Sold by Daesh in Raqqa, Yazidi female fighters back for revenge

Heza, a member of the Shengal Women's Units (YPS), a group of women fighters from Iraq's northeastern Sinjar region supporting the Women's Protection Units (YPG), prepares her rifle on the eastern outskirts of Raqa, during the ongoing offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to retake the city from Daesh fighters. (AFP)
Updated 19 July 2017
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Sold by Daesh in Raqqa, Yazidi female fighters back for revenge

RAQQA, Syria: She was trafficked into Raqqa as a sex slave by Daesh but managed to escape. Now Yazidi fighter Heza is back to avenge the horrors she and thousands of others suffered.
Her hair tucked under a tightly wrapped forest green shawl embroidered with flowers, Heza says battling Daesh in its Syrian bastion has helped relieve some of her trauma.
“When I started fighting, I lifted some of the worries from my heart,” she says, surrounded by fellow Yazidi militia women in Raqqa’s eastern Al-Meshleb district.
“But it will be full of revenge until all the women are freed.”
She and her two sisters were among thousands of women and girls from the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi minority taken hostage by Daesh as it swept into Iraq’s Sinjar region in August 2014.
The women were sold and traded across the jihadists’ self-proclaimed “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Around 3,000 are believed to remain in captivity, including one of Heza’s sisters.
“When the Yazidi genocide happened, Daesh snatched up the women and girls. I was one of them,” Heza recounts.
The UN has qualified the massacres Daesh carried out against the Yazidis during the Sinjar attack as genocide.
Daesh separated Yazidi females from the men in Sinjar, bringing the women and girls into Raqqa.
“They took us like sheep. They chased us and humiliated us in these very streets,” Heza said, gesturing to a row of heavily damaged homes in Al-Meshleb.
The eastern district was the first neighborhood captured from Daesh by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-Arab alliance, in their months-long offensive to seize the jihadist bastion.
SDF officials said that their forces had already rescued several female Yazidi captives, including a 10-year-old girl, since they entered Raqqa city in June.
Over the course of her 10-month captivity in Raqqa, Heza was bought by five different Daesh fighters.
Her voice strained but her brown eyes still sharp, the young fighter says she prefers not to detail the abuses she suffered.
But in an indication of the extent of her trauma, Heza — whose name means “strength” in Kurdish — says she tried to commit suicide several times.
Finally, in May 2015, she escaped from the home where she was being held to a nearby market, and she found a Syrian Kurdish family who smuggled her out of the city.
She traveled around 400 kilometers across war-ravaged northeast Syria back into Iraq to join the Shengal Women’s Units (YPS).
The YPS — named after the Kurdish word for Sinjar — is a part of the US-backed SDF.
Heza underwent intensive weapons training, and when the SDF announced its fight for Raqqa in November 2016, she and other YPS fighters were ready.
“When the Raqqa offensive began, I wanted to take part in it for all the Yazidi girls who were sold here in these streets,” she says.
“My goal is to free them, to avenge them.”
The SDF spent months tightening the noose around Raqqa before breaking into the city in June, and the YPS took up their first positions in Al-Meshleb several weeks later.
It was the first time Heza was back in the northern Syrian city since her escape.
“When I entered Raqqa, I had a strange, indescribable feeling. Despite the enormous pain that I carry, I felt joy,” the fighter says.
Rifles are lined up in neat rows inside the abandoned home used by the YPS as their base in Al-Meshleb.
Yazidi women in brand-new uniforms gather around a crackling walkie-talkie for news from the front.
Some of them, like 20-year-old Merkan, have traveled far to join the fight against Daesh.
Her family is originally Yazidi Turkish, but Merkan and her 24-year-old sister Arin were raised in Germany.
When they heard about Daesh’s infamous sweep into Sinjar in 2014, they were outraged.
“I could never have imagined a world like this. I didn’t expect things like this could happen,” Merkan says.
“I was in so much pain,” says the tall militiawoman.
Her older sister decided to travel to Sinjar in late 2014 to join the YPS, and Merkan followed in early 2015.
“I only had one goal in front of me: Liberating the Yazidi women, and all women who were still in Daesh’s clutches.”
She had scribbled a similar pledge in Kurdish on a wall behind her.
“Through strength and struggle, we Yazidi women fighters came to Raqqa to take revenge for the Aug. 3 massacre,” the graffiti says, referring to when Daesh entered Sinjar.
“We are avenging Yazidi girls,” it adds.
“Yesterday there was Al-Qaeda and today there’s Daesh. We don’t know who will come next. I want to go anywhere there is injustice,” Merkan said.
Fellow fighter Basih is sitting quietly in a neighboring room, chain-smoking cigarettes in the muggy July afternoon.
“We suffered the ugliest forms of injustice. Our revenge will be proportional to it,” she said.


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 July 2019
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.