During last week's wave of coordinated ISIS attacks that left 250 dead in Syria's regime-held southern governorate of Suweida, the militants also went door-to-door in Druze villages, abducting several women and children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights puts the number at 20 women and 16 children. The militants are believed to have escaped with them into their remaining strongholds in Syria's eastern desert. The attack wave—dubbed "Black Wednesday," for July 25, the bloodiest day—followed visits by Russian military delegations to Suweida, during which Druze elders and community leaders were urged to cooperate in the disarming of the populace. This was apparently aimed at suppressing the Rijal al-Karama (Men of Dignity), a Druze self-defense militia that had emerged over the past years of violence in Syria—independent from the regime, but neither explicitly aligned with the rebel opposiition. The ISIS assault came immediately after regime weapons seizures in Druze villages, leading to theories of regime complicity in the attacks. (YNet, Enab Baladi, Syria Call)
Representatives of the US-backed Kurdish-led alliance known as the Syrian Democratic Forces are holding talks in Damascus with the Assad regime, apparently with an eye toward regime recognition of the Kurdish autonomous zone in exchange for unity against further Turkish expansion in northern Syria. "A delegation from the Syrian Democratic Council is paying a first official visit to Damascus at the invitation of the government," the council's Arab co-chair Riad Darar said. "We are working towards a settlement for northern Syria. We hope that the discussions on the situation in the north will be positive." The SDF controls more than 27% of Syrian territory. (France24) In effect, that means this region is under the Rojava autonomous administration, which is the real political force behind the SDF. The Rojava leadership's cooperation in a Syrian carve-up deal may be the price of survival for their autonomous zone. But it would certainly vindicate the long-standing accusations of Kurdish collaboration with Assad—despite Assad's previous refusal to recognize the autonomous zone. It would also yet further heighten the risk of Kurdish-Arab ethnic war in northern Syria.
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)
Three weeks into the Assad regime's offensive on Daraa governorate in Syria's south, the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front have entered into a surrender deal brokered by Russia, which calls for their phased withdrawal of towns they still hold over the coming days. The Russian military plans to evacuate up to 1,000 people via a "humanitarian corridor" to Idlib in the north, the last significant pocket of rebel control. But the fate of many thousands more remains uncertain, even as the UN hopes for the return of the over 250,000 displaced from Daraa over the past weeks. Meanwhile, refuge in Idlib will be precarious at best, as the regime and its Russian backers are preparing a final offensive there. UN Secretary General António Guterres is calling for an investigation into deadly Russian air-strikes last week on the Idlib town of Zardana, in which at least 47 civilians were reported killed. (Enab Baladi, MEE, TRT World, BBC News)
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 US Supreme Court on June 26 ruled 5-to-4 (PDF) in Trump v. Hawaii that President Donald Trump's proclamation restricting entry from particular Muslim-majority countries was "squarely within the scope of presidential authority" under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The court also found that plaintiffs challenging the proclamation were unlikely to succeed on their claim that the ban violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority: "[T]he Government has set forth a sufficient national security justification to survive rational basis review. We express no view on the soundness of the policy. We simply hold today that plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their constitutional claim." The ruling overturns a preliminary injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in December, which blocked the policy from taking effect. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower courts for "further proceedings."
Syria Solidarity NYC will be protesting Seymour Hersh's appearance at the New York Public Library to promote his newly released memoir on June 20. It is a painful irony that Seymour Hersh, who broke the My Lai massacre story in 1968, has now become an open supporter of the genocidal Assad regime, portraying it as a guarantor of "stability" and repeatedly covering up for its massacres. Please stand with us, and for the Syrian victims who cannot be present.