Tony Iltis

An ISIS attack on May 2 near the Rajim Salibi border crossing between Iraq and Syria left 37 refugees dead and at least 20 injured. Victims were as young as three months. “The attack was repelled [by] the intervention by Syrian Democratic Forces [SDF] fighters,” Firat News Agency reported.

Most of the refugees were fleeing the Iraqi city of Mosul, which for months has been the scene of heavy fighting as Western, Russian, Iranian, Iraqi government forces and allied militias try to retake the city from ISIS.

Turkish war planes launched air strikes against Syria and Iraq on April 24.

For months local and foreign forces have been closing in on the main ISIS strongholds: the cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. Turkey is a NATO member and recognised as an ally against ISIS by the US-led coalition of Western powers in Iraq and Syria, that includes Australia.

But the Turkish air strikes did not target ISIS. Instead, they were aimed at the terror group’s most consistent opponents — left-wing Kurdish-led revolutionary forces.

United States warships in the Mediterranean Sea launched a large cruise missile strike against government-held airfields in Syria on April 7. They fired about 60 Tomahawk missiles on the Shayrat air base near Homs in central Syria as the US government called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to be removed from power.

The attacks were a response to a chemical weapons attack three days earlier in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province that killed more than 70 civilians, including at least 27 children. 

After Turkish forces took the previously ISIS-held town of al-Bab on February 23, clashes have intensified in northern Syria between Turkish forces and local proxies occupying an enclave in northern Syria, on one hand, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the other.

The SDF is an alliance of progressive armed groups — the largest of which are Kurdish-based Peoples Defence Units (YPG) and Women’s Defence Units (YPJ) — that is subordinate to the grassroots democratic structures of the Democratic Federation of North Syria.

Since the January 21 inauguration of US President Donald Trump, Israel has approved the construction of 8000 new homes for Jewish Israeli settlers in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1967. This represents a significant rise in the rate of illegal settlement building.

There has also been a rise in the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes and land confiscations, both in the territories occupied in 1967 and in those that have been within the Israeli state since 1948.

The federal Coalition government has unleashed robots to illegally extort $4.5 billion from poor people. The money for politicians’ perks, tax dodging by the rich and corporate hand-outs — such as the $1 billion dollars given to coal giant Adani — has to come from somewhere.

New international talks aimed at ending the Syrian conflict may be unlikely to succeed, but they do mark shifts in the alignment of competing forces.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted on December 31 to support a ceasefire in Syria that started the previous day. The latest round of international peace talks are scheduled for January 23 in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

Syria’s five-year-old war is reaching a turning point. In the north and west, ISIS is on the back foot. Its territory is declining, as it is in Iraq.

But as with Iraq, the defeat of ISIS is likely to create new conflict over what comes next.

The north-eastern Syrian city of Aleppo has since 2012 been divided between the city’s west, held by the regime of beleaguered dictator Bashar al-Assad, and its east, held by a fractious coalition of predominantly Islamist rebel groups.

The victory of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the November 2015 national elections in Burma (Myanmar) was hailed by Western leaders as heralding a new era of democracy and respect for human rights in the country.

Once isolated by sanctions imposed on the pretext of the widespread human rights abuses by previous military regimes, Burma is now a profitable destination for Western investment. By September, the US had lifted its last remaining sanctions.

French authorities announced their operation to demolish “the Jungle”, the makeshift refugee settlement in the northern French port of Calais, was completed on October 26, with refugees bussed to government-controlled centres dispersed throughout France.

But this claim was contradicted by chaotic scenes of the camp in flames and more than 1600 unaccompanied minors being excluded from the transfer to other camps. All the while, British and French politicians bickered over whose responsibility they were.

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