Sweida bloodshed marks a turning point for Syria’s Druze community

Smoke rises after an attack in the southwestern Syrian city of Sweida. (File photo/AFP)
Updated 06 August 2018

Sweida bloodshed marks a turning point for Syria’s Druze community

  • The execution came “after the failure of talks between Daesh and regime forces over the transfer of Daesh militants from the southwest of Daraa province to the Badiya
  • Regime forces have in recent weeks ousted Daesh from all of the towns and villages in the Yarmouk Basin in the northwest of Daraa province

BEIRUT: Daesh has executed one of dozens of Druze hostages abducted from Syria’s southern province of Sweida last week, a journalist in the area and a monitor said Sunday.
Daesh went on a rampage in Sweida on July 25, killing more than 250 people — mostly civilians — in the deadliest attack ever to target the mostly regime-held province and its Druze religious minority.
The militants also kidnapped more than 30 people, most of them women and children, from a village in the province, which had previously remained largely isolated from Syria’s seven-year civil war.
On Thursday, Daesh killed a 19-year-old male student who was among the hostages, the head of the Sweida24 news website Nour Radwan told AFP.
Quoting relatives, Radwan, who was speaking from Sweida, said the young man was taken from the village of Al-Shabki on July 25 along with his mother.
His family received two videos, the first showing him being decapitated and the second of him speaking before being killed as well as images of his body after his death, Radwan said.
Sweida24 posted online part of a second video, which was seen by AFP, showing a bearded young man who appeared to be sitting on the ground in a landscape of grey rocks.
He is wearing a black T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, and his hands are tied behind his back. The video could not be independently verified.
Also on Sunday, sources said the head of a Syrian research facility that Western countries say was part of a chemical weapons program was killed when his car was blown up.
Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Research Center in Masyaf, near the city of Hama, which Western governments say was a covert Syrian regime installation.
“(Asber) died after an explosion targeted his car in the Hama countryside,” Al-Watan said in an online report.
The attack on Asber was claimed by a Syrian militant group affiliated to Tahrir Al-Sham. It includes the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which served as Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.
Militants have lost much of the territory they once controlled in Syria after overrunning large swathes of it in 2014, but they retain a presence in the east of the country and in the vast Badiya desert that sweeps through its south.
The regime has been fighting in recent weeks to expel Daesh fighters from a patch in the neighboring province of Daraa.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, said the young man’s execution was the first since the kidnappings.
The execution came “after the failure of talks between Daesh and regime forces over the transfer of Daesh militants from the southwest of Daraa province to the Badiya” desert, said the Observatory.
It also follows the execution of 50 Daesh fighters and civilians in Daraa province earlier this week at the hands of rebels, according to the monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria.
On Friday, a top Druze religious leader said Russia was in talks with the militants over the release of those abducted in Sweida.
Sweida24 said the oldest woman seized was 60.
Syria expert Khattar Abu Diab said that the events of July 25 in Sweida marked a turning point for the country’s Druze community.
“For this ancestral community, the abduction of women oversteps all red lines,” he said.
“Their reaction will depend on the outcome of negotiations but if all the hostages were killed” the Druze could directly intervene to expel Daesh from the desert, he said.
Regime forces have in recent weeks ousted Daesh from all of the towns and villages in the Yarmouk Basin in the northwest of Daraa province.
Syria’s state media have said regime troops are pursuing the last remaining militants who fled to nearby valleys.
In areas it has retaken from militants in recent years, the regime has sometimes negotiated to take back control of land in exchange for the transfer of fighters to other parts of Syria.
During the July 25 attack in Sweida, the militants abducted 36 Druze women and children from a village in Sweida’s east, the Observatory said at the time.
Four women had since escaped while two had died, leaving 14 women and 16 children in Daesh captivity, according to the Observatory.
At the time, another 17 men were unaccounted for but it was unclear if they were also kidnapped.
Local sources say the families of the abductees have been sent photos and videos of their loved ones via WhatsApp.
The Sweida killing is the first such execution of a kidnapped civilian by Daesh since the jihadists overran the town of Al-Qaryatain in central Syria for several weeks in October last year, the Observatory said.


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 18 August 2019

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”