Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’

Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’
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An adolescent boy makes objects from beads at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’
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An adolescent boy sits in a chair in front of a mirror where he is learning hairdressing skills at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’
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An adolescent boy writes on a white board at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’
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An adolescent boy makes objects from beads at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’
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An adolescent boy writes on a white board at the "Hori" rehabilitation centre for former Daesh child fighters run by Kurds in Tal Maarouf, in Syria's northeastern Hassekeh province on February 11, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2018

Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’

Syria rehab center seeks to tame ‘caliphate cubs’

TAL MAAROUF: Thirteen-year-old Hassan may have committed atrocities for Daesh, but instead of jailing him immediately, the Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria enrolled him in a rehabilitation center.
He was one of around 80 teenagers sporting trainers and tracksuits as they filled their lungs with chilly morning air in the courtyard of the Hori Center in Tal Maarouf.
Aged 12 to 17, they had all been detained by Kurdish fighters or the US-led Western forces who supported them during the battle to destroy the extremists’ self-styled “caliphate.”
Some are children of Daesh families, whose parents may be in jail, while others were directly recruited — forcibly or voluntarily — by the extremist group.
After their capture, they were selected for “rehabilitation” in line with the “second chance policy” of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which controls the region.
Local officials admit their prisons are full and say they are hoping a constructive approach can help mend ties with local tribes that once backed the extremists.
It was early 2018 when Hassan checked into the Hori Center, months after the opening of the sprawling complex of red-brick rooms and dorms framing a rectangular lawn.
As the son of a senior Daesh commander in the Syrian city of Raqqa, once the de facto capital of the extremists’ proto-state, he regularly witnessed beheadings.
The Kurdish forces who captured him found a picture that shows him proudly holding a severed head, but whether the boy ever killed anyone himself isn’t clear.
“When he arrived, like many of them, he didn’t say hi, didn’t shake our hands and didn’t look us in the eye,” said Roka Khalil, one of the center’s two directors.
The center is run by two secular women and its boarders are asked to shave and give up their traditional garments for Western-style clothes.
Moving there was a culture shock for Hassan.
Like other teenagers Daesh called the “cubs of the caliphate,” he had been subjected to the group’s efforts to impose its brand of violence and religious conservatism on an entire generation.
Now, some of those youngsters are housed in dormitories where they have no access to phones or the Internet but where staff are available day and night, said Abir Khaled, the center’s co-director.
“We consider them as humans, as victims of the war,” she said.
While most of the children are Syrian, the center also hosts former “cubs” from countries including Turkey and Indonesia.
Their days follow a strict routine that includes a lot of sport, particularly volleyball, various chores on the compound and workshops training them to become barbers and tailors.
Also central to the rehabilitation process is a curriculum that includes history, geography, Arabic and Kurdish classes, as well as a “morality” class.
Many have experienced poverty, received very little education and grew up in tough family environments.
Four of them were dispatched by Daesh to carry out a suicide operation but surrendered instead, according to the center’s staff.
“It shows that their ideology is not that deep, and can be easily fixed,” said Khalil.
A third of the Hori Center’s “guests” have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from six months to seven years, but Kurdish authorities believe they can be rehabilitated if they are given a supportive environment.
If their conduct is good at Hori, their sentences may be reduced and they could be released to their families within months.
Hassan is now awaiting trial and Khalil said he may be given a term of up to three years, although that could be reduced.
The Hori Center’s egalitarian and social values are directly inspired by those of the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan.
The charismatic leader, who has been imprisoned by Turkey since 1999, is the main ideological reference of the PYD, whose armed branch controls swathes of northern and eastern Syria.
Ocalan’s portrait is plastered all over the region, where supporters see him as a visionary leader but his critics denounce him as a Marxist autocrat — or even a terrorist.
The self-proclaimed Kurdish administration insists the Hori Center is not designed to implant PYD ideology in the heads of its young boarders, replacing one brainwashing with another.
Yet at Qamishli’s Alaya prison, which AFP was allowed to visit and where some of Hori’s “patients” were previously detained, the wooden models carved by inmates were often in the image of Ocalan.
Khalil said it was too early to describe the center’s activities as a success, but stressed that results were already tangible.
“Today, lots of them come to talk to us by themselves,” she said.
“Hassan doesn’t insult his classmates any more when there is a dispute, he doesn’t believe in paradise and the virgins any more, he even listens to music.”


