Trump, Macron agree on need to work with allies to counter destabilization attempts of Iran and Hezbollah

French President Emmanuel Macron, center right, and his wife Brigitte, right, meet Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, second left, his wife Lara, center left, and their son Hussam upon their arrival at the Elysee Palace in Paris on November 18, 2017. (AP)
Updated 19 November 2017
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Trump, Macron agree on need to work with allies to counter destabilization attempts of Iran and Hezbollah

JEDDAH: US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday agreed on the need to partner with allies to respond to the destabilization activities of Hezbollah and Iran in the region.
The two leaders’ telephone conversation came in the aftermath of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation, which he announced during a recent trip to Saudi Arabia.
“Both presidents agreed on the need to work with allies to counter Hizballah’s and Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region,” a statement from the White House said.
Hariri has accused Iran and Hezbollah of dominating Lebanon and attempt to covertly target his life, which prompted his resignation, and drew comparisons to the similar “atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik Al-Hariri.”
“I refer explicitly and unequivocally to Iran, which sows sedition, devastation and destruction in any place it settles in, as proven by its interferences in the internal affairs of the Arab countries, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Yemen, driven by a deep hatred of the Arab nation and an overwhelming desire to destroy and control it,” Hariri said, when he announced his resignation on November 4.
Hariri traveled to Paris for a meeting with Macron over the weekend upon the French president’s invitation, and also to dispel allegations he was being held against his will in Saudi Arabia, and was expected to return to Lebanon for the Independence Day celebrations on Wednesday.
Saudi Foreign Ministry Adel Al-Jubeir had earlier belied accusations that Saudi Arabia was keeping the Lebanese Prime Minister against his will.
“It doesn’t hold merit as Hariri is free to go anywhere he wants,” Al-Jubeir said in a joint press conference with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian in Riyadh.
The Saudi foreign minister also accused Hezbollah of disturbing regional peace and stability by supporting Houthi militias in Yemen, suppressing the will of the Syrian people and violating Lebanese law.
Hezbollah must learn to “respect Lebanon’s sovereignty,” he added.


In rebel Syria, a race to save precious property deeds

Updated 11 min 56 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.