Syria army raises flag in Daraa, cradle of revolt

The Syrian national flag rises in the midst of damaged buildings in Daraa-Al-Balad, an opposition-held part of the southern city of Daraa, on July 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 July 2018
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Syria army raises flag in Daraa, cradle of revolt

  • Daraa was where the uprising began that sparked Syria's seven-year war
  • The Damascus regime is bent on retaking the whole of Daraa province

AMMAN: Syria's army entered rebel-held parts of Daraa city on Thursday, state media said, raising the national flag in the cradle of the uprising that sparked the country's seven-year war.
"Syrian army units enter Daraa Al-Balad and raise the national flag in the main square," the official news agency SANA said of the centre of the southern city.
On Wednesday, state media said opposition fighters and the regime had reached a deal for rebels to hand over their heavy weapons in Daraa Al-Balad and other opposition-held parts of the city.
That deal come after a ceasefire announced last week stemmed nearly three weeks of regime bombardment on the symbolic wider province of the same name bordering Jordan.
The Damascus regime is bent on retaking the whole of Daraa province, including its symbolic capital where 2011 protests against President Bashar Assad are seen to have started the uprising that spiralled into civil war.
But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the regime forces entering Daraa Al-Balad on Thursday was merely "symbolic".
Measures to implement the so-called reconciliation deal for rebel-held parts of the city had not yet been implemented, it said.
"The rebels are still inside Daraa city," Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said, but had not yet handed over their heavy weapons and there were no signs of any evacuations.
Under the deal, "those (rebels) who want to settle their status with the regime will hand over their heavy weapons, keep their light arms and remain in the city", he said.
"Those who refuse the deal will head out towards the north of Syria."
The reconciliation deal for Daraa city is the latest in a string of such agreements that have seen the regime retake large parts of the country since 2015.
They usually follow blistering military campaigns and sometimes stifling sieges that effectively force the rebels into surrendering.
Previous such deals have seen thousands of rebels bused up to areas still under opposition control in the north of the country.

The news comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) called on Thursday for access to 210,000 displaced people who have fled fighting in southern Syria and are in urgent need of medicines and health services, including some injured requiring evacuation.
With temperatures soaring to up to 45 degrees Celsius (113°F), at least 15 Syrians, including 12 children, have died in the past week due to dehydration and diseases linked to contaminated water, the UN health agency said in a statement.
Three out of four public hospitals and health centres in Deraa and Quneitra are closed or only partially functioning, it said. “We call on all parties to open the door to people in southern Syria and allow the safe delivery of medicines and medical items they need, and to grant severely injured patients safe passage to hospitals outside the area that can save their lives.”


Tunisia’s ‘truth commission’ winds up four-year mission

Updated 49 min 55 sec ago
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Tunisia’s ‘truth commission’ winds up four-year mission

  • The commission, whose mandate was extended in the spring until the end of 2018
  • At the end of November, the commission drew up criteria for compensation that exclude those with post-2011 government

TUNIS: After four years working “under fire” and interviewing almost 50,000 witnesses, Tunisia’s commission tasked with serving justice to victims of half a century of dictatorship is poised to submit its recommendations.

Set up in 2014 following the 2011 revolution and in the wake of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s fall, the Truth and Dignity Institute has a mission to “reveal the truth about the human rights violations” in Tunisia between 1955 and 2013.

In its final act, the commission will submit its recommendations to Tunisia’s leadership.

The first version is to be delivered at a public event on Friday and Saturday, before the full report is submitted by Dec. 31.

The government, with the assistance of a parliamentary follow-up committee, will have one year to draw up an action plan based on the recommendations.

The commission’s task was to collect and disseminate testimonies, send some of those suspected of rape, murder, torture or corruption to specialised courts, and recommend measures to prevent any recurrence.

Operating in the only Arab Spring country which has kept to a democratic path since the 2011 revolt, its mandate has also been to seek national reconciliation through a revival of the North African state’s collective memory.

The commission, whose mandate was extended in the spring until the end of 2018, has been studying more than 60,000 complaints and has this year sent dozens of cases to the courts.

Over the past four years, the panel has heard harrowing testimony from victims of torture in jail, some of which has been aired to large television audiences.

“From the very start we’ve worked under fire and come up against difficulties, due to the absence of political will,” commission official Khaled Krichi told AFP.

He said demands for the handover of judicial cases involving corruption had been rejected, as well as for archive materials from the Interior Ministry on prisoners who had suffered torture.

A contested amnesty law passed in 2017 cleared some officials suspected of administrative corruption.

The commission also faced political resistance with the return of former regime leaders to power, internal disputes as well as the lack of cooperation by state institutions.

Thirteen specialized courts have been set up and started work at the end of May on dozens of cases submitted by the commission.

Twenty trials are underway, mostly of victims of the 2011 revolution and of radical and leftist opposition figures tortured under the rule of Ben Ali or his predecessor Habib Bourguiba.

Krichi said settlements have been reached in 10 cases of financial corruption involving former regime figures, including that of Slim Chiboub, a son-in-law of Ben Ali, who has agreed to pay back 307 million dinars ($113 million).

The state, however, faced with accusations of torture and sexual violence, has rejected 1,000 demands for “reconciliation” with the victims. A row has also broken out over compensation cases, with members of Parliament claiming the costs would bankrupt the state and that many claims were designed to benefit supporters of extremist movement Ennahdha.

At the end of November, the commission drew up criteria for compensation that exclude those with post-2011 government or parliamentary posts.

Around 25,000 people are eligible to compensation from the Al-Karama (Dignity) Fund established in 2014, according to Krichi.

It is being financed by donations, a percentage of the funds recovered through settlements and a one-time government grant of 10 million dinars ($3.7 million).