Greater Middle East
Children in Raqqa, northeast Syria, are still living among ruins, with limited water, electricity, and access to education, four years after the city was taken from ISIS, according to a new report by Save the Children. Thousands of people have returned to Raqqa since the battle for the city ended in 2017, and the report estimates that up tp 330,000 people are currently living there. But levels of rebuilding and rehabilitation of housing remain low, with children living in constant fear of their homes collapsing on top of them. Research estimates that 36% of the city's buildings remain entirely destroyed.
The UN Security Council on July 9 unanimously voted to extend the sole humanitarian aid crossing into Syria—one day before it was set to close—following a deal between the US and Russia. The White House said presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin finally discussed the matter in a phone call. The vote on the Bab al-Hawa (Gate of the Winds) crossing came after weeks of intense negotiations between Washington, which wants to expand the number of aid corridors into Syria, and Moscow, which had threatened to block continuation of the aid program altogether in the name of protecting Syrian sovereignty.
On June 27, Turkish riot police used tear-gas and rubber bullets to disrupt Istanbul's annual pride parade after the the governor's office refused to grant a permit for the event. The police arrested dozens of marchers, as well as journalists who were covering the event. The police attack comes amid a period of mounting hostilities against the nation's LGBTIQ+ community. The pride parade has been held annually since 2003, despite being officially banned since 2014. Videos shared on social media show hundreds of people gathered on Istiklal Avenue, a popular tourist destination, chanting "Rainbow is not a crime, discrimination is."
Operatives of the Saudi secret unit responsible for the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States, the New York Times reported June 22. According to the account, an Arkansas-based security firm, Tier 1 Group, provided training to some of the operatives in question. Although the training was described as "defensive" and "devised to better protect Saudi leaders," the unit was then undertaking a series of kidnappings, detentions and torture to crush dissent within the kingdom.
In Episode 77 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg applauds The Young Turks for challenging the increasingly hegemonic pro-Assad consensus on the American "left," with incisive programming on the 2018 Douma chemical attack and this year's sham elections that confirmed the dictator's rule. For calling out the relentless disinformation, they are of course coming under withering attack from Aaron Maté, Jimmy Dore, Katie Halper, Roger Waters and other stateside exponents of the Kremlin propaganda machine. Disgracefully, similar exponents, e.g., Ben Norton, are now predictably lining up behind the Burmese junta. Forthright repudiation of this toxic tendency is long overdue. But does the TYT critique go far enough? Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Assad regime forces on June 20 shelled a White Helmets civil defense center in northwest Syria, killing a rescuer and wounding three others. The destroyed center was in the town of Qastoun in the al-Ghab Plain of western Hama province. Local sources said that Russian-made Krasnopol guided missiles were used, indicating the deliberate targeting of the rescuers. Regime forces have escalated shelling of southern Idlib and western Hama provinces this month, as civilians return to their homes from displaced persons camps near the Turkish border. At least nine people have been killed, a school destroyed, and crops burned. (EA Worldview, AP)
Doctors and healthcare workers held a demonstration outside a hospital in the Syrian city of Idlib June 1, to protest the election of the Bashar Assad regime to the executive board of the World Health Organization (WHO). Syria was elected to the board for a three-year term by the 22 countries of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region—the latest coup for normalization of the Assad regime. "How can we trust WHO [when] one of its executive board members is the murderer who is killing my colleagues, my friends?" said Dr. Salem Abdan, head of health services for opposition-administered Idlib, in a WhatsApp message. Read a banner at the protest: "We reject the idea that our killer and he who destroyed our hospitals be represented on the executive board." Idlib province is part of a remaining rebel-held pocket in the northwest of the country, where Assad regime warplanes have for years been bombing hospitals and clinics.
Kurdish forces shot dead at least eight protesters at the town of Manbij in northern Syria on May 31. Demonstrations broke out against military conscription by the Kurdish-led autonomous administration, amid growing discontent over economic conditions. A curfew was imposed on the town, as many shops heeded a call for a general strike. Representatives of the Kurdish administration and its Asayish police force held talks with Arab tribal leaders on June 2. A joint statement said military conscription will be halted pending review and dialogue. All detained protesters are also to be released under the agreement.