Syria
Syria prisoners

Demand urgent action to protect Syrian detainees

The Syrian regime has announced the first case of COVID-19 in the country after weeks of denial, and advocates in the diaspora believe the real number of cases is likely higher. The UK-based Syria Campaign writes that an outbreak in Syria could mean “horror beyond imagination.” Thousands of displaced families living in overcrowded camps cannot self-isolate. Health infrastructures in the country have collapsed due to the systematic targeting of hospitals by the regime and Russia. Especially vulnerable are the nearly 100,000 detainees and forcibly disappeared, many of whom are held in cramped underground centers where they are exposed to horrific conditions including torture and deprivation of proper food, water, hygiene, and medical care. These cells are already perfect breeding grounds for viruses and illnesses, and if coronavirus spreads containment will be impossible. (Photo of hunger strikers at Syrian prison via Foreign Policy. Credit: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images)

Planet Watch
Aleppo ruins

UN calls for ‘global ceasefire’ in response to COVID-19

UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” he said. “That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives… Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.” (Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR)

North America
refinery

Will COVID-19 mean oil industry bailout?

Already depressed oil prices are now plummeting in response to COVID-19 pandemic. Global oil consumption is said to be in “free-fall,” now predicted to lead to the largest “annual contraction in history.” Canada’s federal government is preparing a bailout package for the oil and gas sector, with a possible value of $15 billion. Among the proposals is a share buyout along the lines of the US Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for banks and automotive companies during the 2008 financial crisis. (Photo: kris krüg)

Syria
Syrian refugee children

From revolution to genocide: Syria’s grim anniversary

Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II. (Photo of refugee children on Jordanian border: Peter Biro/ECHO via The New Humanitarian)

Syria
Syria oil map

Great powers jockey for control of Syrian oil

In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF is selling oil from the those fields to the Assad regime. This is certainly an absurd irony, as US forces are backing up the SDF in control of the fields. Further evidence that, rhetoric and even official policy notwithstanding, the US is actually tilting to Assad in the Syrian war. The sales would appear to be another bid by the Kurds to win a separate peace with the Assad regime now that they are caught between foreign powers. The bitter irony is that Assad, ultimately, is also hostile to Kurdish autonomy. (Map: Energy Consulting Group)

Syria
White Helmets

UN: Russia commits ‘war crimes’ in Syria

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report charging that Russia is responsible for war crimes in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The report focuses on indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas from July 2019 through January 2020, and apparently intentional attacks by “pro-government forces” on civilian targets such as hospitals and medical facilities. The report comes as Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a new ceasefire in Idlib province, after a meeting in Moscow. The deal creates another “security corridor,” to be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish forces—but this time several kilometers north of the previous buffer zone the two powers had been recognizing before the recent regime offensive. Areas south of the zone are effectively ceded to the Assad regime, and the line of control is closer to Idlib’s capital, which remains in opposition hands. (Photo: White Helmets)

Syria
Idlib ruins

Syria: endgame or escalation?

Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. The humanitarian catastrophe is worsening in Idlib, with over half a million displaced and pouring into camps along the Turkish border. Regime forces this week recaptured Kafranbel, an important symbolic victory, as the town was among the first to rebel against Assad and was long a symbol of the revolution. Regime and Russian aerial bombardment continues to take a horrific toll, with schools and hospitals intentionally targeted.  (Photo: White Helmets)

Europe
Crimea Canal

Ukraine to lift ‘water blockade’ of Crimea?

Ukrainian lawmakers from the ruling party have proposed resuming the water supply to the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula, leading to public outrage. After Russia’s 2014 seizure and unilateral annexation of Crimea, Ukraine ceased supplying water to the arid peninsula. Before the occupation, water was supplied from the Ukrainian mainland through the North Crimean Canal. Today, a dam blocks the canal on the de facto border with Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast. The shortage of water has hurt Crimean agriculture and industry, although most households rely on local wells. MPs from the ruling Servant of the People party proposed either selling the water to Crimea or using it to leverage a withdrawal of Russian military forces from the conflicted Donbas region in Ukraine’s east. But Refat Chubarov, the Crimean Tatar leader who was exiled from the peninsula by Russia after the take-over, responded that any agreement to supply water to Crimea, regardless of the conditions, would be a betrayal of the 500,000 Tatars living in the peninsula. (Map: EuroMaidan Press)

The Caucasus
North Caucasus

Russia: raids on rights defenders in Dagestan

Police in southern Russia raided the homes and office of activists who provide legal and psychological assistance to survivors of human rights abuses and domestic violence, Human Rights Watch reports. The raids took place in Makhachkala and Khasavyurt, two cities in Dagestan, a republic in Russia’s Northern Caucasus region. The activists targeted are members of the Stichting Justice Initiative, a nongovernmental organization representing victims of rights abuses in the North Caucasus and survivors of domestic violence. Police seized computers and electronics containing documentation pertaining to their work. The court order sanctioning the search and seizure contained no information about any specific alleged offense that would have justified the action.  “These outrageous police raids show the poisonous climate for NGOs in Russia, and particularly in the North Caucasus,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. (Map: Wikitravel)

North Africa
Sudan rebels

Internationalization of Libya war

A senior UN official charged at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that “the arms embargo has become a joke.” The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo “by land, sea and air,” Williams said. A UN report also accuses Haftar of bringing in Sudanese rebels from Darfur to fight for the LNA, while Turkey is accused of importing Syrian rebels to fight for the GNA. (Photo: Libya Observer)

Syria
Idlib displaced

Syria: ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Idlib

Over half a million people are on the move in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province as Bashar Assad’s Russian-backed forces follow up their long aerial campaign with a ground offensive. The front line is closing on the provincial capital, the Turkish border is sealed to people trying to flee, and health services are collapsing. Aid agencies have issued a statement saying that Idlib is already a winter “humanitarian catastrophe,” with camps for the displaced overflowing. As rebel defenses collapse, displaced civilians are destroying their own homes before they flee to deny looters property they expect never to see again. (Photo: UNHCR)

Africa
Mozambique displaced

ISIS behind Mozambique insurgency?

The UN refugee agency is boosting its response in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, where a recent escalation of violence has forced thousands to flee for their lives. At least 100,000 people are now displaced throughout the province. There has been a dramatic increase of brutal attacks by armed groups, with recent weeks being the most volatile period since the outbreak began in October 2017. Bands of gunmen have been targeting local villages and terrorizing the populace. Those fleeing report random killings, maiming and torture, torched homes and shops, and crops burned in the fields. There have been reports of beheadings, kidnappings and disappearances of women and children. Several of the attacks have been claimed in the name of the Islamic State. (Photo: UNHCR)