Greater Middle East

Syria: UN 'betrayal' of rebel zones feared

Donor countries and aid organizations are protesting a UN decision to centralize coordination of aid operations for Syria in Damascus—a move they say hands more power to the regime of Bashar Assad, and will make it harder to deliver aid to millions in rebel-held parts of the country. UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock's decision was announced at a closed-door meeting in early April to alter the system the UN has used for the past four years. That system was designed to ensure aid is delivered on the basis of need to both government and rebel-held territories—known as the "Whole of Syria" approach.

Formation of Rojava Armenian brigade announced

On the 104th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, revolutionary forces in Rojava established the Martyr Nubar Ozanyan Armenian Battalion. The battalion is named after Armenian guerrilla Nubar Ozanyan, who fought in the ranks of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and later as a commander with the Liberation Army of the Workers and Peasants of Turkey (TİKKO) in Rojava, the autonomous zone of the revolutionary Kurds and their allies in northern Syria. Formation of the brigade was announced April 24, the Armenian Genocide Memorial Day, which is especially commemorated by Armenians within Syria, where much of the genocide actually took place.

Turkish occupation builds wall through Afrin

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.

Dozens detained at Istanbul May Day march

Turkish police detained at least 100 people who attempted to stage a May Day demonstration in Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square, where protests are traditionally banned. Several thousand more gathered in the city's Bakirkoy district, for a permitted march organized by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK). In the permitted march was a large Kurdish contingent, led by women wearing white scarves to demand the release of political prisoners. The women were mostly mothers and relatives of followers of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) and People's Democratic Congress (HDK) who have been imprisoned over the course of the current crackdown on political dissent in Turkey. (ANF, Turkish Minute)

Saudi Arabia executes 37 for terror-related crimes

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia executed 37 men on April 23 for terrorism-related crimes. Among those killed, 11 were accused of spying on behalf of Iran. Fourteen were convicted for offenses pertaining to anti-government protests. Most of the convicts identified as Shi'ite, and were predominantly from the country's Shia-majority eastern province. Most of the defendants were arrested between 2011-2. One was arrested when he was 16 years old.

Yemen war death toll surpasses 70,000

More than 10,000 people have been reported killed in Yemen over the last five months, bringing the war's total death toll to over 70,000 since 2016, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). While overall reported fatalities have trended downward this year amid a UN-backed peace process, fighting continues across the country and has even intensified in some areas, including the governorates of Taiz and Hajjah. The Saudi-led coalition is responsible for the highest number of reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting: over 4,800 since 2016. The Houthis and their allies are responsible for over 1,300 reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting. (ACLED, Madison, WI, April 18)

Bahrain court sentences 139 on terrorism charges

Bahrain's High Criminal Court on April 16 sentenced 139 terror suspects to prison terms ranging from three years to life in prison. The court also revoked the citizenship of all but one of those convicted. The accused were sad to be part of a network organized and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian state recently designated by the US Treasury Department as a "terrorist organization." Bahrain's ruling family is Sunni and most of those sentenced are believed to be Shia.

Syria's Idlib still under bombardment

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.

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