Aleppo: tens of thousands escaping, mass executions and hundreds missing
The Syrian Army, with the support of their allies, has retaken eastern Aleppo, where only a small number of rebels remained. Under the pressure of the offensive, tens of thousands of inhabitants have escaped from various parts of the city that until recently were held by rebels. The United Nations and global media have drawn attention to the mass executions of civilians by the regime. The UN is also concerned with reports that hundreds of men are missing after crossing government-held areas. On the other hand, rebel groups are accused of deliberately killing civilians and preventing many from escaping.
An evacuation plan was initiated for those fleeing Aleppo, but was met with obstacles. Above all, the goal to evacuate the inhabitants of eastern Aleppo is dependent on similar initiative to help those trapped in the two Shia villages within the Idlib province that are besieged by anti-government forces. A new resolution by the UN Security Council, being a compromise to monitor evacuation processes, gave hope for a successful enforcement.
Concurrently, the Islamic State forces have conducted a significant offensive on government positions near Palmyra and have reclaimed that city. Rebels supported by Turkey are still besieging Al-Bab in the province of Aleppo, fighting inside the city. In contrast, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have started another stage of the offensive to capture Raqqa from the Islamic State.
Source: Reuters, BBC
Russian ambassador assassinated in Ankara, talks between Turkey, Iran and Russia
On 19th December the ambassador of Russian Federation to Turkey, Andrey Karlov succumbed to his gunshot wounds in Ankara. The assailant – member of the Turkish police – shot him in the back during the former’s speech and then was killed by security officers. He was shouting radical Islamic slogans linking this attack with a retribution for the bombings in Aleppo.Despite this act the talks on Syria between Russia, Turkey and also Iran are on. The trilateral summit in Moscow is carried without any Western countries present.
Source: BBC, Reuters
The assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey gives us a clue regarding Russia and Turkey differences over Syria. The fact that it was perpetrated by the member of Turkish security services emphasizes this even more. However, it should not affect any substantial deterioration of a cooperation between the two countries. Both have their own interests in Syria and can benefit a lot from this partnership. For some time, the Turkey’s position towards Russia in the ongoing talks about further cooperation will be weakened by this attack. It gives Russia a chance to strengthen its position in the Syrian conflict that Russia will utilize for sure.
Fighting in Mosul continues
With hard resistance from Islamic State jihadists, counter-offensives and regular VBIED attacks, Iraqi coalition forces are being held off and the battle for Mosul drags on. Since October the offensive has claimed thousands of casualties on both sides, and among civilians as well. The UNHCR estimates that tens of thousands have been displaced by the fighting and hundreds of thousands are trapped inside the city without access to water and supplies.
Source: Reuters, CNN
Consecutive bombings in Istanbul, another wave of detentions
On December 10th, a double bombing struck a police cordon securing a football match near the stadium in Istanbul, killing over 40 people and wounding more than 150. The explosions were caused by a car bomb and a suicide-bomber, and most of the fatalities were police officers. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by the TAK (Kurdistan Freedom Falcons), an off-shoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.
Throughout last year, Turkey has been suffered a coup attempt and a series of terrorist attacks, perpetrated by both Islamic extremists and Kurdish separatist groups. The latest bombing has set off another wave of detentions, mostly of those accused of supporting Kurdish militants.
Source: Reuters, CNN
Uzbekistan: the new president and an uncertain future for the republic
Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been elected as the new president of Uzbekistan, after receiving almost 90% of the votes. He had previously claimed the office in September after the death of his predecessor, Islam Karimov, who had ruled Uzbekistan uninterrupted since the beginning of the republic.
Karimov’s reign has been strongly authoritarian and Uzbekistan is one of the most repressive post-Soviet states. Changes in power there could greatly affect regional stability. This most populous Central Asian country is constantly threatened by radical Islam and its militant forces, as well as by ethnic conflicts, specifically in the Fergana Valley.
Source: Al Jazeera
Clashes in northern Myanmar
At least 30 people have died since the end of November in Myanmar, where in the northern state of Sham government forces have been clashing with rebel militants. A number of rebel groups have not allowed to participate in peace talks – which have been dragging on – and so the groups continue with their insurgent activities. Thus thousands have had to leave their homes and a good portion of them escaping into neighboring China. Aung San Suu Kyi’s rule has been afflicted with a series of inept peace initiatives. The arranged peace process is continuing despite the constant tensions in various states. The international community is particularly concerned with a fate of the Rohingya minority, which according to some observers, has been subject to ethnic cleansing by government forces.
Source: Al Jazeera
Libya: Sirte freed from Islamic State, conflict ongoing
The Islamic State’s last bastion in Sirte, coastal Libya, was reclaimed at the beginning of December as a result of a months-long offensive. The forces of the UN-backed government in Tripoli have liberated the city – Gaddafi’s birthplace and the only major city in the hands of ISIS outside of Syria and Iraq – resulting in more than 700 soldiers dead and 3000 wounded, according to officials.
Capturing Sirte from Islamic State terrorists does not change the fact that they are still present elsewhere in Libya. The civil war is also on-going. In the last weeks, Tripoli bore witness to the fiercest clashes the city has seen in two years.
The definitive collapse of the ISIS bastion in Sirte, symbolically beefing up the weak “national unity” government, will in fact not play any significant role in ending the Libyan civil war, which is fueled by fractional and regional divisions as well as accessibility to arms.
This development will affect the region, though: a new generation of jihadists from Tunisia, Senegal and Nigeria was mounting in Sirte, aiming to gain combat experience, ideological formation and build a web of contacts. The decline of this “little Syria” in Northern Africa, has caused many of them to go back to their countries of origin, bringing with them their insurgent activities and thus leading to instability wherever they are.
