Families flee as Syria regime bombards southern city

The regime has ramped up its bombardment of the southern city of Daraa. Reuters
Updated 26 June 2018
0

Families flee as Syria regime bombards southern city

  • Government forces have for ramped up their bombardment of the wider province of the same name for nearly a week, as fears rise of a full-blown regime assault to retake the country’s south from rebels
  • The uptick in violence has killed at least 28 civilians in just under a week, the monitor said, with rescue teams struggling to reach affected areas due to the intensity of the bombing

BEIRUT: Regime helicopters dropped barrel bombs on Daraa city for the first time in nearly a year on Monday, a rebel and a war monitor said, extending an assault in southwest Syria that has driven thousands from their homes.
Along with the barrels crammed with explosives, the helicopters dropped leaflets saying the army was coming and urging people to “kick out the terrorists as your brothers did in Eastern Ghouta,” the sources said.
“My wife and I left with only the clothes on our backs, because the house was completely destroyed,” Mohammed Abu Qasim, 45, said. Heavy bombing had turned his village northeast of Daraa into “an unbearable hell.”
The region is politically sensitive because of its proximity to Israel and Jordan and because of a “de-escalation” deal there agreed between the US, Jordan and Syrian regime ally Russia.
Washington had warned Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian allies that violations of the cease-fire would prompt a response, but rebels said the US had told them not to expect any American military support.
A European diplomat said the violation of the de-escalation agreement by Russia and Syria was “deeply troubling.”
“No one is in any doubt about the likely military outcome from this uneven clash, but the consequences could be significant. It not only risks a significant humanitarian crisis, but is likely to destabilize further an already precarious situation. It also casts real doubt about Russia’s willingness to stand by its own commitments,” he said.
The fighting has displaced thousands of people and threatens to uproot many more from their homes, adding to the about 6.5 million people already internally displaced by Syria’s seven-year-old conflict.
After fleeing her home many times since the start of war, 30-year-old widow Um Mohammed has once again been forced to move with her three children, and is now sheltering in a school deeper inside rebel territory in southwest Syria.
“Each of us took only our clothes. Right now there’s bombardment everywhere,” she said.
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying Russian officials hoped to discuss southwest Syria with US National Security Adviser John Bolton soon, and separately with Jordan.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Twitter on Sunday his country, already hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, could not take in Syrians fleeing fighting in the southwest and demanded the de-escalation agreement be respected.
Assad has turned to the southwest after driving opposition forces from their last besieged enclaves in western Syria, including Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, earlier this year.
It is one of two major areas still held by rebel factions, along with Idlib province on the border with Turkey in the northwest. Daraa, the southwest’s largest city, was an early center of the uprising against Assad in 2011 and has been split into rebel and government sectors for years.
Recent fighting has focused on the town of Busra Al-Harir, half way along a narrow rebel salient stretching into regime areas northeast of Daraa. If taken, it would split that salient in half, putting the northern part under siege.
The pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper reported on Monday that the regime forces had advanced into Busra Al-Harir.
The UK-based war monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported fierce fighting inside the town between the army, along with allied militia, and insurgents.
But Abu Shaima, spokesman for a central operations room for rebels fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said the insurgents had foiled attempts to advance.
Abu Bakr Al-Hassan, spokesman for the FSA rebel group Jaish Al-Thawra, said Russian planes were carrying out heavy airstrikes to support the strong Busra Al-Harir offensive.
On Sunday, an airstrike hit a medical center in Busra Al-Harir, causing extensive damage but no casualties, said the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, a charity that works in opposition parts of Syria.
The bombardment has killed about 30 people since it began on June 19, the Observatory reported.
The Syrian military said it was committed to protecting civilians in the area.
Russia also said on Monday it had helped the army repel an insurgent attack in the southwest, killing 70 rebel fighters. Syrian state media reported that rebels shelled the nearby city of Sweida.


Can Lebanon control cannabis cultivation?

A Syrian refugee (who asked to withhold his name) from Raqqa carries a bundle of cannabis during the harvest in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon. (Files/Reuters)
Updated 23 July 2018
0

Can Lebanon control cannabis cultivation?

  • Legalizing cannabis means legalizing something that is illegal and used to achieve a forbidden pleasure
  • There is a social stigma in Lebanon associated with cannabis consumption and cultivation

