Archive for the ‘ Syria ’ Category

Spain confiscates property of Bashar Al-Assad’s uncle

March 15, 2018

The French customs service, in cooperation with its Spanish counterpart, confiscated the property of the current Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s uncle, which amounted to 600 million Euros. Quoting the French newspaper Le Figaro, the Russian news agency Tass reported that around 503 facilities worth 600 million Euros, owned by Rifaat Al-Assad and his relatives in the Spanish city of Marbella, were confiscated.

The agency pointed out that there is also talk about hotels, restaurants and luxury acquisitions.

In April 2017, the Spanish National Judicial Council opened an investigation into the case of money laundering by Rifaat Al-Assad. The Spanish authorities froze the bank accounts of 16 people and 76 institutions associated with the name of Al-Assad’s uncle. It also opened an investigation into his property in Marbella and Puerto Banus towns.

Syrian city at the heart of Spain

Rifaat al-Assad, 80, planned to build a huge housing complex to house Syrians belonging to his sect. He has chosen lands where Spanish spruce and cork trees flourish. These lands occupy one third of Benahavis municipality, located in Malaga province in the southern Andalusia region of Spain. According to the statements of the judge of the Spanish National Court, Rifaat owns some of the most expensive lands in the city that is located on the coasts of Costa del Sol and adjacent to the luxury town of Marbella, which has become a model of extreme luxury, and aspires to build a “Syrian city” with the utmost caution and secrecy.

A decision was made by the Spanish court to seize the properties of Al-Assad, including 16 properties in Marbella and Puerto Banus. In this regard, a Spanish judge revealed that Rifaat Al-Assad had committed himself to continuing the “legal struggle” in this case as he is accused of turning his “real estate machine,” which consists of 3,300 hectares worth 60 million Euros, into a private urban area. The areas controlled by Rifaat Al-Assad have already been registered as areas of public interest, according to the European classification. In addition, the Andalusian government has incorporated these properties within the areas of special protection.

The source of Rifaat Al-Assad’s funds

On the other hand, the Spanish judge confirmed that the main source of Rifaat Al-Assad’s wealth is the money looted from the coffers of the Syrian state provided by his brother Hafez Al-Assad before sending him into exile, and which is estimated at 300 million Euros.

In a similar vein, many people in the Spanish society and those who dealt with him in the business field reported that he was not proficient in negotiating in this area and had his own strategy of non-discipline. In this regard, one of the parties which had negotiated with him in business explained that “it is possible to agree on the first day about a certain price, and he comes the next day to ask you double the amount agreed upon.” These parties also revealed that he followed a relatively austere pattern of consumption in his daily life in Marbella.

In general, a businessman who was surprised by the size of the properties of Rifaat Al-Assad, which includes at least 503 facilities located in Marbella and Puerto Banos, stated that “Rifaat Al-Assad and the businessmen Adnan Khashogg are incomparable, as Rifaat has no friends and I always see him having dinner alone in Puerto Banus, accompanied only by his bodyguard and his driver. The same source added that “the authorities must deal with all the hotel apartments he possesses as individual property.”

In addition to the “amazing real estate machine,” Rifaat Al-Assad owns the Panapola Hotel in Puerto Banus, a 4-Star hotel consisting of 101 apartments and 247 parking spaces. Besides, Al-Assad owns a residential building under the name of Gerry de Albion, in the same sports port in Marbella where he lives.

Moreover, Rifaat Al-Assad owns the parking spaces in Marbella Harbor. Recently, he has sold some of the land for construction in the Milla de Oro area of Marbella, near the Marbella Club Hotel. According to sources familiar with the deal, the sale was made at a price much lower than the prices offered in the market in this area. In addition, Rifaat Al-Assad managed to administer the Beach Club Bar at the Penapola Hotel, the Hollywood Café and other hotel companies based in Puerto Banus, but some of them are now closed due to losses.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180315-spain-confiscates-property-of-bashar-al-assads-uncle/.

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Greece says Syrian property law will impede refugees’ return

May 04, 2018

THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) — Greece’s foreign minister has voiced concerns about at a new Syrian real estate law that would force refugees to return home if they want to keep their property in Syria. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias says the law does not secure the properties of millions of Syrians who are now displaced outside the country. He says it will make their eventual return to Syria much more difficult.

The decree, made public last month, gives property owners in some parts of Syria one month to provide ownership deeds or face confiscation of their property. Thousands of Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Greece.

Kotzias spoke during a southern Balkans ministerial meeting Friday in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.

