Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water

Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water
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Syrian Kurds queue under blistering heat for water delivered by trucks near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)
Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water
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Very young children have not been spared from queueing for water in the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)
Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water
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A Turkish military battle tank is seen along the M4 highway, which links the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Latakia, in this March 15, 2020 file photo. (AFP)
Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water
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Residents queue for water near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)
Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water
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A Turkish military battle tank is seen along the M4 highway, which links the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Latakia, in this March 15, 2020 file photo. (AFP)
Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water
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Very young children have not been spared from queueing for water in the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)
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Updated 05 October 2020

Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water

Turkey hits Kurds in northern Syria with a cruel weapon: water
  • Water disruptions in Hasakah spell more suffering for civilians unless Turkish forces withdraw from NE Syria
  • Turkey’s stated aim of creating a safe zone along the border now entails cutting off water as a pressure tactic

DUBAI: Near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, in northeastern Syria, empty jerry cans were piled high on the roadside, where women and their restless children waited in the blistering heat for trucks to bring water to their parched community. Just a few days earlier, Turkish occupation forces had once again cut off the water supply from the Alouk pumping station, five kilometers away.

This critical facility normally supplies drinking water to nearly 1 million people in Hasakah. Without it, the province goes thirsty.

“We had no water for a month,” recalled Ahmed Zubair, 22, who works at a local phone shop. “Without water, we can’t protect ourselves against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This is a reason for the spread of disease, because there’s not enough water for cleaning, only for drinking. This is a danger for children and for society in general.”

Xelil Osman, a local delivery driver, said: “We were delivering water to the people with trucks. The water situation is really bad, and we always worry it won’t be enough for the people. If there is water, we deliver it. But if there is none, we have nothing to deliver.”

 

It was no accident of fate that water had to be delivered by road to tens of thousands of Kurdish residents in Ras Al-Ain and surrounding areas in Hasakah for nearly four weeks since Aug. 13.

In October last year, Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies launched their self-proclaimed Operation Peace Spring, targeting the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria. The SDF is mostly made up of members of the People’s Protection Units, which Turkey considers a terror group because of its ideological connection to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, whose armed struggle since 1984 for greater Kurdish rights evolved into an insurgency over time.

The SDF had spearheaded the US-backed coalition campaign against Daesh in northern Syria, destroying the militants’ last holdouts in Deir ez-Zor in March 2019. However, in a “betrayal” that stunned coalition partners and shocked the US foreign-policy establishment, Washington did nothing when Ankara launched a massive assault on the SDF in October 2019, forcing it to withdraw from its positions along the Turkey-Syria border.

Just a few hours into Turkey’s cross-border offensive, artillery shells hit the Alouk pumping station, immediately putting it out of service. Although the facility has since been repaired with international oversight, it remains under Turkish control.

Under the circumstances, the area’s limited water reserves can be exploited at will, regardless of what international humanitarian laws guarding civilian infrastructure say. This puts additional pressure on the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES), which currently administers the area also known as Rojava.




A Kurdish boy takes his turn to get his share of water delivered by trucks near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)

“The NES has dug a few water wells as an alternative, but this does not provide enough water,” Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a political analyst and journalist who covers Kurdish affairs, told Arab News. “The only solution is for the international community to put pressure on the Turkish government to stop cutting off water to parts of northern Syria.”

When the taps ran dry in August, the international community began applying pressure on Ankara, but with little success. James Jeffrey, the US special envoy for Syria, reportedly urged the Turkish leadership to resume water supplies, while Russian military engineers in the area set to work on a pipeline to help quench Ras Al-Ain’s thirst.

Russia backs Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose regime is locked in a low-intensity war with Turkish forces in the northwestern province of Idlib and in a three-way contest with the Turks and the SDF over control of northeast Syria.

 

Russia is keen to win favor with the Kurds to help promote a diplomatic solution to the civil conflict in Syria. Moscow believes the Kurds must be included in constitutional talks with the regime, otherwise a mutually accepted government and a unified country will not be possible.

The stated aim of Ankara’s Operation Peace Spring was to force the SDF back from the Turkish border by creating a self-declared safe zone reaching some 30 kilometers into Syrian territory.

Almost a year on, and with the US now bolstering its Syria deployments with Sentinel radars, additional fighter patrols, and Bradley Fighting Vehicles in its escalating rivalry with Russia, the area remains anything but safe.




A Turkish military battle tank is seen along the M4 highway, which links the northern Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Latakia, in this March 15, 2020 file photo. (AFP)

“I am from Ras Al-Ain. After Turkey occupied my town and cut off the water from the Alouk pumping station, people in Hasakah, who have already been living in difficult conditions, did not have any water for drinking or washing, and this was all in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis,” Muhammed Baqi, of the Hevy Organization for Relief and Development, told Arab News.

