Arab FMs reject unilateral steps that ‘jeopardize legal status of Jerusalem’

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A photo taken on March 27, 2017 shows a general view of the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers during the 28th Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, south of the Jordanian capital Amman, with the Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit (C-L) and chair Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi (C) seated in the centre. (AFP)
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Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir attends the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers during the 28th Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, south the Jordanian capital Amman, on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 28 March 2017
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Arab FMs reject unilateral steps that ‘jeopardize legal status of Jerusalem’

THE DEAD SEA, Jordan: The Council of Arab Foreign Ministers on Monday approved 17 draft resolutions, including the rejection of unilateral steps that “jeopardize the historic and legal status” of Jerusalem. The draft will be presented to Arab leaders at their summit on Wednesday.
It followed an announcement by Jason Greenblatt, US envoy to the Middle East, that he looks forward to attending the Arab Summit as an observer “to discuss how best to work together against extremism and toward peace and prosperity.”
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said at a press conference held at the Dead Sea resort that all draft resolutions submitted by the Arab League’s permanent representatives to the Arab League had been agreed upon.
Al-Safadi said the draft agenda prepared by the Council of Arab Foreign Ministers included 17 resolutions addressing all current Arab issues.
In response to a question about the possibility of transferring the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Al-Safadi said that Arabs have repeatedly stressed the need to establish a just and lasting peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis in accordance with international covenants and resolutions, and within the two-state solution to ensure an independent Palestinian state on the Palestinian national territory with East Jerusalem as its capital. Al-Safadi also said Arab foreign ministers rejected unilateral steps that “jeopardize the historic and legal status” of Jerusalem.
This was an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump’s previously stated intentions to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, the city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians seek a capital in east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Al-Safadi said the resolution is one of “about 17” to be adopted later this week at the gathering of Arab heads of state. He said the ministers also reaffirmed the need to establish a state of Palestine alongside Israel.
Meanwhile, US envoy Greenblatt tweeted: “The US president believes peace between Israelis and Palestinians might be possible and that the time has come to make a deal and I believe that such a peace agreement will reverberate positively throughout the region and the world.”
Last month, Greenblatt met with senior Palestinian and Israeli officials, during which he reaffirmed the US commitment to achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians.


In rebel Syria, a race to save precious property deeds

Updated 35 min 2 sec ago
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In rebel Syria, a race to save precious property deeds

BEIRUT: The external hard drive had been smuggled from Syrian regime territory through jihadist-held towns and into Turkey. When Ghazwan Koronful finally got his hands on it, he sighed in relief.
Loaded onto the disk were pictures of thousands of title deeds from towns in central Syria recently recaptured by government troops and largely emptied of their residents.
Fearing Syria’s regime would expropriate abandoned properties or tamper with deeds, a network of activists and lawyers set their covert plan into motion.
“It was our most complex operation yet,” said Koronful, a 65-year-old Syrian lawyer who heads the network from Turkey, where he has lived in exile since 2012.
For nearly five years, Koronful’s Free Syrian Lawyers (FSL) have been working to preserve property deeds and other civil paperwork in Syria’s opposition areas.
They enter town registries, photograph the documents, carefully log and organize them, then smuggle the hard drives across Syria’s sealed northern border into Turkey.
“In total, we’ve got eight terabytes of documents, about 1.7 million documents — court records, wills, birth, marriage, and death certificates,” said Koronful.
Among them are up to 450,000 land-related documents from northern and central Syria — title deeds, contracts, and other papers that displaced Syrians could use to prove property ownership.
These documents are crucial now, Koronful explained, as the government passes a series of laws that rights defenders fear may unfairly dispossess Syrians from their homes.
“Our work simultaneously protects against hostilities that could damage the deeds, and against the regime’s attempts through these new laws to tamper with people’s properties,” he told AFP.
“Those files represent the hope of return.”


FSL sprang into action after Homs city’s registry was destroyed in a fire in 2013, which activists suspected was a regime bid to strip oppositionists of their land.
Smuggling out original deeds from other towns was risky and could be considered tampering, so the FSL’s 15 lawyers opted for the next best thing: digital copies.
With help from civil society group The Day After, they traveled to Turkey to learn how to handle, photograph, and archive documents.
Back in Syria, they began working through abandoned registries in northern rebel towns: Harem, Azaz, Saraqeb.
“We set up a little studio in the room with the most light,” said an FSL lawyer still in Syria who identified himself as Samer.
With just four Canon digital cameras, two laptops, flashes, and tripods, they photographed thousands of deeds, making sure names and dates were clearly visible.
“As soon as we’d finish one 200-page ledger, we’d upload the SD card onto the computer. Meanwhile, the camera didn’t stop. We’d put a new card in and start photographing again,” Samer, 43, told AFP.
Each month, they emptied their computers onto external drives which they sent to Koronful in Turkey.
They raced against air strikes that damaged cameras and wounded staff members, worrying registries would be bombed to pieces before they could finish.
“When we reached the last page, we’d be so happy to be finished. Whatever happens now, if we get bombed, we have a drive with everything on it,” said Samer.
Sometimes they lost the race. In 2013, days before FSL was to begin photographing deeds in the northern town of Al-Bab, Daesh swept in and destroyed the registry, Koronful said.
They now struggle to get permission to enter registries from suspicious rebels, especially in militants-run Idlib, occasionally photographing in secret.


Since Syria’s war erupted in 2011, more than six million people have been internally displaced and another five million have fled the country.
More than 920,000 have been displaced this year alone, the UN said, the fastest rate yet in the seven-year war.
A vast majority leave behind property-related papers, the Norwegian Refugee Council found in polls last year.
That puts them at risk of losing access to their land through decrees like Law 10, which allows for property expropriation for urban development.
Koronful fears the regime could also dispossess refugees through legislation on re-issuing damaged deeds.