Greater Middle East

One year later, Syrians recall chemical massacre

Aug. 21 marked the one-year anniversary of the chemical weapon attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, found by international investigations to have been the work of the Bashar Assad regime. The Syrian diaspora around the world held protests and vigils marking the event, the one in New York's Times Square the evening of Aug. 22 drawing some 200 wearing matching t-shirts reading "CHEMICAL MASSACRE IN SYRIA: WE WILL NEVER FORGET." Amid Syrian flags (the pre-Assad version used by the rebel forces), protesters laid white-shrouded effigies representing the dead, and as the sun set lit rows of small candles that formed the number 1,476—the sum of those killed in the attack. At the climax of the ceremony, hundreds of the victims names were read aloud. The protest, co-organized by Save Syrian Children, was dubbed One Year of Breathing Death, in recognition of the fact that chemical attacks in Syria have continued. Organizers said activists have confirmed 27 separate cases of chemical gas use since the UN Security Council passed UNSCR 2118, calling for the destruction of all chemical weapons and chemical weapons facilities in Syria. (WW4R on the scene)

Turkey: clashes over monument to PKK leader

Tens of thousands of people joined the funeral ceremony Aug. 19 for Mehdin Taşkın, who was killed by Turkish troops who attacked local Kurds trying to protect a statue of PKK guerrilla leader Mahsum Korkmaz AKA Egît at Yolaçtı in Lice district of Diyarbakır (Kurdish: Amed) province. Taşkın was laid to rest at the same cmetery where he was shot by soldiers that advanced in helicopters and armored vehicles that same morning. His coffin covered with the PKK flag. (ANF, Aug. 19) A local court ruled the previous day that the statue erected at the entrance to the cemetary for PKK martyrs should be demolished following a complaint by the Diyarbakır government. Korkmaz, an early PKK leader, was killed in 1986 in a clash with Turkish security forces, and was recently buried at  Yolaçtı. (Today's Zaman, Aug. 18)

Egypt: violence at Rabaa Square commemoration

At least four were killed in clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and Egyptian police forces on Aug. 14, first anniversary of the Rabaa Square massacre, in which perhaps 1,000 lost their lives. The deaths were reported from Cairo, Giza, Anwar El-Shawadfi and Ayman Abdel-Hadi. Human Rights Watch released a report two days before the anniversary finding that last years' killings at Rabaa Square were crimes against humanity, and calling for an international inquiry. HRW director Kenneth Roth and HRW Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson were denied entry into Egypt on Aug. 11. Egypt's government said the report was "characterized by negativity and bias." (Ahram Online, Al Jazeera)

Egypt bans Muslim Brotherhood political wing

The Supreme Administrative Court in Egypt on Aug. 9 dissolved the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The decision came after the Parties Affairs Committee (PAC), responsible for granting licenses to newly-formed parties in Egypt, issued a report recommending that the party be banned, citing violations of the political parties code of conduct. The FJP was the first party to be approved by the PAC after the revolution. The decision is final.

ISIS take village in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

After a day of fighting, jihadist forces that infiltrated from Syria will withdraw from the village of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and turn over captured security personnel under a 24-hour ceasefire brokered by the local Committee of Muslim Scholars. In return, the militants demanded a statement be issued by Lebanon's army assuring that Syrian refugees in Arsal would be safe from any "revenge" attacks after their withdrawal. Clashes in the village left at least 17 soldiers dead, with several more reported missing. The fighters appear to be from both ISIS and the Nusra Front. The fighting was sparked by the Lebanese army's arrest of Syrian militant Imad Jomaa, who had recently switched allegiance from Nusra to ISIS. Reports indicate that the Nusra militants have already started to withdraw, while it is uncertain that ISIS forces will honor the deal. Saudi Arabia has pledged an emergency $1 billion in aid to Lebanon to help fight the jihadists, with the money to help cover a new $3 billion arms deal with France. (Al Jazeera, Daily Star, Lebanon, Aug. 6)

Kuwait: court upholds 10-year term for tweeting

Kuwait's Supreme Court on July 12 upheld a 10-year jail sentence for a man accused of posting Tweets that insulted the Prophet Mohammed and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Hamad al-Naqi, a 24-year-old member of Kuwait's Shiite minority, was also found guilty of spreading false news that undermined Kuwait's image abroad. The Supreme Court's decision is final and can only be commuted by the Kuwaiti Emir. An appeals court affirmed al-Naqi's sentence in October. The result drew criticism from Human Rights Watch (HRW), which condemned the decision as a "violat[ion of] international standards on freedom of expression." He has been in prison since his arrest in March 2012, and was originally sentenced in June 2012. Al-Naqi has maintained his innocence, arguing that his Twitter account was hacked.

Bahrain files suit to suspend opposition group

Bahrain's Ministry of Justice on July 20 filed a lawsuit seeking to suspend all activities of the main Shi'ite opposition group for three months. The move comes after leaders of the Al-Wefaq party were charged recently with holding an illegal meeting with a US diplomat from the State Department. The lawsuit, however, does not mention the meeting, but rather seeks to suspend the party for violating quorum and transparency requirements. Al-Wefaq leader Ali Salman said his party plans to challenge the move.

Gaza and Aleppo: fearful symmetry

Residents of Aleppo, the northern Syrian city under siege and bombardment by regime forces for months now, held a candle-light ceremony July 14 expressing their support for the residents of Gaza, now under Israeli bombardment and invasion. (PMOI, July 15) The Assad regime's "barrel bombs"—oil drums packed with hundreds of kilograms of explosives and metal fragments—have killed thousands in Aleppo and other rebel-held areas of Syria this year. Fears of the city's fall to regime forces have risen after the army made gains in the last two weeks, taking the Sheikh Naijar industrial zone in the northeast—seen by some as a "turning point" in the war. (DW, July 15) The same claims were heard when Homs was surrendered to regime forces two months ago.

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