Iran

Saudi nuke deal: Mike Flynn’s revenge?

Revelations of Trump administration efforts to transfer sensitive nuclear material to Saudi Arabia bring into focus the grim implications of the pull-out from the Iran nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif takes the opportunity to tweet about "US hypocrisy," while the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an Israeli security think-tank, gleefully quotes a recent comment by hardline Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami that Tehran possess the "formula" to build a nuclear bomb. The outrage was revealed when the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight issued a report, after receiving whistleblower complaints of "efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and without review by Congress as required by law—efforts that may be ongoing to this day." The report reveals the key figure pushing for the transfers as Trump's hard-right ex-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, who now awaits sentencing on charges of lying to the FBI. (Photo: WikiMedia via Jurist)

Greater Middle East

House resolution to end Yemen military aid

The US House of Representatives passed Joint Resolution 37, calling for the withdrawal of US armed forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen. The resolution states that only Congress has the authority to declare war, and notes that Congress has not made any declaration of war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are the target of Saudi-led forces. US armed forces have supported Saudi Arabia through aerial targeting assistance, intelligence sharing, and mid-flight aerial refueling. The resolution gives President Trump 30 days to withdraw forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen. Forces which are involved in operations directed at al-Qaeda in the region are exempt from the resolution. The resolution also does not restrict the sharing of intelligence. It also specifies that the resolution does not impact military operations undertaken in cooperation with Israel. (Photo via Jurist)

Palestine

Palestinians reject Warsaw Conference

The secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, Saeb Erekat, issued a statement rejecting the US-led conference in Warsaw, ostensibly aimed at brokering Middle East peace. Said Erekat: “Today we face a reality whereby the US Trump administration, in cooperation with the Polish government, is pushing yet a new initiative to annihilate the Palestinian national project.” Poland has been making some efforts to resist turning the conference into a propagandistic anti-Iran meeting dominated by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The notable absentees from the summit are meanwhile convening their own meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi. The rival summit is bringing together Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani.  (Photo: Ma’an)

Palestine

500-plus West Bank demolitions in 2018: report

Israel demolished 538 Palestinian homes and facilities across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in 2018, leaving 1,300 Palestinians and 225 children homeless, according to a year-end report by the Abdullah Al-Hurani Centre, an affiliate of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The report stressed that these demolitions were carried out in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other international norms. It charged that Israel "continues its policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem," pointing out that, in addition to the demolitions, Israel had issued 460 "stop-building orders" during the same period. (Photo via Middle East Monitor)

Syria

Kurdish forces turn Manbij over to Assad: report

Following the announcement of a US withdrawal of its troops embedded with Kurdish forces in Syria, the Kurds are again making overtures for a separate peace with the Assad regime. Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) are reported to have turned over the flashpoint town of Manbij to regime forces—marking the first time that the Assad regime’s flag has flown over the northern town for more than six years. “The aim is to ward off a Turkish offensive,” said Ilham Ahmed, an official of the Kurdish autonomous administration. “If the Turks’ excuse is the [YPG], they will leave their posts to the government.” However, a Kurdish deal with Assad could cement the split between the Syrian rebels and the YPG, and holds risk of opening an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war in northern Syria. (Photo via Kurdistan24)

North America

After Pittsburgh, American Jews face a choice

The lines are starkly drawn in Pittsburgh—and, hopefully, across the country—in the wake of the synagogue massacre that left 11 dead. President Trump visited the synagogue, and was joined by the Israeli ambassador. This took place over the protests of Pittsburgh's Mayor Bill Peduto, who asked the White House to delay the trip in light of the sensitive situation in the city. While the rabbi at the Tree of Life Synagogue, the massacre site, welcomed Trump, many members of his congregation clearly dissented. More than 35,000 people signed an open letter to Trump from the local chapter of the progressive Jewish group Bend the Arc, stating: "You are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism." Hundreds demonstrated against Trump's visit under the standard of another Jewish progressive formation, If Not Now, with banners reading "ANTI-SEMITISM = WHITE NATIONALISM" and "ANTI-SEMITISM UPHOLDS WHITE SUPREMACY." (Photo via IfNotNow)

