Greater Middle East
Bashar Assad's Russian-backed reconquest of most of Syria over the past two years is beginning to look like a Pyrrhic victory, as protest and even armed resistance re-emerge in regime-controlled territory. Insurgency is especially mounting in southern Daraa province—where the revolution first began back in 2011. Brig. Gen. Talal Qassem of the army's 5th Division was shot dead Sept. 9 by gunmen on a motorcycle near Busra Harir in the northeast of Daraa. He was the second regime general slain in the province since Assadist forces retook southern Syria in July 2018. They were among more than 200 regime soldiers and officials slain in attacks over this period, and the pace of attacks is escalating. Among regime figures slain in the past month are the mayor of the town of Lajat, a military intelligence officer, and a member of the "reconciliation committees" attempting to rebuild regime support.
A UN group of experts has called on the Security Council to refer human rights violations and war crimes committed in the ongoing Yemen conflict to the International Criminal Court. The Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen concluded in a report released Sept. 8 that the governments of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Southern Transitional Council are responsible for rights violations including "arbitrary deprivation of life, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, gender-based violence, including sexual violence, torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the recruitment and use in hostilities of children." The report also alleges that "de facto authorities" in the capital Sana'a (the Houthi rebels) are responsible for the same violations.
Saudi Arabia has denied prominent detainees contact with their family members and lawyers for months, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 6 in a letter requesting access to the country and private prison visits with detainees. The situation raises serious concerns for the detainees' safety and well-being, the rights group said. Saudi authorities have banned in-person visits with prisoners across the country since March to limit the spread of COVID-19. But Saudi activists and other sources say that authorities have also unduly denied numerous imprisoned dissidents and other detainees regular communication with the outside world.
On Aug. 21, seventh anniversary of the chemical weapon attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which left 1,400 civilians dead, the Syrian opposition issued a statement protesting that the responsible parties are still yet to be held accountable—while gas attacks have continued in Syria. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary & Opposition Forces (SMDK) demanded that the perpetrators of the attack be tried by the International Criminal Court. "The collapsed international system is the one that allowed this massacre to happen and left those responsible unjudged," the statement said. The regime of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad has carried out hundreds of chemical attacks since 2013.
US troops clashed this week with an Assad regime unit in northeast Syria, an incident that illustrates the uneasy patchwork of power in the region. One regime soldier was reportedly killed and two wounded. No US personnel were injured, according to a Pentagon Central Command spokesman. Central Command said a joint convoy of US personnel and Kurdish forces were fired upon near the city of Qamishli in Hasakah province Aug. 18: "Coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces, conducting a routine anti-ISIS security patrol near Tal Al-Zahab, Syria, encountered a checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian regime forces. After receiving safe passage from the pro-regime forces, the patrol came under small arms fire from individuals in the vicinity of the checkpoint. Coalition troops returned fire in self-defense."
In the imperial carve-up of northern Syria, US troops have since late last year been controlling the oil-fields of Deir ez-Zor province, in collaboration with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Now reports are emerging that the Kurdish autonomous administration in the region has signed a 25-year contract with a little-known US company for exploitation of oil in SDF-held territory. The company, Delta Crescent Energy, incorporated in Delaware in February 2019, still apparently lacks a website. But its partners are said to include former US ambassador to Denmark James Cain; James Reese, a former officer in the US Army's elite Delta Force; and John P. Dorrier Jr., a former executive at UK-based GulfSands Petroleum. The GulfSands website indicates the British company has oil contracts in Syria that are "currently under Force Majeure as a result of EU sanctions."
As rescue workers continue to look for survivors amid the rubble of a massive explosion that killed a reported 130 people in Beirut's port on Aug. 4, the humanitarian implications of the blast in Lebanon's capital will likely not be clear for some time. At least 4,000 people are said to have been wounded, and the death toll from the blast could still rise. Hospitals have been struggling to deal with the influx of injured people as buildings collapsed and windows shattered throughout central Beirut. While the exact cause of the explosion is unclear, government officials said it was related to a large amount of ammonium nitrate confiscated years ago and stored at the port. Ammonium nitrate can be used as both a fertiliser and in bombs, but must be mixed with another substance to ignite.
A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same-sex relationships, Human Rights Watch announced July 28. Mohamad al-Bokari was arrested in Riyadh on April 8, after posting a video on social media, which authorities said contained "sexual references" and "violated public order and morals." This was apparently a reference to the line: "Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people." Sources told HRW that al-Bokari was subjected to a forced anal exam, an internationally discredited practice used to seek "proof" of homosexual conduct. HRW says the practice has no scientific basis, violates medical ethics, and constitutes cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment that may rise to the level of torture. Al-Bokari was charged with "violating public morality" and "imitating women."