UN warns of famine in northern Nigeria
Hundreds of thousands of people are malnourished and 1.5 million remain displaced in the north of Nigeria as a result of years of conflict with Boko Haram. The United Nations has recently warned that 120,000 more are threatened by famine and has appealed for $1 billion in humanitarian aid.
Boko Haram, a terrorist group that invokes radical Islam, is present in a significant territory of northern Nigeria and its neighboring countries. Despite the ongoing military operations against the group, the humanitarian crisis continues and hundreds of thousands of victims suffer in camps without food and water.
After recapturing most of the areas previously controlled by Boko Haram, the food crisis in northern Nigeria is the next significant challenge for rebuilding local communities and for overcoming the root causes of the militant Islamic movement: a feeling of exclusion and disenfranchisement from the Nigerian state. However, Nigerian authorities will likely be enticed to determine the military success as an end to troubles in the North.
A sustainable solution can only be produced by consistency in long-term aid programs in regions afflicted by conflicts, with strong international engagement and in honest partnership with local activists. The cooperation of military and self-defense groups can be a good model for partnership at a civil level. The system was successful in fighting the jihadists, where locals identified needs and threats and authorities provided the necessary assistance.
The Gambia: president rejects stepping down, threat of a military intervention
In The Gambia, after a defeat in presidential elections, Yahya Jammeh, who has ruled the country for 22 years, initially accepted the success of opposition candidate, Adama Barrow. After that he changed his mind and rejected to step down from power, citing abnormalities in the elections. The European Union and United States have both criticized the president, while the UN Security Council appealed to Jammeh to meet with international mediators and temper the crisis.
Meanwhile, the leader of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), Marcel de Souza, has said that if diplomacy fails, a military intervention in The Gambia could be possible. In the last few years ECOWAS has sent troops to Mali and Guinea-Bissau.
Source: BBC, Africa News
After a series of controversial and violent electoral triumphs of African “old leaders” (e.g. – Burundi, Uganda, Gabon), the opposition success in the presidential elections in The Gambia had restored hope for political liberalization on the continent, especially on the eve of elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a perspective of mandate extension for the president. The Gambia’s case is of import, because Yahya Jammeh’s authoritarian style of ruling was a blight in the region.
The current rhetoric flowing from governmental circles (e.g. – hate speech against the Mandinka people) and recent military nominations, signalize that to stay in power Jammeh is considering inducing political and ethnic crisis, which could create a Burundi-like scenario. There is no chance, however, that his overdue rejection of the election results will be accepted by Gambians en masse nor by the international community. There is a crucial role to be played by regional leaders, in pressuring for clarification of the distribution of power and through the experiences of efficient protest movements in Senegal and Burkina Faso and a social control over the election process in Ghana.
The attack on Coptic cathedral in Cairo
On December 11th, a suicide-bomber blew himself up at a mass at the Coptic cathedral in Cairo, killing 25 people and wounding dozens. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack aimed at Coptic Christians. The Coptic Pope, Tawadros II, along with President Sisi called the Egyptian nation to “unite.”
Copts in Egypt are often persecuted by the Muslim majority, primarily by followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. They are also being accused of supporting the current regime. According to observers, assaults on Christians in Egypt have dangerously increased divisions within the country.
Source: The Guardian, BBC
Peace process in Colombia renewed, Juan Manuel Santos receiving Nobel Prize
Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia and newest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, in his Nobel acceptance speech appealed to the world to “rethink” the war on drugs started by Richard Nixon in the US. Santos noted that Colombia has paid the highest price for this strategy, while zero-tolerance policies and battling the drug trade have proven unsuccessful.
The Colombian civil war has spanned over 5o years and has claimed more than 260 000 lives. After a shocking referendum in October in which the people of Colombia rejected the proposal to end the decades-long conflict with leftist guerillas, a new agreement came into effect in December and has already been accepted by Congress.
Source: BBC, CNN
Heavy anti-agreement propaganda from former President, Alvaro Uribe, seems to be behind the national vote against the peace agreement during the October referendum. It has since come to light and been confirmed by high officials on Uribe’s staff that false news stories and propaganda were used to persuade the public to vote “no.” Though the negotiating parties sat down again to hash out a new agreement, paying close attention to suggestions by the opposition, Uribe continued his anti-agreement campaign and continues to do so even after approval by Congress. While the negotiators seem determined to come to some sort of agreement, a huge feat in the history of this war, Uribe seems equally determined to derail them. He has so far been unsuccessful, but it remains to be seen how much longer the parties and the country will be able to withstand this constant political in-fighting while the long awaited peace is continuously put off.
For those individuals in the cities, the effects of not signing the peace agreement are a matter of moral consideration. However, for those in poor rural settings, a successful peace agreement is a matter of survival, for they are the ones that bear the brunt of the war. Those are the territories being fought over for influence and those are the civilians that are slaughtered and the families that are torn apart. However, it seems that until the cost of this war can be brought to the city, Uribe will continue to be successful in his campaign and the farmer, the village shopkeeper and the local teachers will continue to pay the price.
Trump and his controversial nominees
Donald Trump, president-elect of the United States, is slowly but surely gathering together his administration, nominating members to his cabinet. Trump’s Secretary of State will be Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil. Tillerson is known for his good relations with the Russian Federation, which has given him the Order of Friendship. For Secretary of Defense Trump has chosen General James N. Mattis, despite the fact that this office has never before been occupied by a member of the Army. General Mattis is a highly regarded military officer, but tough and relentless as well. After controversies surrounding Russian influence in the US elections, there is great concern about American-Russian relations. There are also many other concerns surrounding US military involvement in other various conflicts such as the Middle East. These kind of nominations heighten these concerns and are causing uncertainty regarding international relations throughout the world.
Source: CBS News, New York Times
Photo: Christiaan Triebert, Flickr.com