After years of presumed Israeli air-strikes on Iranian forces in Syria, the IDF finally carried out air-strikes that were publicly acknowledged Aug. 24, hitting a compound near Damascus supposedly shared by the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force and Hezbollah militants. Three were said to be killed in the attack, suposedly launched to head off a planned Quds Force drone attack on West Bank settlements. (Jerusalem Post) Two days later, an Israeli drone struck a supposed compounds of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a Damascus-aligned faction, in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. Lebanon's President Michel Aoun called the attacks a "declaration of war." (Jerusalem Post)
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 Dec. 10. 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.
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. E.g. the always annoying 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." He links to a May 10, 2013 Reuters story which cites an undated article in Lebanon's Daily Star (apparently not translated into English) claiming that McCain was photographed in Syria with a rebel "implicated in" the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims the previous year. The man in question was apparently one Mohammad Nour—"identified by two freed hostages as the chief spokesman and photographer for the Northern Storm brigade that kidnapped them."
In its yearly report, Human Rights Watch warns that the rise of populist leaders "poses a dangerous threat to basic rights protections"—particularly naming Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. On releasing its "World Report 2017," the organization stated: "Donald Trump's election as US president after a campaign fomenting hatred and intolerance, and the rising influence of political parties in Europe that reject universal rights, have put the postwar human rights system at risk." It added that "strongman leaders in Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and China have substituted their own authority, rather than accountable government and the rule of law, as a guarantor of prosperity and security. These converging trends, bolstered by propaganda operations that denigrate legal standards and disdain factual analysis, directly challenge the laws and institutions that promote dignity, tolerance, and equality."
Lebanese Shi'ite militant group Hezbollah is laundering money for the "Oficina de Envigado," said to be the successor organization to Colombia's legendary Medellín Cartel, according to the DEA. In a Feb. 1 press release, the agency said that members of Hezbollah's External Security Organization Business Affairs Component (BAC) is part of a transnational drug-trafficking scheme that involves "South American drug cartels, such as La Oficina de Envigado." According to the statement, the BAC uses the "black peso money laundering system" established by the Medellín Cartel to launder profits from European cocaine sales through money exchange offices in Colombia and overseas. "These drug trafficking and money laundering schemes utilized by the Business Affairs Component provide a revenue and weapons stream for an international terrorist organization responsible for devastating terror attacks around the world," said DEA acting deputy administrator Jack Riley.
In the wake of the Paris attacks, the centripetal tendency in world affairs seems to hold sway—a further Great Power convergence against ISIS. When the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle reaches its position off Syria's coast, it joins a Russian guided missile cruiser already there—and cooperation between the two powers appears imminent. "Under the Russian president's decree, the General Staff is working out joint anti-terrorism operations with the French Navy," said Col-Gen. Andrey Kartapolov, deputy chief of staff, according to Moscow's state news agency Tass. "With the arrival of the Charles de Gaulle warship to the Syrian shore we will organize joint military operations." Citing Kartapolov, Tass also claimed, "Russian warplanes have destroyed about 500 fuel tank trucks that were illegally transporting oil from Syria to Iraq for refining." While not stated, this presumably means ISIS oil. (NPR)
One day before the horrific Paris attacks, some 40 people were killed and more than 180 wounded in twin suicide attacks in a crowded suburb of Beirut. The coordinated blasts struck a Shi'ite community center and a nearby bakery in the commercial and residential district of Borj al-Barajneh. The attacks were claimed in the name of ISIS. (Al Arabiya News, Nov. 12) Less than 24 hours later, the Parisian terror began to unfold—leaving at least 120 dead as a concert hall, sports stadium and restaurants were targeted with bombs and bullets. Eight of the attackers are dead in what appear to have been France's first suicide attacks. (BBC News, France24) In Europe and America, ugly responses are already in witness...
A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.