Israel

Syria: reprieve for Idlib; flashpoint at al-Tanf?

The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a "buffer zone" in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in the south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a "demilitarized" zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. There are numerous unanswered questions. Reports indicated the deal stipulates that "all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the zone"—but does that apply to the Russian and Turkish patrols? It is also mandated that what Putin called "radically-minded" rebel fighters would have to pull out of the zone entirely, which is presumably a reference to the Nusra-affiliated jihadist factions. These factions control parts of Idlib city, and it is not clear if the provincial capital will be included in the zone. (BBC News, Haaretz)

Amnesty calls on UN to ban 'killer robots'

Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on Aug. 27, the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting in Geneva. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons.

US threatens sanctions against ICC

The White House announced Sept. 10 that the US will consider imposing sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges and prosecutors if the ICC opens an investigation into the actions of United States service members and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC requested an investigation in November 2017 into alleged war crimes committed by the US in Afghanistan since May 2003, in addition to actions taken by the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In addition to sanctions, the US will consider seeking to have the ICC's powers restricted by the UN Security Council. The US will also seek to strengthen agreements that would prevent other nations from surrendering US nationals to the ICC.

Duterte charged with 'crimes against humanity'

Several Philippine families filed a complaint (PDF) with the International Criminal Court (ICC) Aug. 28, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of murder during his "war on drugs." The complaint charges Duterte with "crimes against humanity," including extrajudicial killings. This is the second complaint against Duterte filed with the ICC; the first was filed in April 2017. The ICC began preliminary examination in the case in February. Duterte announced the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC in March. In a 15-page letter to the media, Duterte declared that the Philippines will immediately withdraw its ratification of the Rome Statute, which established the ICC and was ratified by the Philippines in late 2011. Under the statute, a member can withdraw no sooner than one year following written notification to the UN Secretary-General. However, Duterte claimed that the agreement was immediately voidable because it was signed fraudulently.

US to reject Palestinian right of return

The Trump administration is to announce a suspension of funding to the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA)—and rejection of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. According to Hebrew-language news outlets, the US administration is expected to announce its new policy early September, recognizing the existence of only half a million Palestinian refugees, out of the total of 5.3 million estimated by UNRWA. The US administration intends to form a plan that rejects the United Nations designation under which millions of descendants of the original refugees are also considered refugees. Sources reported that the administration's new policy would "essentially cancel the right of return."

Arabs, Druze protest Israel nation-state law

Tens of thousands of marched in Tel Aviv Aug. 11 to protest Israel's new "nation-state law," which officially establishes Israel as "the national home of the Jewish people" and downgrades the Arabic language from official to "special" standing. The march, led by Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, follows a similar mobilization in Tel Aviv one week earlier by members of Israel's Druze community. Both rallies filled the city's Rabin Square. Under the banner "Abolish Nation-State Law–Yes to Equality," the Arab-led march was organized by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel with the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, Peace Now, the New Israel Fund, the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, and other groups. In a joint statement, participating organizations said the Nationality Law "will turn racism, discrimination, humiliation and segregation into an inseparable part of our lives.... Our statement is clear: All citizens—all of them—are equal."

Syria endgame: whither Idlib?

With the fall of Syria's southern province of Daraa  to Assad regime forces earlier this month, only Idlib in the north remains as a last pocket of opposition control. The besieged rebel forces there are anticipating a final offensive by Assad and his Russian backers. The pro-Moscow Al Masdar News headlines that Damascus is preparing for the "mother of all battles in Idlib," with the Syrian Arab Army's elite Tiger Forces to lead the offensive. But a complicating factor is that Turkey is occupying areas of Idlib, which means an offensive there threatens international escalation. Speaking to reporters in Ankara before heading for a summit of emerging market countries in South Africa, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would speak there with Vladimir Putin about how to resolve "the issue of Idlib." (YNet)

Syria: 270,000 displaced in Daraa offensive

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."

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