Archive for October 11th, 2016

Turkey renews OK for military operations in Syria, Iraq

October 01, 2016

ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkey’s state-run news agency says parliament has extended by another year a motion allowing cross-border military operations into Syria and Iraq against Kurdish militants and the Islamic State group.

The resolution, first passed in 2014, was renewed on Saturday, the first and only item on the parliament’s agenda on the first day of the new legislative year. The state-run Anadolu Agency says it will remain in force until October 30, 2017.

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party voted against the bill, while the other three parties in parliament approved it. Turkey sent troops and tanks into Syria in August to help Syrian opposition rebels re-take Islamic State group strongholds near the border and curb the advance of Syrian Kurdish militia, which are affiliated with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish rebels.

Turkey, Qatar send 250 tons of flour to Syria

October 8, 2016

Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH, and the Sheikh Thani bin Abdullah Foundation for Humanitarian Services, RAF have sent 250 tons of flour to war-torn Syria, the IHH secretary general said on Friday.

A 50-truck convoy departed from Turkey’s southern border province of Hatay and headed to Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib provinces, IHH Secretary General Yavuz Dede said.

Last month, a UN aid convoy was attacked as it was about to enter Aleppo, where 275,000 civilians need humanitarian assistance.

The attack in Urum al-Kubra, west of Aleppo, killed the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, as well as aid staff and drivers in a 31-truck convoy.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when the regime of Bashar al-Assad cracked down on pro-democracy protests.

The Syrian Center for Policy Research, a Beirut-based NGO, has put the total death toll from the five-year conflict at more than 470,000.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161008-turkey-qatar-send-250-tons-of-flour-to-syria/.

As Islamic State is pushed out of northern Syria, those fleeing militants elsewhere flood in

Wed Oct 5, 2016

By Khalil Ashawi

AL-RAI, SYRIA

On a road in northern Syria, a rebel fighter signals to a group of men, women and children traipsing across barren fields to put their hands in the air. He pats them down and inspects their phones, trying to determine whether they are Islamic State sympathizers.

The group — two families from the town of Tel Afar near Mosul in Iraq — are part of a rising tide of people flooding into northern Syria, fleeing deteriorating conditions and conflict in the parts of Iraq and Syria still controlled by Islamic State as operations to crush the militants gather pace.

“Praise god we were only three days on the road,” said one of those stopped, one of two brothers traveling with their wives and children. “There are people who take them a month and more.”

The two families paid $32,000 to smugglers who took them to the edge of Islamic State territory in north Syria — around 500 km (310 miles) — inside oil tankers.

From there they walked the final 25 km (15 miles) to arrive at a Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel checkpoint just outside the town of al-Rai on the Turkish border, an area of northwestern Syria purged of Islamic State by Turkey and its Syrian rebel allies in August.

“We were in the oil tanker for more than nine hours. The women fainted from the heat and lack of oxygen,” said the brother, asking not to be named to protect relatives back home.

“The children were given medicine to make them sleep so they would not wake when Daesh (Islamic State) members tapped the tanks at checkpoints to make sure nobody was inside,” he said.

In a long-anticipated operation aimed at delivering a killer blow to the militants in Iraq, Iraqi forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition could launch an operation to oust them from their stronghold of Mosul as soon as the second half of October.

The anticipated attack has caused a spike in people leaving the surrounding area since May, according to a U.N.-affiliated body which monitors population movement inside Syria but which asked not to be named to protect its workers.

“They (Islamic State) kill us every day,” said the brother, who said he aims to cross into Turkey to join relatives.

“You have to let your beard grow. If you do anything wrong they will fine you 50,000 or 100,000 Iraqi dinars ($85). They fine you constantly.”

While Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias allied to Baghdad’s Shi’ite-dominated government have been a key deterrent against the hardline Sunni militants, they have also aroused fear as they move into areas dominated by Sunni Muslims, such as Tel Afar.

“The militias would consider us to be Daesh (Islamic State) even if I told them that we are civilians,” said the brother.

“We are powerless to escape the double fear of Daesh and the Iranian and Shi’ite militias.”

CLEARED FOR ENTRY

The rebels manning the checkpoints at al-Rai are also wary about who is and isn’t Islamic State. Rebel fighter Abu Muhammad’s job is to clear refugees for entry to the town.

“When we capture a Daesh member from among the fleeing civilians, we interrogate him and try to find out if he has sleeper cells among us,” he said.

“In the event that someone renounces Daesh, we treat him well. If he has family we try to secure them, even if they are still in Daesh territory.”

Arrivals cleared for entry are given aid and free transport out of al-Rai to other rebel-held towns, he said.

Another refugee, a 35-year-old Syrian who gave his name as Muhammad, said he traveled around 50 km (30 miles) from an IS-controlled area near Manbij, a city in northern Syria cleared by a U.S.-backed alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters in August.

He paid smugglers 40,000 Syrian pounds ($80) for each of the four children and two adults who accompanied him on his journey. He said he had no plan for where he was ultimately heading.

