Kurdish authorities to release 800 Syrians from Al-Hol camp: official

A woman displaced from Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor province, carries child as she walks in Al-Hol camp for displaced people, in Al-Hasakah governorate in northeastern Syria. (File/AFP)
Updated 02 June 2019

Kurdish authorities to release 800 Syrians from Al-Hol camp: official

  • Their release comes at the request of local Arab tribes
  • The women and children - all Syrians- are living among the dregs of Daesh in the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp in northeast Syria

AIN ISSA, Syria: Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria said Sunday they plan to hand 800 women and children, including relatives of militants, to their families in the first such transfer from an overcrowded camp.
The women and children — all Syrians — are living among the dregs of Daesh in the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp, home to nearly 74,000 people including more than 30,000 Syrians.
They will be released Monday and “taken to their families” at the request of local Arab tribes, according to Abd Al-Mehbach, co-chair of the Kurdish administration’s executive council.
It is to be the first in a larger wave of releases that aim to empty Al-Hol of its Syrian residents, he said.
The next batch is expected to follow the Eid Al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Hoovered up during a final offensive against the militants by a US-backed Kurdish-led force, thousands of wives and children of Daesh fighters have been trucked into Al-Hol from a string of Syrian villages south of the camp in recent months.
Their numbers have created a major headache for the semi-autonomous Kurdish administration and have sparked concerns that the camp is emerging as a fresh militant powder keg.
But not all of those being released are relatives of Daesh fighters, Mehbache said of the group set to leave Monday.
Some sought shelter at the camp to escape tough humanitarian conditions in areas levelled by months of fighting, he said.
Monday’s group consists of residents from the northeastern city of Raqqa — once Daesh’s de facto capital in Syria — as well as the town of Tabqa, 70 kilometers (43 miles) west, according to Mehbach.
Those among them with suspected links to Daesh will be kept under surveillance by local Arab tribes, who have given guarantees, he said.
“It is the (Kurdish) administration’s duty to its people to play a role in the rehabilitation of these women and children, and their reintegration into society,” he added.
The Daesh proto-state was declared defeated on March 23, following a nearly five-year-long offensive against the group.
Thousands of foreign fighters are being held in Kurdish-run prisons, while their wives and children languish in displacement camps.
Among the hordes of Syrians and Iraqis, some 12,000 foreigners are held in a fenced-off section of the Al-Hol camp, under the watch of Kurdish forces.


Israeli public opinion warms toward Turkey, shows survey

Israel and Turkey are located in the same geographic region. (Reuters/File)
Updated 47 sec ago

Israeli public opinion warms toward Turkey, shows survey

  • Accordingly, 68 percent are in favor of improving ties with Turkey, while 10 percent are against, compared to 50 percent in favor and 37 percent against among Israel’s Jewish population

ANKARA: Despite the decline in Turkish-Israeli relations over the past decade, Israeli public opinion is increasingly supportive of an improvement in ties between the two countries.
According to the 2019 Israeli Foreign Policy Index by the Mitvim Institute of Israel, 53 percent of Israelis believe that Israel should try to improve relations with Turkey, compared to 32 percent who disagree.
This points to an almost 10 percent increase compared to the previous year, in which 42 percent of respondents said that Israel should work to improve its relationship with Turkey and 45 percent said it should not.
The respondents were also asked whether Israel should prioritize developing relations with democratic countries or should not take regime type as a criterion; both choices were indicated by 40 percent of participants.
It is the seventh edition of the survey.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Nimrod Goren, head of the Mitvim Institute, said the fact that a majority of Israelis stated in the annual poll that they would like it to improve relations with Turkey is in contrast to the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the rhetoric of his main opposition party.
“This is surprising, as the poll findings reveal that on most issues the public accepts the framing provided by the Israeli leadership on foreign policy issues,” he said.
According to Goren, the findings may reflect a “realpolitik” tendency by the Israeli public to seek better relations with countries that project power and influence in the region, even if there are differences in values and policies.
“The finding also reflects the resilience of Israel-Turkey ties. Despite deep political tensions and public grievances, there is still a basic positive attitude toward Turkey as a country, which can be leveraged,” he said.
Historically, bilateral relations between the two countries have been at their peak when they perceived a common threat or had a common ally — such as in the 1990s over similar concerns about the existential threat from Iran, when Turkey and Israel cooperated in joint military exercises and training of officers. But ties hit a low in May 2010 after a raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters by Israeli Defense Forces commandos, which killed 10 Turkish citizens.
A reconciliation followed after Netanyahu apologized for the incident. Although diplomatic relations were restored in 2016 to the ambassadorial level, Turkey dismissed Israeli’s ambassador after its security forces killed dozens of Palestinian protesters in Gaza in May 2018. But, for Goren, relations between Israel and Turkey should not be viewed only through the prism of relations between their current leaders.
“The business community and civil society also play a role, and a more positive one than the political level. It is noteworthy that among the Israeli public, the largest support for improving ties with Turkey is found among Israel’s Arab citizens,” he said.
Accordingly, 68 percent are in favor of improving ties with Turkey, while 10 percent are against, compared to 50 percent in favor and 37 percent against among Israel’s Jewish population.
Despite the diplomatic stalemate, trade between the two countries exceeded $8 billion in 2018. Turkish Airlines operates 10 daily flights on the Tel Aviv-Istanbul route, with growing demands for tourist destinations in Turkey such as Antalya.
Esra Cuhadar, an expert on conflict resolution and political psychology from Bilkent University in Ankara, said that social and cultural bonds develop independently from bilateral diplomatic relations, and can sometimes trigger grassroots change in perceptions about another country.
“Israel and Turkey are located in the same geographic region, and the people from two countries have various avenues for social contact which decreases inevitably the stereotypes and the bias,” she told Arab News.
Cuhadar, however, said that any improvement in bilateral relations is closely connected with who is ruling in both countries.
To have social rapprochement translated into improving diplomatic channels, it is necessary that the governments in both countries do not use bilateral disagreements to whip up nationalistic sentiment and consolidate its national constituencies.
The picture is less rosy on Turkish side. In a survey conducted last year by Istanbul Bilgi University, “Dimensions of Polarization in Turkey,” 14 percent of Turkish respondents considered Israel as the second largest threat after the US (54.3 percent).