Russia and the Assad regime have resumed attacks on opposition-held northwest Syria, breaking a four-day pause declared by Damascus. Russian and regime forces, whose spring offensive shattered a "demilitarized zone" announced last September by Moscow and Turkey, again began bombing and shelling both rebel positions and civilian areas Aug. 5. The regime's military said four days earlier that it was halting operations, which have killed more than 700 civilians and wounded more than 2,200 since late April, while it gave an ultimatum to anti-Assad forces to withdraw from the 20-kilometer "demilitarized zone" through Idlib and northern Hama province. As the new air-strikes were launched, an army statement said: "The agreement to a truce was conditional... This did not happen... We resume our military operations against terrorist organizations."
In a new campaign against migrants who lack residency papers, Turkey has for the past weeks been deporting Syrians from Istanbul to Syria—including to the war-torn northwest province of Idlib. The crackdown comes at a time of rising rhetoric and political pressure on the country's 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees to return home. Estimates place hundreds of thousands of unregistered Syrians in Turkey, many living in urban areas such as Istanbul. Refugee rights advocates say deportations to Syria violate customary international law, which prohibits forcing people to return to a country where they are still likely to face persecution or risk to their lives. Arrests reportedly began in mid-July, with police conducting spot-checks in public spaces, factories, and metro stations around Istanbul and raiding apartments. As word spread quickly in Istanbul's Syrian community, many people shut themselves up at home rather than risk being caught outside. It is not clear how many people have been deported so far, with reported numbers ranging from hundreds to a thousand.
Some 100 civilians have been killed over the past week as Russia and the Assad regime step up aerial attacks on Idlib, the northern Syria province that remains outside regime control. White Helmets rescuer workers on July 24 reported at least 10 fatalities in Tubish village, near the "ghost town" of Khan Sheikhoun where the 2017 chemical attack took place. The search for victims under the rubble continues. Horrifying images of a five-year-old girl's desperate attempt to save her baby sister trapped under rubble following an air-strike in the town of Ariha has gone viral. The footage was shot by the independent Syrian media outlet SY24, which reports that the girl, named Riham, later died of her own injuries—one of 31 killed in air-strikes on Ariha this week. (EA Worldview, Al Jazeera, BBC News)
Following recent Turkish air-strikes on the border area of Iraq's Kurdistan Region, Iranian artillery and drones struck a village in Sidakan district of Erbil province on July 10, killing one civilian and wounding two more. The mayor of Sidakan said a young girl who was working in the fields outside the hamlet of Dere was killed in the attacks, and her two bothers wounded. Orchards and pastures were also set ablaze in the strikes. Sidakan has frequently come under attack by Turkish warplanes targeting presumed strongholds of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the Iranian attack was apparently aimed at an allied Kurdish armed group that opposes Tehran, the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK).
Thousands of displaced residents of Idlib province in northwest Syria—under a Russian-backed bombardment by the Assad regime, which has killed about 300 over the past month and displaced more than 300,000—marched on the sealed Turkish border on May 31, demanding entry or international action to stop the bombing. With more than 3.6 million refugees already in Turkey, Ankara's authorities have blocked any further entries since 2016. But the regime bombing campaign, and accompanying a ground offensive that has shattered a so-called "demilitarized zone," now threatens a "humanitarian catastrophe," in the words of the United Nations. Abou al-Nour, an administrator at the overcrowded Atmeh camp, told Reuters that more than 20,000 families are now sleeping in an olive grove near the border. "They don't have any shelter or water, and this is beyond our abilities. We are doing all we can," he said. (EA Worldview) A video posted to YouTube showed protesters rallying at the border wall with the Free Syria flag, and signs assailing the international community for its inaction. One spokesman said, "These civilians came here today to tell the world, if you cannot save us, we will break the border and come to Europe to find a safer place to live."
For the second day, Turkish fighter jets struck Kurdish rebel positions across the Iraqi border May 21—part of a new offensive against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), apparently undertaken with the implicit consent of Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government. Ankara's Defense Ministry said Turkish warplanes struck ammunition depots and shelters used by the rebels in the Avashin area of Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkish ground forces are also reported to have crossed the border, and engaged PKK fighters at the village of Sidekan, in the Khakurk area of Erbil province. The PKK issued a statement saying its fighters had clashed with the "Turkish invading army." (Al Monitor, Rudaw)
In Episode 33 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg compares coverage of the Idlib offensive from CNN and its Turkish counterpart TRT World, illustrating how the US corporate media uncritically echo the propaganda of the Assad regime. While TRT emphasizes civilian casualties, the CNN headline says "terrorists" are being killed—the propaganda technique of dehumanization and objectification of victims. Shamefully, "progressives" in the West are far more complicit with Assad's genocide. The deplorable Amy Goodman has now repeatedly allowed voices such as Phyllis Bennis and the inevitable Noam Chomsky to spew genocide-abetting propaganda on Democracy Now. Weinberg also discusses the contradictions facing the Rojava Kurds in the areas of Syria they control. He closes with a call for Syria Solidarity NYC and Rojava Solidarity NYC to hold a joint workshop at the NYC Anarchist Book Fair, to try to arrive at a unified pro-revolutionary position on Syria. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Assad regime and allied militias, backed by Russian air-strikes, this week launched the long-feared offensive on Idlib, the northwest Syrian province that is the last under rebel and opposition control. The offensive places at risk the lives of more than 4.5 million civilians. Just this month, a further 150,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Idlib, joining the ranks the displaced. The UN has previously warned that an assault on Idlib could cause "the worst humanitarian catastrophe the world has seen in the 21st century." At particular risk are 350,000 people living in displacement camps, who have no protection from the bombs. The more recently displaced are now without any shelter on lands near the Turkish border, which Ankara has shut to prevent a refugee influx.