“The important thing is just that we left,” he said.

Now in its sixth year, Syria’s civil war has cut the country into a patchwork of territories held by the government and an often competing array of armed factions, including Kurdish militia fighters and a loose coalition of rebel groups.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and 11 million have been displaced — half the country’s prewar population.

The U.N.-affiliated body told Reuters it knows of at least 6,000 people who fled Raqqa, Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, for other parts of Syria in June, July and August.

The majority of these traveled to IS-controlled areas in northwest Aleppo province, getting themselves as close as possible to the border with FSA-controlled territory, with the aim of traveling on to Turkey if possible.

More than 5,500 have also left Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria, the largely IS-controlled province which borders Iraq, the group said. The majority of those headed north to Hasaka province, which is controlled by the Kurdish YPG militia.

Many fleeing Islamic State controlled areas around Mosul in Iraq also head over the border to Hasaka.

Ahmad Khader, 26, from Deir al-Zor, said Islamic State confiscated his identification papers. Members of his group had to pay 25,000 Syrian pounds ($48) per person for the journey to al-Rai, which included walking 40 km (25 miles) by foot.

“It is forbidden to leave territory controlled by Islamic State … most cars on the way were scared to carry us just because we are from Deir al-Zor,” he said.

Wael al-Jassim, 22, paid smugglers 60,000 Syrian pounds ($116) each for himself, his wife and two children to travel from their home in Islamic State territory east of Aleppo.

“I got myself smuggled because there was no work. With or without Daesh, if there is no work how can I feed my family?” he said.

The rebels manning the checkpoints around al-Rai estimated they see at least 3,000 people passing through each day.

“Those fleeing are in a pitiful state,” said Muhammad, the rebel fighter. “They travel long distances and pay large sums of money to smugglers.”

(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Source: Reuters.

Link: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-islamic-state-idUSKCN1251TW.

Muslim Scholars call for worldwide protests for Aleppo

September 28, 2016

The Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) has called on Muslim and Arab nations and on all the “free peoples” to launch a worldwide day of protests on Friday under the slogan #BeAngryForAleppo.

Secretary-General Sheikh Ali Qaradaghi said yesterday that the aim of this campaign is to support the city of Aleppo, which is being “wiped off at the hands of the fascist Syrian regime and its allies in front of the world”, as UN meetings yield no results.

Qaradaghi also called on scholars, preachers and imams to devote Friday’s sermon to addressing Aleppo and its struggle and resolve, and the role that the world should play to support the war-torn city.

He stressed that scholars have to be at the frontline of the angry masses and put pressure to end the injustice and tyranny in Syria and other war-torn countries.

Qaradaghi called on the international community to stop their double standards, stop backing President Bashar Al-Assad, his regime and his allies and to support the Syrian people in their struggle for liberation.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160928-muslim-scholars-call-for-worldwide-protests-for-aleppo/.

Ban Ki-moon: Aleppo worse than a slaughterhouse

September 28, 2016

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today that those using “ever more destructive weapons” in Syria are committing war crimes and that the situation in the Syrian city of Aleppo is worse than a slaughterhouse.

Ki-moon’s comments come days after Britain accused Russia and Syria of committing war crimes, with the US describing Russia’s so-called counter-terrorism operation as “barbarism.”

Washington says the offensive shows that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin have abandoned negotiations in order to seek battlefield victory, turning their backs on an earlier international consensus that no side could win by force.

According to Reuters, Al-Assad’s Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah allies have said in recent days that the war will be won in combat.

The Assad regime began a major offensive to retake Aleppo last week with enormous Russian support, leading to almost 800 civilian deaths in the beleaguered city’s eastern districts, including 200 women and children.

Assad regime pounds hospitals

Earlier today, Russian or Syrian warplanes knocked a major Aleppo hospital out of service and ground forces loyal to President Bashar Al-Assad intensified an assault on the city’s besieged rebel sector, in a battle that has become a potentially decisive turning point in the civil war that is now in its sixth year.

Shelling damaged at least another hospital and a bakery, killing six residents queuing up for bread under a siege that has trapped 250,000 people with food rapidly running out. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said it had reports that both hospitals were now out of service.

The WHO also reported earlier that only 35 doctors remained in eastern Aleppo, with other humanitarian organisations joining the WHO in calling for the sick and wounded to be evacuated to safe zones outside of Aleppo in order to provide urgent medical care.

A variety of munitions have been utilized against areas packed with civilians by Damascus and Moscow, including “vacuum” bombs, bunker-busters and incendiary munitions. The use of any of these weapons against civilian targets is a war crime.

“The warplane flew over us and directly started dropping its missiles … at around 4 am,” Mohammad Abu Rajab, a radiologist at the M10 hospital, the largest trauma hospital in the city’s rebel-held sector, told Reuters, adding “rubble fell in on the patients in the intensive care unit.”

Medical workers at the M10 hospital said its oxygen and power generators were destroyed and patients were transferred to another hospital in the area. There were no initial reports of casualties in the hospital.

