Russia

White Helmets vow to soldier on after aid cut-off

Two months after it was first reported that President Trump had issued an order to freeze over $200 million in "reconstruction aid" to what media accounts called "US-backed rebels" in Syria, details are finally emerging on which groups have had their aid cut. And the first to be mentioned isn't a "rebel" group at all, but the White Helmets—the volunteer unarmed civil defense force that operates in areas under bombardment by the Assad regime and its Russian backers. A spokesperson for the US State Department, which is said to provide some third of the White Helmets' budget, said the group's funding is "under active review." But speaking to Al Jazeera, White Helmets leader Raed Saleh pledged to persevere. He said the group "did not receive any direct funding from the US or any other country"—presumably meaning money was funneled through NGOs. "The White Helmets receives funding from organizations and associations. Our work has not been disrupted and all the projects we are working on will not be halted. Our volunteers are still operating on the ground."

Assad turns oil over to Putin for military protection

Dictator Bashar al-Assad flew to Vladimir Putin's summer residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks on the prosecution of the Syrian war and their future plans for the country. Assad congratulated Putin on his new term as president, following his March re-election (amid waves of protest), and (of course) thanked the Russian military for its support in re-conquering Syria. "Stability is improving," Assad told Putin at he opening press conference. Invoking the intermittent Russia-brokered peace talks in Kazakhstan (now largely irrelevant, that most of the country has been re-conquered), Assad added that "we have always wholeheartedly supported the political process, which should proceed in parallel with the war on terrorism." (Reuters) As Assad arrived in Sochi, Putin announced that Russian military vessels with Kalibr cruise missiles would be on permanent stand-by in the Mediterranean to counter what he called the "terrorist threat" in Syria. (Moscow Times)

Syria chemical attacks vastly undercounted: report

The independent Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) has released the findings of its own investigations into the twin chemical attack in Douma that took place April 7. Drawing on accounts from survivors, eye-witnesses and paramedics as well as an analysis of forensic evidence, the report finds that the Assad regime was "probably implicated in attacking Douma City using chemical weapons." Based on its own review of accounts from the field, the report also charges that the regime has carried out no less than 216 chemical attacks in Syria—only a small handful of which won media coverage or international response. The report stresses that the regime "has demonstrated its utter disregard for the international community," repeatedly violating UN resolutions condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria. By the SNHR's count, the regime carried out 183 chemical attacks after Security Council Resolution 2118, 114 chemical attacks after Security Council Resolution 2209, and 58 attacks after Security Council Resolution 2235. The report notes that the attacks on Douma city took place just 72 hours after a Security Council meeting was held to discuss the status of the regime's chemical stockpiles and assess the implementation of Resolution 2118. (SNHR, May 11)

Podcast: Against Red-Brown politics

In Episode Nine of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants against "Red-Brown Politics," the dangerous notion of an alliance between the left and fascist right against liberalism and the West—now evidenced in the growing support for the genocidal dictatorship of Bashar Assad on both the "anti-war" (sic) "left" (sic) and the "alt-right." Leading lights of the American "left" have joined pro-Assad delegations to Syria, as have figures on the fascist right. Emerging as the global representative for this sinister trend is Russo-nationalist ideologue Alexander Dugin, who is bringing together supposed peaceniks and neo-fascists around supporting despots like Putin and Assad in the name of a "multi-polar" world. Perversely,. representatives of "anti-war" groups in the US recently traveled to a Duginist confab in Moscow, where they met with various Euro-fascist leaders and a delegation of white nationalists from the neo-Confederate League of the South. Weinberg urges that leftists utterly reject overtures from the radical right, and adopt a single-standard anti-fascism—which must inlcude solidarity with the Syrian Revolution. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

Multiple forced population transfers in Syria

Reports have been mounting for months that Assad is replacing those (mostly Sunni Arabs) displaced from his reconquered territories with Iranians and Iraqi Shi'ites, in a form of "sectarian cleansing." Now come reports that Turkey is replacing the Kurds displaced from its conquered "buffer zone" in Syria's north with those displaced by Assad—specifically, the Kurdish residents who fled the town of Afrin are being replaced by Sunni Arabs that fled Eastern Ghouta, according to  Middle East Eye. Alarmingly, the Kurdish YPG militia tweeted in reference to the Ghouta displaced now resettled in Afrin: "We reiterate that these terrorists and their families are the main targets of our forces." (Emphasis added.) The tweet was apparently deleted after an outcry, but a screenshot of it remains online. The Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria that we have long warned of now seems to be arriving.

Podcast: from Guernica to Syria

In Episode Eight of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the bitter historical irony: In April of 1937, the aerial bombardment of the Spanish town of Guernica by the Nazi Luftwaffe shocked the world. Today, what happened there is a near-daily occurrence in Syria (as well as Yemen and elsewhere around the world), and we are so inured to it that the "anti-war" people are actually on the side of the authors of aerial terror. During the Spanish Civil War, the left heroically opposed Generalissimo Francisco Franco's drive to establish a fascist dictatorship with the aid of German military intervention. Today, it cravenly abets Bashar Assad's drive to re-establish his fascist dictatorship with the aid of Russian military intervention. Even as Russia scrambles to block any investigation into the Douma chemical attack and other war crimes in Syria, "leftists" shamefully echo Russian propaganda denying any responsibility by Assad. Weinberg again urges that any legitimate anti-war position must begin with opposition to the genocidal regime of Bashar Assad, and with solidarity for the Syrian Revolution. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

Southern Front rebels next in Assad regime sights

Since the Douma chemical attack terrorized the rebel defenders of Eastern Ghouta enclave into accepting a "surrender deal" and evacuating to Idlib province, the Assad regime and its Russian allies have been preparing a final offensive on the last remaining areas of Syria still under rebel control. These of course include Idlib in the north, the last full governorate (province) held by the rebels. But an Associated Press report suggests the regime may first focus its firepower on Daraa governorate in the south, where the Free Syrian Army's Southern Front continues to hold territory. And while the rebel militias that hold Idlib are mostly conservative Islamists, the Southern Front is secular-nationalist in its leadership.

Syria: gas attacks, air-strikes and hypocrisy —again

Just over a year after Trump's air-strikes on an Assad regime airbase in response to the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack, we've witnessed a repeat of this episode—although this time the air-strikes were on wider targets, and carried out in conjunction with British and French forces. In response to last week's chemical attack on Douma in Syria's besieged Eastern Ghouta enclave, missiles and warplanes from the USS Donald Cook in the eastern Mediterranean carried out the first Western strikes on targets around the Damascus area. The following targets are reported to have been hit: the Damascus Scientific Research Center, said to be linked to production of chemical and biological weapons; another purported chemical weapons lab in Barzeh; a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs; and headquarters of various elite military units. Iranian forces were apparently also targeted, with a base used by the Republican Guard struck. However, this military action looks like it will be no more sustained than that of last April. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called it a "single shot," and is believed to have put the brakes on the scope "to keep this from escalating." He told reporters after the initial sorties: "Right now we have no additional attacks planned." There are no reports of any deaths in the air-strikes, and the few known casualties are all military personnel. (American Military News, Middle East EyeReuters, NYT, CNBC, BBC News)

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