Archive for August, 2018

Israeli PM wants Baltics to help change view of Israel

August 24, 2018

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting Friday with three Baltic prime ministers in his quest to counterbalance European criticism of Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories and to increase pressure on Iran.

Netanyahu will hold talks with Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, Estonia’s Juri Ratas and Maris Kucinskis of Latvia. He started the day by meeting Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. A day earlier, he said that Israel was “often mistreated by the EU,” adding there were “many distortions.” Netanyahu, however, welcomed the decision by major international airlines to end their direct flights to Iran’s capital, Tehran, in September after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran and began restoring U.S. sanctions.

Skvernelis said in an interview with the Baltic News Service that after a meeting Thursday with Netanyahu, “I believe Lithuania really has a better understanding of Israel and that understanding could be spread among other EU countries. ”

“We need to better listen, hear them out and understand their position. We definitely lack a direct dialogue,” he said. “But we have to admit that today Israel is not only waging war and defending its independence, the lives of its people, but is also fighting in a wider context, if we speak about terrorism and potential expansion of IS fighters to Europe,” Skvernelis said.

Netanyahu arrived Thursday in Vilnius is on a four-day visit, the first to Lithuania by an Israeli prime minister.

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

Soccer-In Damascus, World Cup loyalties muddled by war

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

DAMASCUS, June 20 (Reuters) – In a Damascus cafe, some of the Syrians watching Russia play Egypt in the World Cup faced a dilemma: whether to support a fellow Arab nation or their government’s most powerful ally.

“I am confused because I was supposed to support Egypt but because Russia supports us, I support Russia,” said Amin Maarouf, 62, as he watched Russia defeat Egypt 3-1 on Tuesday at a crowded cafe in a middle class Damascus neighborhood.

“If Egypt were playing against any other country I would support it. But when I had to choose, I chose Russia.”

Seven years of conflict have muddled the loyalties of a Syrian nation fractured by a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and driven millions abroad as refugees.

While Russia enjoys support among Syrians who back the government, President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents are rooting for any team that is playing against it or Iran, his other major military ally.

These are the first World Cup finals since Russia intervened in support of Assad in 2015, turning the tide of the war decisively in his favor. Russia is hosting the tournament.

Russian flags were being waved by fans watching Tuesday’s match at an open-air screen in a street in Damascus, where just last month the government and its allies crushed the last remaining rebel enclave.

Still, not everyone was cheering for Russia. “I am supporting Egypt,” said Jubran Louis, 18. “It’s an Arab team, I have to support it.”

The Syrian national side did not make it to the tournament, but it made an unexpectedly strong showing in the qualifiers. This too was also a point of division among Syrians. While government supporters rallied behind the team, some Assad opponents identified it with the Syrian government.

Omar Fleihan, who has lived in Istanbul since leaving Syria in 2014, ultimately wants England to win the World Cup and was hoping Egypt would beat Russia on Tuesday.

“Yesterday they were supporting Russia in Damascus, and this isn’t something strange or new to them,” he said. “I certainly support anyone (playing) against Iran and Russia without exception – Arab or non-Arab”. (Reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus and Beirut bureau Writing by Tom Perry Editing by Alison Williams)

Link: http://news.trust.org//item/20180620121506-t77yl/.

Turkey: 30,000 Syrians who were granted citizenship will vote

June 19, 2018

Some 30,000 Syrians who have been granted Turkish citizenship will vote in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections, broadcaster NTV quoted Prime Minister Binali Yildirim as saying today.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has granted citizenship to thousands of refugees who have fled the conflict in neighboring Syria. Turkey is hosting around 3.5 million Syrian refugees.

In April, Erdogan announced snap parliamentary and presidential elections would take place in the country on 24 June.

The move came a day after his main ally, far-right leader Devlet Bahceli, called for snap polls, with the decision primarily motivated by the need to strengthen the current administration to effectively tackle the ongoing crisis in Syria and the country’s economic challenges.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180619-turkey-30000-syrians-who-were-granted-citizenship-will-vote/.

Turkish army announces patrols in Syria’s Manbij

18.06.2018

Turkish army on Monday announced the start of patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij by Turkish and U.S. troops in line with a previously agreed roadmap for eliminating terrorists and stabilizing the area.

In a tweet, the Turkish Armed Forces said the patrols were being carried out between Manbij and Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield area.

Earlier on Monday, local sources speaking anonymously said armored vehicles of Turkish army were stationed around Sajur stream which divides Jarablus town, in the Operation Euphrates Shield area, and Manbij.

The joint forces carried out patrols in an area overlooking the U.S. base in Syria’s Dadat town, the sources said, adding that the patrols lasted around three hours.

