Republican senators ask Biden’s UN rep to highlight Houthi rights abuses

group of Repub上海夜生活lican senators a上海品茶网re demanding the Biden administration bring international attention to alleged human rights abuses committed by Houthi forces in Yemen.

Sen. Jim Risch of Idado, who is the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led the publication of the letter on Monday to US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Risch, along with Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Todd Young of Indiana and Mike Crapo of Idaho, implored the diplomat to highlight abuses and “mass indoctrination of the Yemeni people” carried out by the Iran-backed Houthi forces. They said that the lack of attention 上海夜生活lican senators a上海品茶网on the issue discourages the Houthi rebels from negotiating in Yemen’s civil war.

“For too long, the international community has turned a blind eye to Houthi atrocities,” wrote the senators. “This lack of international attention has led to a culture of impunity, and, as a result, the Houthis today are less willing to negotiate in good faith.”

Yemen has been embroiled in a devastating civil war since 2014. The governmen上海夜生活lican senators a上海品茶网t of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, supported by a Saudi-led coalition, is fighting against the Houthi rebels, backed by Iran. Efforts by the administration of US President Joe Biden to negotiate a peace deal have failed to yield an agreement so far.

The senators, who are critical of Iranian policy in the region, said the Houthis’ rule is intrinsically tied to the Islamic Republic.

“To maintain power, the Houthis have developed a repressive intelligence apparatus that, like Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, operates outside normal ‘state’ control and reports directly to the movement’s senior leader, Abdulmalik al-Houthi,” they said.

The senators asked Thomas-Greenfield to ensure alleged human rights abuses by Houthi forces are a part of UN Security Council meetings, statements and resolutions related to the Yemen conflict.

Upon taking office, the Biden administration removed the terrorist designation of the Houthis, formally known as Ansarallah, and appointed US Foreign Service Officer Tim Lenderking to serve as the US Envoy to negotiate an end to the war in Yemen.

Houthi forces have received international scrutiny recently for their human rights record. In February, the United Nations sanctioned a Houthi police official for alleged crimes against women. In March, the Biden administration sanctioned two Houthi military leaders following cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.


Biden urged to secure release of Americans left behind in Iran

the Unite上海夜生活论坛d States work上海夜生活s to bring Iran back into compliance with the nuclear accord, the family of two Americans held by Tehran is appealing to the Biden administration to make their release part of any deal made with the Islamic Republic.

US officials say they’ve engaged in indirect discussions — independently of the nuclear deal talks in Vienna — with Iran over unjustly detained US citizens, including Siamak and Baquer Namazi.

The White House says their release is a top priority, but Babak Namazi worries his brother, Siamak, and father, Baquer, could once again be left behind.

“That fear is ever present, irrespective of what assurances one receives,” he told Al-Monitor.

Siamak and Baquer Namazi have come to symbolize what rights groups describe as Iran’上海夜生活论坛d States work上海夜生活s use of hostage diplomacy. Days after the nuclear deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — was reached in July 2015, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) detained and interrogated Siamak Namazi as he arrived at the Tehran airport for a return flight home to the United Arab Emirates following a visit with relatives. After months of interrogations, the Iranian-American business consultant was formally arrested in October 2015.

Several months into Siamak Namazi’s imprisonment, the IRGC lured Baquer Namazi to Iran on the premise he could visit his son in prison, his family says. The senior Namazi, a former Iranian provincial governor and UNICEF official, was instead intercepted at the airport and thrown in jail under the same vague spying charges.

In October 2016, both men were sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of cooperating with the US government. Baquer Namazi’s sentence was commuted in February 2020, but the 84-year-old is still barred from leaving the country despite serious medical conditions.

Siamak Namazi, now the longes上海夜生活论坛d States work上海夜生活t-held American prisoner in Iran, remains in the notorious Evin prison where his family says he has endured long stretches of solitary confinement, as well as physical and psychological torture.

“We continue to call for the return of all US citizens who are unjustly detained — of course, those who are in Iran and those who are unjustly detained in countries all over the world,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told Al-Monitor during a recent telephone briefing.

But the Namazi family fears a repeat of what happened in 2016 when Siamak Namazi was the only American not returned home as part of a swap described by President Barack Obama as “a one-time gesture to Iran.” The prisoner exchange, which occurred the same day JCPOA took effect, reportedly came after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif personally assured then-Secretary of State John Kerry that Namazi would be freed separately in a matter of weeks.

“I believe what Iran does, not what it says,” said Jared Genser, the Namazi family’s pro bono lawyer in Washington.

