Greater Middle East
Bierut blast

What Beirut blast could mean for battered Lebanon

As rescue workers continue to look for survivors amid the rubble of a massive explosion that killed a reported 130 people in Beirut’s port, the implications of the blast for Lebanon appear grim. Lebanon’s economy has been in freefall for months, unemployment is rising, and the foreign minister Nassif Hitti resigned one day before the blast, warning that the country risks becoming a “failed state.” Now hundreds of thousands more have been left homeless, critical port facilities are destroyed, and local hospitals are overwhelmed. Lebanon was already battling COVID-19 before the blast, and last week it instituted a new lockdown to try to control a spike in new infections. (Photo via Beirut.com)

The Andes
cartel de los soles

Venezuela: does the ‘Cartel of the Suns’ exist?

In a rare move, the US Department of Justice issued an indictment against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, charging him and 14 officials with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking and other crimes. The DoJ alleges that Maduro conspired with Colombia’s FARC guerrilla army prior to becoming the president, and continued to do after assuming power. The indictment charges that this nexus has congealed under the name “Cartel of the Suns,” and that Maduro continues to collude with dissident factions of the FARC that remain in arms despite the Colombian peace accords. Attorney General William Barr said the aim of the conspiracy is “to flood the United States with cocaine.” (Image: DoJ)

Palestine
Gaza march

Palestinians reject ‘Swindle of the Century’

Trump’s Israel-Palestine “peace” plan (sic), unveiled at the White House in a joint press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anointed with the very Trumpian epithet “Deal of the Century.” It is actually a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum to the Palestinians to accept the status quo of bantustans, surrender much territory to actual Israeli annexation, give up their long-standing demand for justice for refugees—and call it “peace.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas predictably responded with “a thousand no’s.” And Palestinians immediately mobilized in outrage, in both the West Bank and Gaza. (Photo: Maan News)

Southern Cone
Santiago protest

Econo-protests from Santiago to Beirut

A state of emergency has been declared in Chile following protests that initially erupted over transit fare hikes in Santiago but quickly escalated to an uprising over general economic agony. Youth have blocked thoroughfares, burned buses and ransacked shops, while whole families have filled the streets in a nationwide cacerolazo—beating pots and pans to express outrage over the high cost of living. Protesters have similarly taken the streets, erected barricades and clashed with police in Lebanon, where a state of “economic emergency” has been declared. Again, demonstrations were initially sparked by government plans to impose a tax on text messaging, but protests have continued even after the tax was rescinded in response to the upsurge of popular anger. Demonstrators have revived the slogan from the 2011 Arab Revolution, “The people demand the fall of the regime.” (Photo: KaosEnLaRed)

Syria

Did Assad sign off on Israeli air-raid in Syria?

After years of presumed Israeli air-strikes on Iranian forces in Syria, the IDF finally carried out air-strikes that were publicly acknowledged, hitting a compound near Damascus supposedly shared by the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force and Hezbollah militants. The strikes follow reports in the Israeli press that there is an “undeclared pact” between Assad and Netanyahu allowing Israel to strike Iranian targets in Syria in exchange for diplomatic assistance in regional “normalization” of the Assad regime. (Photo: Israel Aerospace Industries via Jerusalem Post)

Syria

Russian naval build-up ahead of Idlib offensive

The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement explaining its unprecedented build-up of naval force in the Mediterranean as part of a week-long exercise would begin on 1 September. It said the exercise would involve 26 warships and naval vessels, including two submarines, with 34 aircraft, including missile-armed long-range bombers. But it is obvious that this build-up is timed to coincide (at least) with the planned Assad regime offensive on Idlib, the last Syrian province that remains under opposition control. Russia will certainly be massively backing the regime offensive, which the UN warns could spark a humanitarian catastrophe. With Turkey closing its borders to new refugees, it is unclear that civilians have any place left to flee. Many are already living in camps in Idlib under desperate conditions, with two million in need of humanitarian aid. (Photo: Syria News)

Syria

Did John McCain meet with jihadists in Syria?

Upon his death, many are reviving the discredited claim that John McCain met with ISIS on his Syria trip in 2013. But some are settling for the less ambitious, and perhaps plausible, claim that he met with jihadists who were implicated in atrocities. Ben Norton tweets: “John McCain was a staunch supporter of the CIA-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Salafi extremist opposition in Syria. In fact the late senator posed in a photo with a rebel who was involved in kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shia civilians.” But Norton is repeating as “fact” what are actually unproven claims—while he still equivocates about “alleged” chemical attacks by the Assad regime. It’s a bitter irony. McCain participated in war crimes in Vietnam. Two generations later, those who gloat at his death are covering up for equivalent war crimes by Assad and his allies. It fell to McCain, who was unapologetic about his Vietnam role, to try to drum up some support for the resistance in Syria. (Photo: John McCain Twitter feed)

Syria

Trump betrays Syrian rebels —surprise!

As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, “[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us.” This despite Washington’s earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called “de-escalation zones” would have “serious repercussions.” Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told Jordan’s King Abdullah II at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. The US has long been constraining the rebel forces from fighting Assad as a condition of receiving aid, insisting they fight only ISIS and other jihadists. Now that ISIS is essentially defeated, we appear to be witnessing the betrayal of the Syrian opposition in a Trump-Putin carve-up deal. (Southern Front logo via Wikipedia)

Iran

Iran: new sanctions on Hezbollah-linked figures

The US Department of the Treasury issued new sanctions against Iran, targeting two individuals deemed to be Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs). Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi has been identified as a financier for Hezbollah, and Safi al-Din has been identified as Hezbollah's representative in 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 and to begin reimposing sanctions against Iran. (Map: Myket.ir)

Syria

Syria: US targets pro-Assad forces for second time

US jets attacked a convoy of Iran-backed militia forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad—ironically within one of the new “deconfliction zones” established by the US and Russia.

Greater Middle East

Pentagon behind Syria mosque massacre: reports

The US is denying reports that it bombed a mosque in northwestern Syria during evening prayers, killing at least 50—despite mounting evidence from survivors and witnesses.