Greater Middle East
At least 270,000 people—about a third of the population—have been displaced by the Assad regime offensive on Daraa governorate in southern Syria since June 19. UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman Mohammad Hawari confirmed the figure July 2, saying it "exceeded our expectations of 200,000." The agency expects the number to rise, with civilians fleeing to the borders with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights—but with both countries refusing to allow entry. The UNHCR said about 164,000 displaced are now in camps and villages in the neighboring small opposition-held governorate of Quneitra, close to the Golan border. (See map.) The Assad offensive to regain Daraa governorate, where the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, has been backed by Russian air-strikes, violating a "de-escalation zone" Moscow had declared with the US last July. UNHCR noted reports that "suggest indiscriminate attacks on health facilities, schools, civil defense centers, and offices of local NGOs."
As the Assad regime, backed by Russian air-strikes, opens its offensive on the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front in Daraa governorate—and towns start to fall to pro-regime forces, with thousands fleeing their homes in fear of reprisals—the Trump White House has issued a statement to the rebels, warning, "[Y]ou should not base your decisions on the assumption or expectation of a military intervention by us." This despite Washington's earlier warning to Assad and Putin that any violation of the so-called "de-escalation zones" would have "serious repercussions," including "firm and appropriate measures." (Reuters, Reuters, DW) Not surprisingly, this betrayal comes just as Trump reportedly told King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House that he is seeking a deal with Putin on terms for a withdrawal of remaining US forces from Syria. Reports indicate the deal will be on the agenda when Trump meets with Putin in Helsinki next month. (CNN)
The elections that handed a victory to Turkey's incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan June 24 were carried out under a state of emergency that has been in place since the attempted coup of 2016, with some 160,000 political opponents imprisoned—including party leaders. The hegemonic state media outlets such as TRT-TV overwhelmingly devoted their election coverage to Erdogan's campaign, while citizen access to social media and suspect websites was intermittently restricted by decree. The observation team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Erdogan had benefited from this excessive coverage, and raised questions about the transparency of the vote. It did not challenge the results, however. Erdogan has apparently avoided a run-off election. He will re-enter office with sweeping new powers following a narrowly-won constitutional referendum last year. Opposition leader Muharrem Ince of the Republican People's Party (CHP) conceded defeat, but warned that Turkey is headed toward "one-man rule."
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)