Syrians in exile seek answers in leaked ‘wanted list’

Syrian children, evacuated from Eastern Ghouta, play at a shelter in the regime-controlled Adra district, on the northeastern outskirts of Damascus. AFP
Updated 06 April 2018
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Syrians in exile seek answers in leaked ‘wanted list’

BEIRUT: Desperate to find out if they can ever return home, Syrians exiled by their country’s uprising-turned-war are scouring a leaked database of people reportedly wanted by the intelligence services.
Typing in first, last and father’s names into the online list, Syrians abroad hold their breath to learn if a long-awaited visit to Damascus would land them in regime prison or potentially far worse.
Hundreds of thousands have been arrested by Syria’s feared security apparatus since the conflict erupted in 2011, many for opposing the regime.
Others have fled the country, fearing detention, torture, or worse.
Last month, the pro-opposition Zaman Al-Wasl news website released a searchable database of 1.5 million reportedly wanted people, including which security branch seeks their arrest, questioning or travel ban.
“Wanted By: General Intelligence Directorate. Action: Arrest,” reads the result for Amr Al-Azm, history professor at Shawnee State University in the US.
“I would not have assumed otherwise,” sighed Azm, 54, who last visited his native Syria a year before protests against President Bashar Assad began. Since then, Azm has spoken out actively against Assad, so was unfazed to see his name on the list.
“On the one hand, you feel proud you’ve done enough to attract the attention of the authorities,” he said.
“But at the same time, it makes me very sad — because if it’s true, it means I’ll never see Syria again.”
Zaman Al-Wasl says the list was part of a trove of 1.7 million regime documents leaked by Damascus-based sources in 2015.
It says the database has been searched more than 10 million times. Their site also shows frustrated reactions from people who learned they were wanted.
When a first installment of 500,000 names was released in early March, exiled Syrian opposition figures began sending each other the link.
Many already knew they were persona non grata in their homeland, but wanted details: Which of Syria’s feared security branches held outstanding warrants for them? Would they face a simple interrogation or full-blown arrest?
“It’s like a terminal disease. You know you have it, but the lab tests come through and you get the confirmation,” Azm said.
The list does not include the specific crime in question, and doubts remain about whether it is comprehensive or up-to-date.
Still, when Zeina learned of the database, her heart began racing.
She left Syria in 2012 after two stints in regime jails for demonstrating, and wondered if she would face a third arrest.
“I never considered not searching, because I’d rather know,” said Zeina, using a pseudonym. As each third of the database was released, she punched in her real name, but it generated no criminal record.
“I want it to be true for selfish reasons, because I’m not on it and I want to go back,” Zeina said.
She aches for personal letters, books and ancestors’ belongings she would inherit, still thousands of miles away.
To double-check, Zeina asked contacts in Damascus to run her name against their lists, which could be more recent and detailed. Still, nothing. “I don’t have an answer, and that’s why I haven’t taken action yet,” she said.
“Is it worse to go back and risk being taken? Or never go, and then it ends up that they never wanted me in the first place?”
Even people living outside regime control in Syria have used Zaman Al-Wasl’s database.
Dilbrin Mohammad, 37, lives in Kurdish-held Qamishli and fears arrest by the regime for protesting in 2011.
He has searched lists like Zaman Al-Wasl’s and paid bribes to regime officials to search their records, which can cost as much as $200. To be safe, he avoids regime checkpoints.
“You feel like the government-controlled parts are a different country that you need a visa for,” said the computer technician.
“It’s like they’re North Korea and we’re the South.”
It’s been more than two years since Mohammad Kheder resettled in Germany with his wife and three children, but he insists it is a temporary stay. “I don’t want to get acclimatized, because we’re going back to Syria,” said Kheder, 32, who hails from Albu Kamal in the east.
He will never forget the euphoria of his hometown’s first anti-Assad protests nor would he regret participating, even if it landed him on the regime’s wanted list.
“I didn’t open the Zaman Al-Wasl database because I already knew, but all my friends sent me screenshots of my name,” Kheder said.
It prompted him to search the names of his brothers, friends, and nostalgically, activists he knew were killed in the seven-year war.
“Seeing my name was a badge of honor. It only made me more determined to go back, but not while Assad is in power,” he said.
“I’m wanted by Assad? Well, he’s wanted by me.”


Turkey launches new gas drillship amid tensions with Cyprus

Updated 20 June 2019
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Turkey launches new gas drillship amid tensions with Cyprus

  • Turkey’s energy minister boarded the 230-meter (750-foot) vessel, the Yavuz, which can drill to an estimated depth of up to 12,000 meters (40,000 feet), in a ceremony on Thursday
  • EU leaders meeting in Brussels are mulling possible actions against Turkey

ISTANBUL: Turkey has launched a second drillship that will drill for gas off neighboring Cyprus’ east coast despite European Union warnings to refrain from such illegal actions or face sanctions.
Turkey’s energy minister boarded the 230-meter (750-foot) vessel, the Yavuz, which can drill to an estimated depth of up to 12,000 meters (40,000 feet), in a ceremony on Thursday.
Another Turkish drillship is already drilling 40 miles off EU member Cyprus’ west coast in waters where the ethnically divided island nation has exclusive economic rights. The Cypriot government condemned the Turkish action as a violation of international law and its sovereign rights.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels are mulling possible actions against Turkey. Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said that his country would defend its rights and those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots to the area’s energy reserves “until the end” and would continue drilling “without interruptions.” Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence.
In a dig at the 28-member EU, Donmez said Turkey rejects “attempts by actors from outside the region to delineate” the eastern Mediterranean.
He said the Yavuz will be drilling off Cyprus’ eastern coast in coming months.
Cyprus has divided its exclusive economic zone off its southern coast into 13 blocks, or areas. Turkey, which doesn’t recognize Cyprus as a state, says parts of three blocks off the island’s west coast fall within its own continental shelf. Turkish Cypriots claim most of seven blocks in the east.
The Cypriot government says any potential gas proceeds will be shared equitably with Turkish Cypriots after a reunification deal is agreed upon and has created a fund into which all such revenues will flow.