UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on March 2 warned Syria that air-strikes, shelling and use of toxic agents in Eastern Ghouta likely constitute war crimes. Zeid asserts that the citizens of Eastern Ghouta are enduring every kind of deprivation, with no aid getting through since November, except for one single convoy of humanitarian aid that managed to reach just 7,200 people, of the hundreds of thousands in the area. "As a direct result, thousands upon thousands of children in Eastern Ghouta are acutely malnourished and profoundly traumatized. And now they are facing one of the most pitiless onslaughts in this long-running and brutal civil war."
A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties after an apparent chemical attack on the besieged Syrian rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta Feb. 25, medics and monitors reported. The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 14 civilians had suffered breathing difficulties after regime air-strikes struck the village of al-Shifuniyah. One woman is said to remain in a critical condition. A doctor who treated those affected, told AFP he suspected “chemical weapons, probably a chlorine gas attack." (Japan Times)
This is a political tragedy, and bodes more poorly than ever for any eventual return of peace to Syria. This week, Assad regime forces joined the Kurdish militia defending the northern enclave of Afrin from Turkish aggression. The People's Protection Units (YPG), military force of the Kurds' Rojava autonomous region, confirmed in a Feb. 20 statement that after days of negotiations the "Syrian government" and allied forces had entered Afrin. "After more than a month of the legendary resistance of our forces against the Turkish invasion army and the terrorist groups aligned with it from Jabhat al-Nusra, Da'esh and others, and causing severe losses for the invaders... our units considered to call the Syrian govt and its army to undertake its duties in participating in defending Afrin and protecting the Syrian borders against this evil invasion," YPG spokesperson Nouri Mahmoud said. "The Syrian government has thus heeded the call...and sent military units...to concentrate on the borders and participate in defending the unity of Syrian lands and its borders." (The Region)
Mystery continues to surround the Feb. 8 US air-strikes on Syria's Deir ez-Zor governorate, which Damascus called a "brutal massacre" of some 200 pro-regime troops. This was the latest of just a handful of times that pro-regime forces have been targeted by the US. Initial reports said private Russian mercenaries were among those killed in the strikes, wihch were apparently in retaliation for regime attacks on US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the area. At issue seems to have been the "Coneco" gas-field, although the typically garbled media accounts contradict each other on whether regime forces were attempting to take it from the SDF or vice versa. But another blast at an arms depot in the same area is again said to have left 15 Russian private security personnel dead. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed in the Feb. 15 incident at Tabiya Jazira were Russians "protecting the oil and gas fields controlled by the Syrian regime." (SBS, UNIAN, AFP, Feb. 15)
You could smell this one coming. Last year, horrific reports emerged from the southern Russian republic of Chechnya that authorities were rounding up gays in detainment camps and subjecting them to torture —the first time this kind of thing has happened in Europe since Nazi Germany. Now the reign of terror is being extended to drug users and small-time dealers, who are facing grisly torture at the hands of Chechen security forces as part of the same ultra-puritanical campaign. Reports describe electric current being applied to suspects' fingertips to induce them to "confess." No one has survived such questioning without eventually admitting their crime, the victims were told.
As Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies continue their advance on Kurdish-held Afrin, Russia and its Syrian regime allies continue their advance on rebel-held Iblib. Both offensives are taking a horrific toll in civilian casualties, but the parallels don't end there. Even as they ostensibly oppose each other, both Turkey and Assad are accused of conniving with ISIS forces to weaken the defenders of the respective enclaves. And the twin aggressions in Afrin and Idlib come amid a sudden and rapid internationalization of the Syrian war.
As Turkey invades Syrian territory to attack the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, the Assad regime and its Russian sponsors are bombarding the rebel-held province of Idlib. Civilian populations in each are facing military attack. And the Rojava Kurds as well as the autonomous municipalities of Idlib are animated by an ethic of popular council-based democracy. But while Noam Chomsly and David Graeber issued a statement in support of Afrin, they—like most of the Western left—are silent about the aggression against Idlib. The destructive meddling of the Great Powers could unleash an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in Syria—a potentially disastrous sequel to the war against ISIS. It is urgent to rebuild Arab-Kurdish solidarity against the Assad regime, the jihadists and the intervening imperialist powers—and for a democratic and secular future for Syria. Bill Weinberg explores this question on Episode Two of the CounterVortex podcast. You can listen on SoundCloud.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists on Jan. 25 advanced the minute hand of its Doomsday Clock to two minutes of midnight from its previous two-and-a-half minutes. "In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II," the Bulletin said in a statement. Finding that the "greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm," the statement of course cited the crisis over North Korea's atomic program, but also ongoing military exercises along the borders of NATO, upgrading of nuclear arsenals by the US and Russia, tensions over the South China Sea, a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, and uncertainty about continued US support for the Iran nuclear deal. These threats are worsened by "a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions."