HRW denounces ‘torture’ by extremists in northwest Syria

The rights group called for the immediate release of all unlawfully held prisoners, including four still being held or missing among the 11 cases documented. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 January 2019

HRW denounces ‘torture’ by extremists in northwest Syria

  • Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham earlier this month cemented its control over the northwestern region of Idlib
  • Syria’s war has killed at least 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression on anti-government protests

BEIRUT: Human Rights Watch on Monday accused a Syrian group led by former Al-Qaeda fighters of using “torture” against activists opposing their rule.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham earlier this month cemented its control over the northwestern region of Idlib at the expense of smaller, Turkey-backed outfits.
The New York-based rights group said it documented 11 cases in which HTS “detained Idlib residents, apparently because of their peaceful work documenting abuses or protesting the group’s rule.”
“Six of those detained were apparently tortured,” including a 16-year-old boy, it said in a statement.
“One man described being hung from a pole upside down for hours during interrogation,” it said.
Another said he was locked up in something resembling a coffin for three hours, while a third said he was pushed through a tire and beaten incessantly in a method infamously used by regime security services.
“The maximum you can do is move your shoulders a bit. And scream for help. But on several occasions, they stuffed things in my mouth so I can’t scream,” the detainee told HRW.
“I used to lose my consciousness a lot.”
Seven of those interviewed by HRW said they were media activists or journalists who had participated in or covered protests against HTS, or were working with foreign media.
Four were made to sign a document pledging they would no longer film or report on the extremist-led alliance.
The rights group called for the immediate release of all unlawfully held prisoners, including four still being held or missing among the 11 cases documented.
“There is no legitimate excuse for rounding up opponents and arbitrarily detaining and torturing them,” said HRW’s Lama Fakih.
“HTS’s crackdown on perceived opposition to their rule mirrors some of the same oppressive tactics used by the Syrian government.”
Syria’s war has killed at least 360,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression on anti-government protests.


Tel Aviv beaches fall foul in Israel’s passion for plastic

Updated 43 min 2 sec ago

Tel Aviv beaches fall foul in Israel’s passion for plastic

  • Despite the activities of environmental groups, Israel remains hooked on plastic

TEL AVIV: In the early morning, when the only sound on Tel Aviv beach is the waves, Yosef Salman and his team pick up plastic debris left by bathers or cast up by the sea.
Working in heat and humidity with large rakes, they scoop plastic cups, cigarette ends, empty sunscreen tubes and soiled babies’ nappies.
Also present, but impossible to separate from the sand, are microplastics, tiny particles of plastic debris that have been broken down by sun and salt.
“When it rains... you can see tons of plastic in the sand,” says Ariel Shay, of the Plastic Free Israel movement, which organizes volunteer beach cleanups.
Despite the activities of environmental groups, Israel remains hooked on plastic.
A June report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) ranked Tel Aviv’s coastline as the third most polluted by plastic waste in the Mediterranean, behind Barcelona and southern Turkey.
Valencia, Alexandria, Algiers and Marseille were listed in fourth to seventh places.
With around four million inhabitants, Tel Aviv is Israel’s most populous metropolitan area.
“Every time I go to the beach now, I spend my time cleaning — it’s horrible!” complains Shani Zylbersztejn, with an eye on her nine-month-old daughter, who plays with a plastic fork freshly dug from the sand.
In the upper-crust town of Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, Limor Gorelik, of the environmental protection NGO Zalul, patrols the sands, offering beachgoers bamboo cups and reusable bags in a bid to wean them from single-use plastics.
Gorelik blames Israel’s passion for plastic on a lack of education and on deeply ingrained habits, such as using disposable tableware for family picnics.
Observant Jews who want a beachfront lunch on Saturdays are forbidden from washing the dishes afterwards, because their faith bans them from working on the Sabbath.
“They’re not permitted to wash dishes so they use disposable plastic,” Gorelik says.
Even plastic waste dumped in the bins that dot the beaches can end up in the sea, carried by the wind or by birds which rip open garbage bags in search of food.
Independent researcher Galia Pasternak has analyzed coastal plastic pollution in Israel.
According to her data, 60 percent of the waste on the beach comes from the bathers themselves.
Some is also borne by currents from Gaza and Egypt in the south or from Lebanon further north.
In 2005, Israel’s environmental protection ministry launched a program offering local councils incentives for proven results in cleaning their beaches.
Subject to regular inspection, councils that meet requirements get funding, while failing authorities face cuts or even court, says Ran Amir, head of the environment ministry’s marine division.

Amir cites the case of the popular Palmahim beach, south of Tel Aviv.
Palmahim municipal council was taken to court and fined over the state of the beach — which has since become “one of the cleanest beaches in Israel today,” he says.
The ministry’s strategy in recent years has also included public service messages on radio and online, along with fines, recycling facilities and education, according to Amir.
“It think it has partially worked,” says Pasternak, who helped set up some of those programs.
Zalul’s Gorelik, however, says Israel is still trailing behind other countries.
She says charges introduced in supermarkets in 2017 for plastic bags — previously given away free — are too low, at just 0.10 Israeli shekels (0.02 euros/ $0.03) each.
“It’s not enough,” Gorelik says, adding that even this modest measure does not apply to small grocery stores.
She points to new European Union restrictions on single-use plastics.
“Europeans are the leaders on the subject,” she says.
“Here, we are very far away.”