Turkey warns Syria as rival forces clash

Supporting Free Syrian Army fighters, Turkey launched its incursion into northern Syria on Jan. 20. (Reuters)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Turkey warns Syria as rival forces clash

ANKARA: The Syrian regime will face “serious consequences” if it insists on deploying militias against Turkish troops in the north of the country, Ankara has warned.
Armed groups allied to Damascus were sent to Afrin this week to help Kurdish rebels counter a month-long military offensive by Turkish forces in the region. But the convoy of about 50 vehicles withdrew after coming under artillery fire, marking a dangerous new escalation in the seven-year Syrian civil war.
Ibrahim Kalin, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters on Wednesday that more violence could follow if Damascus pressed ahead with sending reinforcements to the highly charged area.
“Any step by the regime or other elements in this direction will surely have serious consequences,” he said.
The Syrian state news agency, SANA, responded defiantly soon afterward, reporting that “new groups of popular forces” were arriving in Afrin to fight back against “the continued aggression of the Turkish regime” — a move that leaves both sides perilously close to all-out confrontation.
Turkey launched its incursion into northern Syria on Jan. 20 with the aim of routing militants belonging to groups including the US-backed People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It considers both groups as terrorist organizations and threats to its national security.
Ankara claims more than 1,600 YPG and Daesh fighters have either been killed, captured or surrendered since “Operation Olive Branch” began. In remarks to reporters, Kalin said anyone who intervened to help the Kurdish rebels was “on the same level” and “for us, that would make them legitimate targets.”
Having swept through the surrounding countryside, Turkey intends to lay siege to Afrin city in the coming days. However, Syria has vowed to fight back, with Riyad Haddad, its ambassador to Russia, describing Ankara’s decision to fire on its militias as “a blatant violation of Syria’s sovereignty.”
The YPG has controlled Afrin since Damascus pulled its forces from Kurdish majority areas in the north of the country in 2012 — a strategic withdrawal that appeared designed to sow confusion among the country’s disparate insurgent groups and keep neighboring Turkey on guard.
Experts told Arab News that the Syrian regime’s decision to deploy militias to Afrin this week could not have been made without the knowledge of its staunch ally Russia.
Metin Gurcan, a former military officer and senior security analyst at the Istanbul Policy Center, said the move was deliberately designed to “create a risky operational environment.”


Tortured, persecuted, deported: a tribe’s ordeal at the hands of Qatar

Updated 36 min 53 sec ago
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Tortured, persecuted, deported: a tribe’s ordeal at the hands of Qatar

  • The tribe’s ordeal began in 1996, when some of their members voiced support for Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani
  • Another member of the tribe twice lost his job at Qatar Petroleum, in 1999 and 2003, simply because he was a member of the Al-Ghufran tribe

GENEVA: Members of a prominent tribe told an audience in Geneva on Thursday how they were stripped of their nationality and suffered torture, forced displacement and deportation in a 22-year campaign of systematic persecution by authorities in Qatar.
“My story is about wanting my rights, and I hope my story reaches your hearts,” said Hamed Al-Ghufrani, whose family was forced to flee Qatar for the UAE in 1996.
Another member of the tribe twice lost his job at Qatar Petroleum, in 1999 and 2003, simply because he was a member of the Al-Ghufran tribe, and had his nationality revoked in 2005. 
His 14-year-old son spoke of being a “stateless person” and called on the UN to end the persecution so he could return to Qatar.
The press conference at the Swiss Press Club, organized by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, came two days after the Al-Ghufran delegation staged a protest in front of the UN building in Geneva during the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
The tribe’s ordeal began in 1996, when some of their members voiced support for Sheikh Khalifa Al-Thani, the Qatari emir deposed the previous year by his son Hamad, father of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim.
About 800 Al-Ghufran families, more than 6,000 people, were stripped of their citizenship and had their property confiscated. Many remain stateless, both in Qatar and in neighboring Gulf countries.
“They have taken away our social, political and economic rights,” said
Jabir bin Saleh Al-Ghufrani, a tribal elder. “The Al-Ghufran tribe has been subjected to unjust treatment.
“I left on a vacation in 1996, and now I can never go back to my country. I can go to any place on this earth, but not my home, not Qatar.”
Members of the delegation produced passports, certificates and other documents to show that their right to Qatari citizenship was being denied.
“I ask for my rights. Our people have been asking for our rights for a very long time now and no one has even explained to us why this is happening to us,” said Hamad Khaled Al-Araq.
Jaber Hamad Al-Araq, the tribe member fired twice by Qatar Petroleum, said: “The consequences of revoking our citizenship came in waves. They took away health care, education and public services. They took away all the tools that would allow us to live in Qatar with dignity, as human beings.”
Many of the tribe have suffered from depression and other medical conditions as a result of their ill-treatment. “I was rejected many times for jobs because of the injustice we face,” said Jaber Mohamed Al-Ghufrani. “They would reject me, the interior ministry office would reject me, just for being from the tribe. We are marginalized, without value, and left on the sidelines in our own country.
“I am responsible for my family, consisting of my wife and children, and we have faced many injustices that led us to have psychological trauma. We have suffered enough.”
Abdul Hadi Jaber Al-Ghufrani, another member of the tribe, told the press conference: “All members of the Al-Ghufran tribe without exception suffered from the decision to revoke their nationality.
“Those who remained in Qatar are unable to work, travel, or act like normal human beings, they cannot trade, they cannot even give their identity.
“Those who were expelled and forcibly displaced live in exile. They cannot apply or work in any job where they can get money for they basic needs, and most of them have no official identity papers. They can no longer see their families and loved ones.
“We are here to demand our rights and we will not stop until we get our rights. From today for the next 20 years, we will not stop.”
The youngest member of the delegation, Mohammed Ali Amer Al-Ghufrani Al-Marri, 14, said: “My nationality was revoked when I was less than one year old.
“I did not have the right to grow up in my own country, I was not given the right to stay there. I wish to return to my country and enjoy my rights as a citizen.”