Central America

Guatemala: ex-VP sentenced in water scandal

Guatemala’s special anti-corruption Court for High Risk Crimes sentenced former vice president Roxana Baldetti to prison for 15 years and six months for her role in the so-called "Magic Water" scandal. The case concerned the awarding of an $18 million dollar contract to decontaminate Lake Amatitlán, an important water source for peasant communities. The contract went to Israeli firm M. Tarcic Engineering Ltd, which claimed it had a "special formula" that could clean the lake within months. An investigation revealed that the "formula" consisted of water, salt and chlorine. The Authority for the Sustainable Management of Lake Amatitlán (AMSA), establsihed to oversee the clean-up, documented illegal dumping of agricultural and municipal waste into the Río Villalobos, which empties into the lake. The UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) supported Guatemalan prosecutors in the conspiracy case against Baldetti. (Photo via EmisorasUnidas)

Palestine

Palestine challenges US embassy move at Hague

The State of Palestine filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) challenging the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as a breach of international diplomatic law. In support of its claim, Palestine directed the ICJ to multiple UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions affirming the special international regime that applies to Jerusalem and calling on member states to refrain from recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli territory. Palestine also argued that establishment of an embassy to Israel in Jerusalem violates provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations  governing activities in the "receiving state." (Photo: Ma'an News Agency)

Syria

Syria: reprieve for Idlib; flashpoint at al-Tanf?

The long-feared Assad regime offensive on Idlib province appears to have been called off—for now. After meeting in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly agreed to a “buffer zone” in Idlib—a strip some 25 kilometers wide to separate regime forces in south from rebel and opposition forces in the north. Although it is being called a “demilitarized” zone, it will in fact be jointly patrolled by Russian and Turkish troops. Meanwhile, a secondary small pocket of rebel control in Syria’s south, where US forces have established a position, is shaping up as a potential flashpoint. US Marines held unprecedented joint exercises with rebel forces in the pocket of al-Tanf, and Russia responded by threatening to attack it—despite the fact al-Tanf is one of the so-called “de-escalation zones” declared last year.  (Photo via EA Worldview)

Watching the Shadows

Amnesty calls on UN to ban ‘killer robots’

Amnesty International called upon countries to ban fully autonomous weapons systems on  the first day of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems meeting. Amnesty states that technology related to advanced weapons systems is outpacing international law. Future technologies may be able to replicate human responses, including "the ability to analyse the intentions behind people's actions, to assess and respond to often dynamic and unpredictable situations, or make complex decisions about the proportionality or necessity of an attack." A complete ban on fully autonomous weapons is necessary in order to avoid possible "dystopian" futures. Human interaction should be required by law to be involved in the identification, selection, and engagement of targets in advanced weapons. (Photo: Future of Life Institute)

Afghanistan

US threatens sanctions against ICC

The White House announced that the US will consider imposing sanctions against the International Criminal Court (ICC) judges and prosecutors if the ICC opens an investigation into the actions of United States service members and intelligence personnel in Afghanistan. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC requested an investigation in November 2017 into alleged war crimes committed by the US in Afghanistan since May 2003, in addition to actions taken by the Afghan National Security Forces, the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In addition to sanctions, the US will also consider seeking to have the ICC's powers restricted by the UN Security Council. The US will also seek to strengthen agreements that would prevent other nations from surrendering US nationals to the ICC. (Photo: AiirSource Military)

Southeast Asia

Duterte charged with ‘crimes against humanity’

Several Philippine families filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of "crimes against humanity" carried out in the context of his "war on drugs." This is the second complaint against Duterte filed with the ICC; the first was filed in April 2017. The ICC began preliminary examination in the case in February. Duterte announced the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC this March. Under the Rome Statute, a member can withdraw no sooner than one year following written notification to the UN Secretary-General. However, Duterte claimed that the agreement was immediately voidable because it was signed fraudulently. (Photo: Anakpawis)