Italy and UNESCO sign €1 million agreement to restore Beirut’s Sursock museum damaged in port blasts

Italy and UNESCO sign €1 million agreement to restore Beirut’s Sursock museum damaged in port blasts
Updated 22 min 37 sec ago

Italy and UNESCO sign €1 million agreement to restore Beirut’s Sursock museum damaged in port blasts

Italy and UNESCO sign €1 million agreement to restore Beirut’s Sursock museum damaged in port blasts
  • Cost of restoring the museum has been estimated at nearly €2.5 million
  • Historic villa suffered severe damage during the explosion in August

RIYADH: Italy and the UN’s cultural arm have signed a €1 million ($1.21 million) funding agreement to renovate one of  Beirut’s most famous museums.

Located in a historic villa in Achrafieh, the Sursock Museum was severely damaged in the Beirut port blasts last August.

The building houses more than 1,500 works of art along with other valuable collections.

The memorandum of understanding was signed by the Italian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Marina Sereni and the director of UNESCO’s Beirut office, Costanza Farina, in the presence of the chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, Dr. Tarek Mitri.

The Sursock Museum suffered severe damage during the Beirut Port blast. (AFP/File) 

“We firmly believe that culture and the protection of heritage are needed in times of crisis, more than ever,” Sereni said. “To this end, the Lebanese population can continue counting on the support and the partnership of the Italian Government and its people.”

The cost of restoring the museum has been estimated at nearly €2.5 million with France already giving €500,000 to replace the smashed stained-glass windows and wood-lined Arab salon.

The new funding will come through the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and be used under UNESCO’s Li Beirut initiative, which aims to repair schools, heritage buildings, museums and galleries damaged in the Beirut blasts. 

“The Italian Cooperation and UNESCO’s support for the reconstruction of the museum is invaluable,” Zeina Arida, director of the Sursock Museum, said. “It will allow Beirut and its citizens to reclaim a space that has become a second home for so many people in the cultural sector and the local community at large, a space which aims to promote openness and support knowledge production.”

Farina said the funding was the largest contribution so far to the Li Beirut initiative.

“I salute Italy for its positive response to our call that will support the rehabilitation and revitalization of the museum as a heritage building as well as a promoter of cultural life,” she said.

Sursock Museum was set up in the 1912 villa donated by Lebanese collector Nicolas Sursock. It opened in 1961 and became a major hub for Lebanese artists, while hosting exhibitions from around the world.
It stayed open during much of the Lebanese Civil War and underwent a major renovation in 2008.

Located just 800 meters from the center of the port blast, the museum suffered severe structural damage.


Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
Updated 1 min 59 sec ago

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria

Why Iran absorbs Israeli-inflicted blows on its militant proxies in Syria
  • Despite losing hundreds of fighters to Israeli bombardment, Iran and its proxies remain committed to their presence in Syria
  • Experts warn sanctions relief for Iran under revived nuclear talks could ignite an already volatile situation in the war-torn country

LONDON: Israel has launched hundreds of strikes against Iran and its allied proxies inside Syria since the country’s descent into civil war over a decade ago, with officials in Tel Aviv making it clear they will refuse to tolerate any Iranian entrenchment along their northern border.

Israeli warplanes have repeatedly attacked Iran-linked facilities and weapons convoys destined for Tehran’s Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon. On May 5, Israeli strikes in the Syrian provinces of Latakia and Hama claimed the lives of at least eight individuals on the payroll of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Despite the persistent bombardment and loss of personnel, experts say the IRGC is unlikely to strike back directly or relinquish its military presence any time soon. The reason: Syria is simply too precious a strategic prize for Tehran to give up.

