Greater Middle East

Yemen war death toll surpasses 70,000

More than 10,000 people have been reported killed in Yemen over the last five months, bringing the war's total death toll to over 70,000 since 2016, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). While overall reported fatalities have trended downward this year amid a UN-backed peace process, fighting continues across the country and has even intensified in some areas, including the governorates of Taiz and Hajjah. The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the highest number of reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting: over 4,800 since 2016. The Houthis and their allies are responsible for over 1,300 reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting. (ACLED, Madison, WI, April 18)

Bahrain court sentences 139 on terrorism charges

Bahrain's High Criminal Court on April 16 sentenced 139 terror suspects to prison terms ranging from three years to life in prison. The court also revoked the citizenship of all but one of those convicted. The accused were sad to be part of a network organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian state recently designated by the US Treasury Department as a "terrorist organization." Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni and most of those sentenced are believed to be Shia.

Syria's Idlib still under bombardment

Syria's last opposition-controlled province of Idlib has receded from the headlines since a joint Russian-Turkish deal was announced last September, forestalling an Assad regime offensive on the province and establishing a "demilitarized zone" policed by the two foreign powers. But shelling and bombardment of the province by Assadist and Russian forces has escalated over the past month—and much of the shells and missiles are falling within the "demilitarized zone." Most recently, five civilians were injured April 14 in a regime air-strike on the Idlib villages of Urum al-Jawz and Bsanqul and Jabal al-Arabaeen, outside the town of Ari, within the demilitarized zone. UN Senior Humanitarian Advisor for Syria Najat Rochdi told reporters in Geneva last week that over 100,000 Idlib residents have fled their homes since February as a result of increased fighting. More than 90 civilians, half of them children, were killed in the province in March. As ever, medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted.

Dutch anti-ISIS volunteer arrested in Netherlands

Authorities in the Netherlands have arrested a Dutch volunteer—known by the nom de guerre Andok—who fought with the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) against ISIS in northern Syria's Raqqa in 2017. The Dutch Public Prosecution said in a statement April 2 that Andok, 24, had traveled to France in December 2016 and later went to the Syrian battle zone. He was identified in a broadcast for the Dutch TV program EenVandaag in September 2017, the prosecutor's office said. However, in the interview he did not show his face nor reveal his real name. He was detained upon his arrival at Amsterdam's  Schiphol airport, and appeared the following day before an examining judge in Rotterdam, who placed him in custody for two weeks pending formal charges.

Repression in wake of Turkish elections

Turkey's eastern province of Muş has banned protests and demonstrations for 15 days following the March 30 nationwide local elections amid objections by the country's pro-Kurdish party to the reported results. The announcement from the governor's office came following an official victory by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the Kurdish-majority province by a narrow margin over the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP is preparing to appeal the results, citing irregularities. Muş is one of numerous provinces in Turkey's east where government-appointed administrators (kayyim) have been running municipalities since the July 2016 coup attempt. (Ahval)

Turkey arrests Kurdish politicians on election eve

Turkish police on March 30 conducted raids on 127 homes in Istanbul and arrested at least 53 people, including all candidates for the city council with the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The sweeps come less than 24 hours before nationwide local elections commence. In southern Sanliurfa province, police arrested 11 other HDP candidates and campaigners on supposed "terrorism-related" charges. Some 30 more HDP candidates and supporters were arrested in the cities of Adana, Van, and Igdir. The government accuses the HDP of links to outlawed Kurdish militants, and 10 lawmakers, 40 mayors and thousands of activists remain behind bars. Before the raids, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated the accusation and called the party "terror lovers." (Kurdistan 24, AP)

Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah released

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist, was released from prison on March 29 after serving a five-year sentence, according to his family and lawyer. Fattah was a leading voice among young Egyptians in the uprising of 2011, which ousted president Hosni Mubarak from power after a 30-year period of rule. A prominent blogger and software engineer, he was once described by authorities as "the icon of the revolution."

SDF take last ISIS pocket: what next?

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the complete "territorial defeat" of the Islamic State (ISIS) on March 23. The SDF "declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS," Mustafa Bali, head of the force's press office, announced on Twitter. "On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible," Bali added. Some 11,000 fighters of the SDF, a Kurdish-led umbrella force of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of northern Syria, died in the war against ISIS. In Iraq, more than 1,800 Peshmerga were killed battling the group. The Iraqi army has not released their official figures casualties, but it is believed to be in the thousands.

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