Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’

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An adolescent boy makes objects from beads at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
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An adolescent boy sits in a chair in front of a mirror where he is learning hairdressing skills at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
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An adolescent boy writes on a white board at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
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An adolescent boy makes objects from beads at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
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An adolescent boy writes on a white board at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2018
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Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’

TAL MAAROUF: Thirteen-year-old Hassan may have committed atrocities for Daesh, but instead of jailing him immediately, the Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria enrolled him in a rehabilitation center.
He was one of around 80 teenagers sporting trainers and tracksuits as they filled their lungs with chilly morning air in the courtyard of the Hori Center in Tal Maarouf.
Aged 12 to 17, they had all been detained by Kurdish fighters or the US-led Western forces who supported them during the battle to destroy the extremists’ self-styled “caliphate.”
Some are children of Daesh families, whose parents may be in jail, while others were directly recruited — forcibly or voluntarily — by the extremist group.
After their capture, they were selected for “rehabilitation” in line with the “second chance policy” of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which controls the region.
Local officials admit their prisons are full and say they are hoping a constructive approach can help mend ties with local tribes that once backed the extremists.
It was early 2018 when Hassan checked into the Hori Center, months after the opening of the sprawling complex of red-brick rooms and dorms framing a rectangular lawn.
As the son of a senior Daesh commander in the Syrian city of Raqqa, once the de facto capital of the extremists’ proto-state, he regularly witnessed beheadings.
The Kurdish forces who captured him found a picture that shows him proudly holding a severed head, but whether the boy ever killed anyone himself isn’t clear.
“When he arrived, like many of them, he didn’t say hi, didn’t shake our hands and didn’t look us in the eye,” said Roka Khalil, one of the center’s two directors.
The center is run by two secular women and its boarders are asked to shave and give up their traditional garments for Western-style clothes.
Moving there was a culture shock for Hassan.
Like other teenagers Daesh called the “cubs of the caliphate,” he had been subjected to the group’s efforts to impose its brand of violence and religious conservatism on an entire generation.
Now, some of those youngsters are housed in dormitories where they have no access to phones or the Internet but where staff are available day and night, said Abir Khaled, the center’s co-director.
“We consider them as humans, as victims of the war,” she said.
While most of the children are Syrian, the center also hosts former “cubs” from countries including Turkey and Indonesia.
Their days follow a strict routine that includes a lot of sport, particularly volleyball, various chores on the compound and workshops training them to become barbers and tailors.
Also central to the rehabilitation process is a curriculum that includes history, geography, Arabic and Kurdish classes, as well as a “morality” class.
Many have experienced poverty, received very little education and grew up in tough family environments.
Four of them were dispatched by Daesh to carry out a suicide operation but surrendered instead, according to the center’s staff.
“It shows that their ideology is not that deep, and can be easily fixed,” said Khalil.
A third of the Hori Center’s “guests” have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to seven years, but Kurdish authorities believe they can be rehabilitated if they are given a supportive environment.
If their conduct is good at Hori, their sentences may be reduced and they could be released to their families within months.
Hassan is now awaiting trial and Khalil said he may be given a term of up to three years, although that could be reduced.
The Hori Center’s egalitarian and social values are directly inspired by those of the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan.
The charismatic leader, who has been imprisoned by Turkey since 1999, is the main ideological reference of the PYD, whose armed branch controls swathes of northern and eastern Syria.
Ocalan’s portrait is plastered all over the region, where supporters see him as a visionary leader but his critics denounce him as a Marxist autocrat — or even a terrorist.
The self-proclaimed Kurdish administration insists the Hori Center is not designed to implant PYD ideology in the heads of its young boarders, replacing one brainwashing with another.
Yet at Qamishli’s Alaya prison, which AFP was allowed to visit and where some of Hori’s “patients” were previously detained, the wooden models carved by inmates were often in the image of Ocalan.
Khalil said it was too early to describe the center’s activities as a success, but stressed that results were already tangible.
“Today, lots of them come to talk to us by themselves,” she said.
“Hassan doesn’t insult his classmates any more when there is a dispute, he doesn’t believe in paradise and the virgins any more, he even listens to music.”


With Hodeidah airport liberated, Saudi Arabia-led coalition accuses Houthis of targeting civilians

Updated 20 June 2018
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With Hodeidah airport liberated, Saudi Arabia-led coalition accuses Houthis of targeting civilians

  • UAE commander confirms Hodeidah airport in Yemen is liberated
  • Houthis have been accused of breaking international law by targeting civilians

DUBAI: A Saudi-led Arab Coalition commander has confirmed the liberation of Yemen’s Hodeida airport in a video posted by UAE state news agency WAM.

“The airport was completely cleared, Thank God, and is under control,” the coalition commander for the Red Sea coast, Abdul Salaam Al-Shehi said speaking in Arabic in the video posted on Twitter.

 

 

Government forces broke through the airport perimeter fence on Tuesday sparking heavy fighting in which at least 33 militia and 19 soldiers were killed – according to AFP.

The offensive was launched last Wednesday to clear Hodeida of Houthi fighters who have held it since 2014, raising UN concerns for vital aid shipments and food imports through the city’s docks.

The airport is disused but housed a major militia base just inland from the coast road into the city from the south.

It lies eight kilometers from the city’s port, through which three-quarters of Yemen’s imports pass, providing a lifeline for some 22 million people dependent on aid.

UN envoy Martin Griffiths held four days of talks in the rebel-held capital Sanaa in a bid to avert an all-out battle for the city but flew out on Tuesday without announcing any breakthrough.

Meanwhile Coalition forces have accused the Iran-back Houthis of directly targeting civilians in the Tehama region, north-west of Hodeidah, in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, WAM reported.

Now the Coalition has called on the international community to put pressure on the Houthis to stop their violent and illegal acts against the Yemeni people.

These latest reports came as further evidence was presented by both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, that Iran is supplying the Houthi militia in Yemen with various forms of artillery, including drones, rockets, small arms and ammunition.

(With AFP)