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on Feb. 24, 2020, reportedly shows Syrian air defende intercepting an Israeli missile in the sky over Damascus. (AFP)

“Both Israel and Iran believe that they have vital national security interests at stake in Syria,” Chris Bolan, professor of Middle East Security Studies at the US Army War College, told Arab News.

The Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which intervened early in the Syrian civil war in support of the Assad regime, is the crux of Israel’s national security headache in Syria, said Bolan.

“Israeli concerns with Iran’s support to Hezbollah are enduring and will continue regardless of the outcome of (nuclear) negotiations in Vienna. These concerns have only been exacerbated with Iran’s growing military presence and intervention on behalf of Syrian President Assad since the onset of the civil war,” he said.

“Israel will continue to take whatever actions are necessary — including airstrikes — to both minimize the threat posed by Hezbollah’s growing, sophisticated arsenal of missiles and ensure that Iran’s military presence in Syria does not pose an immediate threat to Israel.

“Similarly, Iranian leaders view their support to Hezbollah as an essential element of Iran’s national security strategy of forward defense. A well-equipped Hezbollah that poses a significant threat to Israel serves as Tehran’s most potent deterrent against large-scale Israeli or Western strikes.”

Members of Hashed al-Shaabi, an Iran-allied paramilitary force in Iraq, holding a funeral procession in Baghdad for fellow comrades on December 31, 2019. (AFP file photo)

Alongside Hezbollah, the IRGC has nurtured, trained and armed a host of other militia groups across Syria. By shipping in fighters from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and even Pakistan, Tehran has created its own army of Shiite mercenaries in Syria.

Still, on Syria’s front lines and at the mercy of Israeli warplanes, these foreign fighters have paid a heavy price for their allegiance to Tehran.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), between January 2018, when Israel’s involvement in Syria first escalated, and January 2020, almost 500 Iran-backed fighters were directly killed by Israeli airstrikes.

That figure includes “228 militiamen of the Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian-backed militias” and “171 members of the Iranian forces and Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps,” as well as nearly 100 Syrian pro-government militiamen.

Hezbollah supporters carry coffins of their fighters killed in Syria, during their funeral procession in Lebanon on March 1, 2020. (AFP)

Thousands more have died on the front lines in direct clashes with rebels and Daesh militants.

According to SOHR, the May 5 strikes alone claimed eight lives: Five Iranians and Afghans, a Syrian and two others of “non-Syrian” nationality.

“The death toll is expected to rise further as the attack left many members injured, some seriously, including Lebanese militiamen and officers,” it said. It is not yet clear whether any members of Hezbollah were killed or injured.

IN NUMBER

500+

Fighters killed in Israeli strikes in Syria in Jan. 2018-Jan. 2020.

According to Matthew Levitt, director of the Washington Institute’s program on counterterrorism and intelligence, Hezbollah is unlikely to risk striking back against Israel in spite of these heavy losses.

“Hezbollah has a clear track record over the past few years of only responding to Israeli strikes in Syria when those strikes kill Hezbollah operatives,” Levitt told Arab News.

“So long as Israeli strikes only hit Hezbollah weapons shipments or infrastructure, the group is unlikely to respond against Israel directly for fear of igniting a cross-border conflict that it currently wants to avoid.

“Hezbollah prefers to avoid fighting wars on two different fronts at once (Syria and Israel), and is also sensitive about dragging Lebanon into a war with Israel that the vast majority of Lebanese don’t want, at a time when Lebanon is experiencing severe economic and political instability.”

Instead, in the face of escalating losses, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has resorted to fiery rhetoric and lofty promises.

Just days after the latest strikes, Iranian state-backed media quoted Nasrallah as saying: “The ‘Israelis’ are concerned today due to the growing capabilities of the Axis of Resistance. The ‘Israeli’ entity is in trouble and its wall is cracking; there is a leadership crisis and this is a sign of collapse and weakness.”

However Hezbollah chooses to dress things up, Israel’s air campaign has not only caused hundreds of casualties but also succeeded in its stated objective of preventing widespread Iranian entrenchment in Syria, particularly in the country’s south.

