Greater Middle East
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.
Authorities in the Netherlands have arrested a Dutch volunteer—known by the nom de guerre Andok—who fought with the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) against ISIS in northern Syria's Raqqa in 2017. The Dutch Public Prosecution said in a statement April 2 that Andok, 24, had traveled to France in December 2016 and later went to the Syrian battle zone. He was identified in a broadcast for the Dutch TV program EenVandaag in September 2017, the prosecutor's office said. However, in the interview he did not show his face nor reveal his real name. He was detained upon his arrival at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, and appeared the following day before an examining judge in Rotterdam, who placed him in custody for two weeks pending formal charges.
Turkey's eastern province of Muş has banned protests and demonstrations for 15 days following the March 30 nationwide local elections amid objections by the country's pro-Kurdish party to the reported results. The announcement from the governor's office came following an official victory by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the Kurdish-majority province by a narrow margin over the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP is preparing to appeal the results, citing irregularities. Muş is one of numerous provinces in Turkey's east where government-appointed administrators (kayyim) have been running municipalities since the July 2016 coup attempt. (Ahval)
Turkish police on March 30 conducted raids on 127 homes in Istanbul and arrested at least 53 people, including all candidates for the city council with the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The sweeps come less than 24 hours before nationwide local elections commence. In southern Sanliurfa province, police arrested 11 other HDP candidates and campaigners on supposed "terrorism-related" charges. Some 30 more HDP candidates and supporters were arrested in the cities of Adana, Van, and Igdir. The government accuses the HDP of links to outlawed Kurdish militants, and 10 lawmakers, 40 mayors and thousands of activists remain behind bars. Before the raids, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated the accusation and called the party "terror lovers." (Kurdistan 24, AP)
Alaa Abdel Fattah, a leading Egyptian pro-democracy activist, was released from prison on March 29 after serving a five-year sentence, according to his family and lawyer. Fattah was a leading voice among young Egyptians in the uprising of 2011, which ousted president Hosni Mubarak from power after a 30-year period of rule. A prominent blogger and software engineer, he was once described by authorities as "the icon of the revolution."
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the complete "territorial defeat" of the Islamic State (ISIS) on March 23. The SDF "declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS," Mustafa Bali, head of the force's press office, announced on Twitter. "On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible," Bali added. Some 11,000 fighters of the SDF, a Kurdish-led umbrella force of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of northern Syria, died in the war against ISIS. In Iraq, more than 1,800 Peshmerga were killed battling the group. The Iraqi army has not released their official figures casualties, but it is believed to be in the thousands.
The European Union adopted a non-binding resolution March 13 against Turkey's accession as a member of the EU. The resolution passed in the European Parliament by 370 votes in favor, 109 against with 143 abstentions. The assembly noted past and ongoing human and civil rights violations committed by Turkey. The body expressed concern over Turkey's lack of respect for minority religious and cultural rights. It mentioned the "shrinking space for civil society," arrests and suppression of journalists, and dismissal of dissident academics, as well as the treatment of refugees and migrants within its borders. The body noted that Turkey's government has violated the due process rights of its own citizens under the guise of counter-terrorism. It has also intimidated its own citizens abroad and abused Interpol arrest warrants to extradite its own nationals back to Turkey.
Even amid growing media portrayals that Bashar Assad has won the war in Syria, the first real hope has emerged that the dictator will face war crimes charges before the International Criminal Court. A group of Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan after surviving torture and massacres this week submitted dossiers of evidence to the ICC in an attempt to prosecute Assad. Although Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, which establishes the court's jurisdiction, lawyers in London are citing recent precedent set by the ICC in extending jurisdiction for the crime of forcible population transfers across international borders. London barrister Rodney Dixon of Temple Garden Chambers, representing the group of 28 refugees, said: "The ICC exists precisely to bring justice to the victims of these most brutal international crimes... There is a jurisdictional gateway that has opened up finally for the ICC prosecutor to investigate the perpetrators who are most responsible." In his letter to chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, Dixon notes last year's ICC ruling on Rohingya refugees, allowing an investigation of non-signatory Burma to proceed. (The Guardian, BBC News)