As rescue workers continue to look for survivors amid the rubble of a massive explosion that killed a reported 130 people in Beirut's port on Aug. 4, the humanitarian implications of the blast in Lebanon's capital will likely not be clear for some time. At least 4,000 people are said to have been wounded, and the death toll from the blast could still rise. Hospitals have been struggling to deal with the influx of injured people as buildings collapsed and windows shattered throughout central Beirut. While the exact cause of the explosion is unclear, government officials said it was related to a large amount of ammonium nitrate confiscated years ago and stored at the port. Ammonium nitrate can be used as both a fertiliser and in bombs, but must be mixed with another substance to ignite.
To nobody's surprise, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's bloc won a majority of seats in the country's parliamentary election, dismissed as a farce by the exiled opposition. Assad's "National Unity" list won 177 seats in the 250-member parliament, the electoral commission announced July 22. As in the presidential elections that just as predictably confirmed Assad's hold on the presidency in 1994, millions of people displaced by the war were not able to vote. "Simply put, these are illegitimate elections. The regime chose the candidates, even the independent ones, and they elected them," said Yahya al-Aridi, a member of the opposition committee at UN peace talks in Geneva. "The people in Syria did not have the freedom to vote... This was a theater play by the regime." (Al Jazeera, DW)
Member states of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on July 9 voted 29-1 to condemn Syria's Bahsar Assad regime over chemical attacks on civilians in opposition-held areas. Overriding a sustained propaganda campaign by Russia, the regime and their supporters, the member states endorsed the conclusions by the OPCW Investigation & Identification Team (IIT) that regime forces used sarin and chlorine gas in attacks on al-Lataminah, Hama governorate, in March of 2017. Russia and Iran, the primary backers of the Assad regime since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, voted no. The only other country joining them was China. There were nine abstentions.
A United Nations Human Rights Council report released on July 7 concluded that air-strikes on civilian infrastructure by Syrian government and Russian forces in Idlib and Aleppo provinces amounted to war crimes. The report, prepared by the UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, assessed incidents that occurred from November 1, 2019, to June 1, 2020. The Syrian government and Russian Aerospace Forces carried out both land and air attacks, which destroyed civilian infrastructure. The report documented 52 "emblematic attacks" that led to civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure. These included 17 attacks on hospitals and medical facilities as well as 14 attacks on schools.
Documentation is mounting of Greek authorities carrying out violent "pushbacks" of asylum-seekers and migrants at the country's land and sea borders with Turkey. The practice violates EU and international law, but in the past four months human rights groups and media outlets have documented an uptick in its use at the Greece-Turkey land border. Rights groups have also documented the abandonment of asylum-seekers in "floating tents" without any means of propulsion in the Aegean Sea, and masked men sabotaging boats carrying asylum-seekers. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has urged Greece to investigate.
The US State Department's newly released "Country Reports on Terrorism 2019" makes special note for the first time of an international white supremacist threat. The report states that the Department's Counterterrorism Bureau last year "increased its efforts to combat racially or ethnically motivated terrorism (REMT). REMT, in particular white supremacist terrorism, continues to be a threat to the global community, with violence both on the rise and spreading geographically, as white supremacist and nativist movements and individuals increasingly target immigrants; Jewish, Muslim, and other religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex (LGBTI) individuals; governments; and other perceived enemies. The CT Bureau is working with our law enforcement and foreign partners to take concrete actions to address this growing threat."
Protesters gathered in the town of Atmeh in Syria's opposition-held Idlib province on June 23 to demand the release of a locally based British aid worker arrested by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Islamist militia formerly known as the Nusra Front that now controls much of the province. Tauqir Sharif, who has been based in Atmeh near the Turkish border since 2013, was detained by HTS earlier in the week in a raid on his home. Footage of the protest showed many women and children among dozens chanting and holding banners calling for Sharif to be freed, as they marched through the town. The crowd finally gathered outside the closed gates of a compound guarded by masked militiamen. Demonstrators also protested closure of education and other social services by HTS, chanting "We want schools to open."
One percent of the world's population has been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution to seek safety either somewhere within their country or in another country, according to the latest Global Trends report released June 18 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. As more people became displaced than at any time since UNHCR began issuing its annual study, fewer were able to return home—or even build sustainable lives in another country. "We are witnessing a changed reality in that forced displacement nowadays is not only vastly more widespread but is simply no longer a short-term and temporary phenomenon," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.