Israel hits dozens of Iranian targets in Syria after barrage

May 10, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — The Israeli military on Thursday said it attacked nearly all of Iran’s military installations in neighboring Syria in response to an Iranian rocket barrage on Israeli positions in the occupied Golan Heights, in the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter enemies to date.

Israel said the targets of the strikes, its largest in Syria since the 1973 war, included weapons storage, logistics sites and intelligence centers used by elite Iranian forces in Syria. It also said it destroyed several Syrian air-defense systems after coming under heavy fire and that none of its warplanes were hit.

Iranian media described the attacks as “unprecedented,” but there was no official Iranian comment on Israel’s claims. Israel has acknowledged carrying out over 100 airstrikes in neighboring Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011, most believed to be aimed at suspected Iranian weapons shipments bound for the Hezbollah militant group.

But in the past few weeks, Israel has shifted to a more direct and public confrontation with Iran, striking at Iranian bases, weapons depots and rocket launchers across Syria, and killing Iranian troops. Israel accuses Tehran of seeking to establish a foothold on its doorstep. Iran has vowed to retaliate.

Reflecting the scope of the overnight attacks, Russia’s military said 28 Israeli jets were involved, striking at several Iranian and government sites in Syria with 70 missiles. It said half of the missiles were shot down.

Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, an annual security gathering north of Tel Aviv, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would response fiercely to any further Iranian actions. “We will not let Iran turn Syria into a forward base against Israel,” he said. “We, of course, struck almost all the Iranian infrastructure in Syria, and they need to remember this arrogance of theirs. If we get rain, they’ll get a flood. I hope that we ended this chapter and that everyone understood.”

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the civil war through sources inside Syria, said the overnight Israeli attacks struck several military posts for Syrian troops and Iranian-backed militias near the capital, Damascus, in central Syria and in southern Syria. The Observatory said the attacks killed 23 fighters, including five Syrian soldiers. It said it was not immediately clear if Iranians were among those killed.

The Syrian military said the Israeli strikes killed three people and wounded two, without saying if any Iranians or Iran-backed militiamen were among them. It said the strikes destroyed a radar station and an ammunition warehouse, and damaged a number of air defense units. The military said air defense systems intercepted “the large part” of the incoming Israeli strikes.

An Iranian state television presenter announced the Israeli strikes, sourcing the information to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency. The broadcaster described the Israeli attack as “unprecedented” since the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 war, annexing it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally. In 1974, Israel and Syria reached a cease-fire and a disengagement deal that froze the conflict lines with the plateau in Israeli hands.

Damascus shook with sounds of explosions just before dawn, and firing by Syrian air defenses over the city was heard for more than five hours. Syria’s state news agency SANA said Israeli missiles hit air defense positions, radar stations and a weapons warehouse, but claimed most incoming rockets were intercepted.

Russia sent forces to Syria to back President Bashar Assad in 2015. But Israel and Russia have maintained close communications to prevent their air forces from coming into conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow on Wednesday to meet with President Vladimir Putin and discuss military coordination in Syria.

Israel said early Thursday that Iran’s Quds Force fired 20 rockets at Israeli front-line military positions in the Golan Heights. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said four of the rockets were intercepted, while the others fell short of their targets. The incoming attack set off air raid sirens in the Golan.

Conricus said Israel was not looking to escalate the situation but that troops will continue to be on “very high alert.” “Should there be another Iranian attack, we will be prepared for it,” he said. It is believed to be the first time in decades that such firepower from Syria has been directed at Israeli forces in the Golan Heights.

Iran’s ability to hit back further could be limited. Its resources in Syria pale in comparison to the high-tech Israeli military and it could also be wary of military entanglement at a time when it is trying to salvage the international nuclear deal.

Iran has sent thousands of troops to back Assad, and Israel fears that as the fighting nears an end, Iran and tens of thousands of Shiite militiamen will turn their focus to Israel. Earlier this week, Syrian state media said Israel struck a military outpost near Damascus. The Observatory said the missiles targeted depots and rocket launchers that likely belonged to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, killing at least 15 people, eight of them Iranians.

Last month, an attack on Syria’s T4 air base in the central Homs province killed seven Iranian military personnel. On April 30, Israel was said to have struck government outposts in northern Syria, killing more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians.

Israel considers Iran to be its most bitter enemy, citing Iran’s hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel militant groups and development of long-range missiles. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the international nuclear agreement with Iran, with strong support from Israel, has further raised tensions.