Syria’s largest city before the war, Aleppo has been divided for years between government and rebel zones, and would be the biggest strategic prize of the war for Al-Assad and his allies. Taking full control of the city would restore near full government rule over the most important cities of western Syria, where nearly all of the population lived before the start of the war.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20160928-ban-ki-moon-aleppo-worse-than-a-slaughterhouse/.

Syrians speak out about PKK/PYD ‘cruelty’

23.09.2016

A group of Syrians, who said they were forced to join PKK/PYD, fled the terrorist group and sought refuge in the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The Syrian group told Anadolu Agency on Thursday that they had to leave their villages near Kobani town, controlled by PYD, the Syrian wing of the PKK terrorist group, which they reportedly were forced to join under the name of “compulsory military service” after receiving threats.

The Syrians, who wished to be unnamed for the safety of their family who live in PKK/PYD controlled areas, spoke about that they called “the cruelty of the terrorist organizations”.

One of the Syrians said that the terrorist organizations forces at least one member of each family to fight and that it did not give the right to life to people who disobeyed the group.

The Syrian said the leaders of the terrorist organizations took them to an unknown location four days ago and said ‘we will fight against Daesh in Al-Bab’.

“They put us in a completely dark place. We stayed there 1-2 days. Then they took us on a hill and said ‘Al-Bab is right across,'” the Syrian said.

“When the sun was rising we saw the flag belonging to FSA. We decided to run away after we realized the truth,” the Syrian said.

Another Syrian spoke about the PKK/PYD’s persecution of people in the region.

The Syrian said the PKK/PYD told people: “Either you join us or you can not live here.”

“They have animosity, especially against Arabs. Most of our village was Arab. They seized our all assets. They turn the young people into soldiers under the name of ‘compulsory military service,'” the Syrian added.

Another Syrian said PKK/PYD members interfered with freedom of religion and treated pious Muslims who practice their religion “badly”.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: http://aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/syrians-speak-out-about-pkk-pyd-cruelty/651483.

UJ students launch anti-normalization campaign to protest Israel gas deal

By Suzanna Goussous

Oct 09,2016

AMMAN — University of Jordan (UJ) activists on Sunday launched a campaign of anti-normalization activities to engage students in the political and economic aspects of the recent gas deal with Israel.

The campaign will use protests, marches, debates, conferences and talks with political figures to raise students’ political awareness, said Anas Hussein, the spokesperson for the Student Coalition for the Cancellation of the Gas Deal.

“The figures that will be speaking at our events will not belong to one specific party, so we can reach out to a larger number of students and young citizens,” Hussein told The Jordan Times.

He added: “We make up a good percentage of the Jordanian society, which is why we are taking this opportunity to influence and educate the younger generations, starting from the street level and activities held on campus.”

Jordan’s National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) signed a 15-year deal to import gas from Israel in late September, sparking protests across the Kingdom.

Hussein said the gas deal “will mainly affect students and the youths”, adding that “most students are not aware of the fact that more than 30 per cent of their electricity bills will fund the Zionist entity”.

“Our role as activists in universities is to inform other students who do not have much information about the issue,” he added.

The student campaign, the activist said, brought together students from all blocs and political parties, including the Arab Renewal Bloc, the Nashama list, Al Awda list, Ahl Al Himmeh Bloc, Al Quds Committee and students from independent parties.

The first activity for the campaign will take place at the UJ on Tuesday, he said.

“It will be a march from all faculties around the university to the clock tower in the centre of campus. We will be organizing unconventional events and using all available peaceful methods to spread awareness,” Hussein explained.

Over the past week, students at the UJ and the Jordan University of Science and Technology have organised marches and protests on campus demanding the cancellation of the gas deal.

On Sunday, activists around the Kingdom turned off all electrical appliances and lights in their homes for an hour for the second time to demonstrate against the agreement, according to members from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Jordan.

BDS activists also organised a march last week outside NEPCO’s main gate to protest its deal with Israel.

NEPCO officials say the gas deal with Noble Energy would “save Jordan up to $600 million each year”, with around 300 million cubic feet imported by the Kingdom daily.

Noble Energy is a Houston-based company that holds the largest share in the Israeli Leviathan gas field, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel.

In recent remarks, Prime Minister Hani Mulki defended the deal, stressing that this is a matter of national interest.

The premier said Jordan needs to diversify its energy sources for national security reasons, and will continue to find new sources.

Mulki, who served as energy minister in previous Cabinets, said gas is currently considered the cheapest source of energy, noting that it will be constituting 40 per cent of the Kingdom’s energy mix in the coming years, dropping gradually as Jordan starts to utilize other sources, including renewable energy.

Government Spokesperson Mohammad Momani has said it is “extremely shallow” to suggest that Jordan supports the Israeli occupation by signing the gas deal, stressing, however, the need to “put matters in perspective”, since Jordan has signed a peace deal with Israel in 1994 and is engaged in trade with it.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/local/uj-students-launch-anti-normalisation-campaign-protest-israel-gas-deal.