south front

Syria’s Players Try To Seize The Day Amid Global Gaza Distraction
South Front, May 14 2021

In the Middle East, many are attempting to make moves and forward their interests while the world is focused on escalation in the West Bank. One such case is the US and its attempts to move its forces in northeastern Syria. On May 13, a unit of the Russian Military Police intercepted a US military convoy in the region, which is controlled by the Kurdish SDF. Reportedly, the US military violated the existing mechanisms for conflict avoidance and moved without prior notice towards the Russian forces. There was no scuffle, but the large US military unit was forced to withdraw by the small group of Russian military personnel, who ensured the safety of traffic along the M4 highway. Washington’s forces, however, are receiving reinforcements. SANA reported the entry of a convoy comprising of 55 vehicles in the Hasaka countryside. The trucks were loaded with hidden materials; and there were refrigerated tankers and carriers, accompanied by a number of armored vehicles. The convoy was heading towards the Rmelan camp, where the US already has heavy equipment. The US-backed SDF remain active in the northeastern region, and have carried out an operation against ISIS. On May 13th, the SDF dismantled an ISIS cell and arrested 39 terrorists. The SDF said they also seized a large number of weapons and documents from the terror group.

It was a busy week for the Kurdish force, as it claimed that it had captured 14 ISIS members just two days earlier. Expectedly, ISIS responded by attacking an SDF checkpoint, and a vehicle of the Kurdish fighters. According to reports, 1 fighter was injured and 1 was killed. While the US attempts to dig in and reinforce its positions, and the SDF is attempting to contain ISIS on its own, Russia is making an effort to contain the movements of the “moderate opposition” in Greater Idlib and Lattakia. Late on May 12, Russian airstrikes targeted militants’ positions near the town of Tardin in the northern Lattakia countryside, as well as in the vicinity of the town of Knaddah in the western countryside of Idlib. A few hours prior to the airstrikes, the Syrian Arab Army hit a military vehicle near the town of Bidama in the western Idlib countryside with an anti-tank guided missile. These operations are necessary, due to the frequent violations by militant groups in Greater Idlib. While the situation in Israel shows no sign of slowing down, many throughout the Middle East, and even further away will try to use the chance to pursue their own goals, as it is clear to see in Syria.

Israel Initially Confirms, Then Denies Ground Troops Entered Gaza
South Front, May 14 2021

Beginning from the evening of May 13, there’s been conflicting reports of whether a ground invasion is going on in Gaza. Initially, the IOF confirmed there are “troops on the ground.” Netanyahu stated:

I said that we will exact a very heavy price from Hamas, we are doing this, and we will continue to do so. The last word has not been said, and this operation will continue as long as necessary.

Then, it was denied that the troops were in Gaza, but rather simply along the border fence, carrying out strikes on various locations in the West Bank. IOF spox Conricus said the country was “prepared for various scenarios,” describing a ground offensive as “one scenario.”

The IOF is carrying out a heavy airstrike and ground bombardment.

Essentially, Israel’s military attempted to walk back on some initial statements, claiming they were mistranslated to the AFP, confirming that “ground troops” are now involved in operations at the border but that the “invasion” has yet to begin inside the Gaza Strip. The IOF “air and ground troops are currently attacking in the Gaza Strip,” the Israel ministry of military affairs tweeted late Thursday. Hamas had earlier warned Tel Aviv of a “heavy response” if it launched any incursion, following many days of airstrikes against the enclave. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz though sent 9k reservists to the occupied territories’ border with Gaza in an “exceptional call-up,” the AP reported. It had earlier been reported that 5k reservists had been dispatched to the border area. It was not clear if there was any overlap between the two numbers. Amid Hamas’ warning, however, the Israeli military later denied having moved into Gaza. According to the Times of Israel, it said:

There are currently no IOF ground troops inside the Gaza strip. IOF air and ground forces are carrying out strikes on targets in the Gaza strip.

