Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

Russian soldiers distribute aid in the central Syrian province of Homs. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Russia ‘trying to help Syrian refugees to return home’

  • A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west
  • The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said it was coordinating efforts to help Syrian refugees return home and rebuild the country’s infrastructure destroyed by the civil war.
Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev said in a conference call that included Russian and Syrian officials that work is underway to rebuild dozens of Syria’s power stations, schools and other vital institutions.
In Damascus, Syrian Public Administration Minister Hussein Makhlouf pledged the regime would protect refugee property rights and grant returning refugees a year’s deferral from military conscription.
“The Syrian government is working to simplify procedures for refugees who return, repair housing and try to create new jobs,” Makhlouf said, adding that the authorities were also working to streamline legislation to facilitate refugee returns.
He dismissed as hostile “propaganda” claims that some refugees were facing arrests on their return.
Makhlouf called on Western nations to drop their sanctions against Damascus, introduced early in the seven-year conflict, in order to help post-war restoration and encourage the return of the refugees.
Mizintsev said that over 1.2 million of internally displaced Syrians and about 300,000 refugees have returned in the past two and a half years.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin might take part in a summit with the leaders of Turkey and Iran at the beginning of September.
The three leaders met in April at a summit in Ankara where they discussed developments in Syria.
With help from its Russian ally, President Bashar Assad’s regime has expelled fighters from large parts of Syria’s south since June.
Israel has repeatedly pledged to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence along its border. A series of airstrikes that killed Iranians inside Syria have been attributed to Israel.
A buffer zone separates Syria to the east, from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the west.
The Russian army’s Lt.-Gen. Sergei Kuralenko told reporters on an organized press tour this week how “stability” had returned to the buffer zone.
Apart from “a few problems with Daesh” in its southern tip, the demilitarized zone was “entirely under control of Syrian military police,” Kuralenko said.
“Everything is ready” for the return of UN troops, he said, after the peacekeepers were forced to withdraw in 2014.
After retaking most of the two southern provinces adjacent to the buffer zone, regime forces last month raised their flag inside, above the key border crossing of Quneitra.
The Russian military police have set up four observation points along the demarcation line on the Syrian side of the buffer zone, Kuralenko said, and plan to set up four more in the near future.
They are “willing to hand them over to the UN if it says it is ready to ensure the monitoring of the Golan alone,” he said.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.