Greater Middle East

As Russia bombs Idlib, Turkey threatens Rojava

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)

Waterworks, civil defense centers bombed in Idlib

Assad regime and Russian warplanes continue to target civilians and basic infrastructure in the aerial assault on opposition-controlled Idlib province in Syria's north. At least 12 were killed in a regime air-strike on a market in Maar Shurin village July 16. Two days earlier, Russian air-strikes destroyed the main water plant in Maarat al-Numan, a town already swollen with displaced persons who have fled the regime offensive. The pumping station, which provides clean water to the town of 80,000 and surrounding villages, was previously targeted by regime air-strikes on July 5, causing partial damage. First responders are also apparently being intentionally targeted. A new report from the Syrian Network for Human Rights finds that Russian and Assad forces have struck 31 civil defense centers and vehicles in opposition-controlled areas of Idlib and Hama provinces since the current offensive began in late April. At least seven first responders and medics from the White Helmets and Violet Organization civil defense groups have been killed. The overall civilian death toll in the air-strikes on Idlib and Hama is placed at 550, including 130 children.

New spasm of Syria chemwar denial: don't buy it

A sudden feeding-frenzy of revisionism about the April 2018 Douma chemical attack in Syria has broken out, with celebrities glomming on in unseemly manner. This time Susan Sarandon joins already proved Assad regime shill Roger Waters, their spewing avidly lapped up by Kremlin propaganda organ RT (of course). But also getting on this bandwagon—most disgracefully, because he purports to be a "journalist"—is Robert Fisk. Not just a mere aging rock star, Fisk is able to loan more potent propaganda service to the Assad regime—for which he has been called out by Syrian left-opposition figure (and survivor of Assad's prisons) Yassin al-Haj as "indoctrinated" by the regime. Fisk's May 23 revisionist write-up in The Independent was entitled "The evidence we were never meant to see about the Douma 'gas' attack." Note that he even disingenuously puts "gas" in scare quotes, while even he doesn't go so far (in the actual text of the story) as to question whether poisonous gas was used at Douma. 

Russia blocks UN statement against Idlib bombing

Russia on June 3 blocked a UN Security Council statement of alarm about the killing of civilians in northwest Syria and the possibility of a humanitarian disaster. The bombing and shelling have accompanied a Russia-backed offensive by the Assad regime to recapture parts of Idlib and neighboring Hama province. This last major opposition-held area is home to over 4 million people—about 20% of Syria's surviving population. Over the past month, some 300 civilians have been killed in the bombardment, with hundreds more wounded. The number displaced in Idlib and Hama now totals more than 300,000. Almost 30 medical facilities have been destroyed or damaged in the bombing. Throughout the eight-year Syrian conflict, Russia has vetoed 12 Security Council resolutions to criticize or censure its ally, the Assad regime.

Syria: Idlib displaced march on Turkish border

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."

Egypt: 'crimes against humanity' in Sinai feared

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on May 28 detailed abuses against civilians by both the Egyptian government and militants in the Sinai Peninsula, some of which HRW classified as war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The information in the report was collected over a two-year investigation into the conditions facing civilians in Sinai. The abuses detailed in the report include mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. These actions are part of the government's fight against the ISIS-affiliated militants in Sinai. HRW claims that both groups are guilty of committing atrocities against civilians, but the Egyptian government is responsible for the majority of the abuses.

Yemen ceasefire deal: real or 'smokescreen'?

Nearly six months after a much-publicized deal was made in Sweden to bring an end to four years of war and the resulting humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the UN now says Houthi fighters have pulled out of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah. But many Yemenis, including the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, claim that reports of a unilateral withdrawal by Houthi forces are a "smokescreen." The limits of what has been achieved are clear from renewed clashes that have erupted in Hodeidah between Saudi-backed pro-government forces and Houthi rebels.

Amnesty: 'crimes against humanity' in Idlib

The Bashar Assad regime, supported by Russia, is carrying out a "deliberate and systematic assault" on hospitals and other medical facilities in Syria's northwestern provinces of Idlib and Hama, Amnesty International said May 17. With the UN Security Council set to discuss northwest Syria, Amnesty urged action, calling for Russia to be pressured over the deliberate targeting of 15 hospitals in Idlib and Hama over the past three weeks. "Bombing hospitals carrying out their medical functions is a war crime. These latest attacks have eliminated vital lifelines for civilians in desperate need of medical care. This is part of a well-established pattern targeting medical facilities to systematically attack the civilian population and it constitutes crimes against humanity," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East director.

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