The roadmap was first announced after a meeting in Washington last week between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The deal focuses on the withdrawal of PKK-affiliated YPG terror group from the northern Syrian city and stability in the region.

Should the model prove to be a success, Turkey will push for a similar arrangement in eastern Syria.

In its over-30-year terrorist campaign against Turkey, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives. The YPG/PKK is its Syrian branch.

Turkey has said the presence of terrorist forces near its border constitute a threat, and has launched military operations and other efforts to rid the region of terrorists.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkish-army-announces-patrols-in-syrias-manbij/1178013.

15 Palestinian refugees killed in Syrian regime shelling on Yarmouk camp

June 1, 2018

The bodies of 15 Palestinian refugees who were killed by regime shelling have been found in Yarmouk refugee camp, the Working Group for the Palestinians in Syria said yesterday.

The rights group went on to demand medical and civil defense teams be allowed access to the Palestinian refugee camp to recover the bodies from under the rubble.

Following the Assad regime’s brutal air raids against Syria’s largest refugee camp, the United Nations said the regime “turned it into a death camp”.

“The Yarmouk camp in Damascus lies today in ruins, with hardly a single building that has not been destroyed or damaged.  The fighting has been particularly intense in the last month or more.  Almost all the Palestine refugees who were there have now fled,” United Nations Secretary-General’s Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said last week.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180601-15-palestinian-refugees-killed-in-syrian-regime-shelling-on-yarmouk-camp/.

3m homes destroyed in Syria war

June 1, 2018

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) said yesterday that the years of conflict in Syria have left almost three million homes completely or almost completely destroyed, and the regime has caused about 90 per cent of the damage.

In a report the network stressed that it had obtained satellite images which prove that the Russian attacks on eastern Ghouta destroyed entire towns.

Under the title “Satellite imagery proves that Russian attacks have exterminated entire eastern Ghouta towns”, the report said that the military campaign in eastern Ghouta in February was the most brutal of the campaigns by the Russian-Syrian-Iranian coalition forces since the outbreak of popular movements in March 2011.

The report pointed out that “the Syrian regime and Russia deliberately bombed and destroyed the largest possible number of houses later, especially vital installations.” It noted that “most of the bombing was without a military justification as required by the law of war.”

“Some three million homes have been partially or completely destroyed in Syria and that millions of Syrians have lost their homes, which means for the majority the loss of a quarter of a century of work that they spent in order to have housing.”

According to the report, “the regime used extensive destruction as a war tool against all who opposed it, and aimed to end and destroy all forms of opposition to the regime, and to completely destroy society.”…

… It went on: “Since 18 February until 12 April 2018, the use of 3,968 surface-to-surface missiles, approximately 1,674 explosive barrels, 5,281 mortar and artillery shells, as well as four explosive hoses, 60 rockets loaded with incendiary munitions, 45 rockets loaded with cluster munitions has been registered.”

During the same period, “the Russia-Syria forces killed 1,843 civilians, including 317 children, 280 women, 15 medical personnel and 12 civil defense personnel. The same forces committed at least 68 massacres and at least 61 attacks on civilians’ vital centers.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180601-3m-homes-destroyed-in-syria-war/.

Syria civilians protest against US-backed Kurdish forces

May 30, 2018

Syrian civilians held demonstrations across the city of Raqqa yesterday calling on US-backed Kurdish militias to leave the area, according to Syria Call news agency.

Protests took part in the main Al-Sakia Street as well as in several of the city’s neighborhoods, including Al-Mashbal. Demonstrators shouted slogans against the Kurdish authorities and expressed opposition to the federalist system they seek to implement in the northern territories under their control.

People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militias sent security reinforcements to suppress the demonstrations and reportedly fired on the crowded protesters, resulting in several injuries.

The protests come a week after the YPG imposed forced conscription on residents of the city, mandating that men between the ages of 18 and 30 join militias for at least nine months, dubbing the policy “compulsory conscription in the duty of self-defense”.

The YPG, an offshoot of the designated terror organization the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has started to face increasing resistance to its policies from Syrians, including the formation of a new battalion called the Al-Raqqa Brigade.

Earlier this week, Kurdish militias stormed a bastion of the group in an operation that left three opposition fighters dead. Despite the attack, Al-Raqqa Brigade called on civilians to show their resistance to the YPG in yesterday’s demonstrations.

US-backed Kurdish forces, known collectively as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have secured swathes of land in the north of Syria causing heightened tensions with neighboring Turkey.

Since January, Turkey has undertaken an air and ground offensive in Syria as part of “Operation Olive Branch” against the YPG in Afrin. The move prompted the Kurdish militia to call on the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad to aid them in the fight against Turkish soldiers.

