Assad regime forces have escalated their assault on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, Jobar. The push-back comes after various opposition groups captured several government controlled areas around Damascus’ center throughout the past summer. In southern Syria, Israeli forces responded to ‘errant fire’ that struck the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights byattacking a Syrian army base. The Israeli attack comes a week after Syrian opposition groups, including Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, captured 45 UN peacekeepers at a crossing point on the Syrian-Israeli border. Meanwhile, advances by the Islamic State in the northeast of Syria have led to increased criticism of the regime by Assad loyalists. After the loss of Tabqa Airbase in Al-Raqqa province to the Islamic State and the consequent mass execution of captured regime soldiers, Syrian social media saw a spike in uncommonly sharp criticism of the regime from long-time regime loyalists. On Sunday, regime forces struck Islamic State targets in Al-Raqqa, killing 31 and wounding dozens.
In the past week, the Islamic State has beheaded both an American journalist and two captive Lebanese soldiers. The beheading of American journalist Steven Sotloff is the second beheading of an American journalist. Both American beheadings were meant as a response to American airstrikes in Iraq against the Islamic State. The Lebanese soldiers, Ali al-Sayyed and Abbas Medlej, were beheaded in protest of Islamist prisoners being held in Lebanon. In both cases, the Islamic State threatened further executions should their demands not be met.
British Prime Minister David Cameron suggested Thursday that the UK could strike the Islamic State in Syria without the Assad regime’s permission, calling the Syrian government illegitimate because it has committed war crimes against the Syrian people. Cameron did, however, emphasize the importance of a regional coalition in any such strikes, and hinted at providing arms and training to Kurdish forces. Cameron’s statements come after announcements by US officials last week that the US is considering various military options inside of Syria against the Islamic State. While these options include airstrikes, officials emphasized no decision has been made beyond the current US airstrikes in Iraq. The moderate Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), has called on the US and the international community to carry out strikes in Syria against the Islamic State. Reports have emerged, however, that US officials advised the SNC to make such a call.
Opposition and members of the government’s national dialogue committee signed an agreement last Thursday on the national dialogue and constitutional process with the African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP). The document was signed by members of two rebel groups, Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF), and the National Umma Party (NUP), as well as government representatives. Sudan’s ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP), called the agreement an important step towards the conference, and the SRF deemed the agreement a “qualitative shift” because it adopts several positions agreed to by the SRF and the NUP. The same day, however, Sudan barred an opposition figure from the National Consensus Forces (NCF) from traveling to the talks between the government and opposition in Ethiopia.
On Friday, demonstrators in East Darfur called for the abolition of the East Darfur statewhile the government called on protesters to accept the new government. In South Darfur, two women and four children were killed in a government raid on an IDP camp. The raid is within the framework of the government’s emergency order imposed on the area over two months ago. The deputy secretary-general of the refugees’ and IDPs’ union in Darfur, Adam Abdallah, reported protests after the raid against Darfur’s joint peacekeeping mission (UNAMID), and announced that IDPs will hold a major demonstration against government security raids. In South Darfur’s Kalma IDP camp, a Hepatitis E outbreak has killed 150 people and infected 500 more. Meanwhile, rebels from the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Abdel Wahid al-Nur (SLM-AW) attacked and killed 17 government troops in North Darfur on Sunday.
New York times journalist Nicholas Kristof has released a UNICEF document revealing much higher levels of malnutrition in Sudan, and particularly Darfur, than previously thought. Some have accused the UN of deliberately underreporting the humanitarian crisis in Darfur to appease the Sudanese government in Khartoum. A UN independent expert on the human rights situation in Sudan, Mashood Adebayo Baderin, resigned last Thursday after coming under pressure from unspecified groups to approach his mandate differently than he wished to.
