Jordan says in talks with US and Russia to dismantle Syria camp

A Syrian refugee boy plays in front of his family tent at the Al Zaatri refugee camp, in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, January 18, 2016. (Reuters)
Updated 09 November 2018
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Jordan says in talks with US and Russia to dismantle Syria camp

  • Jordan’s foreign ministry said the kingdom backed a Russian plan to arrange the voluntary return of the inhabitants of Rukban camp to their home areas in Syria

AMMAN: Jordan said on Thursday it was in talks with Washington and Moscow to empty a desert camp used by 50,000 displaced Syrians, a move aimed at defusing security tensions near a potential military flashpoint on its northeast border with Syria.
Jordan’s foreign ministry said the kingdom backed a Russian plan to arrange the voluntary return of the inhabitants of Rukban camp to their home areas in eastern Syria following their recapture by the Syrian government from Daesh.
“Jordanian-US-Russian talks have begun with the aim of finding a fundamental solution to Rukban by ensuring the right conditions of their voluntary return to their cities and towns,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Majed al Qatarneh said.
“Jordan supports the Russian plan to create the conditions that allow the emptying of the camp,” he said in a statement.
He did not elaborate.
Intelligence sources say the Russian plan entails negotiating with Syrian tribal leaders and former Western-backed rebels sheltering in the camp area to provide safe passage for returnees to go to opposition areas in northern Syria, and to help those who want to go their homes in state-held areas.
Many camp inhabitants are not ready to go back to homes in state-held areas for fear of being drafted for conscription, tribal figures in the camp say.
Developments at Rukban are watched closely around the region because it is near a US garrison in southeastern Syria at Tanf on the Iraq-Syria border. The camp falls within a so-called deconfliction zone set up by the Pentagon to try to shield the Tanf garrison from attacks by pro-government forces.
Damascus says the US forces are occupying Syrian territory and providing a safe-haven in that area for rebels it deems terrorists.
Jordan officials have repeatedly said they suspect the camp is infiltrated with Daesh sleeper cells, a security nightmare that has haunted Amman since a Daesh militant in 2016 drove a car bomb into a Jordanian military border post, killing seven guards.
In the last three years, tens of thousands of Syrians trekked to the camp where the borders of Syria, Jordan and Iraq meet. They fled expanded Russian and US-led coalition air strikes against Daesh-held areas in central and eastern Syria.
Intelligence sources say a siege of the camp last month by the Syrian army that depleted food stores in the compound and raised the spectre of starvation was aimed at piling pressure on Washington.
Russia’s defense ministry in August repeated an accusation that Washington has been harboring Daesh militants within the zone.
Washington however responded to growing Russian pressure by conducting rare military exercises in the base last month, and General Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, made an unannounced visit to Tanf.
Tanf lies on the strategic Damascus-Baghdad highway, once a major supply route for Iranian weapons into Syria. This makes the base a bulwark against Iran and part of a larger campaign against Iranian influence in the Middle East.


Displaced by conflict, Libyan students fear for their future

Updated 24 May 2019
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Displaced by conflict, Libyan students fear for their future

  • “We’ve fallen behind... and I don’t even know where we will sit our final exams..." one high school student said
  • More than 75,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting

TRIPOLI: The fight for control of Libya’s capital is depriving tens of thousands of pupils of their education, with high school students displaced by the violence fretting about their future.
“We’ve fallen behind... and I don’t even know where we will sit our final exams or how they will calculate my grades,” said Mayar Mostafa, a teenager in her last year of high school.
Mostafa said the fighting has forced her and her family to flee their home in a southern Tripoli suburb, while her school has shut its doors.
All this has left her “psychologically stressed out,” she lamented.
Mostafa is among those who are living in limbo — not knowing when they will be able to resume their studies to salvage the school year, or when life as a whole might return to normal.
On April 4, strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli and unseat the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
More than 75,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting and 510 have been killed, according to the World Health Organization.
More than 2,400 have also been wounded, while 100,000 people are feared trapped by the clashes raging on the capital’s outskirts.
Fighting between Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army and forces loyal to the GNA continues to rage south of Tripoli, and the UN envoy has warned of a “long and bloody war.”
Mostafa remembers the day the fighting erupted, saying she was woken by “the deafening sound of machine-gun fire and cannons.”
“We had to flee our home in the midst of a decisive school year,” she said.
“I was planning to go to university next year... Now I don’t know my fate.”
According to the UN’s agency for children, UNICEF, the fighting is “directly affecting some 122,088 children.”
“The academic year has been suspended in all schools in conflict-affected areas, and seven schools are currently sheltering displaced families,” UNICEF said last month.
It noted that an “attack on an education warehouse destroyed 5 million schoolbooks and national school exam results” in April.
In many schools classes are suspended because teachers have been trapped by fighting and are unable to reach work.
According to Rachad Bader, the head of a crisis cell set up by the Libya’s education ministry, “most schools in Tripoli have remained open,” despite the violence.
“But that is not the case for schools in Ain Zara and Abou Slim” in the southern suburbs of the capital, he said.
These “are the areas hardest hit by the military operations,” Bader added.
“I hope that the fighting will stop soon, otherwise we will have to look for alternatives for displaced children so that they won’t have to loose their school year,” he said.
The education ministry has given time off to teachers and students for the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which began on May 6, hoping that by the end of that period fighting will have abated.
Meanwhile, in areas of Tripoli spared by the conflict, teachers have banded together to give free remedial classes during Ramadan to students displaced by the violence.
“It is generous on their part, knowing that they have sacrificed their Ramadan holiday to help us catch up,” said Mostafa, who along with 25 other students is taking maths classes.
“We are really grateful for their help in such difficult times,” she said.
But she is still afraid that she will not get good grades in her final exams.
English teacher Gofran Ben Ayad says the impromptu teaching initiative is key for the students.
“What is remarkable is that most of these students are brilliant and have shown that despite the psychological trauma they have suffered and their forced displacement, they are still able to learn,” she said.
Ahmad Bashir said he found out about the catch-up lessons through the Internet and “didn’t waste time” in registering for classes.
“My high school — the Khaled Ben Al-Walid in Ain Zara — has been closed for six weeks, and this is a decisive year,” he said.
“I don’t know what my future will be like after this war,” added Bashir, who like Mostafa is in his last year of high school.
He hopes the education ministry “will be understanding” in the timing of end-of-year exams, and take into account the plight of displaced students.