“I would hope that this administration, which includes many of the same key players in the 2016 deal, would not make the same mistake t上海夜生活论坛d States work上海夜生活wice and would not enter into an agreement based on promises of future action by Iran,” Genser said.

President Donald Trump took a personal interest in bringing home Americans detained abroad, tweeting during the 2016 presidential campaign that such hostage-taking in Iran “doesn’t happen if I’m president.” But he too failed to win back the Namazis in deals that saw the return of Princeton graduate student Xiyue Wang and Navy veteran Michael White.

Such prisoner releases were welcome developments, Babak Namazi said, but also agonizing “in the sense of why were we left behind again, and again, and again? That’s a question we’ve had to ask ourselves three times.”

There are two other known cases of dual US citizens held by Iran. Environmental activist Morad Tahbaz and businessman Emad Sharghi each were sentenced to prison on spying charges their families say are baseless.

It’s unclear who Tehran is seeking in a prisoner swap, although in 2019 the Iranian Foreign Ministry said the number was around 20. A spokesperson for Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not return a request for clarification.

Under the January 2016 prisoner trade, the Obama administration granted clemency to seven Iranians convicted of or pending trial in the United States for sanctions violations.

“There is an inherent asymmetry in any kind of swap that Iran offers,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

“Whenever the Islamic Republic does propose the idea of a prisoner swap, it’s always going to be uneven because in Iran they’re exchanging people who are literally hostages with people abroad who have actually engaged in crimes,” Taleblu said.

In what rights groups say is a feature of Iran’s foreign policy dating back to the country’s 1979 revolution, foreigners are routinely imprisoned as leverage for sanctions relief, frozen assets and other concessions.

According to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, at least 15 dual nationals and one foreign citizen from countries including the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Canada and Sweden are currently known to be held in Iran.

Hadi Ghaemi, the rights center’s executive director, said multilateral pressure is needed to prevent Iran from continuing to use foreign nationals as pawns. He called for the United States and like-minded countries to “look beyond the current hostages and think, how are they going to prevent this?”

“Iran would get the message much more clearly that taking innocent people over their interests is not going to be tolerated,” Ghaemi said. “I don’t see any sign of that, and that means this vicious cycle could continue.”

Over the past six years, Babak Namazi has made repeated trips between Washington and his home in Dubai, meeting with officials of now three US administrations in an effort to raise the profile of his father and brother.

Namazi said he and his family aren’t political people. They don’t care about the outcome of the nuclear agreement negotiations in Vienna, only that any potential deal that the Biden administration makes with Iran includes the release of Siamak and Baquer Namazi, he said.

“All of my efforts have not resulted in their freedom, so I can say I’ve failed,” Babak Namazi said. “Since I failed, everyone by extension — including the US administration who has been engaged in bringing my family home — has failed.”

“We need to find any way to bring them home, and bring them home before it’s too late,” he said.


House votes to repeal 2002 Iraq war authorization

The US House上海夜生活 of Representative上海品茶网s has passed a measure to repeal a 2002 law authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq.

Introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), the bill to repeal the authorization passed 268-161 with 49 Republicans joining a large majority of Democrats. Only one Democrat opposed the repeal.

The move marked rare progress on Democrats’ efforts to rein in broad authorizations granted to the presidency to fight the War on Terror following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

The 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) allowed the George W. Bush administration to circumvent the War Powers Act to conduct regime change against the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

The law has remained on the bo上海夜生活 of Representative上海品茶网oks for nearly two decades after the Iraqi regime collapsed under the US invasion in 2003.

“In 2011, President Obama brought our combat troops home [from Iraq], and yet this law remains on the books, vulnerable to misuse because Congress has not acted to remove it,” Lee said today.

Until now, Democrats’ efforts to repeal the law have made little headway, as have attem上海夜生活 of Representative上海品茶网pts to reform a predecessor law, the 2001 AUMF, which has granted broad authorities for now four US presidents to deploy the military against Islamist terrorists virtually anywhere in the world.

The Pentagon under prior administrations has objected to AUMF reform in the past, citing concerns that it could legally jeopardize ongoing operations, including the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and the war against the Islamic State.

Lawmakers renewed their scrutiny of the authorization in recent years amid worries that the Donald Trump administration may use the law to attack Iran. The Trump administration cited the Iraq war authorization to justify the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last January.

Democrats’ campaign to reform AUMF authorities have the backing of President Joe Biden, the White House reiterated earlier this week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said yesterday he would bring Lee’s bill to the Senate floor before the end of the year, clarifying his support for the first time.