BEIRUT: A heated debate is taking place in Lebanon after McKinsey & Co., the global management consulting firm hired by the government to help restructure the country’s economy, recommended the legalisation of growing medical marijuana.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri received the recommendation, which isn’t binding for the Lebanese government, and informed the US ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, that “the Lebanese Parliament is in the process of preparing the necessary laws for legalising the cultivation of cannabis for manufacturing marijuana pharmaceuticals as in Western countries.”
Some parliamentary blocs welcomed Berri’s stance, while others chose not to comment on it. Growing cannabis in Lebanon is classified as an act punishable by law, and consumers, as well as traders, are subject to legal prosecution.
No authority in Lebanon can accurately estimate the size of land cultivated with cannabis. Northern Bekaa Valley has always been the weakness of the absent state, and this allowed the de facto authorities to exploit its lands during the civil war and in the time of the Syrian occupation, which lasted 30 years and was followed by Hezbollah’s control.
Northern Bekaa is awash with cannabis fields, owing to its fertile ground that is adequate for growing this plant.
Every year, the security authorities publicly destroy lands in which cannabis was grown. Cannabis seedlings are planted between February and March every year, and the crops are harvested in September.
Cannabis cultivation has become a profitable profession for mafias that trade in cannabis, while the farmers receive the crumbs only.
Mona, a woman from Northern Bekaa who did not want to use her full name, said the fields surrounding her house were spacious and could be cultivated with cannabis, but her values prevented her from resorting to this type of farming.
She believes that by legalizing cannabis cultivation, the government is exempting those who have planted cannabis and traded in it from punishment.
“This is against the law and does not make any sense,” she said.
A Hezbollah member of Parliament, who wished to remain anonymous, refused to say whether he was for against the legalization of cannabis cultivation.
He told Arab News: “Is the Lebanese government capable of controlling cannabis cultivation? Let’s not lie to one another: no one can control it.
“Legalizing cannabis cultivation means that the government is to control and establish a company similar to the Régie tobacco company, issue licenses for farmers and receive the crops,” he continued. “This company may receive the crops, but will it be the full amount or will part of it be sent to the black market? And will the product be sold inside Lebanon or will the state sell it to other countries?”
The Hezbollah MP added: “Allowing the cultivation of cannabis means legalizing it to those who have a license and those who don’t, and this will reflect on society and the young generation.
“There is a social stigma in Lebanon associated with cannabis consumption and cultivation—a person who consumes or grows this plant is considered a failure.
“This country is neither the US nor the Netherlands—it is Lebanon. The ideas of the Dutch society are different from ours; they enjoy absolute freedom and know how to deal with it. As for us, should we legalize cannabis just because we are going through economic difficulties? So if we were looking for financial gains, should we legalize prostitution as well? Definitely not, and these things must be discussed at a religious level first and must be socially controlled.”
Rajaa Makki, a social psychology professor of the Lebanese University, said: “Cannabis cultivation might serve the country’s economy, but it needs to be regulated to limit violations.”
From a social/psychological point of view, Makki does not believe legalizing cannabis will yield positive results in a country like Lebanon, which lacks clear laws.
She added: “An individual who resorts to drugs usually has an emotional attachment, which means she/he is ill and is subconsciously seeking to have drugs replace what she/he lacks.”
“From here, legalizing cannabis means legalizing something that is illegal and used to achieve a forbidden pleasure.”
Makki stated that she was against legalizing cannabis in the absence of awareness campaigns.
“Awareness campaigns are an integral part of the process, especially at the social psychological level, and we are going to need more rehabilitation and treatment centers,” she said.
Those who are pro-cannabis cultivation claim that legalizing it will bring Lebanon money, while economists believe this step would contribute to a GDP growth rate of 0.5 percent.
Economist Louis Hobeika explained that the Lebanese government believes legalizing cannabis will control its cultivation and provide the country with legitimate income.
He added: “I am against it though, because the prices of the substance extracted from marijuana to be used for medical purposes are not globally high. Many countries are in this business and we are not inventing anything that can compete with their medical marijuana products.
“In addition to that, there is poor demand for medical marijuana, and there is an illusion that legalizing cannabis will earn Lebanon billions of dollars.”
He also said: “Who in Lebanon can control cannabis cultivation and who can guarantee that the business does not result in producing narcotics? The government cannot control it and a mafia that funds cannabis, probably in cooperation with the government, will be born, and we will find ourselves in a bigger problem.”
Hobeika asked: “Does Lebanon enforce traffic or construction laws as it should? What do you think would be the case for the law of cannabis cultivation?”
He stressed that it is necessary to help farmers in Northern Bekaa — and everyone who cultivates cannabis — find an alternative crop that generates revenue.
“Why don’t we grow flowers instead of importing them?” he suggested. “Or maybe exotic fruits—yes, they need additional efforts compared to cannabis cultivation as well as a new attitude, but these are positive products that do not harm our children.”
Pharmacist Samer Sobra was surprised how cannabis is to be used for medical purposes in Lebanon.
He said: “Cannabis in Lebanon is currently sold as a narcotic substance and not used for manufacturing pharmaceuticals. The substance extracted from cannabis for medical use is cannabidiol (CBD). It is used for manufacturing cough medicines, mood regulators, and relaxants in specialized labs. These medicines are not manufactured in Lebanon but imported from abroad.
“In Lebanon, there isn’t a high demand for these medicines which include CBD in their formula,” he added. “I believe it would be more profitable for Lebanon’s economy to sell the substance to other countries.”