Assad regime and Russian warplanes continue to target civilians and basic infrastructure in the aerial assault on opposition-controlled Idlib province in Syria's north. At least 12 were killed in a regime air-strike on a market in Maar Shurin village July 16. Two days earlier, Russian air-strikes destroyed the main water plant in Maarat al-Numan, a town already swollen with displaced persons who have fled the regime offensive. The pumping station, which provides clean water to the town of 80,000 and surrounding villages, was previously targeted by regime air-strikes on July 5, causing partial damage. First responders are also apparently being intentionally targeted. A new report from the Syrian Network for Human Rights finds that Russian and Assad forces have struck 31 civil defense centers and vehicles in opposition-controlled areas of Idlib and Hama provinces since the current offensive began in late April. At least seven first responders and medics from the White Helmets and Violet Organization civil defense groups have been killed. The overall civilian death toll in the air-strikes on Idlib and Hama is placed at 550, including 130 children.
So Iran shot down a US Navy Global Hawk surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz June 20, with the two sides at odds over whether it was within Iranian airspace. Trump now tweets that he was on the verge of ordering retaliatory strikes on Iranian bases when he called it off the following day due to concern about the likely death toll of some 150. We are again expected to believe that Donald "bomb the shit out of 'em" Trump is a hippie pacifist at heart. The same guy who just weeks earlier vetoed a Congressional resolution calling for the withdrawal of US military forces from Yemen, and whose bombing campaign against ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq jacked up an horrific toll in civilian casualties.
At least 38 people were killed and many more wounded in attacks on two ethnic Dogon villages in the Mopti region of central Mali on June 17—seemingly the latest in escalating reprisals pitting the Dogon and Fulani peoples against each other. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks, but Mali has this year seen a spate of inter-ethnic violence between the Dogon and Fulani communities. The attacks targeted the villages of Gangafani and Yoro near the border with Burkina Faso. (Defense Post) The following day, presumed jihadist fighters killed 17 civilians in a night-time raid on a village in the north of Burkina Faso. Authorities say a "massive" military operation is underway to hunt down the perpetrators of the attack on the village of Belehede. Although there was again no claim of responsibility, both the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara are active in the area. (AFP)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on May 28 detailed abuses against civilians by both the Egyptian government and militants in the Sinai Peninsula, some of which HRW classified as war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The information in the report was collected over a two-year investigation into the conditions facing civilians in Sinai. The abuses detailed in the report include mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. These actions are part of the government's fight against the ISIS-affiliated militants in Sinai. HRW claims that both groups are guilty of committing atrocities against civilians, but the Egyptian government is responsible for the majority of the abuses.
As Sri Lanka marks the 10-year anniversary of the end of its long internal war this week, human rights groups are demanding accountability in the mass atrocities that marked the final stages of the conflict, in which many thousands were displaced or "disappeared." The International Committee of the Red Cross says 16,000 people are still missing. (The New Humanitarian, Amnesty International) Ominously, the commemoration comes amid a new wave of communal violence following last month's terror attacks that targeted Christians on Easter Sunday. In days of anti-Muslim riots that started May 12, mobs moved through towns in the northwest, ransacking mosques and attacking shops with petrol bombs. The riots came amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Buddhist militant group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), which has been repeatedly linked to such pogroms since its founding in 2012, is named as having instigated much of the violence. (Sri Lanka Campaign, Al Jazeera)
Attacks by Islamist militants, military operations, and waves of inter-communal violence have left hundreds dead and tens of thousands displaced since January in the West African nation of Burkina Faso, triggering an "unprecedented" humanitarian crisis that has caught many by surprise. Homegrown militant groups, as well as extremists linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group, had been operating in the country's north since 2016, but have expanded to new fronts in eastern and southwestern Burkina Faso, threatening the stability of neighboring countries. Militants now launch near-daily attacks on Burkina Faso's embattled security forces, which have responded by committing numerous abuses against civilians in "counter-terrorism" operations, including mass summary executions and arbitrary arrests, according to witness accounts and rights organizations. As the state struggles to protect civilians, a growing number of "self-defense" militias have mobilized, escalating ethnic tensions in a country once considered a beacon of coexistence and tolerance in West Africa.
Baghdad's irregular Hashd al-Shaabi militia has joined with the National Defense Forces, one of the Assad regime's paramilitary militias, to conduct "sweeps" along the Iraqi-Syrian border for remnant ISIS cells. "The Syrian Army and the National Defense Forces in Deir Ezzor in cooperation with the Iraqi Army and [other Iraqi] forces, are participating in combing the border strip between Syria and Iraq, departing from the city of Al-Bukamal towards the outskirts of the Tanf oil field," an NDF statement read. These are both sectarian Shi'ite formations backed by Iran, which has a massive military presence in Syria and has also been backing Iraqi pro-government forces against ISIS. (Defense Post)
The final defeat of ISIS in Syria's northeast has left many Arab-majority areas of the region under occupation by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a situation obviously fraught with political risks. Over the past weeks, protests have mounted in Arab villages across Deir ez-Zor province against the SDF, with residents demanding better services, employment and a greater role in decision-making. On May 9, SDF fighters apparently opened fire on protesters in the village of Shheil, killing one person. This first fatality of the protest wave was reported by Associated Press, citing the DeirEzzor24 activist collective. The protest came after an overnight raid in the village, in which SDF fighters killed six people.