The Bashar Assad regime, supported by Russia, is carrying out a "deliberate and systematic assault" on hospitals and other medical facilities in Syria's northwestern provinces of Idlib and Hama, Amnesty International said May 17. With the UN Security Council set to discuss northwest Syria, Amnesty urged action, calling for Russia to be pressured over the deliberate targeting of 15 hospitals in Idlib and Hama over the past three weeks. "Bombing hospitals carrying out their medical functions is a war crime. These latest attacks have eliminated vital lifelines for civilians in desperate need of medical care. This is part of a well-established pattern targeting medical facilities to systematically attack the civilian population and it constitutes crimes against humanity," said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East director.
In Episode 33 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg compares coverage of the Idlib offensive from CNN and its Turkish counterpart TRT World, illustrating how the US corporate media uncritically echo the propaganda of the Assad regime. While TRT emphasizes civilian casualties, the CNN headline says "terrorists" are being killed—the propaganda technique of dehumanization and objectification of victims. Shamefully, "progressives" in the West are far more complicit with Assad's genocide. The deplorable Amy Goodman has now repeatedly allowed voices such as Phyllis Bennis and the inevitable Noam Chomsky to spew genocide-abetting propaganda on Democracy Now. Weinberg also discusses the contradictions facing the Rojava Kurds in the areas of Syria they control. He closes with a call for Syria Solidarity NYC and Rojava Solidarity NYC to hold a joint workshop at the NYC Anarchist Book Fair, to try to arrive at a unified pro-revolutionary position on Syria. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
The Assad regime and allied militias, backed by Russian air-strikes, this week launched the long-feared offensive on Idlib, the northwest Syrian province that is the last under rebel and opposition control. The offensive places at risk the lives of more than 4.5 million civilians. Just this month, a further 150,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Idlib, joining the ranks the displaced. The UN has previously warned that an assault on Idlib could cause "the worst humanitarian catastrophe the world has seen in the 21st century." At particular risk are 350,000 people living in displacement camps, who have no protection from the bombs. The more recently displaced are now without any shelter on lands near the Turkish border, which Ankara has shut to prevent a refugee influx.
Turkish occupation forces are building a three-meter high security wall through Afrin, the enclave in northern Syria that was a canton of the Kurdish autonomous zone before being taken by Ankara's troops and allied Arab and Turkmen militia last year. Local residents report that lands in the villages of Kimare and Cilbil (Sherawa district) and Meryemin (Shera district) have been confiscated to erect the wall, with some 20 houses destroyed. Reports indicate the wall is ultimately to be 70 kilometers long, stretching from Afrin to Azaz, encircling much of the Turkish "buffer zone" in northern Syria, and completely cutting it off from the now-reduced Kurdish autonomous zone. Construction of the wall spurred the first public protests in Afrin under Turkish occupation, as farmers marched against the land seizures May 2.
Yevhen Karakashev, a 41-year-old left-wing activist from Yevpatoria in Russian-annexed Crimea, was sentenced to six years in prison by a Russian court on April 19, with the charges based solely on years-old private messages on the social-media network VKontakte. Russia's FSB security agency claimed that the posts fell under Article 205.2 of the Russian criminal code, which imposes penalties for "public calls to carry out terrorist activities, public justification of terrorism or propaganda of terrorism." The sentence was three years less than that demanded by the prosecutor, and also includes limits on Karakashev's online activities for two years after his release. Russia's independent Memorial Human Rights Center stated that there is a strong likelihood "the criminal proceedings against Yevhen Karakashev were initiated in the context of his opposition civic and political activities as a frequent participant in protests in Crimea." They view this as part of a mounting attack on left-wing activists and anti-fascists in Russia since January 2018.
Reports are emerging of a clash between Russian forces and an Iran-backed militia in Syria—pointing to mounting tensions between the two most significant foreign powers backing the Assad regime. At least 11 were killed in the fighting in the city of Aleppo April 16. The clash began near a vegetable market in Khaldiya district, and quickly escalated to the use of heavy weaponry, with ground-to-air missiles fired on nearby areas within the city. At least some of the casualties are believed to be civilians. The militia was unnamed, but Tehran is backing numerous Shi'ite militias in Syria, many made up of volunteers from Iran and Iraq. The clash followed recent Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets near Aleppo, and Tehran-backed factions apparently accused Russia of green-lighting Israel's attacks, or even coordinating with Tel Aviv on the strikes. (Syria Call, Middle East Monitor, Arab Weekly)
Syria's last opposition-controlled province of Idlib has receded from the headlines since a joint Russian-Turkish deal was announced last September, forestalling an Assad regime offensive on the province and establishing a "demilitarized zone" policed by the two foreign powers. But shelling and bombardment of the province by Assadist and Russian forces has escalated over the past month—and much of the shells and missiles are falling within the "demilitarized zone." Most recently, five civilians were injured April 14 in a regime air-strike on the Idlib villages of Urum al-Jawz and Bsanqul and Jabal al-Arabaeen, outside the town of Ari, within the demilitarized zone. UN Senior Humanitarian Advisor for Syria Najat Rochdi told reporters in Geneva last week that over 100,000 Idlib residents have fled their homes since February as a result of increased fighting. More than 90 civilians, half of them children, were killed in the province in March. As ever, medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted.
In Episode 31 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg documents the ugly far-right politics of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and how the 2010 document dump risked the lives of dissidents under authoritarian regimes in places like Zimbabwe—and may have constituted outright collaboration with the repressive dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus. An objective reading of the circumstances around the 2016 Wikileaks dump of Democratic Party e-mails reveals Assange as a Kremlin asset and Trump collaborator, an active agent in a Russian-lubricated effort to throw the US elections—part of Putin's grander design to impose a fascist world order. Weinberg also notes that the ACLU and Committee to Protect Journalists have issued statements warning that the charges against Assange may pose a threat to press freedom. But he argues that even if we must protest his prosecution, we should do so while refraining from glorifying Assange—and, indeed, while forthrightly repudiating him as a dangerous political enemy of all progressive values. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.