Europe

Scores of Ukrainian detainees remain in Russia

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov was among 70 detainees from Russia and Ukraine released in a prisoner swap—35 from each side. Last year, Sentsov spent 145 days on a hunger strike, demanding the release of all Ukrainians held in Russia and Russian-annexed Crimea on politically motivated charges. Human Rights in Ukraine decried the fact that, despite the swap, at least 87 Ukrainian political prisoners remain imprisoned in Russia or occupied Crimea, in addition to at least 225 hostages held by Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region. In light of this reality, the group called the “upbeat noises” in Western media about a “normalization” in Ukrainian-Russian relations “at very least premature.” (Photo via Kyiv Post)

Syria

Trump joins Putin in bombardment of Idlib

US warplanes struck a position outside the capital of Syria’s northern Idlib province, targeting a faction named as Huras al-Din and reportedly killing some 40 militants. Huras al-Din split from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the leading insurgent front in much of Idlib, after HTS broke ties with al-Qaeda in 2016. The US air-strikes come amid an ongoing massive aerial assault on Idlib by Russia and the Assad regime. Two days earlier, at least 13 civilians were killed in Russian and regime air-strikes on the town of Marat al-Numan. Hundreds of Syrians meanwhile attempted to storm a border crossing with Turkey in Idlib, demanding refuge from the relentless bombardment. (Photo via EA Worldview)

Syria

Did Assad sign off on Israeli air-raid in Syria?

After years of presumed Israeli air-strikes on Iranian forces in Syria, the IDF finally carried out air-strikes that were publicly acknowledged, hitting a compound near Damascus supposedly shared by the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force and Hezbollah militants. The strikes follow reports in the Israeli press that there is an “undeclared pact” between Assad and Netanyahu allowing Israel to strike Iranian targets in Syria in exchange for diplomatic assistance in regional “normalization” of the Assad regime. (Photo: Israel Aerospace Industries via Jerusalem Post)

Africa
Africa fires

Central African forests burning faster than Amazon

Central Africa’s rainforests are currently being consumed by a vast system of forest fires dwarfing even those that are ravaging the Amazon. Hundreds of thousands of hectares have been engulfed by flames over the past weeks—to comparatively little notice in the world media. French newspaper La Voix du Nord states, “In Angola, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia, thousands of fires consume phenomenal amounts of vegetation.” Since the beginning of 2019, it is the DRC that has recorded the most fires, far ahead of Brazil. NASA attributes the fires to “widespread agricultural burning,” as farmers employ slash-and-burn methods to clear land for crops. (Photo: FIRMS)

Planet Watch

UN report on climate change calls for urgent action

A Special Report on Climate Change was released by the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), focusing on greenhouse gas emissions and its links to desertification, land degradation and food security. The report warns that the “rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil,” risks “jeopardizing food security for the planet.” The effects of global warming have led to “shifts of climate zones in many world regions,” further exacerbating land degradation, and leading to extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts. The reports warns: “The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases.” (Photo of Tantaverom region of Chad via UNDP)

Syria

Idlib bombardment resumes after brief respite

Russia and the Assad regime resumed attacks on opposition-held northwest Syria, breaking a four-day pause declared by Damascus. Russian and regime forces, whose spring offensive shattered a “demilitarized zone” announced last September by Moscow and Turkey, again began bombing and shelling both rebel positions and civilian areas. The regime’s military said last week that it was halting operations, which have killed more than 700 civilians and wounded more than 2,200 since late April, while giving an ultimatum to anti-Assad forces to withdraw from the 20-kilometer “demilitarized zone” through Idlib and northern Hama province. As the new air-strikes were launched, an army statement said: “The agreement to a truce was conditional… This did not happen… We resume our military operations against terrorist organizations.” (Photo via EA Worldview)

Syria

Turkey deports Syrians to bomb-wracked Idlib

In a new campaign against migrants who lack residency papers, Turkey has for the past weeks been deporting Syrians from Istanbul to Syria—including to the war-torn northwest province of Idlib. The crackdown comes at a time of rising rhetoric and political pressure on the country’s 3.6 million registered Syrian refugees to return home. Estimates place hundreds of thousands of unregistered Syrians in Turkey, many living in urban areas such as Istanbul. Refugee rights advocates say deportations to Syria violate customary international law, which prohibits forcing people to return to a country where they are still likely to face persecution or risk to their lives. Arrests reportedly began in mid-July, with police conducting spot-checks in public spaces, factories, and metro stations around Istanbul and raiding apartments. As word spread quickly in Istanbul’s Syrian community, many people shut themselves up at home rather than risk being caught outside. (Photo: The New Humanitarian)

