One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

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Shops in Raqqa have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads, although choked by the impromptu checkpoints. (AFP)
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Soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2018
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One year after Daesh defeat, Syria’s Raqqa still in fear

  • While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins
  • ‘The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future’

RAQQA, Syria: A year after a US-backed alliance of Syrian fighters drove the Daesh group from the northern city of Raqqa, traumatized civilians still live in fear of near-daily bombings.
“Every day we wake up to the sound of an explosion,” said resident Khaled Al-Darwish.
“We’re scared to send our children to school ... there’s no security,” he added.
The militants’ brutal rule in Raqqa was brought to an end in October 2017 after a months-long ground offensive by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces supported by air strikes from a US-led coalition.
But despite manning roadblocks at every street corner, the SDF and the city’s newly created Internal Security Forces are struggling to stem infiltration by Daesh sleeper cells.
At Raqqa’s entrance, soldiers verify drivers’ identity papers and carefully sift through lorry cargoes.
Inside the city, there are regular foot patrols and armored vehicles sit at strategic points.
Women wearing the niqab are asked to show their faces to female security members before entering public buildings.
“If there wasn’t fear about a return of Daesh, there wouldn’t be this increased military presence,” said Darwish, a father of two, speaking near the infamous Paradise Square.
It was here that Daesh carried out decapitations and other brutal punishments, earning the intersection a new name — “the roundabout of hell.”
While the nightmare of militant rule may be gone, most of the city still lies in ruins and there are near daily attacks on checkpoints and military vehicles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Although a series of stinging defeats have cut Daesh’s so-called caliphate down to desert hideouts, the militants still manage to hit beyond the patches of ground they overtly control.
Some Raqqa residents say the city’s new security forces lack the expertise to cope.
“We are exhausted. Every day we don’t know if we will die in a bomb explosion or if we will go home safe and sound,” said Abu Younes, sitting in his supermarket near a roundabout not far from Paradise Square.
“There is no security — (the new security forces) on the roadblocks are not qualified and there is a lot of negligence,” he complained.
“There are faults that enable Daesh to infiltrate the city easily and carry out attacks.”
But despite the continued attacks, a semblance of normal life has returned to the city.
Shops have reopened and traffic has returned to major roads — albeit choked by the impromptu checkpoints.
In a public garden, children climb up a multi-colored slide and onto dilapidated swings as their mothers sit on nearby benches carefully keeping watch.
They are set amidst an apocalyptic backdrop of twisted metal and splayed balconies — the remnants of buildings torn apart by US-led coalition air raids.
Nearby, Ahmed Al-Mohammed pauses as he listens to music on his phone. Like others, he does not hide his disquiet.
“We’re scared because of the presence of Daesh members in the city,” the 28-year-old said.
“The security forces need to tighten their grip.”
Ahmed Khalaf, who commands Raqqa’s Internal Security Forces, defended the work of his men and claimed successes against the militants.
He said patrols are highly organized and that a “joint operation cell” had recently been established with coalition forces to monitor the city’s security.
“Recently we arrested four (militants) — it was a cell that took part in attacks that terrorized the city,” said Khalaf, sporting plain green fatigues.
“We are continuing our investigation to uncover the other cells,” he added.
“Daesh’s goal is to destroy the country and to not let anyone live in safety,” he said.
Security and stability are what Najla Al-Ahmed wants most for her children.
“The nightmare of Daesh follows us everywhere — whenever we try to rest, explosions start up again,” said the 36-year-old, as she shopped with her young ones.
“The war has worn us out. Us and our children. It has destroyed our future,” she said.


Egypt races to reduce impact of $5 billion Ethiopian dam

Updated 21 March 2019
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Egypt races to reduce impact of $5 billion Ethiopian dam

  • Research group warns of ‘dire humanitarian consequences’ over disputed Al-Nahda project
  • Ethiopia plans to store 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water behind the dam

CAIRO: An international research group has warned of “dire humanitarian consequences” if a controversial Ethiopian project to dam the Nile leads to conflict with Egypt and neighboring Sudan.

The $5 billion dam is a source of friction between the three countries that could spill over into open hostility, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said in a report.

Egypt and Sudan fear the dam, now being built near the Sudanese border, could reduce available water to both countries.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or Al-Nahda dam, has been under construction since 2011 and is due to be completed in 2022. When finished it will be the largest dam in Africa, generating about 6,000 megawatts of electricity for domestic use and export.

Dr. Abbas Al-Sharaki, a water resources expert at the Institute of African Studies at Cairo University, told Arab News that Egypt is likely to face a water crisis in the future because of the dam.

Planned negotiations on the dam between the leaders of Egypt and Ethiopia are unlikely to succeed, he said. 

Ethiopia plans to store 74 billion cubic meters of Nile water behind the dam, which would affect the 55.5 billion cubic meters of water that Egypt currently gets from the Nile. Ethiopia’s leaders insist the dam will also benefit all three countries.

Dr. Mahmoud Abu Zeid, the former Egyptian minister of irrigation, said that the impact of the Ethiopian dam on the Egyptian water quota is inevitable, but Egypt is looking to reduce its effects and delay it as long as possible until other resources are raised.

Dr. Hisham Bakhit, professor of water resources at Cairo University, said that Egypt is conducting large-scale research to reduce the impact of the dam.

Egypt has many sustainable solutions to manage the Nile’s water, he said.

The country gets 90 percent of its irrigation and drinking water from the Nile, and has “historical rights” over the river guaranteed under treaties in 1929 and 1959, Bakhit said.

MP Mustafa Al-Jundi said that Egypt has the right to appeal to the African Union, the African Parliament, the UN and international courts in the case of Ethiopia’s intransigence.

Mohamed Abdel-Ati, Egypt’s minister of irrigation and water resources, said this week that Cairo does not oppose the development ambitions of any country “as long as they don’t harm any shares in water or threaten national security.”

The ministry is working to tap all sources of water and implement modern methods in irrigation. Desalination and wastewater treatment plants, and experimental studies into salt water farming are among Egypt’s plans to ensure reliable future supplies, he said.

The Al-Nahda dam was 60 percent complete before work stopped in August as a result of a funding crisis. In January, a Chinese company, Voith Hydro Shanghai, signed a deal to build the turbine generators at the dam.