Greater Middle East

SDF halt anti-ISIS drive after Turkish bombardment

The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced Oct. 31 that they have temporarily halted their campaign against ISIS after they were bombarded for the second time in four days by Turkish forces. With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledging to "wipe out" the Kurdish YPG militia, calling them "terrorists," his forces in northern Syria attacked YPG positions east of the Euphrates River Oct. 28 and then again two days later. The YPG, or People's Protection Units, constitute the central pillar of the US-backed SDF, which Washington continues to support with some 2,000 embedded troops. At least 10 YPG fighters were reported killed in the Turkish shelling of territory in the Kurdish autonomous canton of Kobani. The SDF said in a statement: "Turkish attacks in the north and ISIS attacks in the south against our troops had forced us to stop our current operation temporarily against ISIS in [its] last pocket... We call [upon] the international community to condemn the Turkish provocations in the safe areas in Syria, and we demand our partners in the International Coalition to show a clear attitude and stop Turkey from launching attacks on the region." The statement claimed the YPG responded to the shelling with artillery fire, destroying a Turkish military vehicle and border post. (EA Worldview, Haaretz)

Saudi authorities admit: Khashoggi was killed

Saudi state media reported Oct. 19 that the country's attorney general has confirmed prominent journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi died in the country's Turkey consulate, according to the Associated Press. A statement by the attorney general said that Khashoggi was killed after a fight inside the consulate on Oct. 2, and that 18 Saudis are detained pending an investigation. Turkish officials believe that 15 Saudi agents killed and dismembered Khashoggi, according to reports. His body has not been found.

Amnesty protests US 'denial' over Raqqa casualties

The US-led Coalition's ongoing failure to admit to—let alone adequately investigate—the shocking scale of civilian deaths and destruction it caused in Raqqa is a "slap in the face" for survivors trying to rebuild their lives and their city, said Amnesty International a year after the offensive to oust ISIS. On Oct. 17, 2017, following a fierce four-month battle, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—the Coalition's Kurdish-led partners on the ground—announced victory over ISIS, which had used civilians as human shields and committed other war crimes in besieged Raqqa. Winning the battle came at a terrible price—almost 80% of the city was destroyed and many hundreds of civilians lay dead, the majority killed by Coalition bombardment. In a letter to Amnesty on Sept. 10, 2018, the US Department of Defense made clear it accepts no liability for the civilian casualties it caused. The Coalition does not plan to compensate survivors and relatives of those killed in Raqqa, and refuses to provide further information about the circumstances behind strikes that killed and maimed civilians.

Syria: Idlib 'buffer zone' takes effect

The "buffer zone" through Syria's northern Idlib province, negotiated by Russia and Turkey to forestall an Assad regime offensive on the opposition-held portion of the province, officially takes effect this week. Rebels began withdrawing heavy weapons from the zone at the start of the month, but said that fighters are remaining. Fighters from designated "radical terrorist groups"—primarily Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—are supposed to withdraw entirely from the zone. HTS initially said it would comply on a "de facto" basis, but the zone is being implemented despite the fact that a deadline has been missed for withdrawal of all its fighters. The zone, some 20 kilometers wide, stretches from Latakia to Aleppo, through Idlib and portions of Hama province. (See map.) (Qantara, Oct. 17; AFP, Oct. 10; BBC News, Oct. 8; EA Worldview, Oct. 7) But Bashar Assad insisted that the so-called "demilitarized zone" is temporary. Addressing the central committee of his Baath Party, Assad reiterated his pledge to retake "every inch" of Syrian territory: "This province and other Syrian territory remaining under the control of terrorists will return to the Syrian state." (EA Worldview, Oct. 8)

Saudi regime pressured over missing journalist

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Saudi Arabia to immediately account for the whereabouts of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Multiple news outlets reported Oct. 6 that Turkish authorities, who have been investigating his disappearance, believe that Khashoggi is dead and was killed inside the consulate. "CPJ is alarmed by media reports that Jamal Khashoggi may have been killed inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul," said CPJ Deputy executive director Robert Mahoney. "The Saudi authorities must immediately give a full and credible accounting of what happened to Khashoggi inside its diplomatic mission. The country has stepped up its repression of critical journalists in the past year at home. We hope this has not now spread abroad."

Human rights lawyer 'disappeared' in Egypt

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Egyptian government Oct. 3 to immediately identify the whereabouts of and free Ezzat Ghoneim, a prominent human rights lawyer who has been missing for approximately three weeks. Ghoneim was arrested on March 1 on his way home from work. His whereabouts were not known for three days until a group of lawyers were granted access to him in a prosecutor's office in Cairo. These lawyers learned that, during the time he was missing, he was being interrogated by law enforcement officers. He was questioned as a defendant in a state security case in which he, a popular blogger, three journalists and a student were accused of spreading false news and "supporting a terrorist group." Following these interrogations, Ghoneim continued to be detained. On Sept. 4 a judge reviewed Ghoneim's detention and ordered his release conditioned on his reporting to a police station every two weeks. However, according to his wife, police refused to release him, citing the need for further "instructions from the National Security Agency." His wife again reported to the police station where he was being held on Sept. 13, when she was informed that he had already been released. She claims that neither she nor any of their friends have seen him since his supposed release.

Turkish court upholds life sentences for journalists

An Istanbul Court of Appeals on Oct. 2 upheld the life sentences of six individuals, including prominent journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak, on charges of assisting the plotters of a failed military coup in 2016. The journalists were originally sentenced in February, along with 221 other defendants, and appealed to the higher court for their release. All defendants were charged with being linked to a US-based religious leader Fethullah Gulen, who is accused of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt. Since the coup attempt, tthe Turkish government has been carrying out purges and arrests aimed at removing supposed Gulen supporters from state institutions and society generally. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called on the US to either arrest or extradite Gulen from his Pennsylvania home.

Podcast: Standing for Idlib

In Episode 19 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the urgent need for solidarity with Idlib, the last remaining stronghold of the Syrian Revolution, and looks at heroic examples of the civil resistance there, which is standing up to the Assad regime and jihadists alike—such as Rania Kisar, who has been running schools and other civil institutions; and Radio Fresh, which is continuing to broadcast in defiance of threats and censorship from the jihadists. The weekly Friday demonstrations in Idlib continue to keep alive the spirit of the 2011 Arab Revolution, demanding a democratic future for Syria. In a victory for the forces organizing in solidarity with Idlib around the world, the long-planned Assad regime invasion of the opposition-held province has been postponed (at least) in a deal negotiated by Russia and Turkey, buying time for the survival of the revolution.  But those who stand in solidarity with Idlib in New York City have themselves been threatened and physically attacked by followers of sectarian pseudo-left factions that support the genocidal Assad regime. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

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