Greater Middle East

Syria: new rebel alliance in besieged Aleppo

Reports from Syria say at least 45 were killed and up to 175 wounded in government air-raids on rebel-controlled areas of Bab and Qabaseen outisde Aleppo Dec. 26, with the regime again using deadly "barrel bombs"—steel drums full of shrapnel and explosives. Syrian state media said it repulsed "terror attacks," hitting jiihadists—but giving no details of civilian casualties. Government forces also intensified their attack on opposition-controlled areas of Damascus, carrying out more than 85 air-strikes on several points in the Ghouta suburb over the last four days. (ANA Press, Dec. 27; Euronews, Dec. 26)

Towards Kurdish-Armenian reconciliation

At an event held in Sweden, the Kurdish mayor of the eastern Turkish city of Mardin, Ahmet Türk, apologized to the Armenians, Assyrians and Yazidis for the fact that some Kurdish ashirets (clans) had been accomplices during the Genocide of 1915. "Unfortunately, the Kurds, who implemented and executed the government's decision taken in 1914-15, were overtly used under the name of Islam," Türk said. "We now feel the bitterness about the participation of our fathers and forefathers in those massacres as their children and grandchildren... We ask the Armenians and the Assyrians and our Yezidi brothers to forgive us." (ArmenPress, Dec. 16) Türk was party chair of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which was banned in 2009 for alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Jihadis declare open season on school children

At least 141, including 132 children, were killed in an attack by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants on an army-run school in Peshawar Dec. 16. Almost 250 are reported wounded in the assault on the Army Public School and College, many of them very seriously. The six attackers, all wearing suicide vests, are said to be dead. The students at the school are the children of army soliders, and the TTP said in a statement the attack  "in retaliation against" the military’s ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb agianst Taliban strangholds in North Waziristan. A TTP spokesman told reporters by phone: "Our suicide bombers have entered the school, they have instructions not to harm the children, but to target the army personnel." But the gunmen went from room to room shooting every student they found, most of them in the head. Even Afghanistan's Taliban issued a statement decrying the attack as "un-Islamic." Pakistan's military immediately retaliated with air-strikes on presumed TTP targets in Khyber Agency. (Al Jazeera, AP, BBC News, AJCDawn, Pakistan, Dec. 17)

Egypt: 439 refered to military tribunal

Egypt's top prosecutor on Dec. 13 referred 439 individuals to a military tribunal for the killing of three police officers last year. The group was composed  of about 139 Islamists from the southern province of Minya and 300 from the Nile Delta province of Beheira. The prosecutor's case was based on the violence last year in response to a dispersal by police of an Islamist sit-in. The prosecutor's case is part of a program that Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi started last year in which the military is to join with police to protect state interests, and anyone involved in attacks against state facilities is to be prosecuted by military tribunals. Human Rights Watch stated that these military tribunals "lack even the shaky due process guarantees provided by regular courts."

Bahrain: protests against British base deal

Protests held in the Bahraini island city of Sitra Dec. 6 against an agreement signed between the kingdom and Great Britain to establish a new military base in the Persian Gulf state. Bahraini opposition figures, including members of the main Shi'ite party, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, also expressed outrage over the deal. (Tasnim, Iran, Dec. 7) The base, at Mina Salman Port in Bahrain, will host Royal Navy vessels including destroyers and aircraft carriers. It is to be Britain's first permanent base in the Middle East in over 40 years. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the new base shows Britain's commitment to a "sustained presence east of Suez"—referring to the wording of a 1968 decision to close bases east of Suez by 1971. (BBC News, Dec. 6)

Yemen: Saudis suspend aid as Houthi power grows

SEAL Team 6 commandos raided a village near Wadi Abdan in Yemen's southern Shabwa governorate (see map) early Dec. 6, in an effort to rescue a US photojournalist held hostage by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but the captors killed the journalist and a South African held with him. (NYT, BBC News, The Telegraph, Dec. 6) The failed raid came days after it was reported that Saudi Arabia suspended aid to Yemen in response to the growing power of the Shi'ite Houthi rebels. Although word is just breaking now, the aid was apparently cut off after Houthi fighters took over the capital Sanaa in September. (Al Jazeera America, Dec. 4) While the rebels have ostensibly withdrawn from Sanaa under a peace deal, they continue to expand their control of several key points around the city, on Dec. 6 seizing control of the Yemeni military academy. The Defense Ministry has broached incorporating the Houthi fighters into the national army. (DPA, Dec. 6)

Egypt: court sentences 188 to death

An Egyptian criminal court on Dec. 2 sentenced 188 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death for an August 2013 attack on a police station in the governate of Giza, widely known as the "Kerdasa massacre." This incident resulted in the death of 11 police officers and two civilians and was staged in response to a military coup that ousted Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president. The death sentences imposed by special circuit court Judge Nagi Shehata are considered provisional, meaning that they will be sent to highest religious authority for his advice on whether the orders should stand. Shehata set a January 24 court date to finalize the sentences. 143 of the 188 defendants are currently in custody, while those not yet in custody will receive a retrial. Rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International condemned the mass death sentences.

New Syrian rebel coalition: tilt to Turkey

Syrian rebels announced formation of a new Revolutionary Command Council at a meeting in Gaziantep, Turkey. The RCC claims to represent over 70 rebel militias. It includes both the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic Front, as well as more Salafist formations such as Ahrar al-Sham. It excludes the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The RCC charter repeatedly uses the terms "the Syrian people," "civilian," and "revolution"—anathema to the Qaedist ideology of Nusra Front and ISIS. Each RCC affiliate is pledged to contribute at least 100 fighters to a proposed rapid intervention force. The RCC's elected head, Qais al-Sheikh, last week resigned from the Syrian National Coalition in protest of its poor performance. (Al Bawaba, Dec. 1)