Archive for September, 2017

‘We’re prisoners’: Syrians trapped in SDF camps after escape from IS

Tuesday 22 August

Civilians fleeing the Islamic State (IS) group’s two remaining Syrian strongholds face “horrific conditions” in dozens of poorly equipped camps on the outskirts of Syrian cities.

Many of these camps lack clean water, food and healthcare. Some are run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, according to camp residents. The SDF denies it runs the camps, despite them being in territory under its control.

The fighting in areas where US-backed forces continue to battle IS militants has forced tens of thousands of Syrians from their homes into dozens of camps in Hasakeh and Raqqa provinces.

Many find themselves trapped in terrible conditions.

“Living in an actual prison would have been easier than living in one of these camps,” said Ahmed, who fled his home in Deir Ezzor along with his parents and five brothers and moved to al-Sad camp, also known as Arisha.

Arisha is located in the southern suburbs of Hasakeh and is considered one of the biggest IDP camps housing about 6,000 people.

“We are like prisoners in the camp, not even allowed to leave,” added Ahmed.

In a statement on 14 August, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Syrian civilians in Arisha as well as in dozens of other poorly equipped informal camps face “terrible, terrible conditions”.

“There is one camp called Arisha in Hasakeh governorate. The camp itself used to be an oil refinery, so you see children playing in toxic waste, drinking and bathing in contaminated water,” ICRC spokesperson Ingy Sedky said.

According to Ahmed, six people died in Arisha recently due to rising temperatures and the lack of medical care.

“The ambulance comes to the camp every day because the women and elderly keep falling ill due to the heat, lack of hygiene and an abundance of insects, snakes, and scorpions.”

About 70,000 people are living in such camps, which are often in hard-to-reach locations, complicating aid provision, according to the ICRC.

‘Death Camps’

Mohamed Hassan, a Syrian activist heading the “Death Camps” Campaign, an online initiative launched last week to raise awareness about the conditions in Syrian IDP camps, said that civilians were facing deadly conditions in eight informal camps on the outskirts of Hasakeh and Raqqa, and which are run by the SDF.

“Many Syrians leaving their homes are transferred by SDF members to SDF-run camps which lack any source of water or medical facilities,” Hassan told MEE.

Residents of the eight camps – Rajm Salibi, Arisha, Alhoul and Mabouka in the suburbs of Hasakeh, Ain Eissa and Karama in the suburbs of Raqqa, and Ruwaishid and Rukban near the Iraqi border – reported poor conditions, and said that vital resources, such as medical facilities and food, are lacking, reported the campaigners.

Many well-known Syrian activists, including Lina al-Shamy and others, have joined the Twitter campaign to raise awareness about the issue.

In its report, the ICRC documented that tents at these camps tend to be placed in the middle of the desert, with snakes and scorpions posing a daily threat to the residents. Many of the camps are poorly equipped, lacking basic medical equipment and access to clean water, according to ICRC spokesperson Sedky.

“Most of the camps don’t have doctors on site. They don’t even have bandages, even the simplest things are not available. As a result, the camps’ inhabitants are at risk of chronic diseases,” Sedky said at the time.

Other camps lacked even the most basic items, including tents, with new arrivals sleeping in the open for up to 10 days while waiting for shelter.

The ICRC also reported that around 50 percent of camp residents are children, with intense heat and overcrowding making the conditions even worse.

“At the same time, the sheer number of people arriving every day is adding to the catastrophe,” he added saying that there were about 18,000 people dispersed across the eight camps, all of which lack basic services.

According to ICRC, IDP camps in Syria are cramped with some housing anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 people. And as the fighting has continued, the numbers within the camps have been increasing, the Red Cross said in a statement earlier this month.

Hassan told MEE that one camp was established along the frontlines between the SDF and IS and have therefore been sites where civilians died due to the fighting.

“IS attacked the IDPs in the Rajm Salabi camp last month while it was fighting with SDF and this led to 37 people being killed inside the camp,” said Hassan.

According to the campaign organizers, Rajm Salabi, located in the suburbs of Hasakeh, is run by the SDF and houses about 400 families, most of whom fled their homes in Deir Ezzor.

But SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali told MEE that his forces did not manage any camps across Syria and are “solely preoccupied with fighting IS”.

‘Living in a prison’

After fleeing the violence around his home in Deir Ezzor, Mohamed, 22, was taken by a member of the SDF to the Karama camp in the suburbs of Raqqa and interrogated for hours before being left without a tent.

“We arrived at the camp to find nothing but sand. The women and children were taken to a tent but all the men were left to sit and sleep in the open with nothing to shade us from the heat of the desert,” Mohamed told MEE.

“After that, each one of us was searched and questioned by members of SDF to make sure we weren’t affiliated with IS,” he added.

According to Mohamed, when he tried to leave the camp, members of the SDF would not let him go without paying an extortionate amount of money.

“The SDF wouldn’t let anyone out of the camp unless they were ill or willing to pay a huge sum of money,” said Mohamed.

“For a young man like me, they wanted a huge amount.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syrian-refugees-forced-flee-death-camps-705837072.

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New military factions join the National Front for the Liberation of Syria

11 Aug, 2017

AlDorar AlShamia:

The newly formed National Liberation Front of Syria (NFL) has announced the entry of new revolutionary factions into its ranks.

The Front published a number of statements bearing the names of the factions affiliated to it, namely, Osoud al-Furat Gathering, the Martyr Abu Mansur al-Amel Brigade, the Kafar Shams Martyrs Brigade, the Free Golan Brigade, the Golan Command Brigade and the Special Tasks Brigade.

At the end of last July, 10 military factions joined the group: the Commandos, the Qadisiyah Brigade, the Ahbab Omar Brigade, the Ra’ad, the Ahrar al-Janoub, the Maghawir al-Janoub, Ahrar al-Masifra, the martyrs of Damascus, Osoud Bani Umiya and the Karak martyrs.

It is noteworthy that the “National Front for the Liberation of Syria” was announced on July 22 after the merger of more than ten military factions.

It is worth mentioning that one of the objectives of the new formation – according to a previous statement – is to “restore the Syrian revolution to the right direction, to overthrow the injustice regime, to keep the national decision free and independent, to preserve the unity of Syria and the people and the gains achieved through the sacrifice of the people.”

Source: al-Dorar al-Shamia.

Link: http://www.aldorars.com/en/news/1049.

New Hamas leader says it is getting aid again from Iran

August 28, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip said Monday his group has repaired relations with Iran after a five-year rift and is using its newfound financial and military aid to gear up for new hostilities with Israel.

The announcement by Yehiyeh Sinwar came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Israel. At a meeting with the U.N. chief, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about what he called rising anti-Israel activity by Iran and its allies in the region.

Iran was once the top backer of Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction. But Hamas broke with Iran in 2012 after the group refused to support Iran’s close ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Syrian civil war.

During a four-hour meeting with journalists, Sinwar said those ties have been restored and are stronger than ever. “Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent,” Sinwar said. He added that the Islamic Republic is “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’ military wing.

It was the first time that Sinwar has met reporters since he was elected in February. The 55-year-old Sinwar, who spent two decades in Israeli prison after being convicted of masterminding the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, has close ties with Hamas’ militant wing and takes a hard line toward Israel.

Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, and Israel has recently expressed concern that Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are seeking a permanent military presence in Syria near the Israeli border. Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed Assad’s forces in the Syrian war.

In his meeting with Guterres, Netanyahu alleged Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce “precision-guided missiles” to be used against Israel. “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept.”

Israel has also accused the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, of failing to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling huge quantities of weapons into southern Lebanon in violation of a 2006 cease-fire. UNIFIL’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent the alleged Hezbollah arms buildup.

UNIFIL’s commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, told The Associated Press last week that he has no evidence that weapons are being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the Hezbollah-dominated south. But Guterres promised Netanyahu that he will do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said. Responding to Israeli claims that the U.N. is biased, Guterres stressed his commitment to “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

Guterres heads to the West Bank on Tuesday and is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday. The U.N. maintains major operations in Gaza, running schools and health clinics and delivering humanitarian aid. Guterres is not scheduled to speak to Hamas.