Schumer said the repeal will “eliminate the danger of a future administration reaching back into the legal dustbin to use it as a justification for military adventurism.”

“It’s been nearly 10 years since this particular authorization has been cited as a primary justification for a military operation. It no longer serves a vital purpose in our fight against violent extremists in the Middle East,” the senior lawmaker said.

Lee was the only member of Congress in 2001 to oppose the AUMF. Critics say the authorities of that law have been stretched beyond recognition with minimal pushback from lawmakers. She also voted against the Iraq war authorization in 2002.

In the Senate, Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is sponsoring a similar bill. Kaine’s bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and four other Republicans, would repeal both the 2002 AUMF and an even older authorization from 1991 that allowed former President George H.W. Bush to drive Saddam’s forces out of Kuwait.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the Kaine-Young measure next Tuesday.


lawmakers unveil American hostage task force

Members上海夜网论坛of Congress on上海夜生活 Thursday announced a dedicated working group aimed at helping Americans unjustly held by hostile governments and terrorist organizations.

On Thursday, Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and French Hill (R-Ark.) announced the launch of the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad, which will serve as a resource for families and former hostages.

“It’s only through a comprehensive and all of government approach with Congress and with the administration working together that w上海夜网论坛of Congress on上海夜生活e can bring Americans home, take care of those affected families and disincentivize those corrupt government and non-state actors that would take an American hostage,” Hill said at an event unveiling the task force.

Hill represents the family of former Arkansas resident Majd Kamalmaz, who along with journalist Austin Tice, is believed to be held by the Syrian regime or allied forces. In February 2017, the psychotherapist was stopped at a government checkpoint near Damascus and hasn’t been heard from since.

The two men are among at least 53 publicly known cases of Americans held hostage or wrongfully detained worldwide, according to a tally by the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation.

The organization’s recent annual report found that former hostages and their families continue to benefit from reforms introduced by the Barack Obama administration in 2015, but “there remain some gaps in the support provided to these hostage families and in the US government’s ability or willingness to prioritize the reco上海夜网论坛of Congress on上海夜生活very of U.S. hostages.” Released earlier this month, the Foley Foundation report also called for more mental health and reintegration support for Americans who return home after their detention.

Retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was considered the longest-held hostage in American history, was a constituent of Deutsch. Levinson disappeared off the remote Iranian island of Kish in 2007 and is believed to have died in Iranian custody, his family says.

The Florida Democrat co-sponsored the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, a law that aims to shore up existing US government resources for missing Americans.

The Biden administration is currently seeking the release of at least four Iranian-Americans held by Tehran, including businessman Siamak Namazi, former UNICEF official Baquer Namazi, conservationist Morad Tahbaz and businessman Emad Shargi.


hopeful but ‘realistic’ on departure of foreign forces from Libya

After a conference上海夜网论坛 on Libya’上海夜生活论坛s political future ended without a concrete plan for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a top US diplomat expressed optimism but said Washington is “realistic” about what can be achieved ahead of elections later this year.

“We’ve seen remarkable progress among political actors,” Joey Hood, the acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told reporters on a call Thursday.

“We’re realistic,” Hood added. “We can’t wave a magic wand and make this happen, but working together with the Libyan people, I think there’s a strong chance that we can set the conditions to 上海夜网论坛 on Libya’上海夜生活论坛provide the incentives and other parameters for these forces to leave.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken joined Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah for talks in Berlin this week hosted by Germany and the United Nations.

Topping their agenda was the departure of foreign fighters and mercenaries, whose presence in the North African country is a violation of the UN arms embargo that has been in place since the uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Libya had been embroiled in civil war since 2014, with the Turkey-backed Gov上海夜网论坛 on Libya’上海夜生活论坛ernment of National Accord pitted against Khalifa Hifter’s self-styled Libyan National Army, which counted Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt among its supporters.

The foreign backers have flooded the country with mercenaries and arms. The United Nations estimated in December that 20,000 foreign fighters remained in Libya in violation of an October 2020 cease-fire agreement reached by the two sides in October 2020, which called for countries to withdraw their proxy fighters within 90 days.

US officials told reporters that Turkey and Russia, which backed opposite sides in Libya’s civil war, had reached an initial understanding to each withdraw 300 Syrian mercenaries “as a tangible, practical first step.” Libyan Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush said Wednesday she is hopeful that foreign forces will begin to leave the country within days.

