Greater Middle East

Yemen: Amnesty demands halt to arms transfers

Damning evidence of war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition highlights the urgent need for independent, effective investigation of violations in Yemen and for the suspension of transfers of certain arms, said Amnesty International in a new report published Oct. 7. "'Bombs fall from the sky day and night': Civilians Under Fire in Northern Yemen" examines 13 deadly airstrikes by the coalition in Sa'da, northeastern Yemen, which killed some 100 civilians, including 59 children. The report documents the use of internationally banned cluster bombs. "This report uncovers yet more evidence of unlawful air-strikes carried out by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, some of which amount to war crimes. It demonstrates in harrowing detail how crucial it is to stop arms being used to commit serious violations of this kind," said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's senior crisis response adviser who headed the organization's fact-finding mission to Yemen. "The USA and other states exporting weapons to any of the parties to the Yemen conflict have a responsibility to ensure that the arms transfers they authorize are not facilitating serious violations of international humanitarian law."

Tatar militants pledge to Syria's Nusra Front?

We don't know if this is true, but the claim sheds some light on Russia's motivation (or at least justification) for its intervention in Syria. The Long War Journal reports Oct. 3, citing social media postings, that a small group of Crimean Tatars and other militants from the Russian-annexed peninsula, calling themselves the Crimean Jamaat, has pledged bayah (allegiance) to the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise. The pledge was apparently announced by Nusra sympathizers on Twitter, and on the official social media site of Nusra's Sayfullah Shishani Brigade, which is largely comprised of Chechens. "Kataib Crimean Tartars under the leadership of Emir Ramadan al Krim [Crimean] pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in Sham and joined the Al Nusrah Front," read a statement on White Minaret, the Sayfullah Shishani site. The page is said to also include pictures of the group, reportedly based in Hama governorate.

Syrian Kurds as pawns in Turko-Russian game?

Moscow's military intervention in Syria took a sobering turn this weekend as Turkey scrambled fighter jets, accusing Russian warplanes of violating its air space. Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador over the matter, and NATO condemned the incursions as an "extreme danger." (Al Jazeera, CNN, Daily Sabah) Apart from the obvious dangers to world peace (such as it is), this development holds grim implications for the Syrian Kurds—the most effective military force on the ground against ISIS. Turkey, afraid that a Kurdish autonomous zone on its southern border will inspire its own Kurdish population to rise up, has been cynically labelling the anti-ISIS Syrian Kurds as "terrorists," and seeking to establish a military "buffer zone" in Kurdish territory in norther Syria. Since Turkey and Russia are bitter regional rivals, Moscow's intervention risks drawing the Kurds into the geopolitical game.

Russia bombs ISIS —not!

Russia launched its first air-strikes in Syria today. CNN informs us that the Russian Defense Ministry said warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions, "including arms, transportation, communications and control positions." But US Defense Secretary Ash Carter isn't buying it. "I want to be careful about confirming information, but it does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces," he told reporters. Carter is actually hedging his bets here. You don't have to have the Defense Intelligence Agency at your disposal to figure out that Russia is lying. The Institute for the Study of War notes that the first air-strikes were in Talbisah, north of Homs—controlled by the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. As Vox points out, this is some 100 miles from the nearest ISIS-controlled territory. In fact, it is in a pocket of rebel-held territory just outside regime-controlled Homs. So the Russian aim is pretty clearly not to fight ISIS but to prop up the Bashar Assad dictatorship. Syria's state news agency SANA said the Russian strikes hit "ISIS dens in al-Rastan, Talbeisa, al-Zaafran, al-Tolol al-Humr, Aydon, Deir Fol and the area surrounding Salmia..." But these are all in Homs and Hama governorates—again, nowhere near ISIS territory to the north and east. Do the Russian Defense Ministry and SANA think we are incapable of looking at maps?

Syria war prompts 'doomsday' seed bank withdrawal

A grimly telling story in the news this week. The Aleppo-based International Centre for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), with an extensive collection of indigenous seed stock from Syria and the Fertile Crescent, took refuge in Beiirut in 2012. ICARDA director Dr. Mahmoud Solh told Radio Australia that rebel forces allowed his team to depart with some 140,000 seed packets from freezer storage as Aleppo descended into war. "The center was occupied unfortunately by armed forces... but some of them are farmers and they had received seeds from us," he said. "They understood the value of the center and they know we are apolitical and have nothing to do with the government." But not all of ICARDA's seed samples made it out, and now Dr. Solh is requesting a withdrawl from a remote Arctic "doomsday" seed bank with samples from around the world to be safeguarded in the event of global catastrophe. Reuters reports that ICARDA wants some 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples.

Putin pries Western leaders from anti-Assad stance

We've noted that the proximity of Western and Russian military forces in Syria holds the potential for escalation to World War 5, even if both sides are ostensibly part of the global convergence against ISIS. Now comes a further sign that the centripetal tendency will prevail—the common interest in figting jihadism propeling the situation back into World War 4. At the UN General Assembly session in New York, British Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters that Syrian dictator Bashar Assad can be part of a transitional government, although adding that Assad has "butchered his own people" and that "Assad cannot be part of Syria's future in the long run." This comes across as weak lip service in light of his capitulation. (Al Arabiya News, The Guardian, The Telegraph)

China enters Syrian war?

We noted a year ago that China was an official but not very active member of the global covergence against ISIS. Now Pravda reports the claims of Russian Senator Igor Morozov that Beijing has taken the decision to send warships to the Syrian coast. Morozov, a member of the Russian Federation Committee on International Affairs, said: "It is known that China has joined our military operation in Syria, the Chinese cruiser has already entered the Mediterranean, aircraft carrier follows it." The growing Russian military presence in Syria is viewed with unease by the West, revealing a tension (at least) within the global convergence. This tension will be significantly augmented if China really enters the fray. 

HRW: Egypt violated international law in Sinai

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Sept. 22 that Egypt violated international law during the creation of a "buffer zone" between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. According to HRW, the creation of the buffer zone required demolition of more than 3,200 buildings in the Sinai Peninsula between July 2013 and August 2015, resulting in the displacement and eviction of "thousands of families." The Egyptian government maintains that the buffer zone is necessary to prevent the importation of weapons from the Gaza Strip to separatist rebels in Sinai who are affiliated with the Islamic State. HRW asserts that the manner in which the buffer zone was created violated international law in multiple respects, including treatment of civilians and proportionality under the laws of war, the right to housing contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the right to property contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Right. HRW called on the Egyptian government to halt the demolitions in Sinai, provide for adequate compensation of land owners, create a fair resettlement plan for the displaced, and studying whether less destructive means could be employed to neutralize the smuggling tunnels.

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