The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a "buffer zone" in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in the south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a "demilitarized" zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. There are numerous unanswered questions. Reports indicated the deal stipulates that "all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the zone"—but does that apply to the Russian and Turkish patrols? It is also mandated that what Putin called "radically-minded" rebel fighters would have to pull out of the zone entirely, which is presumably a reference to the Nusra-affiliated jihadist factions. These factions control parts of Idlib city, and it is not clear if the provincial capital will be included in the zone. (BBC News, Haaretz)
In the latest of ongoing weekly demonstrations in Syria's besieged Idlib province, thousands took to the streets after Friday prayers Sept. 14, calling on the world to act to prevent the impending massacre there. One of the biggest demonstrations was held in the city of Maarat al-Nouman in central Idlib, where some 25,000 people, including residents from outlying villages and towns, gathered for the march called by the civil resistance. "There will be no solution in Syria without Assad's fall," read one prominent banner. Russian-led air-strikes have already opened on Idlib ahead of the anticipated offensive by the Assad regime and its allied forces to take the province, now the last significant area of Syria still controlled by the opposition. Air-strikes last week reportedly destroyed a hospital run by the White Helmets in the town of Hass. The UN has provided Russia with the GPS coordinates of 235 schools, hospitals and other civilian sites in Idlib, in the hope that the move will help protect them from being attacked. But Russia and Assad have been repeatedly accused of intentionally bombing hospitals over the course of the Syrian war.
In Episode 17 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses growing repression against the Tatar people of the Crimea, and the abrogation of their autonomous government by the Russian authorities since Moscow's illegal annexation of the peninsula. This is a clear parallel to violation of the territorial rights of the Lakota people in the United States through construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the legal persecution of indigenous leaders who stood against it. The parallel is even clearer in the cases of the Evenks and Telengit, indigenous peoples of Siberia, resisting Russian construction of pipelines through their traditional lands. Yet the US State Department's Radio Free Europe aggressively covers the Tatar struggle, while Kremlin propaganda organ Russia Today (RT) aggressively covered the Dakota Access protests. Indigenous struggles are exploited in the propaganda game played by the rival superpowers. With the struggles of the Tsleil-Waututh people of British Columbia against the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota against the Line 3 Pipeline now heating up, it is imperative that indigenous peoples and their allies overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity across borders and influence spheres. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
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."
The US on Aug. 6 harshly condemned the Syrian regime over thousands of death notices it has released in recent weeks, saying they confirm suspicions of mass detentions, torture and murder. State Department representative Heather Nauert said that over 117,000 people are believed to have been detained or forcibly disappeared in Syria since the conflict began in 2011, with "the vast majority" suspected to be in regime custody "across a network of prisons where regime officials torture and murder civilians to intimidate and silence any opposition" to Bashar Assad's rule. (Anadolu Agency)
In Episode 14 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the national protest wave that brought down president Park Geun-Hye in South Korea in December 2016, and asks why Americans can't similarly rise to the occassion and launch a mass militant movement to remove Donald Trump. Given this extreme emergency—the detention gulag now coming into place, with undocumented migrants the "test population" for domestic fascism—we should be mobilizing in our millions. Apart from the broad masses being simply too distracted by gizmos and consumerism to see the walls closing in (a problem to be discussed elsewhere), Weinberg identifies two significant obstacles to unity: 1. The fundamental split in the left over the whole question of Russia and its electoral meddling; and 2. The phenomenon of party parasitism, with both the Democrats and sectarian-left factions seeking to exploit popular movements to advance their own power. He concludes by asking whether social media, which is partially responsible for getting us into this mess through its totalizing propaganda environment, can help get us out—whether it can empower us to sidestep the Dems and the alphabet-soup factions alike and work rapidly and efficiently to build a leaderless, broad-based, intransigent movement around the aim of removing Trump. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Syria Solidarity NYC will be protesting Seymour Hersh's appearance at the New York Public Library to promote his newly released memoir on June 20. It is a painful irony that Seymour Hersh, who broke the My Lai massacre story in 1968, has now become an open supporter of the genocidal Assad regime, portraying it as a guarantor of "stability" and repeatedly covering up for its massacres. Please stand with us, and for the Syrian victims who cannot be present.
Two months after it was first reported that President Trump had issued an order to freeze over $200 million in "reconstruction aid" to what media accounts called "US-backed rebels" in Syria, details are finally emerging on which groups have had their aid cut. And the first to be mentioned isn't a "rebel" group at all, but the White Helmets—the volunteer unarmed civil defense force that operates in areas under bombardment by the Assad regime and its Russian backers. A spokesperson for the US State Department, which is said to provide some third of the White Helmets' budget, said the group's funding is "under active review." But speaking to Al Jazeera, White Helmets leader Raed Saleh pledged to persevere. He said the group "did not receive any direct funding from the US or any other country"—presumably meaning money was funneled through NGOs. "The White Helmets receives funding from organizations and associations. Our work has not been disrupted and all the projects we are working on will not be halted. Our volunteers are still operating on the ground."