Gazans denounce visit by Qatari envoy

Qatari Ambassador to Gaza Mohammed Al-Emadi (C) leaves following a press conference at the Dar Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City with the Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza after Qatar signed an agreement to provide a nine million dollar humanitarian relief grant to residents of the Palestinian enclave. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Gazans denounce visit by Qatari envoy

GAZA CITY: Palestinians on Monday protested against Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi during his visit to the Gaza Strip.
The crowd closed in on the Qatari envoy as he concluded a press conference at the Dar Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, where he announced that Doha would donate $9 million in aid to address fuel and medicine shortages in the Gaza Strip.
Al-Emadi was whisked away in his vehicle under Hamas police escort. No one was injured during the protests.
Angry crowds heckled the Qatar emissary criticizing his country and its empty promises and expressed disappointment with the envoy because he refused to address their plight during his statements.
Al-Emadi told the striking workers, most of them hospital staff, that the Palestinian Authority was the only party authorized to discuss the issue of their unpaid salaries.
Other Palestinians tore off the aid banners carrying the photo of the amir of Qatar as well as bringing down the Qatari flag.
The Qatari envoy said earlier Monday that both Israel and Gaza want to contain cross-border violence that has flared in recent days, as he detailed a new emergency fund to aid the blockaded territory.
Earlier Monday, Israel’s military struck what it said was an underground infrastructure site in Gaza in response to rocket fire. The military has struck various targets in Gaza in recent days and killed two Palestinians, who tried to infiltrate Israel after a bomb on the border wounded four Israeli soldiers.
There were no reports of casualties from the latest strike.
“We confirm through our relationship with the two sides that they are not interested in escalation or engaging in a confrontation that could ignite the entire region,” the Qatari envoy, Mohammed Al-Emadi, told reporters in Gaza City.
Al-Emadi, whose country maintains contacts with the Hamas and has hosted its leaders, coordinates Qatar’s relief and reconstruction projects in Gaza. On Monday, he announced details of a $9 million emergency fund for addressing fuel and medicine shortages.
Gaza has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas wrested control of the territory from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in 2007. A dispute over money and revenue collections has stalled a reconciliation deal between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, which Egypt brokered in October.
Abbas has since stepped up financial pressure on Gaza. Hamas says the cuts are endangering the functioning of Gaza hospitals.
The Qatari grant includes $2 million in medical supplies and $500,000 for fuel to power backup generators in Gaza’s public health centers, enough to keep them running for a month.
Trucks loaded with the supplies and decorated with Qatari flags and posters of the oil-rich sheikhdom’s rulers could be seen outside Gaza City’s main Shifa hospital on Monday, where Al-Emadi and UN officials spoke.
Hospital cleaning workers demonstrated their support during the ceremony, holding signs reading “Thank you, Qatar.” They have been on a strike for 10 days, demanding payment from the Hamas-run Health Ministry. Hamas and Abbas’ Palestinian Authority are locked in a dispute over who is responsible for paying them.
The Gaza border area has been generally quiet since a 50-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2014. But it has seen an increase in violence since President Donald Trump’s announcement in December recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.


In rebel Syria, a race to save precious property deeds

Updated 25 min 41 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.