Greater Middle East
Over the past weeks, the two biggest members of the international coalition supporting the official government of Yemen against the Houthi rebels have fallen out, with Saudi Arabia continuing to back President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates switching its support to southern separatists. Last week, the UAE-backed Security Belt militia, armed wing of the Southern Transitional Council (STC), seized effective control of the port city of Aden after days of fighting with Saudi-backed forces of the official government.
Russia and the Assad regime have resumed attacks on opposition-held northwest Syria, breaking a four-day pause declared by Damascus. Russian and regime forces, whose spring offensive shattered a "demilitarized zone" announced last September by Moscow and Turkey, again began bombing and shelling both rebel positions and civilian areas Aug. 5. The regime's military said four days earlier that it was halting operations, which have killed more than 700 civilians and wounded more than 2,200 since late April, while it gave an ultimatum to anti-Assad forces to withdraw from the 20-kilometer "demilitarized zone" through Idlib and northern Hama province. As the new air-strikes were launched, an army statement said: "The agreement to a truce was conditional... This did not happen... We resume our military operations against terrorist organizations."
In a new campaign against migrants who lack residency papers, Turkey has for the past weeks been deporting Syrians from Istanbul to Syria—including to the war-torn northwest province of Idlib. The crackdown comes at a time of rising rhetoric and political pressure on the country's 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees to return home. Estimates place hundreds of thousands of unregistered Syrians in Turkey, many living in urban areas such as Istanbul. Refugee rights advocates say deportations to Syria violate customary international law, which prohibits forcing people to return to a country where they are still likely to face persecution or risk to their lives. Arrests reportedly began in mid-July, with police conducting spot-checks in public spaces, factories, and metro stations around Istanbul and raiding apartments. As word spread quickly in Istanbul's Syrian community, many people shut themselves up at home rather than risk being caught outside. It is not clear how many people have been deported so far, with reported numbers ranging from hundreds to a thousand.
In Episode 37 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the politics of the Spanish Civil War—how leftists around the world mobilized to support the anti-fascist struggle, despite contradictions and complexities within the anti-fascist ranks; how this heroic resistance was betrayed by the world; and how this betrayal presaged a greater and far more destructive war. Today in Syria, a similar struggle is being waged against a fascistic regime—similarly heroic, despite inevitable contradictions and complexities within the anti-fascist ranks. Yet this time, leftists around the world are deeply complicit in the world's betrayal of the Syrian resistance. Weinberg asks: Why is that? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Some 100 civilians have been killed over the past week as Russia and the Assad regime step up aerial attacks on Idlib, the northern Syria province that remains outside regime control. White Helmets rescuer workers on July 24 reported at least 10 fatalities in Tubish village, near the "ghost town" of Khan Sheikhoun where the 2017 chemical attack took place. The search for victims under the rubble continues. Horrifying images of a five-year-old girl's desperate attempt to save her baby sister trapped under rubble following an air-strike in the town of Ariha has gone viral. The footage was shot by the independent Syrian media outlet SY24, which reports that the girl, named Riham, later died of her own injuries—one of 31 killed in air-strikes on Ariha this week. (EA Worldview, Al Jazeera, BBC News)
Assad regime and Russian warplanes continue to target civilians and basic infrastructure in the aerial assault on opposition-controlled Idlib province in Syria's north. At least 12 were killed in a regime air-strike on a market in Maar Shurin village July 16. Two days earlier, Russian air-strikes destroyed the main water plant in Maarat al-Numan, a town already swollen with displaced persons who have fled the regime offensive. The pumping station, which provides clean water to the town of 80,000 and surrounding villages, was previously targeted by regime air-strikes on July 5, causing partial damage. First responders are also apparently being intentionally targeted. A new report from the Syrian Network for Human Rights finds that Russian and Assad forces have struck 31 civil defense centers and vehicles in opposition-controlled areas of Idlib and Hama provinces since the current offensive began in late April. At least seven first responders and medics from the White Helmets and Violet Organization civil defense groups have been killed. The overall civilian death toll in the air-strikes on Idlib and Hama is placed at 550, including 130 children.
A sudden feeding-frenzy of revisionism about the April 2018 Douma chemical attack in Syria has broken out, with celebrities glomming on in unseemly manner. This time Susan Sarandon joins already proved Assad regime shill Roger Waters, their spewing avidly lapped up by Kremlin propaganda organ RT (of course). But also getting on this bandwagon—most disgracefully, because he purports to be a "journalist"—is Robert Fisk. Not just a mere aging rock star, Fisk is able to loan more potent propaganda service to the Assad regime—for which he has been called out by Syrian left-opposition figure (and survivor of Assad's prisons) Yassin al-Haj as "indoctrinated" by the regime. Fisk's May 23 revisionist write-up in The Independent was entitled "The evidence we were never meant to see about the Douma 'gas' attack." Note that he even disingenuously puts "gas" in scare quotes, while even he doesn't go so far (in the actual text of the story) as to question whether poisonous gas was used at Douma.
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.