Assad regime artillery struck areas of Syria's opposition-held Idlib province Jan. 12 after militants allegedly tried to infiltrate regime-held areas, according to state news agency SANA. The shelling was reportedly focused on the town of Tamanaa near Maaret al-Numan, which was seized from Turkish-backed rebels by jihadist forces earlier in the week. The was apparently part of a ceasefire agreement ending an internal conflict between rival opposition forces in Idlib. Much of the governorate's territory was reportedly turned over to the so-called "Salvation Government"—administrative arm of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the successor organization to disbanded al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. Constituent militias of the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front have reportedly retreated to the Turkish-held enclave of Afrin across the border in Aleppo governorate. (Rudaw, AFP) These ominous developments may spell an end to Idlib's reprieve from the threatened Assad offensiive on the province since establishment of a joint Turkish-Russian buffer zone there.
The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM), al-Qaeda's branch in West Africa and the Sahel, claimed its forces were responsible for a suicide bombing in the northern Malian city of Gao Nov. 12. The suicide truck-bomb detonated in a residential area of Gao, killing three (not counting the attacker) and wounding another 30. The JNIM statement claimed the target was a base of "Crusader invaders" from the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. However, all of those killed were civilians and local Malians. Four of the wounded were foreign employees of the United Nations' Mine Action Service, working to remove landmines in the area. They included two Cambodians, a South African, and a Zimbabwean. A video later released by JNIM confirmed that the mine-dismantling headquarters in Gao was the intended target. The video stated that "this operation demonstrates that the mujahideen are continuing upon their covenant, which they had made to their lord, until they achieve one of the two good ends, victory or martyrdom." The statement said the group will continue to target international forces until "the ummah [Musilm community] enjoys the rule of shariah."
The US government has reinforced counter-terrorism controls on aid operations in Syria. New contractual terms require US-funded organizations to get special permission to provide relief in areas controlled by extremist groups. The move further complicates aid operations for those trapped in Syria’s last rebel stronghold, Idlib, where two thirds of its three million people need assistance. The top UN official for the Syrian humanitarian crisis, Panos Moumtzis, told IRIN news agency that donors were, in general, backing away from funding all but the most critical needs in Idlib, fearing aid will fall into the hands of groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliate Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement Aug. 30 explaining its unprecedented build-up of naval forces in the Mediterranean as part of a week-long exercise. It said the maneuvers would involve 26 warships and naval vessels, including two submarines, with 34 aircraft, including missile-armed long-range bombers. (Jane's 360) But it is obvious that this build-up is timed to coincide (at least) with the planned Assad regime offensive on Idlib, the last Syrian province that remains under opposition control. Russia will certainly be massively backing the regime offensive, which the UN warns could spark a humanitarian catastrophe. With Turkey closing its borders to new refugees, it is unclear that civilians have any place left to flee. Many are already living in camps in Idlib under desperate conditions, with two million in need of humanitarian aid. (AP, SBS)
Upon his death, many are reviving the discredited claim that John McCain met with ISIS on his Syria trip in 2013. But some are settling for the less ambitious, and perhaps plausible, claim that he met with jihadists who were implicated in atrocities. E.g. the always annoying Ben Norton tweets: "John McCain was a staunch supporter of the CIA-backed, al-Qaeda-linked Salafi extremist opposition in Syria. In fact the late senator posed in a photo with a rebel who was involved in kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shia civilians." He links to a May 10, 2013 Reuters story which cites an undated article in Lebanon's Daily Star (apparently not translated into English) claiming that McCain was photographed in Syria with a rebel "implicated in" the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese Shi'ite pilgrims the previous year. The man in question was apparently one Mohammad Nour—"identified by two freed hostages as the chief spokesman and photographer for the Northern Storm brigade that kidnapped them."
The Impossible Revolution: Making Sense of the Syrian Tragedy
by Yassin al-Haj Saleh
Haymarket Books, Chicago 2017
This book is a necessary corrective to the dominant perception—left, right and center—that the opposition in Syria are all jihadists and dictator Bashar Assad the best bet for "stability." Long a left-wing dissident in Assad's Syria, Saleh is a veteran of the dictator's prisons. Here, he traces the origins of the Syrian revolution to agony caused by the regime's "economic liberalization" (socialist phrases aside), describes the initially unarmed opposition's popular-democratic nature, and discusses the struggle to keep the Free Syrian Army accountable to this grassroots base after it became clear a military dimension to the revolution was necessary. He makes the case that the Assad regime can be termed "fascist" even by the most rigorous definition and has been making good on its pledge to "burn the country" before ceding power. He also analyzes the emergence of "militant nihilism" in the form of ISIS and al-Qaeda (he rejects the word "terrorist" as propagandistic).
Libya's National Oil Corporation (NOC) is warning of an "environmental disaster" following clashes at the country's Ras Lanuf oil terminal that set storage tanks of the Harouge Oil Company on fire. "Further damage to these oil sites could have a huge impact on the Libyan oil sector and the national economy," the statement said. The chief of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, Ibrahim Jadran, launched a military operation in Libya's "oil crescent" last week to take the Ras Lanuf and Sidra terminals from Operation Dignity militia forces. Jadran called Operation Dignity “a terrorist entity.” Operation Dignity and the affiliated "Libyan National Army," led by commander Khalifa Haftar, are loyal to Libya's unrecognized eastern government. (Al Jazeera, June 18; Libya Observer, June 16)
Estimates of the dead vary from 70 to 150 after the latest and worst chemical attack on the besieged enclave of Eastern Ghouta, in the Damascus suburbs. The number is likely to rise, as rescue workers are still reporting new casualties following the gassing at the town of Douma, the last in the enclave that remains in rebel hands. The White Helmets volunteer civil defense group said on Twitter: "More families were found suffocated in their houses and shelters in #Douma. The number of victıms is increasing dramatically, and the ambulance teams and the @SyriaCivilDefe volunteers continue their search and rescue operations." The apparent strike by a "barrel bomb" filled with either sarin or chlorine gas targeted a building where displaced families were sheltering from the ongoing air-raids on Douma.