Syrian regime flag raised in Douma, rebels surrender heavy arms in Ghouta

Updated 13 April 2018
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Syrian regime flag raised in Douma, rebels surrender heavy arms in Ghouta

  • Syrian rebel group Jaish Al-Islam says a chemical attack by the regime had forced them to accept Russia’s terms
  • Russia-backed assault has left at least 1,700 civilians dead

DAMASCUS: Rebels in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta surrendered their heavy weapons as their leader joined a convoy out of the enclave, a monitor said on Thursday, signalling an end to one of the bloodiest assaults of Syria’s seven-year war.

The Syrian flag was raised above the central mosque in Douma, the town where the regime is accused of carrying out a chemical attack that sparked outrage and threats of Western military action.

Jaish Al-Islam, which has controlled Eastern Ghouta’s main town for years, had balked at a Russian-brokered deal similar to those that allowed other factions to be bussed to northern Syria.

The group’s political chief told AFP that a chemical attack by the regime had forced them to accept Russia’s terms and leave their former bastion.

“Of course, the chemical attack is what pushed us to agree” to a withdrawal, said Yasser Dalwan.

Syrian regime forces had yet to take over Douma on Thursday, but according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the rebels had surrendered their heavy weapons.

“Jaish Al-Islam fighters handed over their heavy weapons to Russian military police in the town of Douma on Wednesday,” the Britain-based monitoring group said.

Their leader, Issam Buwaydani, joined a convoy out of Ghouta with thousands of other fighters, it said.

“Not all the leadership has left yet. Departures are ongoing,” Dalwan said.

Douma residents said Syria’s national flag was raised above the main mosque on Wednesday. But a dispute subsequently erupted, shots were fired and the flag was taken down.

Russian military police, who had started deploying in Douma as part of a deal that would allow some rebels to disarm and stay in the town, also left after the incident, residents said.

Simultaneously carrying out air strikes and supervising humanitarian operations, Russia was the key player in an assault that left at least 1,700 civilians dead.

“Today a significant event in the history of Syria took place,” Maj. Gen. Yury Yevtushenko, head of the Russian military’s center for reconciliation in Syria, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

“The raising of a regime flag signified control over Douma and consequently over Eastern Ghouta as a whole,” he said.

Moscow also said Russian military police had returned to the town and were in full control. “From today, units of the Russian armed forces’ military police are working in the town of Douma,” the defense ministry said.


Kuwait arrests 2 Filipinos accused of helping runaway maids

Updated 23 April 2018
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Kuwait arrests 2 Filipinos accused of helping runaway maids

  • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has banned workers from heading to Kuwait over abuse cases
  • The two countries have since been negotiating for new rules governing Filipino workers there
KUWAIT CITY: Kuwaiti police arrested two Filipinos for allegedly convincing housemaids to run away from their employers’ homes as the Philippines’ ambassador faced questions for comments about his embassy’s work in aiding abused workers, authorities said Sunday.
The arrests, reported by the state-run KUNA news agency, come as relations are tense between Kuwait and the Philippines, which sends many domestic laborers to the Gulf Arab emirate.
Already, the government of President Rodrigo Duterte has banned workers from heading to Kuwait over abuse cases, culminating in a February incident that saw a Filipino’s body discovered in a freezer at a Kuwait City apartment abandoned for more than a year.
KUNA said Sunday the two Filipinos acknowledged convincing the maids to leave. It wasn’t clear what law the two men were accused of breaking, though KUNA said the two “confessed to the crime in addition to other similar offenses that had been committed in various regions of the country.”
The arrests came after Kuwait summoned the Philippines ambassador over comments he made that were reported in local press about the embassy’s effort to rescue domestic workers who are abused by their employers. Ambassador Renato Villa was quoted as saying his embassy moves in to help the abused if Kuwaiti authorities fail to respond within 24 hours.
Villa’s office said he was unavailable for comment Sunday.
Duterte in January complained that cases of abuse reported by Filipino domestic workers “always” seem to be coming from Kuwait.
There have been prominent cases of abuse in the past, including an incident in December 2014 where a Kuwaiti’s pet lions fatally mauled a Filipino maid.
The Philippines banned workers entirely from Kuwait after the discovery of Joanna Demafelis’ body in a freeze in February. In late March, Lebanese officials said 40-year-old Lebanese national Nader Essam Assaf confessed to killing the woman along with his Syrian wife, who remains at large. Authorities say Assaf faces a possible death sentence.
More than 260,000 Filipinos work in Kuwait, many of them as housemaids. Kuwait and the Philippines have since been negotiating for new rules governing Filipino workers there.
Philippine officials have demanded that housemaids be allowed to hold their passports and cellphones, which is normal for skilled workers like teachers and office workers. But many Kuwaiti employers seize their phones and passports.