During the Berlin conference, the transitional Government of National Unity reaffirmed its commitment to holding elections on Dec. 24. Under a UN-supported process known as the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, Dbeibah and a three-member presidential council are leading an interim government.

Experts have questioned whether Libya’s current leaders are willing to step aside for elections, but Hood said Thursday that the United States “fully expects” voting to take place in December.


drones downed over Yemen weren’t military’s, CENTCOM says

military disavowed上海夜网论坛 two dro上海品茶网nes reportedly shot down by Yemen’s Houthi rebels near the contested city of Marib over the weekend, saying it had lost no such unmanned aircraft recently in the region.

Houthi media on Wednesday released footage purporting to show two US-made drones shot down over the central Yemeni province, where Saudi-backed government forces are holding off an unrelenting offensive by the rebels.

One of the destroyed Scan Eagle drones in the footage bore markings identifying its manufacturer as Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing based in Washington 上海夜网论坛 two dro上海品茶网state, according to The Associated Press, which first reported on the shoot-down.

US Central Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Karen Roxberry told AP there were “no downed CENTCOM assets” in the Middle East and the US military is “not flying over Marib.”

News of the shoot-down comes two days after the Justice Department took down a host of Iran-linked websites, including the pro-Houthi Al-Masirah outlet.

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden ordered a halt to all US support for the Saudi-led coalition’s offensive operations in Yemen, with the exception of maintenance support for the Royal Saudi Air Force and intelligence and surveillance support to help Saudi Arabia defend against Houthi missile launches.

The head of US forces in the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, told Al-Monitor in April the US military is not participating in the defense of Marib from the Houthi offensive.

“We’re not doing anything in terms of ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconn上海夜网论坛 two dro上海品茶网aissance) … on things happening in Marib or places like that,” McKenzie said.

It remains unclear to which government or organization the drones belonged, though the CIA has conducted drone operations in Yemen in the past.

The Houthis have claimed in recent years to have shot down a handful of US-made drones over Yemen, including one with Saudi markings last year.

The rebels also brought down two US military MQ-9 Reapers in the summer of 2019 and another Scan Eagle in November of that year. The roughly $3 million Scan Eagle is a low-altitude surveillance drone with more than 20 hours of flight time.

The Houthis’ main backer, Iran, also shot down a US RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drone near the Strait of Hormuz in 2019 amid peak tensions between the two countries. Iran said the drone entered airspace over its territory. The United States confirmed the shoot-down and said the drone had been operating in international airspace.

In 2012, Iran claimed to have captured a US Scan Eagle drone with plans to reverse engineer it. The US Navy at the time denied it had lost any such aircraft.


airstrikes hit Iran-backed militia after drone attacks in Iraq

The United State上海品茶网s laun上海夜生活论坛ched airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria before dawn on Monday, in response to a series of drone attacks on facilities used by American personnel in Iraq, the Pentagon said.

The three targeted sites — two in Syria and one in Iraq — were used by Iran-backed militias to launch drones against bases used by the United States in Iraq, spokesperson John Kirby said in a statement.

Four militia members were killed in the strike at Qaim, on Syria’s side of the remote border with Iraq, according to pro-militia Sabereen news agency, which released photos of the four deceased fighters.

Iraq’s armed forces conde上海品茶网s laun上海夜生活论坛mned the strikes, calling them a “blatant and unacceptable violation of Iraqi sovereignty and Iraqi national security in accordance with all international conventions.”

“Iraq renews its refusal to be an arena for settling accounts,” read a statement by the spokesman for commander-in-chief and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

The Pentagon described the sites as “operational and weapons storage facilities” frequented by Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada near the Iraq-Syria border. The strikes were “defensive in nature,” Kirby’s statement read, and invoked international law and Article II of the US Constitution.

“Given the ongoing series of attacks by Iran-backed groups targeting US interests in Iraq, the President directed further military action to disrupt and deter such attacks,” it said.

It continued, “The United States 上海品茶网s laun上海夜生活论坛took necessary, appropriate, and deliberate action designed to limit the risk of escalation — but also to send a clear and unambiguous deterrent message.”

President Joe Biden previously authorized strikes in February against buildings on the Syrian side of the border that the Pentagon said at the time were used by the same two Iran-backed militias. Those strikes came after a rocket attack that killed a US civilian contractor and injured coalition personnel.

Militias backed by Iran control major roadways in Iraq’s Anbar desert leading across Syria’s border to the west, which they captured during the multinational war against the Islamic State (IS).

