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 UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution on May 18 to send an independent commission of inquiry to investigate "all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the occupied Palestinian territory." The Council "condemned the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by the Israeli occupying forces against Palestinian civilians, including in the context of peaceful protests, particularly in the Gaza Strip, and called for an immediate cessation of all attacks, incitement and violence against civilians throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem."
At least 55 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 injured along the eastern borders of the Gaza Strip on May 14, as Israeli army snipers opened fire on "March of Return" protesters. Six of the slain Palestinians were minors under the age of 18, including one girl. The Gaza Ministry of Health said at least 1,204 Palestinians were injured with live ammunition. The violence began after Palestinians gathered at the "return camps" established along the Strip's borders, rallying and setting fire to tires near the border fence. At Khan Younis, in the southern Strip, Israeli forces reportedly threw flammable material at the "return camps" in an attempt to scatter protesters. (Maan) The massacre along the Gaza borders came exactly as US and Israeli dignitaries inaugurated the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump among those officiating. Just outside the new embassy, Palestinian demonstrators were brutally attacked by Israeli security forces—eliciting cheers from Israelis who came out to support the embassy’s opening. The Israelis reportedly chanted "Burn them, shoot them, kill them!" (MEE)
After all the talk we've heard in recent years about how depressed oil prices are now permanent, in the wake of Trump's announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Bank of America is predicting that the price of Brent crude could go as high as the once-dreaded $100 per barrel in 2019. The report also cited collapsing production in Venezuela due to the crisis there. Brent prices have risen above $77 per barrel since Trump's announcement. Prices have jumped more than 8% over the past month and 15% since the beginning of the year. According to the analysis, investors fear that renewed sanctions on Iran could lead to supply disruptions. (CNNMoney, May 10) Although the report failed to mention it, the Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets in Syria have doubtless contributed to the jitters.
Reports have been mounting for months that Assad is replacing those (mostly Sunni Arabs) displaced from his reconquered territories with Iranians and Iraqi Shi'ites, in a form of "sectarian cleansing." Now come reports that Turkey is replacing the Kurds displaced from its conquered "buffer zone" in Syria's north with those displaced by Assad—specifically, the Kurdish residents who fled the town of Afrin are being replaced by Sunni Arabs that fled Eastern Ghouta, according to Middle East Eye. Alarmingly, the Kurdish YPG militia tweeted in reference to the Ghouta displaced now resettled in Afrin: "We reiterate that these terrorists and their families are the main targets of our forces." (Emphasis added.) The tweet was apparently deleted after an outcry, but a screenshot of it remains online. The Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria that we have long warned of now seems to be arriving.
Local activists in Gaza announced April 29 that they have moved tents that were set up along the border with Israel as part of the "Great March of Return," relocating them 50 meters closer to the border fence. The committee in charge of the Great March said they had moved the "tents of return" closer to the border "as a message of persistence from our people to the world that we are moving forward towards our rightful goals." The tents were initially set up between 500-700 meters from the border line. The announcement came on the 20th day of protests since the Great March began in the besieged Gaza Strip, as hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees demanded their collective right of return to their homelands in present-day Israel. Since the massive popular demonstrations began, at least 36 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces. Among the dead were two minors and a journalist. (Ma'an)
International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on April 8 called for an end to the violence along the border of the Gaza Strip and raised the possibility of ICC prosecutions against Israel and Hamas. In her statement, Bensouda cautioned both sides about the "deteriorating situation" that has engulfed the region: