Greater Middle East
Levant Basin

Hydrocarbons at issue in Israel-Lebanon dispute

US-mediated talks opened between Israel and Lebanon, aimed at resolving the long-standing maritime border dispute between the two countries. At issue in the talks, held in Lebanon’s coastal border town of Naqoura, is an 860-square-kilometer patch of the Mediterranean where each side lays territorial claim. The conflict stems from differing demarcation methods: Israel marks the border as being at a 90-degree angle to the land border, while Lebanon marks it as a continuation of the land borderline. The issue grew more pressing with the discovery of abundant hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean’s Levant Basin. Lebanon, which sought to pursue gas drilling off its coast, submitted its demarcation of the maritime borders to the UN a decade ago, claiming this area as within its Exclusive Economic Zone. Israel called this an infringement of its rights, and submitted its own version of the border demarcation to the UN. (Photo: US Energy Information Administration)

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)

Greater Middle East
hegazi

Egyptian LGBT activist a suicide in exile

Three years after her arrest and torture by security forces in her native country, Egyptian LGBT activist Sarah Hegazi killed herself in exile in Canada, prompting an outpouring of sympathy and anger on social media. Hegazi, 30, an openly gay woman and rights advocate, was among a group of activists arrested in September 2017 after raising a rainbow flag at a Cairo concert of the Lebanese indie band Mashrou Leila, which includes gay members. Hegazi was charged with joining an illegal group promoting “deviant thought.” She fled to Canada after being released on bail in January 2018. The incident was followed by a harsh crackdown on Egypt’s LGBT community. (Photo via Middle East Eye)

Planet Watch
peru exodus

Poor persecuted in COVID-19 police state

In countries across the world, the impoverished are in a grimly paradoxical position: disproportionately impacted both by COVID-19 and by the police-state measures imposed in response to the pandemic—and consequent economic pain. In Lebanon, which had been in the midst of a national uprising before the lockdown, protests have been re-ignited—and with far greater anger. In Venezuela and Argentina, harshly overcrowded prisons have exploded into uprisings over emergency restrictions that leave inmates incommunicado. As in India, stranded migrant laborers line the highways in Peru, defying lockdown orders that have left them destitute, far from home and without employment. UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet warns that “the public health emergency risks becoming a human rights disaster, with negative effects that will long outlast the pandemic itself.” (Photo: RebeliĂłn)

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)

Planet Watch
Chile protester

Podcast: world revolution in 2020?

In Episode 43 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the current wave of popular protest and uprisings around the world, and asks if the planet is approaching another moment of revolutionary possibilities, such as was seen in 2011. He examines the prospects for these disparate movements to build solidarity across borders, repudiate ethnic and national divide-and-rule stratagems, and recognize the enemy as transnational capital and the authoritarian states that serve it. With discussions of Hong Kong, mainland China, Indonesia, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Honduras, Costa Rica, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey Iran, Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Guinea. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon. (Photo: David Lynch via Twitter)

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

More than half million killed in Syria since 2011

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights issued a statistical report on the number of Syrian war victims on the occasion of World Human Rights Day. The statistics show that 560,000 people have been killed since March 2011, including civilians, soldiers, rebel fighters, and “martyrs” who died under torture in the regime prisons. The Observatory found: “Over 93 months…Syrians have been crushed between the jaws of death, with each day declaring a decrease in their numbers…” The Observatory documented the deaths of 104,000 Syrians in the regime’s prisons, likely under torture in most cases, with 83% executed in these prisons between May 2013 and October 2015. In this period, 30,000 were killed in Saydnaya prison alone, according to the Observatory. The remainder of the total were killed in fighting, with civilians constituting a large plurality at 111,330. The rest were from various armed factions. (Photo of Aleppo following regime bombardment: 7ee6an)

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)

North America

Human Rights Watch: Trump portends ‘tyranny’

In its yearly report, Human Rights Watch warns that the rise of populist leaders "poses a dangerous threat to basic rights"—particularly naming Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

The Andes

DEA sees Hezbollah link to Colombian cartel

The DEA claims that Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado,"  successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel.