Greater Middle East
Russia on June 3 blocked a UN Security Council statement of alarm about the killing of civilians in northwest Syria and the possibility of a humanitarian disaster. The bombing and shelling have accompanied a Russia-backed offensive by the Assad regime to recapture parts of Idlib and neighboring Hama province. This last major opposition-held area is home to over 4 million people—about 20% of Syria's surviving population. Over the past month, some 300 civilians have been killed in the bombardment, with hundreds more wounded. The number displaced in Idlib and Hama now totals more than 300,000. Almost 30 medical facilities have been destroyed or damaged in the bombing. Throughout the eight-year Syrian conflict, Russia has vetoed 12 Security Council resolutions to criticize or censure its ally, the Assad regime.
Thousands of displaced residents of Idlib province in northwest Syria—under a Russian-backed bombardment by the Assad regime, which has killed about 300 over the past month and displaced more than 300,000—marched on the sealed Turkish border on May 31, demanding entry or international action to stop the bombing. With more than 3.6 million refugees already in Turkey, Ankara's authorities have blocked any further entries since 2016. But the regime bombing campaign, and accompanying a ground offensive that has shattered a so-called "demilitarized zone," now threatens a "humanitarian catastrophe," in the words of the United Nations. Abou al-Nour, an administrator at the overcrowded Atmeh camp, told Reuters that more than 20,000 families are now sleeping in an olive grove near the border. "They don't have any shelter or water, and this is beyond our abilities. We are doing all we can," he said. (EA Worldview) A video posted to YouTube showed protesters rallying at the border wall with the Free Syria flag, and signs assailing the international community for its inaction. One spokesman said, "These civilians came here today to tell the world, if you cannot save us, we will break the border and come to Europe to find a safer place to live."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on May 28 detailed abuses against civilians by both the Egyptian government and militants in the Sinai Peninsula, some of which HRW classified as war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. The information in the report was collected over a two-year investigation into the conditions facing civilians in Sinai. The abuses detailed in the report include mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians. These actions are part of the government's fight against the ISIS-affiliated militants in Sinai. HRW claims that both groups are guilty of committing atrocities against civilians, but the Egyptian government is responsible for the majority of the abuses.
Nearly six months after a much-publicized deal was made in Sweden to bring an end to four years of war and the resulting humanitarian crisis in Yemen, the UN now says Houthi fighters have pulled out of the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah. But many Yemenis, including the internationally recognized government of President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, claim that reports of a unilateral withdrawal by Houthi forces are a "smokescreen." The limits of what has been achieved are clear from renewed clashes that have erupted in Hodeidah between Saudi-backed pro-government forces and Houthi rebels.
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 final defeat of ISIS in Syria's northeast has left many Arab-majority areas of the region under occupation by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—a situation obviously fraught with political risks. Over the past weeks, protests have mounted in Arab villages across Deir ez-Zor province against the SDF, with residents demanding better services, employment and a greater role in decision-making. On May 9, SDF fighters apparently opened fire on protesters in the village of Shheil, killing one person. This first fatality of the protest wave was reported by Associated Press, citing the DeirEzzor24 activist collective. The protest came after an overnight raid in the village, in which SDF fighters killed six people.
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.