Syrian protesters rally in front of a poster of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Syrian President Bashar Assad and the late military commander Qassem Soleimani. (AFP)

“The Israeli airstrikes against Iranian-backed groups have been quite effective in destroying and disrupting key targets in Syria,” said Johan Obdola, founder of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence.

In the course of the Syrian war, Israel has bombed secret weapons depots in major cities, key infrastructure including highways, as well as hundreds of shipments of missiles and other arms earmarked for Iran’s allies.

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on April 27, 2020 shows a damaged building in Damascus after reported Israeli air strikes. (AFP)

“These constant airstrikes have been severely hitting Iran’s smuggling operations of advanced weapons, including missiles to Hezbollah in Syria, and also including warehouses and pre-existing underground compounds that serve as pipelines for military components,” Obdola said.

That said, Israel cannot afford to rest on its laurels, according to experts. If the talks should falter between Washington and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program, Bolan warns, the standoff in Syria between Iran and Israel could become even more volatile.

“The outcome of negotiations is not likely to significantly alter the basic calculations of entrenched Israeli or Iranian interests in Syria,” said Bolan.

“Nevertheless, failed negotiations in Vienna will likely add to the already mounting tensions between Israel and Iran inside Syria and thereby increase the prospect of intended or unintended escalation.”

Obdola, for his part, says Iran and its allies are likely to capitalize on the talks and any sanctions relief achieved as an opportunity to strengthen their position against Israel.

“The nuclear talks represent to Iran an opportunity to move forward with its plan against Israel,” he said.

An end to sanctions on Iran “would facilitate Iran and Hezbollah in its expansion not only in Syria, but in other countries around the world where they have been implementing an aggressive military, militia and terrorist network.”

_______________________

Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Gaza bombardment causes widespread death, destruction

Gaza bombardment causes widespread death, destruction
Updated 16 May 2021

Gaza bombardment causes widespread death, destruction

Gaza bombardment causes widespread death, destruction
  • Israeli missiles completely destroyed three homes — two of them belonging to the Al-Kulak family and the other to the Abu Al-Auf family

GAZA CITY: For the seventh day in a row, Israeli warplanes on Sunday bombed various parts of the Gaza Strip, causing widespread destruction and killing dozens of Palestinians, many of them women and children.

In the fiercest wave of bombing, warplanes targeted Al-Wehda Street in the center of Gaza City after midnight, killing 42 Palestinians, including 16 women and 10 children, and wounding about 50 others.

Israeli missiles completely destroyed three homes — two of them belonging to the Al-Kulak family and the other to the Abu Al-Auf family.

Dalal Al-Kulk, 33, and her 2-year-old son were among the survivors of the bombardment. She could not talk after her husband Mohammed and three of her daughters were killed.

Her father Ahmed Al-Maghribi waited outside the destroyed house for the bodies of the three daughters to be removed.

They had remained under the rubble for about 15 hours before they were removed by the Palestinian Civil Defense.

“I can’t describe my feelings of sadness, fear and anger. My daughter is now in shock. Her husband and three of grandchildren are martyrs,” Al-Maghribi said.

“I don’t know how they’ll live the rest of their lives. Our life in Gaza is full of fear, terror. There’s no safety anywhere. Every person here on the street carries his own story, all of them pain and exhaustion.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Health on Sunday evening said 192 Palestinians had been killed since the start of the Israeli bombardment, including 58 children and 34 women.

Israeli warplanes targeted a building hundreds of meters from Al-Wehda Street, causing partial destruction and killing at least one of its residents.

Ayah Aloul, 25, was lying in hospital next to her mother. They were injured by the bombing after the death of Aloul’s father.

“I’m very afraid … The bombing began violently in the area where I live. Suddenly I found myself in the street with my mother, and above us was a lot of rubble,” Aloul told Arab News.

“I started with all my strength to lift the rubble off me. I don’t know where all this strength came from,” she added.

