Rights Groups: Abuses on the Rise in Syria’s Afrin (Voice of America)
This report highlights the human rights abuses against the Kurdish residents of Afrin in northern Syria, and accuses the rebel groups controlling the city of kidnapping, arbitrary detention, torture and pillage. Turkish-led forces had captured Afrin in early 2018.
“The commission finds there are reasonable grounds to believe that armed group members in Afrin committed the war crimes of hostage-taking, cruel treatment, torture, and pillage,” the report said.
“Numerous cases involving arbitrary arrests and detentions by armed group members also included credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment, often targeting individuals of Kurdish origin, including activists openly critical of armed groups and those perceived to be so,” the U.N. report added."
Stop the carnage: doctors call for an end to Syria hospital airstrikes (The Guardian)
Prominent international figures and NGOS had joined Syrian medical staff in signing a petition calling for an end of the bombing campaign by Syrian and Russian planes that has targeted more than 20 hospitals in Idlib. Coordinates for many of those hit had been shared with the regime and its Russian backers by the United Nations.
“Around 80 medical facilities – including clinics and hospitals – have been shut because of damage in attacks or because of fear they will be targeted, said Mohamad Katoub from the Syrian American Medical Society. The huge number of refugees displaced by attacks has left those that are still operating overwhelmed.”
What is Russia's strategy in Idlib? (Al-Monitor)
Maxim A. Suchkov writes about how Russia blocked UN Security Council draft statement on Idlib which condemned its ongoing bombardment campaign to help the Syrian regime take the city. Suchkov analyses how Russia is trying to achieve its goals without alienating the Turkish government on other bilateral and military agreements.
"Initially, the standoff over Idlib presented Moscow an opportunity to play a big-picture foreign policy game with Turkey. Such a game would bring Moscow and Ankara closer on other issues, such as bilateral and military-technical cooperation. From the beginning, Vladimir Putin was willing to let Recep Tayyip Erdogan appear strong on the issue for his constituency, to help him win local elections. In September 2018, Putin had Erdogan sign the Sochi agreement on Idlib and assume some serious commitments, including fixing the HTS problem. Yet, from the outset, these commitments were hard to deliver in full."
A Glimpse into the Islamic State’s External Operations, Post-Caliphate (War on the Rocks)
Sam Heller analyses ISIL operations beyond Syria and Iraq. As the group lost its last territory, what tactics it is using to adapt and to remotely recruit and mentor international attackers online. He describes in details "Deadly Cheese" operation, when an ISIL handler based in Idlib tried to direct an attack in Lebanon.
“Even as ISIL has lost its territorial “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, it has persisted in a modified, reduced form. In both countries, ISIL has resorted to insurgent warfare and periodic terrorist attacks. It has also established “provinces” in Nigeria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere — mostly local militant groups that have declared allegiance to ISIL and adopted the global movement’s symbolism.”
UN: Syrian fighters burning vital farmland is 'weapon of war' (Al-Jazeera)
After fighters have set fire to thousands of acres of wheat and other crops in northwest Syria, both the regime and opposition exchanged accusations about responsibility and the United Nations World Food Program condemned the action saying it turned food into a "weapon of war".
""Not only are people displaced, lives lost but now farmlands vital for the food security of the region - crops such as barley, wheat, and vegetables - have been destroyed," WFP spokesperson Herve Verhoosel said on Tuesday in Geneva.
"These crops burning and damage to land and livelihoods will disrupt the sensitive food production cycles and could aggravate the food security situation in the north-west for the near future," he said."
Assad urged Syrian refugees to come home. Many are being welcomed with arrest and interrogation. (The Washington Post)
The Washington Post interviews Syrian refugees who went back to Syria recently and writes about the harassment many said they faced. The Syrian regime has repeatedly insisted all refugees are welcome back, but monitoring groups now say many faced arrest, interrogation, or forced conscription upon their return.
"Assad has called for more homecomings, encouraging returnees in a televised address in February to “carry out their national duties.” He said forgiveness would be afforded to returnees “when they are honest.”
A recent survey of Syrians who returned to government-held areas found that about 75 percent had been harassed at checkpoints, in government registry offices or in the street, conscripted into the military despite promises they would be exempted, or arrested."