Greater Middle East
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.
With the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen launching a major offensive on the rebel-held port of Hodeidah, aid groups are warning of a humanitarian disaster on a scale far outstripping that already seen. Yemen is already considered the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 10.4 million people at risk of famine. Hodeidah is the entry point for 70% of the aid upon which over 22 million Yemenis depend. "The attack on Hodeidah places millions more people at risk of starvation and could violate UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolutions 2140 and 2216, regarding obstruction of the delivery of humanitarian assistance.," said a statement from the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that a sustained battle or siege of Hodeidah could lead to the deaths of as many as 250,000 civilians.
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.
CounterVortex editor and chief blogger Bill Weinberg will host a panel at the Anarchist Bookfair in New York City June 9 on "Solidarity with the Syrian Revolution." Also speaking will be writer Amina A. of Syria Solidarity NYC and Shiyam Galyon from Books Not Bombs. Eclipsed from the headlines by ruthless armed actors, the secular, progressive civil opposition that started the Syrian Revolution in 2011 continues to exist. In some areas of Syria, it is the real power on the ground, in self-governing municipalities run on an anarchist-influenced model of council-based popular democracy. In opposing imperialist designs on Syria (US and Russian alike), our first responsibility is to build vigorous solidarity with this civil opposition.
Saudi Arabia won applause around the world last year when women were finally allowed to drive in the conservative kingdom. But now, just as this reform is about to take effect, some of the activists who campaigned for it have been arrested—and may face the death penalty. A Saudi government statement said that the seven activists had been detained for "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric." The statement also accused them of working together in "an organized manner to violate religious and national values," without actually naming the detainees. Rights groups have named six of them as Eman al-Nafjan, Lujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Aisha al-Manea, Ibrahim Modeimigh and Mohammed al-Rabea. Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on May 20, shortly after the arrests, that they may face the death penalty. An online "smear campaign" has also been launched against them, wth social media posts portraying them are "traitors." Most prominent among the detained is Loujain al-Hathloul, well known for her work campaigning against the driving ban. She was arrested at her home on the evening of May 15. (Middle East Eye, May 21; Amnesty International, May 19)
The Assad regime is now said to be in full control of the Damascus area for the first time since 2012, with the fall of Yarmouk, the long-besieged Palestinian refugee camp outside the capital. Under another "surrender deal," resistance fighters were allowed to flee to rebel-held Idlib governorate in the north, although those apparently affiliated with ISIS were provided transportation to unspecified locations in Syria's eastern desert. It is clear that many of the camp's civilian residents are also choosing to evacuate, fearing reprisals from the regime. Some 7,000 have been displaced from camp, the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Some of these had already fled to pockets of rebel control around the Damascus area which have since also fallen to regime forces, and their fates remain uncertain. Reports are already emerging of looting and pillaging of abandoned properties by regime troops and their militia allies. (MEM, Al Bawaba, Madamasr.com, Action Group for Palestinians of Syria)
A crisis over the Yemeni island of Socotra was resolved this week, as the United Arab Emirates agreed to withdraw and turn control over to Saudi forces, which will in turn restore full Yemeni rule there. The island, just off the very tip of the Horn of Africa, has been ruled by Yemeni governments for centuries between periodic episodes of control by various European powers, and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique flora and fauna, hailed as the "Galapagos of the Indian Ocean." Emirati forces seized it at the beginning of the month, and raised their flag over the airport and other strategic points—sparking angry protests from the island's inhabitants. Hashim Saad al-Saqatri, Socotra's governor, condemned the UAE move as an "occupation," saying it represented "a flagrant violation of Yemeni sovereignty." Even after the de-escalation, suspicions remain. Yemen's ambassador to UNESCO, Ahmad al-Sayyad, charged that "there is synergy between the roles of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There is a hidden inclination to divide Yemen." (Middle East Eye, May 18; Al Jazeera, May 17)
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."