Video from Sabereen, the pro-Iran militia channel, circulated on Telegram purporting to show one site in the aftermath of the strikes. Rubble and what appear to be at least two destroyed artillery guns are visible in the footage, which was not independently confirmed by Al-Monitor.

The move is likely to amplify debate in Congress over the White House’s war authorizations, and is unlikely to halt future attacks by pro-Iran militias in Iraq.

“I expect to be briefed tomorrow by the White House on the US military airstrik上海品茶网s laun上海夜生活论坛es along the Iraq-Syria border,” said US Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in a statement Sunday night.

Murphy, a prominent member of the Senate’s foreign relations panel, cautioned that the repeated back-and-forth strikes may require congressional authorization.

The United States carried out the strikes hours after Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah met with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in Baghdad on Sunday. It was the first visit by an Egyptian president to Iraq since before the 1991 Gulf War, in which Egypt joined the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s forces.

More than 3,000 US troops remain in Iraq and northeast Syria as part of the international coalition against IS. Launched in 2014 during the Obama administration, the ongoing mission was authorized under a 2001 law that allowed the White House to go after those who planned the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

IS surrendered its last significant territory in March 2019, but US troops have remained in there to maintain local stability and political leverage over the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad. Thousands of US personnel departed Iraq last year, following orders from former President Donald Trump, who considered the stabilization mission to be “endless war.”

Democrats have renewed a push in recent years to repeal or modify the laws that authorized the so-called War on Terror. The current administration has signaled support for moves for reform.

A series of rocket attacks have hit facilities used by the United States in Iraq in recent years, as pro-Iran factions seek to pressure American forces out of the country. Despite retaliatory strikes by the Trump administration that led to the brink of conflict with Iran early last year, the attacks have not abated.

Since April, at least five drone attacks have targeted sensitive sites used by the United States, including a CIA storage facility at Erbil air base. Four explosive drones hit buildings northeast of the US Consulate in the Iraqi Kurdish capital early on Saturday morning. It was not immediately clear why the sites were targeted.

Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of US military forces in the Middle East, has said that drones pose the most vexing risk to American forces and their partners in the region since the demise of IS. US air defenses have failed to stop previous drone attacks in Iraq. The military is experimenting with counter-drone technology, the commander has said.

The United States has bolstered local air defenses in Saudi Arabia — which has also come under repeated projectile attacks from Iran-linked groups — and quietly supported Israel’s campaign of airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria since 2018. US officials have said Israel’s campaign has prevented precision-guided weapons from moving close to its borders.

Monday’s strikes come as the Biden administration is seeking to revive a 2015 international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capabilities, a move which Israeli officials have opposed.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Israel’s new Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Rome on Saturday.


Blinken urges allies to repatriate IS fighters from Syria

Secretary of 上海品茶网State Antony上海夜生活 Blinken called on US allies Monday to take responsibility for their citizens suspected of joining the Islamic State and who remain in the custody of Kurdish forces in northeast Syria.

“This situation is simply untenable. It just can’t persist indefinitely,” Blinken said in Rome during his opening remarks at a ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

“The United States continues to urge countries — including coalition partners — to repatriate, rehabilitate and, where applicable, prosecute its citizens,” he said.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are holding some 10,000 suspected militants in informal detention centers. About 2,000 of them are fore上海品茶网State Antony上海夜生活igners, the US government estimates. The United States has repatriated 28 of its citizens from northeast Syria and is prosecuting many of them on terror-related charges.

But other countries are reluctant to deal with their citizens, even as the US-backed SDF warns that it lacks the resources to put them on trial or continue holding them.

Why it matters: More than two years上海品茶网State Antony上海夜生活 after the collapse of IS’ self-declared caliphate, some 43,000 men, women and children with perceived ties to the terrorist group languish in detention and displacement centers scattered across northeast Syria, Human Rights Watch estimates.

Blinken highlighted the efforts of Kazakhstan, Finland and a number of Balkan and Central Asian countries that have successfully prosecuted or rehabilitated their citizens accused of supporting IS in Syria and Iraq. The secretary also described Italy as one of the few Western European countries willing to bring home its nationals.

Coalition members France and the United Kingdom, which suffered a number of IS-inspired terrorist attacks on their soil, have been particularly slow to reclaim their nationals and in some cases have revoked the citizenship of accused IS supporters. Some foreign governments cite concerns the IS suspects could evade justice in European courts due to a lack of battlefield evidence against them.

