The US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced Oct. 31 that they have temporarily halted their campaign against ISIS after they were bombarded for the second time in four days by Turkish forces. With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pledging to "wipe out" the Kurdish YPG militia, calling them "terrorists," his forces in northern Syria attacked YPG positions east of the Euphrates River Oct. 28 and then again two days later. The YPG, or People's Protection Units, constitute the central pillar of the US-backed SDF, which Washington continues to support with some 2,000 embedded troops. At least 10 YPG fighters were reported killed in the Turkish shelling of territory in the Kurdish autonomous canton of Kobani. The SDF said in a statement: "Turkish attacks in the north and ISIS attacks in the south against our troops had forced us to stop our current operation temporarily against ISIS in [its] last pocket... We call [upon] the international community to condemn the Turkish provocations in the safe areas in Syria, and we demand our partners in the International Coalition to show a clear attitude and stop Turkey from launching attacks on the region." The statement claimed the YPG responded to the shelling with artillery and machine-gun fire, destroying a Turkish military vehicle and border post. (EA Worldview, Haaretz)
The "buffer zone" through Syria's northern Idlib province, negotiated by Russia and Turkey to forestall an Assad regime offensive on the opposition-held portion of the province, officially takes effect this week. Rebels began withdrawing heavy weapons from the zone at the start of the month, but said that fighters are remaining. Fighters from designated "radical terrorist groups"—primarily Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—are supposed to withdraw entirely from the zone. HTS initially said it would comply on a "de facto" basis, but the zone is being implemented despite the fact that a deadline has been missed for withdrawal of all its fighters. The zone, some 20 kilometers wide, stretches from Latakia to Aleppo, through Idlib and portions of Hama province. (See map.) (Qantara, Oct. 17; AFP, Oct. 10; BBC News, Oct. 8; EA Worldview, Oct. 7) But Bashar Assad insisted that the so-called "demilitarized zone" is temporary. Addressing the central committee of his Baath Party, Assad reiterated his pledge to retake "every inch" of Syrian territory: "This province and other Syrian territory remaining under the control of terrorists will return to the Syrian state." (EA Worldview, Oct. 8)
The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a "buffer zone" in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in the south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a "demilitarized" zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. There are numerous unanswered questions. Reports indicated the deal stipulates that "all heavy weapons be withdrawn from the zone"—but does that apply to the Russian and Turkish patrols? It is also mandated that what Putin called "radically-minded" rebel fighters would have to pull out of the zone entirely, which is presumably a reference to the Nusra-affiliated jihadist factions. These factions control parts of Idlib city, and it is not clear if the provincial capital will be included in the zone. (BBC News, Haaretz)
As the Assad regime and its Russian backers prepare an offensive to take Idlib, the last area of opposition control in Syria, the people of the northern province have been holding demonstrations, organized by the civil resistance, waving the Free Syria flag and calling on the world to act to prevent the impending massacre there. Hundreds of civilians have fled the front-line area in the south of the province, as the first Russian-led air-strikes opened this week. A summit between the leaders of Russia, Turkey, and Iran is underway in Tehran to try to arrive at consensus over Idlib's fate, but Moscow and the Islamic Republic refuse to abandon their commitment to an invasion of the province of 3 million, which already faces grave humanitarian conditions. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Syrian army is "getting ready" to clear the "cradle of terrorism" in Idlib (EA Worldview, AFP, Al Jazeera, BBC News) Reuters ran gut-wrenching photos of Idlib residents fitting their children with improvised gas-masks—fashioned from plastic sheeting and plastic cups filled with cotton and charcoal—in anticipation of a chemical attack.
Armed street clashes have rocked Tripoli over the past week, as militias linked to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) have vied for control of the Libyan capital with rival militias that have launched an offensive on the city from the southeast. The most significant of these is the 7th Brigade from the town of Tarhuna—also known as as the Kaniat Brigade, led by the Kani brothers. The 7th Brigade has rejected the truce, vowing to continue fighting until it "cleanses Tripoli of militias." The 7th Brigade has reportedly assumed control of the airport. There have been reports that that GNA has launched air-strikes on Tarhuna, but these were denied by the Presidential Council, which said that the strikes targeted only "aggressor" postitions inside Tripoli. The city's electricity has intermittently gone out amid the fighting, and access to Facebook—the only news source for most Libyans—has been blocked, although it is unclear by whom. The GNA has declared a state of emergency in the city, and Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has formed a "crisis committee" to try to broker peace. But warlord Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi, who is loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government, anticipated the fall of Tripoli, saying that "liberating the Libyan capital is inevitable." (Middle East Eye, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Libya Observer, Al Jazeera, Libya Herald, Reuters )
The government of the island nation of Mauritius presented its claim Sept. 3 to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the British government forced the transfer of the Chagos Islands as a condition of independence in 1965. The UK leased the island of Diego Garcia within the Chagos archipelago to the US in 1966, which was used to build a military base that required the forced removal of around 1,500 people. The population has yet to be allowed to return home. The former prime minister of Mauritius and current parliamentarian Anerood Jugnauth told the ICJ, “The choice we were faced with was no choice at all: it was independence with detachment [of the Chagos archipelago] or no independence with detachment anyway.” The location of the Chagos Islands in the central Indian Ocean is seen as geopolitically strategic for policing the Persian Gulf. In 2016 the US lease for the base was extended until 2036.
In Episode 16 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses how Berbers, Palestinians, Sahrawi Arabs and other subjugated peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are pitted against each other by the Great Game of nation-states. Berbers in Morocco and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories face identical issues of cultural erasure, yet Moroccan support for the Palestinians and retaliatory Israeli support for the Berbers constitute an obstacle to solidarity. The Sahrawi Arabs are meanwhile fighting for their independence from Morocco in their occupied territory of Western Sahara. But the Arab-nationalist ideology of their leadership is viewed with suspicion by the territory's Berbers—leading to Arab-Berber ethnic tensions in Morocco. Algeria, Morocco's regional rival, is backing the Sahrawi struggle, while denying cultural rights to its own Berber population. But there are also signs of hope. Arabs and Berbers were united in the 2011 Arab Revolution protests in Morocco, and greater Berber cultural rights were a part of the constitutional reform won by those protests. Algeria, facing resurgent Berber protests, adopted a similar constitutional reform in 2016, and has taken other measures to expand recognition of Berber cultural rights. And the new protest wave in Morocco's Rif Mountains over the past year has united Arab and Berber. These developments point to hope for the subaltern peoples of MENA to overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Following peace talks hosted by Eritrea, the government of Ethiopia announced a peace deal with the Oromo Liberation Front rebels Aug. 7. The deal guarantees rebel leaders the right to participate in Ethiopia's political process in exchange for laying down arms. The OLF has long been backed by Eritrea, and the pact comes one month after a formal end was declared to the two-decade state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with Ethiopia ceding its claim to the contested border town of Badme. This points to a softening of positions under Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. The Badme deal was also said to have been quietly brokered by the United Arab Emirates, which has emerged as politically isolated Eritrea's most significant foreign patron, part of an apparent design to encircle Yemen.