Greater Middle East
Despite the persistent pseudo-left hallucination of a US campaign to destabilize Bashar Assad, the evidence mostly goes the other way: the US is tilting to Assad in the Syrian war, viewing him as a bulwark against the jihadists. Now Daily Beast offers an interview with Syrian rebels who say they are turning down Washington's offer of training due the predictable strings attached. "We submitted the names of 1,000 fighters for the program, but then we got this request to promise not to use any of our training against Assad," said Mustapha Sejari, a leader of the Revolutionary Command Council. "It was a Department of Defense liaison officer who relayed this condition to us orally, saying we'd have to sign a form. He told us, 'We got this money from Congress for a program to fight ISIS only.' This reason was not convincing for me. So we said no."
Gordon Duff's website Veterans Today (a soapbox for vulgar conspiranoia that has nothing to do with veterans' issues) has posted a truly terrifying video, purported to be of the massive explosion on Naqm mountain outside Yemen's capital Sana'a last week. A fiery mushroom cloud unfolds over the mountain as panicked onlookers are heard beseeching God in the foreground. Commentary says the video has been "analyzed by nuclear weapons experts" (unnamed, of course) who determined that it was a "neutron bomb that could only have been an Israeli attack." The Israelis are said to have carried out the attack at Saudi behest. The claim is arbitrary and utterly improbable—the neutron bomb is designed for one purpose: to kill massive numbers through radiation, while leaving property intact. It would make no sense to set it off over a mountain as opposed to in Sana'a itself if the aim was kill massive numbers—and this is not an overwhelmingly Shi'ite area, so the Saudis would have no reason to do so, even if we ascribe the worst of intentions to them. Furthermore, there have been no reports of massive radiation deaths from the area over a week later. Nonetheless, the "report" (if we may so flatter it) is being posted by Facebook conspiranoids and has been picked up by such likely places as Pravda, Al Manar and (of course) Global Research.
ISIS militants on May 30 blew up the Tadmur prison complex in the central Syrian city of Palmyra, destroying an important symbol of government control. ISIS announced the destruction of the prison in a statement on social media, and posted pictures of huge clouds of smoke above the sprawling complex. The facility was reportedly emptied before it was destroyed. Days earlier, ISIS released photographs showing appalling conditions in the complex, which held dissidents and deserters from the Syrian army. Photos showed small cells with mold-streaked walls and no beds, plumbing or lighting. Nonetheless, the destruction was protested by leaders of Syria's civil resistance as eliminating substantiation of dictator Bashar Assad's crimes. "ISIS has wiped out evidence of the crimes of the Assad clan by blowing up the infamous Palmyra prison," said Syrian opposition member Mohammad Sarmini on Twitter. The fate of the detainees at the complex is not clear.
An Egyptian court on May 28 acquitted a police officer accused of torturing an Islamist to death over a church bombing. Mohammed Abdel Rahman al-Shimi was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June 2012 for taking part in the tortue of Sayed Bilal. On appeal the verdict was overturned, and the retrial that resulted in this week's verdict was ordered. The bombing occurred weeks before the 2011 uprising against then-ruler Hosni Mubarak, when a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside a church near Alexandria, killing more than 20. Police responded by arresting Islamists, including Bilal. He was tortured to death by al-Shimi and others, and his badly bruised body was returned to his family the next day. Police abuses were a major catalyst for the 2011 uprising.
An Islamist rebel coalition led by al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front has made gains in northwestern Syria in recent weeks, taking the city of Idlib and the town of Jisr al-Shughour, and bringing them to the edge of government-held coastal areas north of the capital. "We will continue our focus on Damascus and on toppling this regime," Nusra leader Abu Mohamad al-Golani told Al Jazeera May 27. "I assure you, Assad's fall won't take a long time."
The 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) concluded at the UN in New York on May 22 without approving a final document—due to US blocking of a provision on creating a Middle East nuclear-free zone. The US blocked the document, saying Egypt and other Arab states tried to "cynically manipulate" the process by setting a March 2016 deadline for Middle East nations to meet on the proposal—including Israel. The US was joined by the UK and Canada in blocking the document. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked US Secretary of State John Kerry for blocking. Israel of course had no vote, as a non-signatory to the NPT. (AP, Interfax, The Guardian, May 23; Xinhua, May 22)
Kurdish forces of the People's Protection Units (YPG) are continuing to press gains against ISIS in northern Syria—even as the "Islamic State" is defeating government forces in both Syria and Iraq, taking the cities of Ramadi and Palmyra in recent days. On May 19, the YPG reported taking a number of villages and farms in the southern countryside of Sere Kaniye (Ras al-Ain) in northeast Syria's Hassakeh governorate. The YPG advance was supported by US-led air-strikes. (ARA News, May 20) The gains come as ISIS continues its campaign of ethnic cleansing against Assyrian Christians in Hassakeh. The YPG has formed an alliance with two Christian military formations, the Syriac Haras al-Khabur and Assyrian Military Council, now fighting ISIS for the towns of Sere Kaniye and Tel Temir. (ARA News, April 23)
ISIS forces on May 20 seized the Syrian city of Palmyra, known in Arabic as Tadmur and famed for its ancient ruins—built by an Arab civilization 2,000 years ago in the Greco-Roman style. The Local Coordination Committees civil resistance network said the entire city came under ISIS control after pro-regime forces staged a "strategic retreat." As ISIS has advanced on Palmyra, there has been growing concern that its archaeological treasures will fall victim to the systematic ISIS campaign of cultural cleansing that has already seen partial destruction of the Iraqi sites of Hatra and Nimrud. UNESCO director general Irina Bokova said: "The fighting is putting at risk one of the most significant sites in the Middle East, and its civilian population. I reiterate my appeal for an immediate cessation of hostilities at the site. I further call on the international community to do everything in its power to protect the affected civilian population and safeguard the unique cultural heritage of Palmyra."