What’s next: Violence is rife in the Syrian detention sites, which experts warn could serve as a breeding ground for a new generation of terrorists and stateless children. Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said in April tha上海品茶网State Antony上海夜生活children are especially vulnerable to radicalization. The failure to reintegrate them, he said, risks “giving ourselves the gift of fighters five to seven years down the road.”

Health services are poor in the camps, and hundreds of children are believed to have died from malnutrition, pneumonia and other conditions in Hasakah province’s sprawling al-Hol facility. Aid organizations continue to sound the alarm over the potential for the coronavirus to worsen the already dire humanitarian situation.

Know more: Read Mohammed Hardan’s latest on the threat posed by IS remnants in northeast Syria and in the Syrian desert, known as Badiya.


Blinken calls Syrian humanitarian situation ‘untenable’

S Secretary of Stat上海夜生活论坛e Antony Blinken met in Rome today with repres上海品茶网entatives of the 83-member coalition against the Islamic State (IS) to reinforce Washington’s stance on the conflict in Syria.

Blinken and Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio chaired the conference, the first such meeting under the Biden administration.

Current US officials have largely carried over the approach developed during the Trump administration, namely leaving US troops to indefinitely occupy oil- and agriculture-rich northeast Syria while economically isolating the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The policy remains in limbo amid indirect negotiations with Iranian officials in Vienna. Though strictly focused on fighting IS, the US military’s continued presence in Syria — and the State Department’s isolation policy toward Damascus — have been influenced by the ambitions of both Iran and Russia in the country and the wider region.

“Together, we must stay as committed to our stabilization goals as we did to our milita上海夜生活论坛e Antony Blinken met in Rome today with repres上海品茶网ry campaign that resulted in victory on the battlefield,” Blinken said in Rome on Monday.

A Western official familiar with the meeting said little has changed since the last US presentation on the conflict. Joey Hood, the State Department’s acting top policy official for the Middle East, told reporters last week that Blinken would call in Rome for a nationwide cease-fire in Syria.

While the frontlines of Syria’s conflict have largely frozen over, a renewed push by Russia and the Assad regime against opposition-held Idlib province would immediately worsen the country’s humanitarian catastrophe.

Left with few options and little leverage in the complex, stalemated war, US officials led by White House coordinator for the Middle East Brett McGurk have been fine-tuning the policy to reduce the potential for inducing additional humanitarian harm.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is seeking potential avenues toward compromise with adversary Russia. Earlier this month, the Treas上海夜生活论坛e Antony Blinken met in Rome today with repres上海品茶网ury Department announced a sanctions exemption for COVID-19 relief for Syria, Iran and Venezuela.

A mix of regime corruption, Lebanon’s financial collapse and international economic sanctions led by the United States has sent Syria’s currency plummeting to unprecedented lows, triggering extreme shortages of bread and fuel in regime-controlled territory.

Among Blinken’s top priorities at the meeting was the upcoming vote in the Security Council to renew the UN’s mandate to deliver cross-border aid into Syria from Turkey. Russia has sought to block such aid, insisting that the Damascus government only deliver the aid, citing Syria’s sovereignty. But the Assad regime has used food and medical aid as a tool of war, critics of the Kremlin’s approach point out.

Also discussed on Monday was the simmering crisis of 10,000 captured IS fighters who remain in makeshift prisons run by Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria. Another roughly 50,000 IS family members live in squalid internment camps.

Several thousands are foreign nationals who joined IS in Syria, but few countries in E上海夜生活论坛e Antony Blinken met in Rome today with repres上海品茶网urope — with the notable exception of Italy — are willing to take them home for reasons of perceived political liability.

“This situation is simply untenable. It just can’t persist indefinitely,” Blinken said on Monday in Rome.

The top US diplomat praised Italy, Finland as well as Balkan and Central Asian states that have repatriated nationals from detention in northeast Syria.

The problem of lingering IS camps has raised concern among the high echelons in the US military. The head of all US forces in the Middle East, Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, has repeatedly sought to draw public attention to the crisis, saying it will become a “military problem” if the detainees are left indefinitely.

Blinken on Monday also announced an additional $436 million to help people displaced by Syria’s conflict.

Roughly half of Syria’s population has been displaced by the conflict. An additional 100,000 people were displaced when former US President Donald Trump’s administration opted to allow Turkey’s military to attack Syrian Kurdish fighters receiving US support against IS.

More than 500,000 people have been killed since broad swaths of Syria’s population rose up against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. The Assad regime cracked down hard, killing protesters en masse and initiating a civil war that now stretches in its 10th year.

