UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. "The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war," he said in a March 23 statement. "That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives... Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to open precious windows for diplomacy, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19." (UN News, PBS News Hour)
Nine years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
In his talks with Vladimir Putin on their carve-up of northern Syria, Recep Tayyip Erdogan says that he has proposed joint Russian-Turkish control of the oil-fields in Deir ez-Zor province, now under the control of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). "I made the offer to Mr. Putin that if he gives financial support, we can do the construction, and through the oil obtained here, we can help the destroyed Syria get on its feet," Erdogan told reporters March 10. (Al Monitor) The Wall Street Journal meanwhile reports that the SDF has been selling oil from the Deir ez-Zor fields to the Assad regime. A regime-aligned entity called the Qatirji Group is reportedly brokering the deal. (VOA)
Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report March 2 charging that Russia is responsible for war crimes in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The report focuses on indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas from July 2019 through January 2020, and apparently intentional attacks by "pro-government forces" on civilian targets such as hospitals and medical facilities. The commission focused on two incidents in which it found substantial evidence that Russian warplanes were directly involved in the bombing of civilian areas.
Amid all the recent talk about how the war in Syria is approaching an imminent end, it suddenly looks like it is set for international escalation. With Turkish forces resisting the Assadist advance into Idlib province, the last rebel-held territory, there is the clear potential for direct combat between a NATO member and the Damascus regime or its Russian backers. Turkey's military shot down two regime warplanes over northwest Idlib on March 1, hours after Assadist forces brought down a Turkish drone over the region. The Damascus regime said the pilots parachuted to safety. At least 34 Turkish troops were killed in air-strikes in Idlib n the previous days. (Al Jazeera, Reuters)
A senior UN official charged Feb. 16 at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and that they must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that "the arms embargo has become a joke." Williams' comments follow a UN Security Council resolution passed just a week earlier expressing "grave concern" for the humanitarian situation in Libya, noting especially "deteriorating living standards and insufficient provision of basic services" and "the situation faced by migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people." The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are said to be supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo "by land, sea and air," Williams said. (Jurist)
Over half a million people are on the move in northwestern Syria's Idlib province as Bashar Assad's Russian-backed forces follow up their long aerial campaign with a ground offensive. The front line is closing on the provincial capital, the Turkish border is sealed to people trying to flee, and health services are collapsing. Eight aid agencies have issued a statement saying that the Idlib warzone is already a winter "humanitarian catastrophe," as options shrink for temporary accommodation and camps for the displaced are overflowing. As rebel defenses collapse, displaced civilians are dismantling their own homes before they flee to deny looters property they expect never to see again. Decisions made by Turkey in the coming days will be key for the future of the millions of people in the region: Turkish forces and groups they back have been directly involved in recent fighting around the strategic town of Saraqeb, exchanging fire with Syrian government forces, according to Turkish media. Russia says "terrorist" rebels are mounting an "aggressive" campaign of attacks on government-held territory. Russia and Assad show little sign of slowing their offensive despite calls for restraint from the EU, the UN, and the United States.