Greater Middle East
Turkish police on May 16 arrested two sisters and deported them to Saudi Arabia after receiving a formal complaint from their family living in the kingdom. The complaint was lodged by their father in March, claiming they are ISIS loyalists. Areej and Ashwaq al-Harby pleaded for help in a video that went viral on social media as they were being taken to a Turkish police station by immigration officers. In the video, they said their abusive family has been spreading lies to get them deported. The sisters, who fled Saudi Arabia in February, were seeking for asylum in Turkey, fearing they will be criminally charged and face execution if returned to their home country. (India Today, May 17)
US jets attacked a convoy of forces loyal to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in southern Hama governorate May 18—ironically within one of the "deconfliction zones" established by the US and Russia. The convoy was apparently approaching the base at al-Tanf, which is used by FSA forces and US advisors. "We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian army and Iranians in this point, and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy," said Muzahem al-Saloum of the local FSA militia, Maghawir al-Thawra (also rendered Maghaweer al-Thawra). The pro-Assad militia targeted in the raid was named as Saraya al-Areen, apparently an Alawite force commanded by Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The regime was also said to be moving Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitary forces into the area.
In their White House meeting May 16, President Trump and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan of course pledged cooperation in the fight against terrorism. But what is signficant is that Trump, probably none too sophistcated about the complexities of factional politics in the region, was sure to mention the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) by name: "We support Turkey in the first fight against terror and terror groups like ISIS and the PKK, and ensure they have no safe quarter. We also appreciate Turkey's leadership in seeking an end to the horrific killing in Syria."
The Syrian regime of Bashar Assad has installed a crematorium at the notorious Saydnaya military prison outside Damascus in order to destroy the remains of thousands of murdered prisoners, the United States charged May 8. "We believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison," said Stuart Jones, acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs. The State Department also released commercial satellite photographs showing what it said is a building in the prison complex that has been modified as a crematorium. Jones said Washington's information came from "credible humanitarian agencies" and from the US "intelligence community," and that as many as 50 people per day are thought to be hanged at Saydnaya. In presenting the photographs, Jones said Assad's regime "has sunk to a new level of depravity" with the support of Russia and Iran.
President Donald Trump on May 9 announced approval of a plan to arm the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the anti-ISIS coalition led by the Rojava Kurds. The aid—including heavy machine guns, mortars, anti-tank weapons, armored cars and engineering equipment—will boost the prowess of the People's Protection Units (YPG), territorial defense militia of the Rojava autonomous zone and the central pillar of the SDF. "The Syrian Democratic Forces, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future," said a Pentagon statement. The move is being taken over strenuous Turkish objections to arming the Syrian Kurds, and will certainly be a contentious point when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meets with Trump in Washington next week. (ANF, NYT, May 9)
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Ben Emmerson on May 5 said that Saudi Arabia's anti-terrorism laws are too broad and pose a threat to individual rights. He noted that Saudi Arabia's definition of terrorism, which includes "endangering 'national unity' or undermining 'the reputation or position of the State,'" is over-inclusive and should conform to international law, which maintains that terrorism must include "acts or threats of violence." Emmerson also expressed concern about the reported prosecution of writers and activists for non-violent actions. He urged Saudi Arabia's government to establish an "independent national security and due process review mechanism" to re-examine those prosecuted for political expression.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said May 1 that it has found new evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in at least four recent attacks targeting civilians. The report, "Death by Chemicals: The Syrian Government's Widespread and Systematic Use of Chemical Weapons," states that local residents and activists in Khan Sheikhoun town identified at least 92 people who likely died from chemical exposure. It also named three pieces of additional evidence to support the finding that the government has been committing crimes against humanity:
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said May 1 that Egypt's recent security measures have been encouraging the very radicalization they were trying to control. In a press conference in Geneva, al-Hussein criticized the increased security measures Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has instituted since the bombings of Christian churches last month. While condemning the attacks, al-Hussien said that al-Sisi's declaration of a three-month state of emergency was only likely to increase radicalization. Al-Hussein said that the state of emergency was leading to "massive numbers of detentions, reports of torture, and continued arbitrary arrests" which "facilitates radicalization in prisons." He continued that "the crackdown on civil society through travel bans, freezing orders, [and] anti-protest laws...is not the way to fight terror." Al-Hussein concluded that "national security...must be a priority for every country, [but not] at the expense of human rights."