Greater Middle East
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has announced formation of a constitutional committee on Syria that will include members of the Bashar Assad regime and opposition representatives. Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), protested that no representatives from the organization have been invited to join the committee. UN Syria envoy Geir Pedersen told Al Jazeera that although the main Kurdish militia in Syria was not represented, "it is important for me to emphasize that of course also we have Kurdish representatives on the committee." Bali responded on Twitter that Pedersen "must know that having a couple of Kurds...who [are] allied with the Syrian government or the opposition doesn't mean Kurds [are] represented in the committee."
Russia has effectively used the Syrian war to perfect weaponry, Moscow's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Sept. 22. Russia intervened in support of the Bashar Assad regime in 2015 and has since been held responsible for some of the most devastating aerial bombings experienced by civilians since the onset of the conflict more than eight years ago. Shoigu has previously said the intervention has given Moscow a testing ground for new weaponry, including long-range missiles fired from ships, submarines and warplanes. The defense minister now told Moskovsky Komsomolets around 300 weapons had been "fine-tuned" through the Syria intervention. Among them was the Kalibr cruise missile, generally launched from Russia's war fleet off the Syrian coast. Previous to use in Syria, Shoigu said, technical difficulties meant the Kalibr missile often missed targets, but that is no longer the case.
Anti-government protests broke out across Egypt Sept. 20, with thousands joining demonstrations calling for the ouster of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi—a rare show of defiance since he established his dictatorship four years ago. Demonstrators filled Cairo's Tahrir Square, center of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Protesters also gathered in Alexandria, Suez and Gharbiya. Videos posted on social media showed demonstrators chanting "Rise up, fear not, Sisi must go" and, reviving the slogan of the 2011 Arab Revolution, "the people demand the downfall of the regime." Hundreds of protesters were finally dispersed from Tahrir Square by the riot police.
A meeting in Turkish capital Ankara between the Turkish, Russian and Iranian presidents failed to reach a breakthrough on what is obviously a planned carve-up of Syria. But a consensus does appear to be emerging on betrayal of the Syrian Kurds. Ankara is promoting a plan to resettle displaced Syrians in a Turkish-controlled "safe zone" stretching across Syria's north. While the US wants the width of the "safe zone" confined to 10 kilometers, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that the zone could be expanded to Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor—respectively some 100 and 200 kilometers from the Turkish border. Significantly, the city of Raqqa and much of Deir ez-Zor province are controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Erdogan has named a figure of 3 million refugees and displaced persons to be settled within the "safe zone." (EA Worldview, France24, Reuters)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to allow Syrian refugees to leave Turkey for Europe if his long-sought "safe zone" in northern Syria is not established. "We will be forced to open the gates. We cannot be forced to handle the burden alone," he told a meeting of his ruling party, the AKP, stating that Turkey "did not receive the support needed from the world." This is a reference to is the promised financial aid from the European Union, and the provision of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, as part of the EU-Turkey deal on refugees struck back in 2016. Only half of the pledged €6 billion has arrived, according to Turkey, and visa-free travel for Turkish nationals has not yet been granted—largely due to concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey. In July, Ankara declared the refugee deal no longer under effect.
The municipalities of Diyarbakır, Mardin and Van in Turkey's east have been rocked by unrest since the central government removed their newly elected mayors from office over alleged links to a Kurdish armed group last month. "Trustees" have been appointed to govern the municipalities, as protesters have repeatedly clashed with riot police, who have deployed tear-gas, water-cannons and armored vehicles. The leftist and Kurdish-supported Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has refused to accept the suspension of the mayors and called for ongoing protests to uphold "the will of the people." Amid the protest wave, Ankara has launched "Operation Kıran," a new campaign against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the region, with hundreds arrested. Among those sentenced to prison last week was Raife İnatçı, a 70-year-old Kurdish woman in Diyarbakır, whose six-month term was upheld by a local court. She was accused of spreading "terrorist propaganda" with a placard she carried at a demonstration. (Al Monitor, Turkey Purge, BIANet, Daily Sabah)
US warplanes struck a position outside the capital of Syria's northern Idlib province Sept. 1, targeting a faction named as Huras al-Din and reportedly killing some 40 militants. Huras al-Din split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the leading insurgent front in much of Idlib, after HTS broke ties with al-Qaeda in July 2016. (EA Worldview) The US air-strikes come amid an ongoing massive aerial assault on Idlib by Russia and the Assad regime—which continue their strategy of intentional targeting of hospitals. The day before the US strikes, local journalists and White Helmet civil defense volunteers reported that pro-Assad forces bombed the Women & Children's Hospital in Orem al-Kubra in western Aleppo province, near the border with Idlib. Six civilians were injured, and pregnant women and newborns were evacuated by the White Helmets from the damaged facility. (EA Worldview)
After years of presumed Israeli air-strikes on Iranian forces in Syria, the IDF finally carried out air-strikes that were publicly acknowledged Aug. 24, hitting a compound near Damascus supposedly shared by the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force and Hezbollah militants. Three were said to be killed in the attack, suposedly launched to head off a planned Quds Force drone attack on West Bank settlements. (Jerusalem Post) Two days later, an Israeli drone struck a supposed compounds of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), a Damascus-aligned faction, in Beirut and the Bekaa Valley. Lebanon's President Michel Aoun called the attacks a "declaration of war." (Jerusalem Post)