Reports of rights abuses in the north Syrian enclave of Afrin, taken by Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army allies from Kurdish defenders in March, continue to mount. An Amnesty International alert issued Aug. 1 charges that Afrin residents have been arbitrarily detained and tortured, with houses and businesses looted and confiscated, and schools destroyed or taken over by militia forces. These abuses mostly took place "at the hands of Syrian armed groups equipped and armed by Turkey," while "Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye." Thousands of children have had their education disrupted by the take-over of their schools for use by rebel militias and even directly by Turkish troops.
Representatives of the US-backed Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces are holding talks in Damascus with the Assad regime, apparently with an eye toward regime recognition of the Kurdish autonomous zone in exchange for unity against further Turkish expansion in northern Syria. "A delegation from the Syrian Democratic Council is paying a first official visit to Damascus at the invitation of the government," the council's Arab co-chair Riad Darar said. "We are working towards a settlement for northern Syria. We hope that the discussions on the situation in the north will be positive." The SDF controls more than 27% of Syrian territory. (France24) In effect, that means this region is under the Rojava autonomous administration, which is the real political force behind the SDF. The Rojava leadership's cooperation in a Syrian carve-up deal may be the price of survival for their autonomous zone. But it would certainly vindicate the long-standing accusations of Kurdish collaboration with Assad—despite Assad's previous refusal to recognize the autonomous zone. It would also yet further heighten the risk of Kurdish-Arab ethnic war in northern Syria.
With the fall of Syria's southern province of Daraa to Assad regime forces earlier this month, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. The pro-Moscow Al Masdar News headlines that Damascus is preparing for the "mother of all battles in Idlib," with the Syrian Arab Army's elite Tiger Forces to lead the offensive. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters in Ankara before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve "the issue of Idlib." (YNet)
The elections that handed a victory to Turkey's incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan June 24 were carried out under a state of emergency that has been in place since the attempted coup of 2016, with some 160,000 political opponents imprisoned—including party leaders. The hegemonic state media outlets such as TRT-TV overwhelmingly devoted their election coverage to Erdogan's campaign, while citizen access to social media and suspect websites was intermittently restricted by decree. The observation team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Erdogan had benefited from this excessive coverage, and raised questions about the transparency of the vote. It did not challenge the results, however. Erdogan has apparently avoided a run-off election. He will re-enter office with sweeping new powers following a narrowly-won constitutional referendum last year. Opposition leader Muharrem Ince of the Republican People's Party (CHP) conceded defeat, but warned that Turkey is headed toward "one-man rule."
A new Amnesty International report accuses the US of "war crimes" in the bombardment of Raqqa, and the virtual "annihilation" of the city. The fact that the US-led bombardment was in support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in their campaign to take the city from ISIS has contributed to pitting Kurd against Arab and brought northern Syria closer to ethnic war. Ironically (if predictably), now that the Syrian Kurds have served their purpose in defeating ISIS, Washington is about to kick them overboard—just as Assad and Erdogan alike are preparing offensives against them.
Reports have been mounting for months that Assad is replacing those (mostly Sunni Arabs) displaced from his reconquered territories with Iranians and Iraqi Shi'ites, in a form of "sectarian cleansing." Now come reports that Turkey is replacing the Kurds displaced from its conquered "buffer zone" in Syria's north with those displaced by Assad—specifically, the Kurdish residents who fled the town of Afrin are being replaced by Sunni Arabs that fled Eastern Ghouta, according to Middle East Eye. Alarmingly, the Kurdish YPG militia tweeted in reference to the Ghouta displaced now resettled in Afrin: "We reiterate that these terrorists and their families are the main targets of our forces." (Emphasis added.) The tweet was apparently deleted after an outcry, but a screenshot of it remains online. The Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria that we have long warned of now seems to be arriving.
The United Arab Emirates announced April 16 that it is ending its military training program in Somalia, as the governments of Abu Dhabi and Mogadishu trade charges back and forth. Ostensibly the move comes in response to the seizure of millions of dollars from a UAE plane by Somali security forces last week. But tensions between the two governments have been on the rise over Emirati plans to build a military base in Somaliland, the self-declared republic that is effectively independent from Mogadishu. The UAE has trained hundreds of troops since 2014 for the weak and fractious Mogadishu government. But Mogadishu sees establishment of a foreign base at Somaliland's port of Berbera as a move toward recognition of the breakaway republic, calling it a "clear violation of international law."
Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)