The Syrian conflict, which has always drawn in outside forces – threatened to also become a war between states.
The Turkish advance, across the border, down into the Afrin region, edged closer to the town of Afrin in a bid to destroy Syrian Kurdish forces. A month into their ‘Operation Olive Branch’ (Zeytin Dali Harekati) the Turks are now positioned to enter the urban areas. But, after a month of prevarication Syria’s President Assad has made a move. The Kurds asked for help – Assad sent pro government forces to reinforce them. They immediately came under what were called ‘warning shots’ fired by Turkish artillery. Assad threatened to send up his air force against the Turks by the Turks but it’s likely the Russians had a quiet word in his ear reminding him about their active presence in the airspace and that at the moment they are trying to keep Russian/Turkish relations cordial.
Next – will the Syrian government forces enter the town – will the Turks try and take it?
Down south Government forces continued their bombardment of eastern Ghouta near the capital, Damascus. Several hundred people were reported killed amid allegations that Assad’s forces were again targeting hospitals. The UN Security Council is attempting to at least limit the suffering, but any temporary lull in the violence has to be seen against the background reality that the Assad regime seems hell bent on regaining all territory lost over the past 7 years.
In America the political fallout from the Florida school shooting the week before continued. President Trump held a listening meeting with students, teachers and families – his concerned demeanor somewhat undermined by a cheat sheet he was holding reminding him to say ‘I hear you’.
The President supported arming some teachers. This drew derision from many quarters, but there is some support for it, especially in some rural areas where the police might be a long way from a school. He also called for improved background checks on gun buyers, raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 – and the banning of ‘bumpstocks’ a system where a semi-automatic weapon is turned into an automatic one.
In Venezuela the opposition said it will boycott next month’s Presidential elections as they will be fraudulent. Most leading opposition members are banned from politics, in jail or in exile. President Maduro said the vote would go ahead come rain, shine, or lightening.
In Germany a new opinion poll put the extreme right AFD party second – ahead of the SPD a party with its roots in the 1860s. It’s an indication of where politics may be going across Europe.
Back in the Middle East Saudi Arabia offered another $1 billion toward the effort to rebuild Iraq. This was on top of the $500 million pledged at the Kuwait conference the week before.
The Kingdom also rose in this year’s Transparency International corruption index. It stands at 57th out of 180. At number 1 – least corrupt – New Zealand, 180 – Somalia. The UK was ranked 8th, the USA 16th, the UAE was the least corrupt country in the Middle East at 21.
From corruption to incompetence: In Britain Kentucky Fried Chicken ran out of – chicken! It switched delivery contractors to DHL and promptly had to close 2/3rds of its stores for several days. There’s more than a kernel of truth in that story.