Late Monday, Guterres met with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, commander of COGAT, the defense body that is responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. Mordechai blamed Hamas for the poor conditions in Gaza, saying the group tries to exploit civilians and aid programs. He also said Hamas’ refusal to return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, along with two Israeli civilians it is holding, hinders Israeli efforts to assist Gaza.

“The terror organization Hamas does not hesitate at all and repeatedly exploits the Gaza residents by attempting to take advantage of Israel’s assistance, despite the severe civil hardships in the strip,” Mordechai said.

Guterres later met with the families of the dead soldiers and captive Israeli civilians. In his briefing with reporters, Sinwar would not say how much aid Iran provides his group. Before the 2012 breakup, Iran provided an estimated $50 million a month to Hamas.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks. It is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Sinwar stressed that the Iranian aid is for “rebuilding and accumulating” Hamas’ military powers for a larger fight against Israel that is meant to “liberate Palestine.” “Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, (dig) tunnels and train frogmen,” he said. “The relationship with Iran is in this context.”

But the shadowy leader said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel, instead preferring to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a decade ago. Trying to pressure Hamas and regain control, Abbas has asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza, and he has slashed the salaries of thousands of his former government employees there.

The result is that Gaza suffers acute power outages of up to 16 hours a day, unemployment of nearly 50 percent and widespread poverty. Sinwar has turned to Egypt, which has begun to ease the blockade as it seeks Hamas’ help in controlling their border. The Egyptian military has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai desert, near Gaza.

Relations with Cairo “have improved dramatically,” Sinwar said. Egypt has recently sent fuel to ease the power crisis in response to Hamas’ building of a buffer zone along the border. “We will knock on all the doors, except that of the (Israeli) occupation, to resolve the problems,” he said.

Sinwar was among more than 1,000 Palestinians released by Israel in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006. Sinwar said there would be no new talks over a prisoner swap until Israel frees 54 prisoners released in the Schalit swap that have been re-arrested.

“We are ready to start negotiations through a mediator, but only when the table is cleaned. Freed prisoners must feel they are immune.”

Federman reported from Jerusalem.

Israel’s attorney general may indict Netanyahu’s wife

September 08, 2017

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s attorney general took a step Friday toward indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife for corruption in a scandal that deepened the mounting legal problems of Israel’s first family.

Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit announced he is considering charging Sara Netanyahu with graft, fraud and breach of trust for alleged overspending of over $100,000 in public funds on private meals at the prime minister’s official residence.

Friday’s announcement is the procedural first step ahead of leveling formal charges against Sara Netanyahu. The Justice Ministry said in a statement that she will have the opportunity to plead her case at a hearing before any charges are filed.

Investigations that Netanyahu improperly hired a political supporter as an electrician, used government money to buy furniture for their private beach house, and used state funds to pay for her late father’s medical care were dropped for lack of evidence, the attorney general’s office said.

A similar notice was issued to Ezra Saidoff, a former official at Netanyahu’s official residence, for suspected involvement in the case. The Netanyahus dismissed accusations of wrongdoing against Sara Netanyahu as “absurd” in a Facebook post on the prime minister’s official page on Thursday. The prime minister doubled down on the denial in another post Friday, saying the accusations “will evaporate in the hearing” like other suspicions against the prime minister’s wife.

An indictment of Sara Netanyahu would not pose a direct threat to Netanyahu. But it is an embarrassing blow to the prime minister, who is facing a series of criminal investigations into his personal and financial dealings.

Emanuel Gross, a legal expert at Haifa University, said Mandelblit’s announcement is a standard legal procedure that is “very preliminary,” and won’t absolutely result in an indictment. “We cannot be sure what will happen after the hearing,” he said. “We have to wait and see.”

The potential indictment threatens to reinforce the unflattering reputation the Netanyahus have gained for enjoying an expensive lifestyle out of touch with common Israelis. The Netanyahus have repeatedly charged that they are victims of a political witch hunt and hostile media.

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