Estimates of the dead vary from 70 to 150 after the latest and worst chemical attack on the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs. The number is likely to rise, as rescue workers are still reporting new casualties following the gassing at the town of Douma, the last in the enclave that remains in rebel hands. The White Helmets volunteer civil defense group said on Twitter: "More families were found suffocated in their houses and shelters in #Douma. The number of victıms is increasing dramatically, and the ambulance teams and the @SyriaCivilDefe volunteers continue their search and rescue operations." The apparent strike by a "barrel bomb" filled with either sarin or chlorine gas targeted a building where displaced families were sheltering from the ongoing air-raids on Douma.
Russian-backed Assad regime forces are on the verge of taking the last remaining rebel stronghold in Syria's Eastern Ghouta enclave, in the Damascus suburbs. A Russian military commander boasted: "The militants are being evacuated from Douma, their last bastion in Eastern Ghouta, and within a few days the humanitarian operation in Eastern Ghouta must be completed." This "humanitarian operation" has seen the near-total destruction of Ghouta by aerial bombardment over the past weeks, with some 1,500 killed. Thousands of fighters and residents have been allowed to evacuate via buses to Idlib, Syria's last rebel-held province, under what was reported as a "surrender agreement." (Al Jazeera, Syria Direct)
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria released a report (PDF) March 15 condemning the pervasive sexual and gender-based violence that has occurred over the past seven years in the Syrian conflict. The report, entitled "I Lost My Dignity: Sexual and gender-based violence in the Syrian Arab Republic," was written after UN workers interviewed more than 450 survivors, lawyers, healthcare practitioners and other affected individuals concerning the use of such violence between March 2011 and December 2017. The report details the systemic rape, torture, and other acts of sexual violence perpetrated by government forces and affiliated militias at checkpoints, in detention centers, and during interrogations.
The Trump administration has yet to repatriate Guantánamo detainee Ahmed Muhammed Haza al-Darbi to Saudi Arabia, effectively missing the Feb. 20 deadline established in his 2014 plea deal. Darbi pleaded guilty and admitted (PDF) to involvement in al-Qaeda operations including the 2002 attack on a French-flagged oil tanker near Yemen. In his pre-trial agreement (PDF), it was determined that, contingent on his cooperation, he would be sent back to Saudi Arabia to serve the duration of his sentence. Feb. 20 marked four years from the close of the deal and Darbi was not repatriated to Saudi Arabia.
A Jewish school on the Tunisian island of Djerba, home to one of North Africa's ancient indigenous Jewish communities, was attacked Jan. 9 as anti-government protests raged elsewhere around the country. Petrol bombs hurled at the school caused property damage but no injuries, the head of the local Jewish community, Perez Trabelsi, told Reuters. Trabelsi suggested the assailants exploited the fact that there was a reduced security presence in Djerba, as police were occupied elsewhere repressing anti-austerity protests. "Unknown people took the opportunity of the protests and threw Molotov cocktails into the lobby of a Jewish religious school in Djerba," he said. (Haaretz)
When the Astana "peace" deal for Syria was announced earlier this year, we predicted that the proposed so-called "de-escalation" zones would actually become kill zones. A condition of every "ceasefire" agreement sponsored either by Russia (like the Astana pact) or the US is that the rebels declare war on the Qaeda-linked factions to have emerged from the (now ostensibly disbanded) Nusra Front. But already beseiged by the Assad regime and Russia, the rebels are in no plight to do so—they've been put in an untenable situation. It was clear the Astana plan was not about peace but about propaganda—providing a cover for continuance of the war. So we were grimly vindicated to see the Nov. 18 New York Times headline, "Marked for 'De-escalation,' Syrian Towns Endure Surge of Attacks."
Jihadist militia Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) on Aug. 28 took over the city council building in Idlib, capital of the governorate of that name in northwest Syria and the biggest opposition-held city in the country. HTS fighters siezed the building a week after civil authorities refused to hand over control. HTS has in recent weeks won control of much territory in Idlib governorate, in ongoing battles with the rival Ahrar al-Sham faction. However, HTS continues to face resistance from residents and many of the more than 150 local councils in the governorate, with demonstrations against their rule by civil resistance activists in many areas.