French foreign minister visits Lebanon
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrived in Beirut on July 11 for a two-day visit aimed at resolving the presidential vacuum in Lebanon. Ayrault held talks on the current stalemate in the country with politicians across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, his counterpart Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai and a delegation from Hezbollah. The visit comes in the wake of talks Ayrault held in Paris last month with the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia, two Middle East regional powers that back opposing candidates for the presidency in Lebanon. Before departing, the French foreign minister also reiterated his country’s commit- ment to helping Lebanon overcome economic, social and security challenges stemming from the war in neighboring Syria. Ayrault’s trip fol- lows an official visit made by French President Francois Hollande to Lebanon in April.
Outcry over police treatment of Syrians in Amchit
The Interior Ministry launched an investigation on July 13 after several photos were released on social media that seemed to show Lebanese police officers humiliating Syrian workers in the north-
ern Lebanese town of Amchit. The photos depicted police on an unknown night searching the group of men, who were forced to lie down on the ground or kneel facing a wall. Massive outcry fol- lowed on social media, with users accusing Lebanon’s security forces of racism, and denouncing the curfews imposed on Syrians by many municipalities in the country. A march took place from Achrafieh to the Interior Ministry headquarters in Hamra on July 19, where around 200 marchers protested against the collective punishment of Syrians residing in the country. Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk later admitted that some municipalities were overstepping their authority and ordered them to stop the abusive security practices. Lebanon hosts an estimated 1.1 million Syrians across the country and has also witnessed an uptick in hate crimes directed at Syrians following eight suicide bombings that targeted the border town of AlQaa last month.
Rebel-held Aleppo under siege
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights re- ported on July 17 that Syrian government forces, along with allies from Hezbollah, closed the vital Castello Road leading into Aleppo, effectively putting rebel-held areas of the city under siege. Rebel forces’ attempts to counterattack and reopen the supply route thus far have failed. Fierce fighting in the area continues as goods, medical supplies and food become scarce and prices skyrocket. Approximately 300,000 people are currently living in besieged eastern Aleppo, which was once the country’s most populous city. A top opposition official warned that the rebel- held side of the city now only has three months worth of food supplies to feed the populace and that in response, a system of rationing had been put in place. Siege and starvation have been a common tactic employed by opposing groups in the civil war, with the UN estimating that 600,000 Syrians are currently living in besieged areas.
Terror attack in Nice
On July 14, a man used a truck to plow into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in France’s Nice, killing 84 people. The brutality of the attack on France’s national holiday sent shock waves through the country, which had just recently finished hosting the 2016 European Football Championship under massive security measures. French authorities later said that the driver of the 19-ton truck, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who was shot and killed by police, had been planning the attack for months and was working with at least five accomplices. The attack has led to an extension of the state of emergency in France, which was put in place in reaction to the growing number of terrorist attacks in the country. In the most violent incident, a series of attacks claimed by ISIS rocked Paris on November 13, 2015, killing 130 people in a string of coordinated bombings and shootings around the French capital.
Failed coup further destabilizes Turkey
An attempt by elements within the Turkish military and police on July 15 to depose the country’s democratically elected government failed after the country’s president was able to rally the country’s citizens and security forces to put down the uprising. The coup unfolded late at night on July 15 as dissident military units captured vital bridges connecting the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, jets and helicopters bombarded Turkish parliament and the headquarters of the country’s intelligence service in the capital Ankara, and a declaration of martial law and the drafting of a new constitution were declared on Turkish state TV. However, a raid by commandos to capture or kill Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the resort town of Marmaris failed. Erdogan, who escaped the villa a reported 30 minutes before the attack, returned on a flight to Istanbul and called on citizens to resist the coup attempt. In the violence that followed, more than 200 people were killed and thou- sands were injured. After the government managed to regain control of the country in the following 48 hours, President Erdogan denounced the coup attempt as a plot by his former ally, US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who runs schools across Turkey and whose followers are thought to number in the millions. In the week following the failed uprising, Turkey’s government has purged thousands from the military and state institutions for alleged links to Gulen and publicly demanded the extradition of the cleric from the US. The reaction by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party has sparked worry in Western governments that Erdogan will use the coup attempt as a pretext to further consolidate his party’s authoritarian control over the state. Turkish officials have suggested that the country may bring back the death penalty, and on July 21, parliament approved a bill that declared a state of emergency in the country and partially suspended Turkey’s participation from the European Convention on Human Rights.