Ten 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 large 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.
With a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan approaching but a final peace deal stalled, the White House is said to be considering an extension beyond this date for removal of its 2,500 troops remaining in the country. The Washington Post writes that the Biden administration "is likely to postpone a full withdrawal—potentially with Taliban acquiescence—to buy more time to advance a power-sharing proposal they hope can break an impasse in talks between the militants and the Afghan government."
A March 5 missile attack on an oil refinery at al-Hamaran, near Jarabulus in Syria's rebel-held northern pocket, was launched from Russian warships off the country's coast, according to a monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. At least one person is known to have been killed in the the three-missile strike, which also hit a nearby market, possibly as "collateral damage." In a similar strike on Feb. 10, rockets fired from the Russian military base at Hmeimim, in Syria's coastal Latakia province, struck an oil refinery in the town of Tarhin, also within the rebel-held pocket of Aleppo province. The pocket is in the hands of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), and the strikes appear aimed at preventing SNA forces from resuming oil production in the region for black-market export to Turkey.
Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government. The $80 million operation, dubbed "Project Opus," included a shipment of aircraft from South Africa. It also included plans to form a hit squad to hunt down and kill Libyan commanders opposed to Haftar. The accusation exposes Prince to possible UN sanctions, including a travel ban. Prince did not cooperate with the UN investigation, and his lawyer declined to comment to the Times. (Al Jazeera, Daily Sabah)
On Jan. 22, two days after President Biden's inauguration, a large convoy of US military vehicles reportedly entered northern Syria from across the Iraqi border. The convoy, consisting of some 40 trucks and armored vehicles accompanied by helicopters, was reported by Syrian state news agency SANA, citing sources on the ground. (i24News, Israel) The putative sighting has raised speculation that Biden is reversing the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, which had been ordered by Trump in October 2019.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced Jan. 14 that it will hear a case by Ukraine alleging human rights violations by Russia in the Crimean Peninsula. The peninsula was unilaterally annexed by Russia in 2014. Soon after Russian forces seized control there, Moscow oversaw a referendum in which Crimea, which has a Russian-speaking majority, voted to join Russia. The results of this referendum were deemed illegal by Ukraine and the West. In addition to the legality of the annexation, human rights violations in the peninsula have been a cause of great concern. There have been claims of violations on 12 counts, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, and persecution of Crimean Tatars. The issue was brought forth by Ukraine for adjudication by the ECHR, which has agreed to take up the case.
The first nuclear disarmament treaty in more than two decades came into force on Jan. 22, following its 50th ratification last October, which triggered the 90-day period required before the treaty entered into effect. The UN completed negotiations on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at its New York headquarters in July 2017. The treaty constitutes "a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading to their total elimination." Following negotiations, the treaty was open to signatories beginning in September 2017.
Former Bolivian president Evo Morales, back in his country from exile in Argentina after October's elections returned his Movement to Socialism (MAS) to power, warned Dec. 27 of the ongoing danger of a new coup d'etat and asked his followers to debate how to best defend new President Luis Arce and the "process of change." The comments came at a meeting in Chapare region of the MAS and affiliated Six Federations of the Tropic of Cochabamba, the campesino alliance that Morales once led. Recalling his own ouster in November 2019, Morales said: "The issue of the coup is still compelling; it is an ideological, programmatic struggle; it is a cultural, social, communal and, of course, an electoral struggle." Invoking divided loyalties in the military, he added: "I am also convinced that in the Armed Forces there are not only those who respect and admire the MAS, but there are also anti-imperialist soldiers." However, he added that "they are not many," and others have "submitted to the North American empire." (Prensa Latina, Prensa Latina)