France, Russia send humanitarian aid to Ghouta

Russian personnel (R) stands by as crates containing humanitarian aid are loaded onto an Antonov An-124 Ruslan - Widebody at the former Chateauroux-Deols Marcel Dassault Airport in central France on July 20, 2018. (Alain Jocard/AFP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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France, Russia send humanitarian aid to Ghouta

  • A Russian Antonov 124 military cargo plane carrying 50 tons of medical aid and humanitarian supplies left the airport at the central French city of Chateauroux at 3am
  • The medical aid is aimed at some 500 people who have been seriously injured and the 15,000 others who have lighter injuries during the fighting in Eastern Ghouta

CHATEAUROUX: Humanitarian aid sent by France and Russia arrived in Syria on Saturday as the two countries’ leaders discussed a joint mission to distribute much-needed relief supplies in a ravaged former opposition enclave.
The joint humanitarian aid operation — the first between Russia and a western country — was agreed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and French leader Emmanuel Macron during talks in Saint Petersburg in May.
A Russian Antonov-124 Ruslan military cargo plane carrying more than 40 tons of medical aid and humanitarian supplies arrived at the Russian military base in Hmeimim after departing from the central French city of Chateauroux early Saturday, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
The aid, including medicine, medical equipment, clothes and tents, will be given to residents of Eastern Ghouta on the fringes of the capital Damascus, which was retaken by government forces in April after a five-year siege.
It will be distributed under the supervision of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Aid (OCHA).
Russian representatives and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent will also participate in the process. The supplies will also be distributed to hospitals run by Red Crescent, Moscow said.
On Saturday, Putin and Macron discussed “humanitarian aspects of the Syria settlement” including the joint mission “to render assistance to the population of Eastern Ghouta” and other international issues, the Kremlin said.
Undertaken as part of a UN Security Council resolution, “the aim of this project is to enable civilian populations better access to aid,” a joint Franco-Russian statement said earlier.
“Humanitarian assistance is an absolute priority and must be distributed in accordance with principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence across all Syrian territory without exception,” it added.
France had secured “guarantees” from Russia that the Syrian regime would not obstruct the distribution of the aid, and that it would not be misappropriated or diverted for political purposes, the Foreign Ministry said.
More than 1,700 civilians were killed during the Syrian regime’s operation in Eastern Ghouta in March and April.
According to the Russian military, more than 160,000 people, both military and civilians, were evacuated from the region.
The medical aid is aimed at some 500 people who have been seriously injured and the 15,000 others who have lighter injuries during the fighting in Eastern Ghouta.


German Daesh ‘shoemaker’ pleads to come home from Syria

Updated 7 min 18 sec ago
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German Daesh ‘shoemaker’ pleads to come home from Syria

  • Speaking in near-fluent English peppered with Arabic words, Sufyan recounts his winding journey to what he thought would be a pious life under Islamic rule
  • Sufyan was hired at a hospital in Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, using his 12 years’ experience as an orthopaedic shoemaker

RMELAN, Syria: From northern Syria, Muslim convert Sufyan is imploring his native Germany to take him back, having been captured years after joining the Daesh group’s so-called “caliphate.”
His beard neatly buzzed, Sufyan is one of hundreds of foreigners held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in war-torn Syria, accused of fighting for Daesh.
The 36-year-old insists he was not a fighter, but a misguided civilian making orthopaedic shoes and prosthetics in Daesh territory.
“I am not Jihadi John, I am not Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, I am not Adnani,” said Sufyan, listing Daesh’s infamous British executioner, its elusive chief, and its now-dead spokesman.
“I just made limbs,” added the pale-skinned Sufyan, who refused to give his real name and said he was from Stuttgart in southwest Germany.
He was selected to speak to AFP by the YPG, who detained him around a year ago and were present during the interview.
They have refused to try accused foreign fighters in their custody, urging Western countries to take them back.
Some foreign governments have agreed to do so, but most are reluctant.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are holding several alleged German Daesh members, including Mohammad Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national accused of helping plan the September 11 attacks.
Berlin is not known to have repatriated anyone, but Sufyan hopes he, his Syrian wife and their son can start afresh in Germany.
“People make mistakes and I was naive,” he said, dressed in a yellow hoody with a side zip, cargo pants, and black beanie.
“I just want to go back to my old life.”
Speaking in near-fluent English peppered with Arabic words, Sufyan recounts his winding journey to what he thought would be a pious life under Islamic rule.
In 2014, Daesh declared a “caliphate” across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The following year, Sufyan traveled across Europe and Turkey, finally crossing into Syria in March 2015, four years into the Syrian war.
Once inside, he says, Daesh shuffled him among safe houses for weeks alongside Australians, Central Asians, and Russians.
He was given one month of military training and assigned to a battalion, but claims he never fought.
“I didn’t fight and I didn’t kill anyone,” he said.
“I never killed any person in my life.”
Instead, Sufyan was hired at a hospital in Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, using his 12 years’ experience as an orthopaedic shoemaker.
“They teach me over there prosthetics. Until I came to YPG, I was doing this job... making prosthetic and orthopaedic shoes,” he said.
In 2016, he married a Syrian woman from northwest Idlib, and they had a son.
They stayed in Raqqa until YPG-led forces surrounded the northern city in 2017, forcing them to flee to the Daesh-held eastern town of Mayadeen.
Sufyan took up the same work there until Mayadeen came under attack, this time by the Russia-backed Syrian regime.
He said he had grown embittered toward Daesh by then and decided to pay a smuggler to bring him and his family to a YPG checkpoint.
“I was not ready to kill someone or to die, so I decided to go out,” said Sufyan. “Everyone was running away.”
A year later, Sufyan lives separated from his wife and son, who are detained in a Kurdish-run camp. He desperately wants to be reunited with his family.
Kurdish authorities say they have in their custody around 520 male foreign Daesh members, 550 women and around 1,200 children from 44 countries.
According to a European Parliament report in May, Germany estimates there are 290 children with claims to German citizenship in Iraq and Syria.
“If I can come back to Germany and if Germany want to punish me, I will accept this, to stay in prison,” Sufyan told AFP.
“I hope it will not be a long sentence, because I miss already my wife and my son,” he said.
He hopes to study or open his own business in his homeland, for which he has renewed appreciation since meeting Syrians who “see Germany as something like a paradise on earth.”
“I know Germany is a country with a lot of ‘rahma’ with a lot of people. I expect that Germany will have also ‘rahma’ with me,” he said, using the Arabic word for “mercy.”
Sufyan has written to his parents in Germany, who replied and also sent a letter and money to his wife.
Included in his parents’ reply was a picture of a bicycle, which has kept Sufyan’s hopes of returning home alive.
“My brain says, why will my mother and my father buy a bicycle for my son if he is in Syria? I hope I can go back to my country and make a new start.”