Syria harassing ex-foes in former opposition zones

According to the UN, at least 380 people were arrested or detained in Daraa province in recent times. Over 200 of these were subjected to enforced disappearances. (AFP/File)
Updated 21 May 2019
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Syria harassing ex-foes in former opposition zones

  • Damascus targeting people who have already signed reconciliation deals with the regime: HRW

BEIRUT: Damascus has carried out a wave of arbitrary arrests against former activists in opposition areas that surrendered under deals brokered by its ally Moscow, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The so-called “reconciliation” agreements that restored government control over swathes of central and southern Syria last year were heavily criticized from the start because they were signed under the pressure of military blockade and intense air and artillery bombardment.

The regime offered amnesty to all who agreed to end their political activities.

But thousands of residents, particularly former fighters and their families, chose to be evacuated to remaining opposition-held territory rather than accept renewed rule by Bashar Assad’s regime.

Human Rights Watch said its research showed that former government critics and opposition activists who signed up for “reconciliation” had paid heavily for their decision.

It said it had documented 11 cases of arbitrary detention and disappearance in three areas retaken by regime forces last year — the southern province of Daraa, the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, and southern neighborhoods of the capital.

Syrian organizations had documented at least 500 arrests in the three areas since August, it added.

“Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of Assad’s rule,” said HRW’s acting Middle East director, Lama Fakih. 

Active combat has ended in much of Syria, but nothing has changed in the way intelligence branches trample rights of perceived opponents of Assad’s rule.

Lama Fakih, Top rights activist

“Lack of due process, arbitrary arrests, and harassment, even in so-called reconciled areas, speak louder than empty government promises of return, reform and reconciliation.”

HRW said those targeted included family members, as well former opposition activists and fighters.

“In all cases, the people targeted ... had signed reconciliation agreements with the government,” it said.

The UN on Tuesday said that, between 26 July 2018 and 31 March 2019, at least 380 people were arrested or detained in Daraa province alone.

At least 230 of these were subjected to enforced disappearances, while the rest were released after a few days in detention.

“Many families in Daraa continue to have limited or no information about their missing or detained relatives,” said Marta Hurtado, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Assad’s forces secured full control of Daraa province from fighters in July, in a massive blow to the country’s ill-fated revolt that erupted in the southern city.


Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. (AFP)
Updated 3 min 41 sec ago
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Iraqi cleric Al-Sadr threatens to withdraw support for Abdul Mahdi’s government

  • “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations”

BAGHDAD: Moqtada Al-Sadr, the powerful Iraqi Shiite cleric, on Monday threatened to withdraw his support for the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi if the prime minister fails to finalize the formation of his Cabinet within 10 days.
Al-Sadr is one of the most influential clerics in the country, with millions of followers, a large armed faction and a parliamentary bloc. He is the official sponsor of the Reform Alliance, the second-largest parliamentary coalition, which is overseeing the formation of the government following the national parliamentary elections in May last year. The removal of his support for Abdul Mahdi’s government might take the form of an announcement that he no longer has confidence in the Parliament, or the organization of mass demonstrations.
Abdul Mahdi, who became prime minister in October, formed his government with the support of Reform and the pro-Iranian Construction coalition. The latter is led by Hadi Al-Amiri, the commander of Badr Organization, one of the most powerful Shiite armed factions. However, disputes between the two alliances over some of the candidates erupted at the last minute, as a result of which four ministries remain vacant: Interior, defense, education and justice.

Monday’s statement, which was signed by Al-Sadr and described as his “last call,” was addressed to his Saeiroon parliamentary bloc, the leaders of all political blocs, and Abdul Mahdi. It was issued in response to criticism on social on Monday because of the vote by members of the parliamentary blocs, including Al-Sadr’s MPs, the day before to grant all the privileges enjoyed by the former MPs to the deputies who ruled out by the Federal Supreme Court due to the error of counting their votes.
“All the political blocs must authorize the prime minister to complete his ministerial Cabinet within 10 days…and he (Abdul Mahdi) must choose (the ministers) according to the standards of integrity, efficiency and specialization, or I will not support him,” Al-Sadr’s statement read.

His position is the latest in a series of events that have put pressure on Abdul Mahdi in recent weeks. These include efforts by some political blocs, including Saeiroon, to dismiss a number of ministers under the pretext of failure to improve services and inability to combat the financial and administrative corruption that is rampant in their departments.
While most political leaders believe that reaching a political agreement on candidates to fill the vacant ministries within 10 days “will be very difficult” and predict “this may be the end of the government of Abdul Mahdi,” some believe that Al-Sadr’s goal is to pile more pressure on Abdul Mahdi as a way to obtain certain concessions.

“Saeiroon is still negotiating with the prime minister and the other political partners to obtain some key government posts that its rivals are looking to get, and Abdul Mahdi refused to give them to the Saeiroon candidates, so this could be a part of this,” said a prominent Shiite negotiator who asked not to be named. “No one can predict what Al-Sadr thinks and even his MPs do not know what the man thinks, so it is likely that this threat is part of the ongoing negotiations."