The United States intervened militarily in 2014 to fight IS. Now, two years after the jihadist pseudo-caliphate surrendered its last territory to the coalition, US forces continue to train Syrian Kurdish-led militias and Iraqi security forces to maintain stability and hunt down jihadist cells.

Facilities used by the remaining US forces in neighboring Iraq have repeatedly been hit by harassing rocket fire, and more recently by precision drone strikes, by suspected Iran-backed militias.

Earlier on Monday, Biden authorized airstrikes on three Iran-backed militia targets in Iraq and Syria in an attempt to deter further attacks.

The endgame for US troops in Syria is not clear. The United States insists that the Assad regime must make substantial political reforms before pressure on his government is released, but the regime — backed by Russia’s military since 2015 — has not signaled outward willingness to comply.

US troops at the isolated al-Tanf base in Syria’s southeastern desert also inhibit Iran-backed militia movement into the country.

Though largely defeated in battle in Syria and Iraq, IS affiliates continue to gain strength in sub-Saharan Africa, a problem that Italy’s foreign minister today called “alarming.”


The Takeaway: US looks to Gulf to help break deadlock in Nile Dam dispute

was in Saudi Arabia,上海夜生活论坛 Qatar an上海品茶网d the United Arab Emirates last week to de-escalate a potential conflict between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Samuel Ramani has the background here on why the UAE — which has strong ties with all three countries — is emerging as a key diplomatic broker and partner in this effort.

Why it matters: For Ethiopia, the GERD offers hope of a boost for its economic and energy development, potentially positioning it as an electricity exporter in the region. For Egypt, the Nile is vital in another way, providing over 95% of its water needs; Sudan, too, depends on Nile water. Both countries are concerned about water supply disruptions from the dam and have called for an internationally brokered arrangement for the management of its water flow. Mohamed Saied reports here on the high anxiety in Egypt over recent develop上海夜生活论坛 Qatar an上海品茶网ments, and Abdulla Kadry reports on a new “popular front” to protect Egypt’s access to Nile River water.

Benchmarks: Ethiopia holds elections June 21, which will be a referendum on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s policies. The elections had been delayed from August 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The GERD is a hot nationalist issue; Abiy can’t be seen as buckling to pressure. Ethiopia is threatening to go ahead with the second filling of the GERD in July, a phased process taking at least five years to fill the dam and make it operational. The decision has sparked concern in Egypt and Sudan that the Nile’s water flow would be disrupted again this summer.

Realignment: The GERD dispute is linked to a realignment in the Horn of Africa. Abiy, who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, is aligned with Eritrea in suppressing unrest in the Tigray region, which is becoming a regional conflict. Military operations by Ethiopian, Eritrean and proxy forces have been condemned for huma上海夜生活论坛 Qatar an上海品茶网n rights abuses by the United States and the international community. The conflict has at times spilled over into Sudan. In addition to this newfound partnership with Eritrea, Ahmed Gomaa reports that Ethiopia plans to build military bases in the Red Sea. Muhammed Magdy writes here about how the Nile dispute correlates with Egypt expanding its own regional security network; Cairo recently concluded a military agreement with Kenya, in addition to expanded security ties with Sudan, Uganda and Burundi.

Final word: The risk of military conflict over the dam may be low, but the Nile dispute is high stakes for all three parties. A diplomatic, face-saving offramp may be in the making, perhaps after the Ethiopian elections. There is also a chance the dispute could end up at the Security Council, but the parties and mediators may prefer a regionally driven mediation, with US engagement Meanwhile, the crisis has spurred Egypt to consider new approaches to water management, including via contacts with China, as George Mikhail reports.

Erdogan’s make-or-break meeting with Biden

As NATO heads of state flock to Brussels for the alliance’s annual summit next week, all eyes will be on President Joe Biden and his Turkish coun上海夜生活论坛 Qatar an上海品茶网terpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Topping the agenda for their long-anticipated June 14 meeting is the persistent friction over Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400s and the country’s subsequent expulsion from the American F-35 joint strike fighter program. The two leaders also are expected to discuss the Biden administration’s support for Kurdish forces in Syria and Washington’s refusal to extradite Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

The Turkish leader has a tricky balancing act ahead of him. As Metin Gurcan writes, “Erdogan remains squeezed between an imposing need for a thaw in his fraught ties with Washington and the task of selling it to his fold at home, where anti-American sentiment is running high, not least because he has often fueled it himself.”