Syria

As Russia bombs Idlib, Turkey threatens Rojava

Some 100 civilians have been killed over the past week as Russia and the Assad regime step up aerial attacks on Idlib, the northern Syria province that remains outside regime control. Meanwhile, Turkish officials again warned of an offensive against the Kurdish-controlled area in northeast Syria, known to the Kurds as Rojava. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Ankara has “no patience left” with Washington’s perceived accommodation of the Syrian Kurds. At issue is the size of the military “buffer zone” Ankara seeks to create along the border in northern Syria. The US has agreed to a “safe zone” that would cut through the Rojava autonomous cantons of Kobani and Cezire. However, the two sides differ over the depth of the zone. Ankara wants a 40-kilometer belt while the US is supporting only 10 kilometers. Turkey is also demanding the complete departure of the Kurdish militia from the area, and full control by Ankara’s forces. (Photo of White Helmets in Idlib via EA Worldview)

Europe

Kosovo PM resigns to face war crimes court

The prime minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, resigned after being called in for questioning by a war crimes court in The Hauge. The court is investigating ex-members of the Kosovo Liberation Army for actions during the war from 1998-9 that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia. Haradinaj was a KLA commander in that war. Although technically a body of the Kosovo government, the war crimes court is based at The Hague and made up of foreign prosecutors and judges—an unusual arrangement pointing to the limited sovereignty of ostensibly independent Kosovo.  (Photo of Kosova Liberation Army via IBNA)

Central Asia

Uighurs as pawns in the Great Game

In a perverse spectacle, the Trump administration, which is establishing its own incipient concentration camp system for undocumented immigrants, makes a great show of feigning concern with the mass detention of the Uighurs in China’s “re-education camps.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s treatment of the Uighurs the “stain of the century,” and accused Beijing of pressuring countries not to attend a US-hosted conference on religious freedom then opening in Washington. At the conference, Donald Trump actually met at the Oval Office with Jewher Ilham, daughter of the imprisoned Uighur scholar Ilham Tothi. It is hard to fault the Ughurs for being heartened by this international attention, but it is clear that they are being exploited for propaganda purposes. (Photo: Mvslim.com)

Syria

Waterworks, civil defense centers bombed in Idlib

Assad regime and Russian warplanes continue to target civilians and basic infrastructure in the aerial assault on opposition-controlled Idlib province in Syria’s north. At least 12 were killed in a regime air-strike on a market in Maar Shurin village. Russian air-strikes destroyed the main water plant in Maarat al-Numan, a town already swollen with displaced persons who have fled the regime offensive. First responders are also apparently being intentionally targeted. A new report from the Syrian Network for Human Rights finds that Russian and Assad forces have struck 31 civil defense centers and vehicles in opposition-controlled areas of Idlib and Hama provinces since the current offensive began in late April. At least seven first responders and medics from the White Helmets and Violet Organization civil defense groups have been killed. The overall civilian death toll in the air-strikes on Idlib and Hama is placed at 550, including 130 children. (Photo via EA Worldview)

Europe

Crimean Tatars arrested in Red Square protest

Seven Crimean Tatars were detained in Moscow while holding a peaceful picket calling for an end to ethnic and religious persecution in Russian-annexed Crimea. Around 20 activists—most in their 50s and 60s, veterans of the Crimean Tatar national movement—gathered in Red Square with placards reading: “Our children are not terrorists”; “The fight against terrorism in Crimea is a fight against dissidents” and “Stop persecution on ethnic and religious lines in Crimea.” The picket was held in advance of an appeal hearing for four Crimean Tatars facing “terrorism” charges for their membership in the civil organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. The detained protesters were charged with holding an unauthorized demonstration. One of those arrested is the father of one of the “terrorism” defendants. (Photo: Human Rights in Ukraine)