UN official: 700 people died in Syrian camps for Daesh families

The UN counterterrorism chief said his office received information that 700 people died recently in two camps in northeast Syria. (File/AFP)
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Updated 10 July 2020

UN official: 700 people died in Syrian camps for Daesh families

  • Vorontsov told a news conference Thursday that the people, including children, died of “lack of medicine, lack of food” at the Al-Hol and Roj camps
  • The overcrowded camps have a high child mortality rate

UNITED NATIONS: The UN counterterrorism chief said his office received information that 700 people died recently in two camps in northeast Syria, where more than 70,000 mainly women and children connected to Daesh fighters are detained in “very dire conditions.”
Vladimir Vorontsov told a news conference Thursday that the people, including children, died of “lack of medicine, lack of food” at the Al-Hol and Roj camps, which are overseen by Kurdish-led forces allied with the United States who spearheaded the fight against Daesh.
He said the deaths in the camps created “feelings of anger.”
Vorontsov did not clarify when the 700 reportedly died or what the source of the information was. The Kurdish Red Crescent said in January that 511 people died in the largest camp, Al-Hol, in 2019. The overcrowded camps have a high child mortality rate. So far, there has been no known outbreak of coronavirus in the camps. A UN team visited the largest one earlier this month.
Vorontsov urged the international community to tackle “the huge problem” of what to do with these people, saying keeping them in camps “is very dangerous.” He warned that “they could create very explosive materials that could be very helpful for terrorists to restart their activities” in Syria and Iraq.
Daesh, which once controlled large swathes of Iraq and Syria, lost its last Syrian strongholds in early 2019. But despite the loss of its self-styled caliphate, UN experts said earlier this year that the extremist group is mounting increasingly bold attacks in Syria and Iraq and is planning for the breakout of its fighters in detention facilities.
In addition to the Al-Hol and Roj camps, the Kurdish fighters are guarding thousands of Daesh fighters and boys in prisons.
After Daesh militants lost control of the oil-rich northeast, Turkey invaded areas along its borders last October and now controls slivers of land in the very complex region. There are tensions between the Turkish-allied fighters and Kurdish groups, which Ankara considers terrorists. In addition, hundreds of US troops remain in northeast Syria.
The International Crisis Group reported on April 7 that there are 66,000 women and children in Al-Hol and 4,000 in Roj, most of them relatives of Daesh extremists, “but some former affiliates of the group themselves.” The Brussels-based think tank said that the majority are either Syrians or Iraqis, with the numbers roughly split, and around 13,500 are from other countries.
The group said humanitarian workers described the detention sites “as ridden with tuberculosis and perilously overcrowded, with one speaking of `dramatic mortality rates’.”
Vorontsov said “no country would like to have these people back, with this very negative and very dangerous terrorist background.”
But he said there are about 9,000 children and the first priority should be to save those under 6 years old, “because in this period of time children are absolutely not in the position to be indoctrinated.”
Vorontsov said the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, which he heads, is pushing the issue very strongly with countries whose citizens are detained. Only a small number are repatriating their citizens, including Central Asian countries, the United States and Russia, he said.
Women are “a more difficult story,” Vorontsov said.
There are “victims of terrorism” who didn’t understand what they were doing when they accompanied the men in their families to Syria and Iraq, he said, “but there are a lot of radicalized women among detained people in camps.”
Vorontsov said he believes the way forward is to prosecute the women and then rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society, but he conceded that it’s “a very challenging issue.”

Rafiq Hariri’s son blames Hezbollah, ‘corrupt’ elite for Beirut explosion

Updated 8 min 8 sec ago

Rafiq Hariri’s son blames Hezbollah, ‘corrupt’ elite for Beirut explosion

  • Government cannot be trusted with blast probe, says Bahaa Hariri

LONDON: Leading Lebanese opposition figure Bahaa Hariri, son of former prime minister Rafiq, has blamed Hezbollah and Lebanon’s political elite for the devastating explosion in Beirut that killed more than 150 people and injured thousands on Tuesday.

Hariri said earlier this week that ordinary Lebanese people knew that the Iran-aligned group controlled Beirut’s port, the site of the explosion, and the city’s airport.

He added it was “inconceivable” that authorities did not know that deadly ammonium nitrate, which is believed to have caused the huge blast, was stored in a warehouse at the port.

Hariri said: “The question we have to ask is how come for six years this combustible material was allowed to remain in the middle of this city of 2 million people? It is crystal clear Hezbollah are in charge of the port and the warehouse where the ammonium nitrate was stored. Nothing goes in and out of the port or the airport without them knowing. Nothing. Their decision to put it there in the middle of a city of two million people was an utter disaster. And now we have a destroyed city center.”

The explosion left at least 158 people dead, a further 5,000 wounded, with dozens more missing and 300,000 left homeless, as well as causing an estimated $15 billion worth of damage.

A judge in the investigation into the explosion confirmed that 16 port employees had been arrested. He said 18 people had been questioned, including port and customs officials, according to the state news agency.

Lebanese people, who took to the streets on Saturday in protest, blame a political elite they say is rife with corruption and incompetence and has pushed the country into economic despair.

French President Emmanuel Macron visited Beirut this week and offered his country's support for the Lebanese people and he warned the country would “continue to sink” unless there was deep political reform in Lebanon.

Hariri is also one of a growing number of politicians in Lebanon calling for an international investigation into the tragedy at the port.

“I cannot speculate as to the exact events at the port that day, but Hezbollah is a known terrorist organisation and I think the more destruction they inflict the better off they are,” he said. “Their symbiotic relationship with the government gives them full confidence to do what they want.

“We need an urgent international investigation into this tragedy. You can't trust the government or Hezbollah to carry out a proper investigation. We must have an external one and fast.

“There is a bankrupt relationship between these two warlords and they have to go. History shows warlords don't grow a country, they abuse them. We need to take Lebanon from a country to a nation,” he said.

Hariri’s comments on Hezbollah come after Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, warned in 2019 that Iranian forces were exploiting the port to help arm Hezbollah.

Speaking to the UN Security Council last year, Danon said: “Israel found that Iran and the Quds Force have begun to advance the exploitation of civilian maritime channels, and specifically the Port of Beirut. The Port of Beirut is now the Port of Hezbollah.”

An investigation into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was supposed to announce its judgment on Friday, but the verdict has been postponed until Aug. 18.

Hezbollah has been designated as a terrorist organisation by many countries, including the US and UK, and in January the latter also acknowledged Hezbollah's political wing as part of the terrorist group as well as its military wing.