The process to implement a ceasefire signed in January between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) dominated government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A in Opposition) has run into several challenges. The leader of opposition political party United Sudan Africa Party (USAP) asked President Kiir to dissolve the government delegation to the peace negotiations because of disunity among its members. Tensions rose between the government and SPLM/A in Opposition in the last week of August due to a dispute over whether or not the SPLM/A in Opposition signed an agreement to implement the January ceasefire. The government and the East African regional organization overseeing the talks, IGAD, say that both parties signed the agreement, while the SPLM/A in Opposition claims that they refused to sign the agreement because it was forced on them. In a separate development, rebels have accepted the presence of Ugandan troops in South Sudan until a regional peacekeeping force is deployed.
A ceasefire monitor died of a heart attack after an unspecified number of monitors were detained by rebels in the north. The chief mediator from IGAD called the detention of the monitors a violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement. A UN helicopter was also shot down on August 26. Repeated violations of the January ceasefire have already promptedthreats of sanctions from the United Nations Security Council, and now a group of more than 30 South Sudanese and international organizations have called on IGAD to establish an arms embargo due to both sides’ widespread human rights abuses. The Netherlands announced Thursday that they would be cutting aid to the South Sudanese government because of its human rights violations.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan continues to grow. The United Nations is working to determine the full scope of the food crisis. Security concerns are preventing the UN from gathering data in some areas of the country, and the rainy season is impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid. Officials believe that the country could reach famine by the end of the year. Additionally, the fatal disease kala azar is on the rise as a cholera outbreak seems to be winding down. Britain announced last Tuesday that it will send another $50 million in humanitarian aid to the country.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported renewed violence in the capital of the Central African Republic and throughout the country in late August. Fighting erupted in the capital between international forces and armed men on August 19 and 20. Violence also broke out between two factions of the same armed group in Bambari on August 25 and 26. Inter-communal violence that began on August 21 in Bangui has caused casualties and the displacement of hundreds. Last Wednesday, ex-Seleka rebels stormed a base of MISCA, the African Union peacekeeping force in CAR. At least five people were killed in the attack.
On Sunday, August 31, the ex-Seleka expelled three of its members serving in the new government which aims to end the violence between Christian and Muslim militias and communities. Several hundred of the ex-Seleka withdrew to the north from the capital the following day. The decision to expel by the ex-Seleka to expel its members serving in the government, coupled with the outbreak of violence throughout the country since late August, has caused many to doubt the viability of the new cabinet and will likely delay elections scheduled for February.
The ICRC announced Thursday that they have supplied aid to more than 14,000 people in the north-central Kaga Bandaro area. The aid distribution began at the beginning of August and was completed Wednesday. UNICEF also ramped up its aid distribution in CAR throughout August.
Burma’s Union Election Commission announced yesterday that it is cancelling by-electionsscheduled for later this year. The by-elections were meant to fill 35 empty parliamentary seats. Several opposition political parties have welcomed the decision because it has given them more time to focus on the upcoming 2015 general elections.
Two armed ethnic groups that have previously resisted joining the nationwide ceasefire have agreed to sign a peace deal with President Thein Sein’s government. The two groups, United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) from eastern Shan state, are not members of the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of 16 armed ethnic groups that has been negotiating the ceasefire deal thus far. A separate rebel group, the Karen National Union (KNU) has suspended its membership in another rebel coalition engaged in ceasefire talks with the government, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). The KNU’s chairman and several of his subordinates walked out of internal talks being held by the the UNFC in Thailand. The walkout comes in the wake of rising tension between the KNU and its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA).
Last week saw several major protests in Burma. On Tuesday, hundreds of university students protested a proposed law that they say facilitates the centralization of the country’s institutions of higher learning, curtailing efforts to make them more autonomous. On Friday, roughly 3,000 farmers in Shan state gathered to protest commercial mining operations. The farmers say that mining has permanently damaged waterways and farmland that they depend on.
On Saturday, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong, announced that Vietnam would be establishing deeper ties with the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) of Burma. This included economic and cultural cooperation as well as people-to-people exchange. Inside Burma, leaders of the Rakhine state rebuffed offers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a group of 57 Islamic states, to supply humanitarian aid to the state. Rakhine state has been the site of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims over the past two years, leaving 280 dead and tens of thousands displaced.