Turkey’s ‘killer robots’ in Libya

A new United Nations report says combatants in Libya’s civil war were “hunted down and remotely engaged” by artificial intelligence-equipped armed drones likely deployed by Turkey.

Military sources confirmed to Metin Gurcan that the Turkish-built Kargu-2 drones were operating in Libya, where Ankara provided military support to the Tripoli-based Government of National A上海夜生活论坛 Qatar an上海品茶网ccord (since supplanted by the Government of National Unity). The sources, however, denied the drones relied on AI to select and hit targets and instead they claimed that on-the-ground operators — humans, in other words — made the decisions to strike.

The UN report “was met with nationalist euphoria in Turkey’s pro-government media, which lauded Kargu-2 as further proof of how far the domestic defense industry has progressed under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.” Outside of Turkey, the debate continues over whether such lethal autonomous weapons should be banned from war.

Lapid, not Bennett, holds the strings

Right-wing Yamina leader Naftali Bennett is gearing up to serve as Israel’s next prime minister, but it’s Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, not Bennett, who will be the ultimate arbiter in Israel’s new government.

“He has concentrated enormous power in his own hands,” Mazal Mualem writes of Lapid. Under the proposed rotation deal, Lapid will first serve as alternate prime minister and foreign minister. But like Bennett, he too will have veto power over governme上海夜生活论坛 Qatar an上海品茶网nt decisions and together they will call the shots. The arrangement is pretty remarkable, given that Bennett campaigned on how dangerous Lapid is.

The Knesset on Sunday will decide the fate of the new government, with the coalition against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at least as of publication time, expected to prevail with a razor-thin majority.

Israeli Arabs split on Ra’am head Abbas

The inclusion of the Mansour Abbas-led Ra’am, an independent Arab party, in Israel’s emerging new government is historic. But are Arab Israeli voters impressed?

As Afif Abu Much explains, some fear a dangerous precedent has been set by Abbas’ singular focus on narrow if vital issues for Israel’s Arab community, such as pushing for the recognition of Bedouin villages in the Negev region.

It remains to be seen how much influence Abbas can wield in the eight-faction governing coalition, but for some supporters, the Ra’am party leader has at least succeeded in ending Netanyahu’s “Wild West treatment of Arab citizens of Israel.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Jews and Arabs are not giving up on coexistence after the violence in mixed cities last month, as Abu Much reports here.

Gaza’s reconstruction off to a slow start

The Gaza Strip has a long road ahead to recovery, after more than a week of fighting between Israel and Hamas reduced parts of the already impoverished Palestinian enclave to rubble.

Rasha Abou Jalal has this analysis on how competition between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas over reconstruction funds could slow the rebuilding process.

At the same time, unnamed Hamas sources in Lebanese media are threatening that the militant group will resume fighting if Israel prevents Qatari aid from reaching Gaza, writes Hana Salah.

As residents of the coastal enclave continue picking up the pieces from last month’s 11-day conflict, Taghreed Ali tells how many Gazan women are making ends meet by selling handcrafted goods on social media. And Mai Abu Hasaneen reports from Gaza’s beaches, where thousands of residents flocked after the recent fighting ended despite high water pollution levels and fears of COVID-19 spread.

What we’re reading: ‘Midnight in Cairo’

Raphael Cormack chronicles the stories of enterprising women, including vaudeville star Rose al-Youssef and nightclub singer Mounira al-Mahdiyya, who revolutionized Egypt’s entertainment industry in the early 20th century in his new book “Midnight in Cairo,” which tells the stories of Egyptian women who were “demanding to be heard as they asserted their wishes, claimed their rights, and made space for themselves.” Check back next week for Andrew’s podcast with Cormack.

One cool thing: Egyptian relics in Saudi Arabia

Long-lost artifacts dating back to the era of Egypt’s King Ramses III could be buried in Saudi Arabia, Hagar Hosny writes. Archaeologists have already uncovered in northern Saudi Arabia some evidence of Egyptian trade, including Ramses’ hieroglyphic inscriptions. With an excavation planned for November, the archaeologists are hoping to shed light on the pharaohs who sent trade missions to the Arabian Peninsula more than 3,000 years ago.

What we’re listening to: Al-Monitor interviews Israel’s Lapid, Bennett

If all goes as planned, an unlikely coalition of Israeli parties will bring an end to Netanyahu’s 12-year rule on Sunday. In case you missed them, and even if you didn’t, check out Ben Caspit’s podcasts from last year with the prime minister in waiting, Naftali Bennett, and the man who orchestrated Netanyahu’s political downfall, opposition leader Yair Lapid.