Victim's daughter testifies at Hariri assassination trial

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In this March 2, 2005 file photo, Lama Ghalayini, left, daughter of Addul-Hameed Mohammed Ghalaini, accompanied by an unidentified relative, cries after Civil Defense members discovered in Beirut, Lebanon, the body of her father, who was killed in the Feb. 14 explosion that left former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 16 other people dead. (AP Photo, File)
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This file photo taken on February 14, 2005 shows a general view of the site of an explosion in Beirut, in which Lebanon's former prime minister Rafiq Hariri was killed. ( AFP / Anwar Amro)
Updated 28 August 2017
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Victim's daughter testifies at Hariri assassination trial

LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands: The daughter of a bystander who lost his life in the massive car bomb that killed former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri spoke Monday of her family’s harrowing search to find her father’s body.
Lama Ghalayini, 39, is the first victim to testify before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a UN-backed tribunal set up to prosecute those who murdered Hariri and 21 others in the huge February 14, 2005 suicide car bombing on Beirut’s busy seafront.
“In the beginning we always had hope that we would find something,” Ghalayini told judges, speaking via video link from the Lebanese capital.
Her voice at times trembling with emotion, Ghalayini described how her father Abdel-Hamid spoke to her the day before going for a walk in the area near the Beirut waterfront.
He was reported missing after news of the suicide bombing — blamed on five suspected members of the powerful Shiite movement Hezbollah, became known.
“We were completely lost, we were in a state of distress and we needed to know exactly what the situation was,” Ghalayini told a five-judge bench.
Looking for their relatives, the family was confronted with the scene of carnage at the blast site.
Ghalayini said they received no help from the authorities in their quest to find her father, a businessman and an amateur pilot.
At the scene “I found body parts. There were also pieces of metal and stones. It was complete chaos,” said Ghalayini.
The family was so desperate that they even hired their own sniffer dogs but to no avail.
Ghalayini’s body was eventually discovered some 17 days after the blast, buried beneath the rubble.
Monday’s hearing marks the first time victims were allowed to speak in the long-running trial which started in 2014 against the five suspects indicted by the court, based just outside The Hague.
However, the STL has quashed the case against one of the accused, Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine, who is believed to have died in fighting in Syria in May last year.
Four others, Salim Ayyash, Hussein Oneissi, Assad Sabra and Hassan Habib Merhi are being tried in absentia.
The STL opened its doors in 2009 and is the only international ad-hoc tribunal with the jurisdiction to try an act of terror.
Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah has previously dismissed the tribunal as a US-Israeli plot and vowed none of the defendants will ever be caught.


Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million have been uprooted from their homes. AP
Updated 16 July 2018
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Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

  • Regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside
  • In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces unleashed hundreds of missiles on an opposition-held area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, activists said, the latest phase in an offensive to clear southern Syria of insurgents.
The regime’s push came after it had secured control of most of Daraa province in an offensive that began in June. On Sunday, the first batch of armed fighters and their families left the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, in buses that would take them to the opposition-held Idlib province in the north.
Similar deals in other parts of Syria resulted in the evacuation of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians — evacuations that the UN and rights groups have decried as forced displacement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday the success in driving the opposition out of Daraa embodies the will of his army and allied forces to “liberate all of Syrian territories” of “terrorism.”
In recent months and backed by Russian air force, the Syrian regime has restored control of over 60 percent of previously opposition-held territory across the country.
Assad spoke during a meeting on Sunday with visiting Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Assad’s office said the two agreed that the “elimination of terrorism in most of the Syrian territory has laid the most appropriate ground to reach results at the political level” that could put an end to Syria’s war.
Syria’s regime refers to all armed opposition groups as “terrorists” and accuses the West, Turkey, Israel and regional countries of supporting them.
The statement came a day before President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are to meet in Finland. Syria is expected to feature highly on the agenda. Russia is a major Assad ally.
In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control. Daraa, which lies on a highway linking Damascus with Jordan, was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since early Sunday, regime forces turned their missiles toward a stretch of land controlled by the armed opposition in northern Daraa and the countryside of adjacent Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside, about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Observatory said government forces advanced on Massharah, a village in Quneitra, and rebels fought back in intense clashes that killed several pro-government fighters. The pro-Syrian regime Central Military Media said a number of insurgents were killed in the clashes.
The Observatory reported airstrikes in Massharah, the first in over a year to hit the Quneitra countryside. It also reported airstrikes in a nearby village in northern Daraa, where regime forces have been trying to retake a key hill there after failing to reach a deal with the fighters. Capturing the hill would enable them to advance on militants in the area linked to Daesh.
Daraa activist Abou Mahmoud Hourani said an estimated 400 members of the armed opposition and their families will be evacuated out of Daraa.
Pro-regime TV Al-Ikhbariya said 10 buses carrying 407 people left for northern Syria.
The station said the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people was likely to be completed by Sunday.