“I started running until I found a street with lights on. I started screaming loudly until the neighbors came, and I told them I want to get my mother out from under the rubble, but they insisted that they take me by ambulance to the hospital. I saw my mother in the hospital shortly after.” Referring to her wounds, Aloul said: “I don’t know how I’ll live with my face like this.”


Israeli paramedics: 2 dead in synagogue bleacher collapse

Israeli medics and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth evacuate an injured man after the collapse of grandstand seating at a synagogue in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev in the occupied West Bank outside Jerusalem, on May 16, 2021. (AFP)
Israeli medics and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth evacuate an injured man after the collapse of grandstand seating at a synagogue in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev in the occupied West Bank outside Jerusalem, on May 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 16 May 2021

Israeli paramedics: 2 dead in synagogue bleacher collapse

Israeli medics and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth evacuate an injured man after the collapse of grandstand seating at a synagogue in the Israeli settlement of Givat Zeev in the occupied West Bank outside Jerusalem, on May 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • A bleacher collapsed during prayers Sunday evening in Givat Zeev
  • Rescue workers are on the scene, treating the injured and taking people to the hospital

JERUSALEM: Israeli medics say two people are dead and more than 150 injured in a bleacher collapse at a West Bank synagogue.
The bleacher was packed with ultra-Orthodox worshippers and collapsed during prayers at the beginning of a major Jewish holiday.
A spokesman for Magen David Adom told Channel 13 that paramedics had treated over 157 people for injuries and pronounced two dead, a man in his 50s and a 12-year-old boy.
Rescue workers are on the scene, treating the injured and taking people to the hospital. The collapse comes weeks after 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews were killed in a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel.
Amateur footage showed the collapse occurring during prayers Sunday evening in Givat Zeev, just outside Jerusalem, at the beginning of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The ultra-Orthodox synagogue was packed with hundreds of people.
The Israeli military said in a statement that it dispatched medics and other search and rescue troops to assist at the scene. Army helicopters were airlifting the injured.
Israeli authorities traded blame at the scene of the disaster.
The mayor of Givat Zeev said the building was unfinished and dangerous, and that the police had ignored previous calls to take action. Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman said the disaster was a case of “negligence” and that there would likely be arrests.
Deddi Simhi, head of the Israel Fire and Rescue service, told Israel’s Channel 12 that “this building is not finished. It doesn’t even have a permit for occupancy, and therefore let alone holding events in it.”
Television footage from the scene showed the building was incomplete, with exposed concrete and boards visible.
The accident comes weeks after a stampede at a religious festival in northern Israel that killed 45 ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The stampede triggered renewed criticism over the broad autonomy granted to the country’s politically powerful ultra-Orthodox minority.
Last year, many ultra-Orthodox communities flouted coronavirus safety restrictions, contributing to high outbreak rates in their communities and angering the broader secular public.


Jordan’s king says diplomatic efforts under way to halt Israel’s military campaign

Jordan’s king says diplomatic efforts under way to halt Israel’s military campaign
Updated 16 May 2021

Jordan’s king says diplomatic efforts under way to halt Israel’s military campaign

Jordan’s king says diplomatic efforts under way to halt Israel’s military campaign
  • The king reaffirmed “that no country is more supportive of the Palestinians than Jordan”
  • Jordan has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem

AMMAN: Jordan's king said his country was involved in intensive diplomacy to halt what he described as Israeli military escalation that has led to the worst eruption of violence in years.

King Abdullah II “affirms that there are intensive efforts and contacts with all international actors to stop the dangerous Israeli escalation and protect the lives and property of the Palestinian brothers,” a statement from the Royal Court said. 

The king reaffirmed “that no country is more supportive of the Palestinians than Jordan,” and stressed the “unwavering position” of the Jordanians.

The monarch, whose ruling family has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, has in recent days warned that Israel’s military campaign was risking major instability in the region.

At the UN Security Council meeting convened today, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said that “Israel, as the existing occupation force, carries responsibility for the dangerous situation in occupied Palestinian land and what it is causing in violence, killings, destruction and suffering.”