Cooperation between the YPG and the Syrian regime is ongoing, with a member of the Central Committee of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria revealing last week that the YPG had handed over more than 90 Kurdish detainees to the security branch of the Assad government, after withdrawing from the city of Afrin in the north-west of Aleppo.

The YPG has also received increased backing from Europe; French forces have established six artillery batteries in the north of the country and along the Syria-Iraq border since their arrival last month.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180530-syria-civilians-protest-against-us-backed-kurdish-forces/.

11 Syrian opposition groups form new front in Idlib

28.05.2018

IDLIB, Syria

Eleven opposition groups fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria formed a new alliance in northwestern Idlib province on Monday.

The sources from the groups said they merged under the name of “National Front for Liberation.”

“The aim of the new formation is to unite the components of the Free Syrian Army in Idlib province on Syria under one roof,” the new formation said on social media.

The formation includes following groups: Sham Legion, Jaysh al-Nasr, Free Idlib Army, 1st Costal Division, 2nd Costal Division, 1st Division, 2nd Army, Army of Elites, Shuhada al-Islam Darayya, Al-Hurriyat Brigade, and 23rd Division.

All of the groups have been operating in Idlib and northern part of Hama under the Free Syrian Army.

The Sham Legion commander Fadil Allah al-Hajji became the leader of the new front, while Suhaib Layyush from Jaysh al-Nasr was appointed as his deputy.

With the new formation, the opposition group created one of the largest military groups in Syria fighting the Assad regime, bringing together nearly 30,000 people.

Syria has just begun to emerge from a devastating civil war that began in early 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity. UN officials say hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/11-syrian-opposition-groups-form-new-front-in-idlib/1159183.

Al-Bab’s patience with Turkey wears thin after rebel lawlessness

Thursday 17 May 2018

Like any other day at work, Dr Mamdouh Matlab arrived at the Al-Salam Hospital in the northern Syrian city of Al-Bab to make his rounds of the wards.

Arriving a few minutes early, Matlab sat down on a bench close to an empty office and rifled through his bag for patient notes.

After three years of living under Islamic State group (IS) control  – a period of public beheadings and strict controls on daily life – Matlab and the other residents of the city were beginning to adjust to a life free from the militant group.

Danger still resides in Al-Bab, however.

The doctor was on his way to see his first patient when he heard raised voices and shouting down the hallway.

Running to see what was happening, he saw a nurse kneeling on the floor, crying, as a member of the Turkish-backed Al-Hamzat Brigade pointed a gun at her head.

The unit was one of five Free Syrian Army rebel groups to join Turkish troops in an offensive that drove IS out of Al-Bab in 2016.

“Someone from the Al-Hamzat faction was screaming and shouting at the nurses and doctors. One of their fighters needed urgent medical care, but no one was able to attend to him,” said Matlab.

“They ended up dragging one of the doctors out of the hospital like he did a crime. We were scared and didn’t know what to do.”

The Turkish-backed rebels also ransacked and harassed medical staff in the Al-Hikmah hospital elsewhere in the city on the same day, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

One week on, the whereabouts of the kidnapped doctor, whose identity is withheld for security reasons, remains unknown.

An invitation to return

The battle for Al-Bab, a three-month offensive on the IS-held city that was conducted as part of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield to better protect its border with Syria, left considerable damage.

Once IS was ousted, Turkey urged displaced Syrians – including the many who had fled north across the Turkish border – to return and help rebuild the city. Matlab heeded this call and came back.

Turkish-occupied areas in northern Syria have become a haven for displaced Syrians.

Following pro-Syrian government forces’ successes in rebel strongholds around Damascus and northern Homs province, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have sought refuge in the country’s north, including areas controlled by Turkey and its allies.

The displaced and returned residents have swollen the city’s population, with hundreds of Syrians recently evacuated from northern Homs stuck on the city’s outskirts. Turkey is refusing them entry, insisting Al-Bab is full.

While residents say life in Al-Bab today is more stable than during the reign of IS, months of sporadic infighting among Turkish-backed rebel groups – which has led to the deaths and wounding of many civilians – has led many caught in the crossfire to question their choice to come back.

With hospitals and medical workers now swept up in lawlessness and violence, patience with Turkey’s control of the city is beginning to wear thin.

Safety concerns

The doctor’s kidnapping angered hundreds of residents, who protested outside the police station in Al-Bab earlier this month. The crowd called for the doctor’s release and an end to the rebel clashes in their city.

Moments after the protest began, Turkish troops jumped out of their armored vehicles and started shooting into the air to disperse the protest.

