Wounded and alone, children emerge from last Daesh enclave

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Women and children wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving the last Daesh holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 1, 2019. (AFP / Delil Souleman)
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Women and children wait to be searched by members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after leaving the last Daesh holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 1, 2019. (AFP / Delil Souleman)
Updated 02 March 2019
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Wounded and alone, children emerge from last Daesh enclave

  • Some of the children are foreigners whose parents brought them to be raised under Daesh rule
  • The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces plan to hand over the children to aid groups

DEIR EZZOR, Syria: Hareth Najem fled Daesh’s last enclave in eastern Syria wounded and alone. The Iraqi orphan’s family had died two years earlier in airstrikes across the border in Al-Qaim region.

“I had two brothers and a sister. They all died, and then I was by myself,” Hareth told Reuters, tears filling his eyes. “My little sister, I loved her a lot. I used to take her with me to the market.”

Lying in a cattle truck beside another injured boy at a desert transit point for US-backed forces, he huddled under a blanket. His face was covered in dirt and the side of his head wrapped with bandages covering wounds incurred days earlier.

Hareth was 11 years old when Daesh carved out its proto-state in Iraq and Syria, killing thousands of civilians and attracting an array of enemies that have fought from the air and on the ground to uproot the militants.

Now 16, he was among the children swept up this week in the civilian evacuation of Baghouz, the last shred of land under the militants’ control where they are on the brink of defeat at the hands of the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Some of the children are foreigners whose parents brought them to be raised under Daesh rule, or child fighters conscripted into what the group dubbed “cubs of the caliphate.” Others, including members of the Yazidi minority, were enslaved by the militants.

Many have seen their parents die in the fighting or be detained by rival forces. As Daesh faces territorial defeat, their fate remains uncertain. The SDF investigates all men and teenage boys arriving from Baghouz to determine possible Daesh links.

 

‘These kids have nobody’

Around 20 children crossed the frontline on their own this week, including Iraqis, Syrians, Turks and Indonesians, said SDF commander Adnan Afrin. The fathers of some were identified as Daesh militants and arrested immediately.

“These kids have nobody. They need somebody to take care of them, to provide mental health support,” said Afrin, adding that some had gone hungry for a long time. The SDF plans to hand over the children to aid groups, he said.

Hareth said his family had been running a market stall when Daesh overran their town and they had no links to the group.

After his family was killed in an aerial bombardment, he crossed into Syria with other Iraqis who feared Shiite militias advancing against Daesh would take revenge on them — a fear that other Iraqis have cited as their reason for entering Daesh-held Syria.

Hareth said he tried to avoid the militants and denies attending their schools or receiving military training. Their morality police would sometimes arrest and whip him.

“They gave speeches at the mosques, jihad and whatnot,” he said. “I was scared of them. My whole family died because of them.”

When he reached Baghouz, he worked in a field in return for a room to sleep in. He tried saving enough money to go home, but said the militants stopped him.

Hareth was wounded last week when a shell fell near where he was standing along the Euphrates River, injuring his ear, hand and stomach. He wants to get medical care and return to relatives still in Iraq.

“I want to go look for them ... When I get better and my body recovers, when I can walk,” he said. “I want to go back, to become a young man again, to build a future again.”


Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

Updated 17 July 2019
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Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

  • The constitutional declaration is expected to be signed on Friday
  • The deal aims to help the political transition in Sudan

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s ruling military council and an opposition alliance signed a political accord on Wednesday as part of a power-sharing deal aimed at leading the country to democracy following three decades of autocratic rule.

The agreement, which ended days of speculation about whether a deal announced earlier this month would hold, was initialed in Khartoum in the presence of African mediators following a night of talks to iron out some details of the agreement.

Sudan’s stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.

The deal is meant to pave the way to a political transition after military leaders ousted former President Omar Al-Bashir in April following weeks of protests against his rule.

At least 128 people were killed during a crackdown that began when security forces dispersed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum in June, according to medics linked to the opposition. The Health Ministry had put the death toll at 61.

A political standoff between Sudan’s military rulers and protesters threatened to drag the country of 40 million toward further violence before African mediators managed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, hailed the agreement as the start of a new partnership between the armed forces, including the paramilitary forces he leads, and the opposition coalition of Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Ibrahim Al-Amin, an FFC leader, said the accord signaled a new era of self-reliance for Sudan’s people.

“We want a stable homeland, because we have suffered a great deal,” Amin said in a speech after the ceremony.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmud Dirir said Sudan, long under international isolation over the policies of Bashir’s Islamist administration, needed to overcome poverty and called for the country to be taken of a US list of states that support terrorism.

The sides are still working on a constitutional declaration, which is expected to be signed on Friday.

Power-sharing deal

Under the power-sharing deal reached earlier this month, the two sides agreed to share power in a sovereign council during a transitional period of just over three years.

They also agreed to form an independent government of technocrats to run the country and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into the violence.

The power-sharing agreement reached earlier this month called for a sovereign council comprised of 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides.

The constitutional declaration will now decide the duties and responsibilities of the sovereign council.

The military was to head the council during the first 21 months of the transitional period while a civilian would head the council during the remaining 18 months.

But the agreement was thrown into doubt when new disputes surfaced last week over the military council’s demand for immunity for council members against prosecution.

The military council also demanded that the sovereign council would retain ultimate decision-making powers rather than the government.