So far, according to latest reports, at least 109 Palestinians, including 28 children, have been killed in the Israeli attacks. Many world leaders have condemned the violence and urged restraint, and a visit by Egyptian security officials was a significant development in international efforts to bring about a ceasefire. The officials have held separate meetings with Hamas and the Israelis, AP cited two Egyptian intelligence officials as saying. Israel rejects any ceasefire attempts and continues its offensive, possibly preparing a ground invasion. The UNSC will publicly discuss the worsening violence between Israel and Palestinian militants on Sunday, diplomats said after the United States earlier objected to a meeting on Friday. Antonio Guterres tweeted:

Too many innocent civilians have already died. This conflict can only increase radicalization and extremism in the whole region.

Vive La Démocratie: France Bans Pro-Palestinian Protests
South Front, May 14 2021

On May 13, France imposed a ban on pro-Palestine demonstrations amid the escalating situation in the West Bank. This is allegedly due to concerns that previous clashes and riots that took place in Paris over half a decade ago could happen again. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Twitter:

Serious disturbances to public order were noted in 2014. Instructions were given to the Prefects to be particularly vigilant and firm.

Darmanin recalled that he had directed Paris police to ban the demonstrations planned on May 8 against Israel’s conduct on Temple Mount. Elsa Faucillon, a communist party senator who has been at the forefront of condemning the French government’s silence to Israeli attacks against Palestinians, called the justification for the move bizarre. She said:

Demonstrating is a right that you should be the guarantor of. And in this case, given the silence of our country on the reasons for the attacks, it even seems a duty to me.

Darmanin’s statement came in the wake of a last minute cancellation of a national rally organized by the France Palestine Solidarity Association (AFPS) on May 12. In a statement, the AFPS said demonstrators gathered outside the Invalides metro station in Paris had also been fined.

These facts are totally unacceptable and show that this power is trying by all means to prevent our voices of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

The group demanded the government “put an end to these repeated and scandalous attacks on freedom of expression and demonstration.” It has since vowed to hold gatherings across various cities and towns in France in the coming days to pressure France to act to “protect Palestinians in Jerusalem.” More than 60 French MPs wrote to President Emmanuel Macron to initiate large-scale diplomatic action to reiterate to Israeli authorities Palestinians’ right to live in East Jerusalem, the letter said. France, along with Germany, Egypt and Jordan, is pushing Israel and Palestine to resume dialogue to de-escalate the ongoing deadly conflict, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced in the Senate. As such, the country famous for its democracy and protests has quickly turned to denying those fundamental rights.

US Continues Blocking UNSC Statements On West Bank Hostilities
South Front, May 14 2021

On May 12, the UNSC tried to hold a second emergency meeting on the escalating situation in the West Bank between Israel and Gaza. A joint statement wasn’t agreed due to opposition from the US. According to several sources, 14 of the 15 members of the SC were in favour of adopting a joint declaration aimed at reducing tension. However, the US saw the SC meeting as a sufficient show of concern, diplomats told AFP on condition of anonymity, and did not think a statement would “help de-escalate” the situation. An anonymous CNA source said:

The US has been actively engaged in diplomacy behind the scenes with all parties, and across the region, to seek to de-escalate the situation. At this stage, a Council statement would be counterproductive.

A diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity:

The Palestinians have asked for a public meeting, to try to contribute to peace, and to have a SC able to express itself and to call for ceasefire.

Such a meeting could be organized as early as May 14, by China, which currently presides over the SC. In Washington, Blinken announced that a US envoy would travel to the Middle East to seek to calm tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. After the US move to block a SC statement, four SC members from Europe (Norway, Estonia, France and Ireland) issued their own joint statement saying.

We condemn the firing of rockets from Gaza against civilian populations in Israel by Hamas and other militant groups which is totally unacceptable and must stop immediately. The large numbers of civilian casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza, are both worrying and unacceptable. We call on Israel to cease settlement activities, demolitions and evictions, including in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour published a letter to the organization’s top officials in which he pleaded with them to “act with immediacy to demand that Israel cease its attacks against the Palestinian civilian population, including in the Gaza Strip.” He also called for them to demand that Israel “cease all other illegal Israeli actions and measures in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, including a halt to plans to forcibly displace and ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the City.” UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland had warned in the meeting, according to a diplomatic source:

The situation has deteriorated since Monday. There is a risk of a spiral of violence.

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