“The Kurdish administration tried to drill a water well called Al-Himme Water Station, but it did not work because the water they drilled was not drinkable — it was only good for washing,” he said. “The amount of water from this well was also not enough. Alouk continues to be the main source for water in Hasakah.”

 

Disputes over the supply of electricity to the Alouk pumping station appear to have inflamed an already tense situation.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based watchdog, the Turkish side cut off Hasakah’s water supply to pressure the NES to supply more electricity from its Mabrouka power plant to areas controlled by Turkey’s Syrian proxies. But Turkey’s Ministry of National Defense insisted in early August that Alouka was under maintenance and that Hasakah was continuing to receive water.

“Though the Alouk pumping station has been fixed under international mediation, Turkey regularly cuts the water flow to NES areas and prevents repairs from taking place,” said Thomas McClure, a researcher at the Rojava Information Center.

“Turkey has cut off the water supply from Hasakah 13 times this year, according to the UN, in order to exert political pressure on the NES.

“Most recently, the whole Hasakah region spent two weeks in the sweltering August heat totally without water, and some neighborhoods spent over two months without a drop of water being delivered.”

 

As COVID-19 cases rise and temperatures remain high, all efforts to reopen the Alouk pumping station have failed. Meanwhile, the Kurdish Red Crescent and other aid agencies have struggled to find alternative water sources for the region.

The Al-Himme Water Station offers a partial solution for now. “However, it doesn’t cover more than 25 percent of the people’s needs,” said Bassam Al-Ahmad, director of Syrians for Truth and Justice, a nongovernmental organization working on documenting human rights violations in Syria.

“The long-term solution is for Turkey to withdraw from northern Syria. It is Syrian land. At the moment we need a strong international position against Turkish assaults.”

Pressing for justice, local aid agencies say Turkey has not only broken international humanitarian law by denying Hasakah access to running water but has actually committed a war crime. They say that since the water-pumping stations and dams of northeastern Syria are located near the front lines, their protection is vital for the well-being of the local population.

“According to international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to cut the water supply to a civilian population is a crime against humanity and a war crime,” Sara Montinaro, a lawyer and project manager for the Kurdish Red Crescent, told Arab News.




Residents queue for water near the town of Ras Al-Ain in Hasakah, northeastern Syria, after Turkish occupation forces cut off the water supply for their community. (Photo courtesy of Jamal Photography)

According to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, military operations must be conducted in accordance with international humanitarian law and avoid the destruction of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, including water and sanitation.

“With the current COVID-19 situation, the situation on the ground is even worse than before, yet Turkey does not seem to be changing its behavior towards the Syrian Kurds,” Montinaro said.

“There are now several statements from the UN asking Turkey to stop cutting off water from the people, but until now they haven’t done anything. What is happening is a violation of international humanitarian law.”

For now, the women on the roadside near Ras Al-Ain must continue intermittently to rely on water trucked in by road until a more sustainable source can be found and secured — or Turkey lifts its boot off the hose.

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor

 


Yemen’s civilians paying the price for delisting of Houthis from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 26 September 2021

Yemen’s civilians paying the price for delisting of Houthis from US terror list

Newly recruited Houthi fighters take part in a gathering in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Conflict mapping shows militia has killed more people since the Biden administration revoked its FTO designation
  • Saudi diplomat says the Kingdom will continue to use UN mechanisms to expose the Houthis’ true terrorist face

LONDON: Seven months after the US removed the Houthis from its list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, the militia is killing more people than before and intensifying its efforts to bring the entire country of Yemen under its extremist doctrine, according to experts.

Within days of their removal, the Houthis escalated their assault on Yemen’s Marib, a province that provides temporary shelter to thousands of internally displaced people and acts as a bastion of the UN-backed government’s pushback against the Houthis’ religious tyranny.

Six months later, the siege of Marib continues to claim lives daily — on both sides — and perpetuates Yemen’s twin humanitarian and economic crises.

If these developments in Yemen are anything to go by, one of Joe Biden’s first acts as US president has backfired badly.

“I am revoking the designations of Ansar Allah, sometimes referred to as the Houthis, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Biden said on Feb. 12.

Citing the “dire humanitarian situation in Yemen,” he said the group’s inclusion on the list would only obstruct the delivery of aid.

“By focusing on alleviating the humanitarian situation in Yemen, we hope the Yemeni parties can also focus on engaging in dialogue.”

Granted, hindsight is always 20/20 but the Biden team never really tried to defend the rationale behind the move with evidence.

“The delisting gave the Houthis and, more importantly, their Iranian sponsors a sense of impunity,” Michael Rubin, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Arab News. “The delisting also eviscerated international efforts to prevent Houthi supply and finance.”

In fact, Rubin says, the Biden administration’s justification for the delisting of the Houthis — to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid — never made sense in the first place.

“There was already an inspection regime” in place, Rubin said. “The UN had repeatedly reported on the delivery of humanitarian goods. Ironically, it was often the Houthis which prevented the delivery of goods to cities like Taiz not under Houthi control.”

