The democratic transition in Tunisia since the 2011 overthrow of long-ruling president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been the one real success story of the Arab Revolution, and the Tunisian uprising was also the first that served to spark the subsequent wave. So the Tunisian pro-democracy forces have international responsibilities, seen as keepers of the flame. When the Syrian revolution started in March 2011 (by school-children who painted anti-regime slogans on a wall), it was directly inspired by the successes in Tunisia and Egypt. But while Egypt has slipped back into dictatorship, Tunisia continues to consolidate its new democracy. Holding special responsibilities are Tunisia's progressive-left forces—and in particular, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). A leading force in the 2011 uprising, the UGTT was also a pillar of the Tunisia Quartet, which in 2015 won the Nobel Peace Prize for its effort to broker dialogue between various factions and save the country from following Syria, Libya and Yemen into civil war, or following Egypt into a new dictatorship. So it is distressing to read that the UGTT (or its leadership, at least) appears to be following the misguided Western "left" into sympathy for the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.
Among the formations now in the field against the ultra-reactionary ISIS is the first explicitly LGBT military unit in the Syrian war—the Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA). With a slogan of "These faggots kill fascists," the militia is part of the International Revolutionary People's Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF), which is in turn part of the International Freedom Battalion, made up of leftist volunteers from Europe, America and elsewhere who have been drawn by the anarchist-influenced politics of the Rojava Kurds, now leading the ground offensive against ISIS in northern Syria.
Residents of Saraqeb town in Syria's Idlib province rose up and drove off fighters of the local al-Qaeda affiliate after jihadists fired on a protest demonstration. The incident began July 18, when Saraqeb residents held self-organized elections for the town council, and raised the Free Syria flag from the radio tower in celebration. Fighters from Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) responded by tearing down the flag, trampling it, and firing in the air in a display of defiance. This sparked general protests against the group's presence in Saraqeb. The following day local media activist Musaab al-Ezzo was killed as HTS militants fired on demonstrators. This only escalated the protests; after his funeral the next day, residents marched on HTS positions chating "Out, out, cowards out!" and "Saraqeb is free, Jolani out!"—a reference to HTS commander Abu Mohammed al-Jolani. HTS again opened fire, but in the face of nearly universal opposition among residents they finally withdrew from the town.
Civilian casualties from the US-led war against ISIS are set to double under President Donald Trump, according to the AirWars website that has been monitoring the toll of the conflict. AirWars resarchers estimate that at least 2,300 civilians were likely killed in Coalition strikes overseen by the Obama White House—roughly 80 each month in Iraq and Syria. As of July 13, more than 2,200 additional civilians appear to have been killed in Coalition raids since Trump was inaugurated—upwards of 360 per month. That's 12 or more civilians killed for each day of his administration.
Russia announced that it is preparing to deploy troops to police the borders of planned "de-escalation zones" in Syria after finalizing an agreement with Turkey and Iran. The word came from Russian negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev following the latest round of ongoing talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana. (Reuters, July 4) We've noted that the so-called "de-escalation zones" or "safe zones" could become kill zones, where Russia and Assad will be able to bomb with (even greater) impunity—as they will officially not be "safe" for ISIS, and Moscow and Damascus have long used the propaganda trick of conflating all rebel forces with ISIS. Now, with the US also sending ground troops to join the forces fighting ISIS, American and Russian soliders could find themselves in close proximity, with greater of odds of ending up shooting at each other—potentially leading to unparalleled catastrophe
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that this year has seen a "notable trend of spontaneous returns" of displaced Syrians to their homes, both from outside and inside the country. Around 31,000 refugees returned from neighboring countries in the first six months of 2017, while more than 440,000 internally displaced persons went back to their homes—a combined total of nearly half a million. The main destinations are said to be Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus—all now largely under regime control after years of heavy fighting against rebel forces. UNHCR representative Andrej Mahecic said Syrians are seeking out family members, checking on property, and "in some cases responding to a real or perceived improvement in security conditions in parts of the country." But he warned that despite hopes over recent peace talks in Astana and Geneva, the "UNHCR believes conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria." (The Independent, July 1)
It seems to have finally come to open war between the Rojava Kurds and the Turkish intervention force in Syria. The People's Protection Units (YPG) and allied factions of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have sent reinforcements to the northern countryside of Aleppo governorate to impede the Turkish progress towards Afrin district. "The YPG and SDF today deployed more forces and armored vehicles in northern Aleppo," a YPG officer told the independent Kurdish ARA News June 29. "The Kurdish people in Afrin region have suffered a lot under heavy bombardment by Turkey and allied Islamists." Clashes are already reported bewteen the two sides. But in another sign of shifting alliances, the Assad regime is reported to have sent troops to block the way of the YPG-SDF reinforcements. This is clear evidence that the tactical alliance between the Kurds and Assad is now severely strained if not entirely broken. It may even indicate Assad has acquiesced in establishment of a Turkish buffer zone in northern Syria under Russian pressure. (More at Zaman al-wsl, June 28; ANF, June 22)
The US Supreme Court on June 26 agreed to review (PDF) the Trump administration's travel ban, partially lifting the temporary injunction that had blocked the ban's enforcement. The administration sought review of decisions issued by the US Courts of Appeal for the Fourth and Ninth circuits last month. The Supreme Court's order permits execution of the travel ban, but it "may not be enforced against an individual seeking admission as a refugee who can credibly claim a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."