Israel and Iran have appeared to be on a collision course for months. In February, Israel shot down what it said was an armed Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace. Israel responded by attacking anti-aircraft positions in Syria, and an Israeli warplane was shot down during the battle.

But Thursday was the first time Israel openly acknowledged targeting Iran.

Heller reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed to this report.

EU urge Russia, Iran, Turkey to deliver on Syria promises

April 25, 2018

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Wednesday called on Russia, Iran and Turkey to ensure a halt to fighting in Syria, as international donors gathered in Brussels to drum up aid for the conflict-ravaged country.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the three have a “special responsibility” to establish a cease-fire and to press Syrian President Bashar Assad to return to the negotiating table. “We are seeing an escalation in military activities which is exactly the contrary” to what they promised, Mogherini said.

Around 80 countries, organizations and partners backing Syria are taking part in the donor conference. The EU hopes the meeting will give impetus to stalled peace moves under U.N. auspices, on top of gathering several billion dollars in humanitarian aid for Syria and for neighbors like Lebanon and Jordan, struggling to cope with millions of refugees. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his country will provide 1 billion euros in new funding for 2018 and subsequent years.

The EU, along with many other partners, refuses to help with serious reconstruction in Syria until meaningful peace moves to end the conflict, now into its eighth year, resume in Geneva. Russia’s EU ambassador, Vladimir Chizhov, said “it’s high time the international community …. takes bold decisions to help Syria and its people get their country back together.”

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who faces elections in two weeks, said the plight of Syrians is simply getting worse. “The bitter truth is that despite all our combined efforts conditions have deteriorated. Lebanon continues to be a big refugee camp,” he said.

Britain’s State Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, agreed that Syria’s needs are enormous. “This is the world’s greatest protection crisis. If you look at what’s happened and what’s been done to people — breaches of humanitarian laws, the weakening of multilateral norms that we have seen for a long time — it’s all focusing on Syria,” he said.

“We all know that what we do on a humanitarian basis is only the sticking plaster on the wound. You’ve got to address the wound itself. So we hope that the seriousness of the conflict and the damage that it’s done might be used to further encourage the various parties to get going again.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura has warned that the northern, rebel-held province of Idlib could become Syria’s newest humanitarian crisis area. De Mistura said Tuesday that “Idlib is the big new challenge — 2.5 million people.” He told reporters that “there are women, children, civilians, and this is looming up there.”

De Mistura hopes the two-day donor conference “will be an occasion for also making sure that Idlib doesn’t become the new Aleppo, the new eastern Ghouta, because the dimensions are completely different.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 177,000 people have fled combat in eastern Ghouta since February. The rest — including about 12,000 fighters — relocated to Idlib.

UN officials in Sweden for talks on North Korea, Syria

April 21, 2018

BACKAKRA, Sweden (AP) — The U.N. secretary-general and ambassadors from countries on the Security Council assembled Saturday in Sweden for an informal meeting on weighty international issues, including developments on the Korean Peninsula and in Syria.

The annual joint brainstorming session for the United Nations’ movers and shakers is being hosted this year by the Swedish government on the picturesque farm estate of Dag Hammarskjold in southern Sweden.

Hammarskjold was a Swedish diplomat who served as the second U.N. secretary-general before he died in a plane crash in September 1961. Talking to reporters before the meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres briefly commented on North Korea’s announcement that it has suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests.

He said he was optimistic about North Korea’s decision, saying that “the path is open for the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Pyongyang’s statement “clearly shows that when you have a unity within the (U.N.) Security Council, you can achieve things.”

However, Lofven remained cautious about the situation. “To speculate what would happen is perhaps a bit too dangerous, but it does look positive, yes,” he said. Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said diplomats were “still deadlocked” over Syria.

The meeting comes just a week after France, Britain and the U.S. launched joint airstrikes at suspected Syrian chemical weapons sites, saying Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack in the town of Douma.

Haley said she and the other diplomats welcomed the working meeting as a chance to get a break from their normal routines “Retreats like this are very important for us to get away from New York sometimes and discuss these things in a way that we can really try and find a solution,” she said.

Guterres is set to stay in Sweden until Monday.

UK’s May tells lawmakers: Syria strikes were legal and moral

April 16, 2018

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May told restive lawmakers Monday that military airstrikes on Syria were right both legally and morally, and she accused Syria and its ally Russia of attempting to cover up evidence of a deadly chemical weapons attack.

May faced down her domestic critics as France’s premier defended the “proportionate” response to the use of chemical weapons. European Union foreign ministers united to say they understood the need for the airstrikes and called for a new push for a political solution to the war in Syria.

