Damascus prepares for Christmas without mortar fire

The eastern edge of Damascus bore the brunt of insurgent shelling until government forces recovered control of the Ghouta region in a Russian-backed offensive that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says killed 1,600 civilians. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 December 2018
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Damascus prepares for Christmas without mortar fire

  • "Christmas preparations this year are more than excellent. There are no mortars anymore," one citizen said
  • Over the course of the Syrian war, insurgent shelling killed some 2,000 people in Damascus

DAMASCUS: Christmas decorations are going up for the first time in years in a Damascus neighbourhood that was a frontline in Syria's war until government forces wiped out the last rebel enclaves in the capital earlier this year.
"Christmas preparations this year are more than excellent. There are no mortars anymore," said Hanna al-Saad, a shop owner in the Qasaa district that was often shelled from the adjacent area of Jobar.
Abbasiyeen Square, where mortars regularly fell, and nearby parts of the city are being decked out with lighting and Christmas trees, while musicians with a local scout troop are preparing for a Christmas march not seen for years.
"We are so happy. The children can now come again to the church without worrying for their safety, and their parents feel more reassured," said Aline Droubi, a musician with the scout troop that practices at a church in Abbasiyeen.
The eastern edge of Damascus bore the brunt of insurgent shelling until government forces recovered control of the Ghouta region in a Russian-backed offensive that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says killed 1,600 civilians.
Over the course of the Syrian war, insurgent shelling killed some 2,000 people in Damascus, according to a Facebook group that recorded the attacks.
Following the recovery of eastern Ghouta in April, government forces moved on to take back the Yarmouk area south of the capital, bringing all Damascus back under state control.
"Last year we didn't dare to walk in the streets a lot," said Abir Ismail, a resident of al-Qasaa neighborhood, adjacent to Jobar town that was controlled by an armed faction.
"We had no electricity and there were no lights or decorations," she added, expressing excitement at the sight of the decorated streets and houses this year.


ICC prosecutor calls on Sudan authorities to hand over Omar Al-Bashir

Updated 19 June 2019
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ICC prosecutor calls on Sudan authorities to hand over Omar Al-Bashir

  • ICC chief prosecutor tells the UN Security Council she is ready to work with authorities to ensure Darfur suspects face justice
  • Council members in calling for an end to violence against civilians

UNITED NATIONS: The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court urged Sudan’s transitional authorities on Wednesday to hand over or prosecute ousted President Omar Al-Bashir and four others for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council she is ready to work with authorities “to ensure that the Darfur suspects face independent and impartial justice” either at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, or in Sudan if its court meets international standards.
Bensouda said she didn’t underestimate “the complexity and fluidity of the events unfolding in Sudan,” but declared it was now time to act and ensure that the ICC suspects face justice.
Negotiations on Sudan’s transition following Al-Bashir’s ouster in April collapsed after a violent crackdown on a protest camp in the capital Khartoum by security forces. Protesters demanding civilian rule say at least 128 people have been killed across the country since security forces moved in to clear the sit-in area outside the military’s headquarters on June 3. Authorities put the death toll at 61, including three from security forces.
Bensouda joined many council members in calling for an end to violence against civilians, including alleged sexual and gender-based crimes, which has spread beyond Khartoum to other regions, including Darfur.
“As for Sudan itself, it is now at a crossroads with the opportunity to depart from its previous policy of complete non-cooperation with my office and embark on a new chapter by signaling a new commitment to accountability for the victims in the Darfur situation,” she said.
Sudan is not a party to the ICC and Al-Bashir’s government refused to recognize its jurisdiction. Sudanese minister Elsadig Ali Ahmed told the council Wednesday that “despite the change of the political situation in Sudan ... our position remains the same, unchanged.”
He told the council that Sudan has begun “the pursuit of a civilian democratic rule where there is no room for impunity,” and the new political reality “will undoubtedly lead to the establishment of a regime where freedom and democracy and the rule of law prevail.”
For Sudan, he emphasized “that combating impunity is a noble purpose of justice ... and it primarily falls within the responsibilities of the national judiciary.” He called the ICC principle mentioned by Bensouda of letting national governments prosecute war crimes if their courts meet the right standards “positive.”
Al-Bashir appeared in public for the first time Sunday when he was led to a prosecutor’s office in a corruption investigation.
Ahmed said it has been announced that Al-Bashir’s trial will begin next week, and he said the public prosecutor is also investigating two other detainees sought by the ICC, Abdel Raheem Hussein and Ahmad Harun.
A judicial official with the prosecutor’s office said Al-Bashir was questioned over accusations that include money laundering and the possession of large amounts of foreign currency. He said the probe partly related to millions of dollars’ worth of cash in US dollars, euros and Sudanese pounds that were found in Al-Bashir’s home a week after his ouster.
Bensouda noted that the transitional military council now ruling Sudan made a commitment in its inaugural address on April 11 to all local, regional and international treaties, charters and conventions.
She said this pledge must including a commitment to the UN Charter, which requires Sudan to comply with Security Council resolutions — including the 2005 resolution that referred the situation in Darfur to the ICC.
The vast western Darfur region of Sudan was gripped by bloodshed in 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government in Khartoum, accusing it of discrimination and neglect. The government was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes known as the janjaweed and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies.
Bensouda said Sudan has a legal obligation to surrender the suspects in custody or prosecute them on charges in ICC warrants — including genocide allegations against Al-Bashir — and to surrender two others still at large, senior janjaweed commander Ali Kushayb and Abdallah Banda, commander of the Justice and Equality rebel group. She stressed that this must include safe and unfettered access for ICC staff to Sudan and Darfur.
Elize Keppler, associate director for Human Rights Watch’s international justice program, said the situation in Sudan has changed and the new authority “has the opportunity to meet Sudan’s international legal obligations to surrender Omar Al-Bashir and the other suspects to face justice at the ICC as the Darfur victims so deserve more than 10 years later.”