But rather than turning away, the protesters directed their anger towards the Turks, chanting “free, free, Al-Bab” and telling soldiers to “go back to where they came from”, according to videos posted on social media.

Matlab joined the demonstrators. “Turkey is playing a significant role in the city, treating Al-Bab like it is its own soil. But they are not doing enough to improve security,” he said.

“I have always been unsure about Turkey’s role in the city, and despite the improvement of services, people are continuing to die from clashes by rebels who they support. Something needs to be done about this.”

Badr Taleb, a videographer based in Al-Bab, was also at the demonstration, where he said a stray Turkish bullet grazed his forehead.

During IS’s occupation of Al-Bab, Taleb lived in Aleppo city and retreated to its countryside when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces tightened the noose around the opposition-held eastern neighborhoods, which fell in the last days of 2016.

He now regrets coming back to Al-Bab following a recent bout of fighting between the Al-Hamzat fighters and rebels from Deir Ezzor.

“Things are just getting out of control. We appreciate Turkey and the role it’s played, as other world powers turned a blind eye,” said Taleb.

“But it must bring the rebels it supports in line, and not allow them to ruin everything Turkey has been building for the Syrians.”

‘Better than nothing’

Despite the simmering tensions between residents and Turkish troops in Al-Bab, Syrians have told MEE that for now, they have no choice but to work with the Turks.

Turkey has a significant presence inside Al-Bab, and since taking the city has helped repair damaged buildings, reopened schools and begun construction on a new industrial zone.

But according to Matlab, stability and safety inside Al-Bab remain its residents’ key priorities.

“The situation is no different from how it used to be under the regime,” said a dismayed Matlab.

“When a robbery took place, we would go to the police station and sign a report about what was stolen and expect nothing to be done.

“Now we can still go to the same police station. Only this time, the officers we have are trained and backed by the Turks. It’s useless but better than nothing.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/Al-Bab-patience-with-Turkey-wears-thin-after-rebel-lawlessness-1790512911.

UK Labor leader under fire over Palestinian wreath-laying

August 13, 2018

LONDON (AP) — British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is facing allegations of enabling anti-Semitism, acknowledged Monday that he was present at a wreath-laying to Palestinians allegedly linked to the murder of 11 Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

But the Labor Party leader said “I don’t think I was actually involved” in laying the wreath. The left-wing politician — a longtime critic of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians — has been facing mounting criticism since the Daily Mail published photos of Corbyn holding a wreath in a Tunis cemetery in 2014, near what the newspaper said were graves of Black September members. The Palestinian militant group carried out the kidnapping and massacre at the Munich games. Several members were later killed by Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency.

Corbyn has previously said he was at the cemetery to commemorate the victims of a 1985 Israeli air attack on Palestinian Liberation Organization offices in Tunis. On Monday, he acknowledged a wreath had also been laid to “those that were killed in Paris in 1992.” PLO official Atef Bseiso, whom Israel has accused of helping to plan the Munich Olympic attack, was gunned down outside a Paris hotel that year.

“I was present when it was laid. I don’t think I was actually involved in it,” Corbyn told reporters. “I was there because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere because we have to end it.”

The statement is unlikely to quell criticism from Jewish groups and Labor members who say Corbyn has allowed anti-Semitism to spread in the party. “Being ‘present’ is the same as being involved. … Where is the apology?” tweeted Labor lawmaker Luciana Berger.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that “the laying of a wreath by Jeremy Corbyn on the graves of the terrorist who perpetrated the Munich massacre and his comparison of Israel to the Nazis deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone — left, right and everything in between.”

Corbyn responded on Twitter that Netanyahu’s “claims about my actions and words are false.” The Labour Party said Corbyn “did not lay any wreath at the graves of those alleged to have been linked to the Black September organization or the 1972 Munich killings.”

Corbyn has been accused of failing to expel party members who express anti-Semitic views and has received personal criticism for past statements, including a 2010 speech in which he compared Israel’s blockade of Gaza to Nazi Germany’s sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad during World War II.

The dispute recently boiled over after the party proposed adopting a definition of anti-Semitism that differed from the one approved by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Labour’s version omits some of the alliance’s language around criticism of Israel. The alliance’s definition says it is anti-Semitic to compare contemporary Israeli policies to the policies of the Nazis, a view Labour did not endorse.

Corbyn said Labour was consulting with Jewish groups on the party’s definition of anti-Semitism. He said it was important to ensure “you can discuss and debate the relations between Israel and Palestine, the future of the peace process and, yes, make criticisms of the actions of the Israeli government in the bombing of Gaza and other places.”

“But you can never make those criticisms using anti-Semitic language or anti-Semitic intentions, and that is what we are absolutely clear on,” Corbyn said.