Family stayed in Syrian town during offensive as fighters ousted

Members of the Syrian government forces sit atop a military vehicle in front of a welcome sign in the strategic town of Khan Sheikhun on August 24, 2019, after they took control of it earlier this week. (AFP)
Updated 25 August 2019
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Family stayed in Syrian town during offensive as fighters ousted

  • A renewed push by Syrian regime and Russian forces to take the area has seen heavy strikes and advances this week in the south of Idlib province

KHAN SHEIKHOUN: Russia-backed Syrian regime forces found Abu Abdo and family this week in Khan Sheikhoun, a town which almost all other residents had fled during shelling in an offensive to take the area from opposition fighters.

“The last month was very bad. We couldn’t stand by the door because of the shelling ... We couldn’t go anywhere,” 55-year-old Abu Abdo told Reuters.

He said his was one of only around three families that stayed in the town through the offensive while all other civilians fled north, away from the shelling.

“When the army came they opened the door of the house and entered, thinking no one was here. But when they saw us they were very respectful and asked us what we needed,” he said from his house which had a couple of shell holes in the walls.

Khan Sheikhoun was one of the towns lost early in the eight-year-old war to opposition fighters opposed to the rule of Syria’s Bashar Assad. On Friday the Syrian forces said they had taken it back, along with a handful of other settlements.

“The fighters ran away a day before the army entered. There was a huge number of fighters here,” Abu Abdo said, referring to the opposition.

A renewed push by Syrian regime and Russian forces to take the area has seen heavy strikes and advances this week in the south of Idlib province and nearby Hama, prompting a civilian exodus.

Hundreds of people have been killed in the campaign since late April and more than 500,000 people have been displaced, the UN said.

“The operation (to take Khan Sheikhoun) was difficult. The rebels were holed up for a month under heavy, continuous bombardment. Which caused them to withdraw to the north,” a military official said.

A Reuters team traveled to Khan Sheikhoun up a newly opened and de-mined part of the main south-north highway which once connected the capital Damascus to Aleppo. The sound of planes and distant explosions could still be heard in the large town in south Idlib province, heavily damaged by repeated aerial campaigns.

Khan Sheikhoun made headlines in 2017. Nearly 100 people died when the town was bombed with sarin poison gas. One of the deadliest chemical weapons attacks of the war, it prompted a US missile strike against a Syrian air base.


Migrant workers still exploited in World Cup host Qatar: Amnesty

Updated 19 September 2019

Migrant workers still exploited in World Cup host Qatar: Amnesty

PARIS: Qatar is not fulfilling all its promises to improve the conditions of migrant workers in the country in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, Amnesty International said Thursday.
In a report entitled "All Work, No Pay", the rights group said: "Despite the significant promises of reform which Qatar has made ahead of the 2022 World Cup, it remains a playground for unscrupulous employers."
The report came as French President Emmanuel Macron and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani were due to meet in Paris on Thursday.
Sheikh Tamim also attended Wednesday's high-profile clash between Paris Saint-Germain -- owned by Qatar's state-owned investment fund -- and Real Madrid.
Doha has made efforts since being named World Cup hosts to improve the conditions of the migrant workers who make up a majority of the Gulf emirate's population.
In November 2017, a temporary $200 monthly minimum wage was introduced for most categories of workers with a permanent level expected to be set before the end of the year.
Exit visas granted at the discretion of employers, required by some workers to leave the country, should be entirely scrapped by the end of 2019 according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
But Amnesty reported challenges faced by hundreds of workers at three construction and cleaning companies in Qatar who went unpaid for months.
"Migrant workers often go to Qatar in the hope of giving their families a better life; instead many people return home penniless after spending months chasing their wages, with too little help from the systems that are supposed to protect them," said Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty's deputy director of global issues.
After coming under fire over the treatment of migrant workers, Qatar agreed with the ILO in 2017 to undertake labour reforms, including establishing new dispute resolution committees.
"We are urging the Qatari authorities to fully deliver what has been promised and end the shameful reality of labour exploitation," Cockburn said.
Amnesty cited the case of a Kenyan employee of United Cleaning who said he had to rummage for food in garbage bins after receiving no salary for five months.
The man said he had worked for two years and five months for the company without taking any holidays and was owed "a lot of money".
The companies all cited financial difficulties for the non-payment of wages, according to the report.
A Qatar government spokesman said the country had "made substantial progress on labour reforms".
"We continue to work with NGOs, including the ILO, to ensure that these reforms are far-reaching and effective," he said in a statement.
"Any issues or delays with our systems will be addressed comprehensively. We have said, from the outset that this would take time, resources and commitment."