British Royal Air Force jets joined American and French warplanes and ships in hitting targets in Syria early Saturday in response to a reported chemical attack by the Syrian government in the town of Douma.

The British government is not legally bound to seek Parliament’s approval for military strikes, although it is customary to do so, and many lawmakers expressed anger that they were not consulted. May told legislators in the House of Commons that seeking their approval would have been impractical, both because Parliament was on a spring break until Monday and because some of the intelligence behind the decision was classified.

“We have always been clear that the government has the right to act quickly in the national interest,” May said, calling the military action “not just morally right but also legally right.” “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized, either within Syria, on the streets of the U.K., or elsewhere,” May said — linking the chemical attack in Syria with the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter last month with a military-grade nerve agent in the English city of Salisbury.

Syria and Russia have both denied that Syrian government forces carried out the Douma gas attack, suggesting it may have been staged to implicate them. May said the presence of helicopters and the use of barrel bombs pointed the finger of blame squarely at the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. She accused Syria, aided by Russia, of trying to block an investigation into the gas attack by the international chemical weapons watchdog.

“The Syrian regime has reportedly been attempting to conceal the evidence by searching evacuees from Douma to ensure samples are not being smuggled from this area. And a wider operation to conceal the facts of the attack is underway, supported by the Russians,” she said.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said Monday that the organization’s team “has not yet deployed to Douma,” two days after arriving in Syria. He said Syrian and Russian officials who met the OPCW team in Damascus told them “that there were still pending security issues to be worked out before any deployment could take place.”

In Britain’s House of Commons, much of Monday’s scheduled business was scrapped for an emergency debate on the airstrikes that stretched late into the evening. But the after-the-fact debate — without a binding vote — did not satisfy angry opposition lawmakers.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, called the airstrikes “legally questionable” and accused May of “following Donald Trump’s lead.” Corbyn said May should remember she “is accountable to this Parliament, not to the whims of the U.S. president.

May denied acting at the behest of the U.S. “We have not done this because President Trump asked us to do so,” May said. “We have done it because we believe it was the right thing to do — and we are not alone.”

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe also justified the military action in a speech Monday to the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament. Philippe told lawmakers that France’s “riposte” was “proportionate” and sent a strong, clear message to dissuade Syria’s government from using chemical weapons.

He said the joint action of the U.S., Britain and France was aimed at placing a prohibitive cost on the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s ability to use them. Some French opposition leaders have criticized the strikes, saying they were not legitimate. Under the French Constitution, the government must inform the parliament, but a vote is requested only if a military intervention is expected to last more than four months.

In Luxembourg, the foreign ministers of the 28 EU countries called for a political breakthrough involving regional players to put Syria on track to a peaceful solution for its seven-year conflict. The ministers said the EU “understands” the need for the coordinated U.S, French and British airstrikes following the suspected April 7 chemical attack. They insisted it was executed with “the sole objective to prevent further use of chemical weapons and chemical substances as weapons by the Syrian regime to kill its own people.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the EU wants to use a major meeting on Syria in Brussels next week to give impetus to U.N. peace efforts following Saturday’s airstrikes. “There is the need to give a push to the U.N.-led process,” Mogherini said.

More than 70 delegations are expected at the April 24-25 donor conference for Syria in Brussels.

Associated Press writer Jill Lawless reported this story in London and AP writer Raf Casert reported from Luxembourg. AP writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

Trump: US, France and UK launch strikes on Syria

April 14, 2018

President Donald Trump just announced he ordered strikes on the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack last weekend.

“I ordered the United States armed forces to launch precision strikes on targets associated with the chemical weapon capabilities of Syrian dictator of Bashar al-Assad,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Room.

Trump said the strikes were in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, adding that the purpose of the campaign is to “establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons.”

“The combined American, British and French response to these atrocities will integrate all instruments of our national power: military, economic and diplomatic,” Trump said.

Trump indicated the strikes would continue until the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons ends.

“We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” Trump said.

The President also insisted that the US would not remain engaged in Syria forever under any circumstances. He has previously told his national security team he wants US troops to exit Syria within six months.

“America does not seek an indefinite presence in Syria,” Trump said from the White House. “As other nations step up their contributions we look forward to the day we can bring our warriors home.”

Trump told the nation in his address the US “cannot purge the world of evil or act everywhere there is tyranny.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180414-trump-us-france-and-uk-launch-strikes-on-syria/.

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