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.
UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, is boosting its response in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado province, where a recent escalation of violence has forced thousands to flee for their lives. At least 100,000 people are now displaced throughout the province. There has been a dramatic increase of brutal attacks by armed groups, with recent weeks being the most volatile period since the outbreak began in October 2017. Bands of gunmen have been targeting local villages and terrorizing the populace. Those fleeing report random killings, maiming and torture, torched homes and shops, and crops burned in the fields. There have been reports of beheadings, kidnappings and disappearances of women and children.
A report published Jan. 27 by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office reveals that at least 53 migrants and refugees were killed in the July 2019 air-strikes on the Tajoua detention center outside Tripoli. Those killed were determined to be citizens of Algeria, Chad, Bangladesh, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia. The report also determined that 87 male migrants and refugees were injured in the attack. The strikes were found to have been conducted by aircraft belonging to a "foreign state" that might have been under the command of the Libyan National Army (LNA) or operated under the command of that foreign state in support of the LNA. The report found that in addition to the internal conflict in Libya, a "parallel situation of international armed conflict" may also exist between outside states supporting the LNA and rival Government of National Accord (GNA).
The only Crimean Tatar TV channel is facing a new threat to its existence—this time not from the Russian occupiers of Crimea, but the Ukrainian authorities. A dramatic cut in state funding for ATR TV has coincided with Kiev's decision to drop Tatar-language services on the state network UATV in favor of a new Russian-language channel to be broadcast into rebel-held territory in Ukraine's heavily Russophone east. ATR deputy director Ayder Muzhdabaev reported Jan. 17 that the station has reduced production of its own programming by 90% due to underfunding. He said that of the 35 million hryvnia allocated to the station in Ukraine's 2019 budget, only 15 million had actually been received.
Moscow has certainly been a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent days. Jan. 13 saw the first direct meeting in years between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria's Assad regime, supposedly deadly rivals. The head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) Hakan Fidan met with Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, in a sure sign of a Russian-brokered rapprochement between the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the entrenched dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Sources said discussions included "the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organization PKK's Syrian component, in the East of the Euphrates river." (Daily Sabah, Reuters)
Donald Trump and the man he executed in a targeted assassination on Jan. 3, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, mirror each other as war criminals who treat the people of Iraq and the greater region as pawns in their power game. And, in fact, they were long de facto allies—Soleimani had been overseeing a "dirty war" in Iraq against Sunni militants and suspected ISIS sympathizers. His allied paramilitary forces have serially massacred anti-government protesters in Baghdad over the past months. In less explicit alignment with Washington, Soleimani also provided similar services on a far greater scale to the Bashar Assad dictatorship in Syria. As overall commander of Iranian forces in Syria backing up Assad's genocidal counter-insurgency campaign (and by no means just against ISIS and jihadists, but the secular opposition as well) Soleimani is probably responsible for the loss of hundreds of thousands of Syrian lives.
The Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly Jan. 2 to send troops to Libya, to back up the UN-recognized government in Tripoli, now under siege from an offensive by warlord Khalifa Haftar, who is loyal to the rival government based in the country's east. Lawmakers voted 325-184 in an emergency session to give Ankara a one-year mandate to deploy forces to the North African country. US President Donald Trump responded to the vote by calling his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, warning him against intervening in the Libyan conflict. Weeks earlier, the US State Department issued a statement calling on Haftar to halt his offensive, and also warned against "Russia's attempts to exploit the conflict." Russia is believed to be backing Haftar. (EuroNews, BBC News, Politico, Al Jazeera)
Activists in Ukraine are protesting a judicial ruling they say defers accountability in the massacre of scores of protesters during the Maidan Square occupation of 2014, popularly known as "Heaven's Hundred." Five ex-officers of the Berkut, the former regime's now-disbanded political police, faced charges of killing 48 protesters and wounding 80 others during the February 2014 repression. Another 21 sought in the violence, also members of the Berkut's elite Black Company, managed to escape to Russia after the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime later that month, and some are now believed to have been incorporated into paramilitary groups by the Vladimir Putin government. The five were ordered released from custody by the Kyiv Court of Appeals on Dec. 28—among the 200 prisoners freed in a swap between the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region. Their release was protested in an open letter to President Volodymyr Zelensky by the group Families of the Heaven's Hundred Heores, who asserted that it violates international law. Lawyers for the families went on a 13-day hunger strike in November in protest of the cases being dropped for the impending swap.