Syria rebels begin leaving zone near Golan: state media

Syrian rebels and their families stand by buses to be evacuated from Daraa city, on July 15, 2018, as Syrian government forces heavily bombed the neighbouring province of Quneitra making a ground advance in the zone. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 20 July 2018
0

Syria rebels begin leaving zone near Golan: state media

  • Syrian rebels began evacuating the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
  • Rebels in Quneitra province have agreed to either accept the return of state rule, or leave to Idlib province in the north

DAMASCUS: Hard-line rebels and civilians began leaving a southwestern sliver of Syria near the Israeli-annexed Golan on Friday under a surrender deal, state media, as the evacuations turned deadly with a car accident.
The transfers come under a deal agreed this week between Russia and Syrian rebels in Quneitra province that will restore state control over the sensitive zone.
Rebels will hand over territory they control in Quneitra and the neighboring buffer zone with the Golan Heights.
The deal also provides for the evacuation to northern Syria of any rebels and militant fighters who refuse to live under government control.
On Friday afternoon, buses began taking civilians and armed fighters out of opposition-held territory through the town of Jaba, state television said.
It said they would be taken north to Idlib which is under militant and rebel control. The channel earlier reported more than 50 buses were prepared to ferry people north.
Vehicles had been arriving in Syria’s south since Thursday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“As the convoy of buses was gathering, one of the drivers lost control and four people, including two women, were run over and killed,” said the Britain-based monitor.
Fighters then fired their weapons, wounding a bus driver.
Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said it was still unclear exactly how many people would ultimately be evacuated.
Among them were members of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s onetime Syria affiliate which refused to sign up to the deal.
Quneitra is a thin, crescent-shaped province wedged between the buffer to the west and Daraa province to its east.
One month ago, Syria’s regime launched an operation to retake rebel areas in Daraa and Quneitra, using military force and surrender deals brokered by its Russian ally.
Fighting forced several hundred thousand people to flee, and as many as 140,000 remain displaced in Quneitra, according to the United Nations.
The UN’s humanitarian coordination office (OCHA) warned they are inaccessible to aid organizations based around an hour away in Damascus because of a lack of approvals.
Both Israel and Jordan, which shares a border with Syria, have kept their borders closed to the displaced.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan during the Six-Day War of 1967, then annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognized internationally.
Some 510 square kilometers of the Golan remain on Syria’s side of the cease-fire line, with a UN peacekeeping force overseeing a buffer zone stretching some 70 kilometers from Lebanon in the north to Jordan in the south.
Under the terms of the deal, a rebel source told AFP, Syrian and Russian forces are to enter the buffer zone.


Iran faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 18 February 2019
0

Iran faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.