organizing via social media. According to an Amnesty International report released Dec. 24, at least 37 protesters have been killed so far as Sudanese authorities attempt to quell the demonstrations by releasing tear-gas and firing live ammunition, sparking international criticism.
Days after Trump's announced imminent withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Turkey has started massing tanks and troop carriers on its southern border, preparing to move into the Kurdish autonomous zone of Rojava once American soldiers have left. Turkish forces are reported arriving in the border towns of Kilis and al-Rai, after Ankara's foreign minister said they will push into Syria as soon as possible. Mevlut Çavusoglu told reporters Dec. 25 that "if Turkey says it will enter, it will." He said the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is "determined" to move against the People's Protection Units (YPG), the Kurdish militia that is the central pillar of the (heretofore) US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
UN Special Rapporteur of the human rights of migrants Felipe González Morales on Dec. 24 called for an independent investigation into the death of Jakelin Ameí Caal, a Guatemalan migrant child who died while in US Customs and Border Protection custody. Jakelin was detained, along with her family and other migrants, after crossing the Mexico border. The factual causes leading up to her death are currently disputed. In the report, Morales stresses the importance of finding out what happened to Jakelin, stating that "if any officials are found responsible they should be held accountable."