In Rubin’s view, Biden’s decision to delist the Houthis may have had more to do with domestic American politics than what was best for the Yemeni people — and it may have emboldened other regional terrorist groups in the process.

“The Biden administration’s delisting had more to do with reversing what (former president Donald) Trump had done than any consideration of the realities on the ground,” he said.

“As such, Biden’s delisting for purely political reasons undermined the legitimacy of US listings and also encouraged other terrorist groups to demand delisting as a diplomatic concession.”

Drone missiles used by Houthis in Yemen in battles against the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and UAE. (AFP/File Photo)

Not only has the delisting failed to concretely resolve the humanitarian situation in Yemen, but it may also have cost more people their lives.

Alexander Jalil is a Middle East and North Africa analyst at the Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project, a highly specialized organization dedicated to recording instances of fatal and non-fatal violence in conflicts or politically unstable locations across the world.

Jalil told Arab News that ACLED’s data, painstakingly collected and verified based on local sources, suggests that not only were the Houthis involved in a higher proportion of the fighting in Yemen after they were removed from the terror list, but they were actually responsible for the deaths of more people.

“The events in the six months after the group was removed from the US terror designation list were also deadlier, as our fatalities count saw an increase between Feb. 12, 2021, and Aug. 12, 2021, compared to Aug. 12, 2020, and Feb. 12, 2021,” Jalil said.

INNUMBERS

* 7,998 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months prior to delisting.

* 9,312 - Number of fatalities attributed to Houthis in the 6 months since delisting.

(Source: ACLED)

ACLED’s data shows that in the six months preceding the Houthis’ removal from the terror blacklist, they were responsible for 7,998 fatalities. In the six months after they were removed, they killed 9,312 people — a rise of more than 1,314.

It is not clear exactly what caused this jump in fatalities, but Asif Shuja, a senior research fellow who specializes in Iran at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, told Arab News “the delisting of the Houthis by the Biden administration tilted the balance in favor of Iran.”

Iran has long supported the Houthis, who are ideologically aligned with Tehran’s doctrine of velayat-e faqih — or guardianship of the Islamic jurist. This ideology places supreme control of the state in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the basis of a religious worldview prescribed by his revolutionary predecessor Ruhollah Khomeini.

Saudi Arabia’s 2015 intervention in Yemen was launched in order to uphold the legitimate Yemeni government, which was forced from the capital Sanaa by the Houthis earlier that year, and to prevent further attacks on the Kingdom.

Tehran now provides funding, arms, training, and ballistic missiles to the Houthis — many of which have been turned against Saudi Arabia, its citizens, and its allies.

The Houthis unleashed a wave of ballistic missile and drone attacks against the Kingdom on Sept. 4, defying calls by the international community for a return to the negotiating table.

All of the missiles and drones were intercepted and destroyed, but falling debris from a missile shot down over Eastern Province injured a boy and a girl in Dammam city.

Falling debris also caused damage to 14 residential houses, coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Turki Al-Maliki said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

A second missile targeted the southwestern region of Najran followed by a third on the adjacent region of Jazan. Earlier that same day, coalition air defenses intercepted three booby-trapped drones launched by the Houthis.

Houthi attempts to target civilians and civilian objects are not only hostile and barbaric but also “incompatible with heavenly values ​​and humanitarian principles,” Al-Maliki told SPA.

Another attack at the end of August struck an airport in Abha, wounding eight civilians and damaging a commercial airliner.

A speech by Shiite Houthi leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi is screened as supporters take part in a rally. (AFP/File Photo)

“Houthi attacks are perpetuating the conflict, prolonging the suffering of the Yemeni people, and jeopardizing peace efforts at a critical moment,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement at the time.

Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN, told Arab News the Kingdom is actively working to expose the Houthi militia’s true nature as a terrorist organization through the UN Security Council.

“When we send letters to the UNSC or to the secretary-general regarding the various attacks that the Houthis try to launch against Saudi Arabia, our main objective is simply to record the fact,” he said.

Al-Mouallimi added: “We are repulsing these attacks, foiling them well before they hit targets in most cases, and we are exposing them to the international community. We are making them well known to the international community and the world at large.”

Saudi Arabia has confronted the Houthis with force but has also consistently pushed for a peaceful resolution to the war in Yemen that places the people at the heart of any political settlement. But a peaceful end to the conflict is not a goal shared by the Houthi militia.

In his speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, King Salman of Saudi Arabia said: “The peace initiative in Yemen tabled by the Kingdom last March ought to end the bloodshed and conflict. It ought to put an end to the suffering of the Yemeni people. Unfortunately, the terrorist Houthi militia rejects peaceful solutions.”

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Twitter: @CHamillStewart


Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan
Updated 26 September 2021

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan

Interim PM outlines ambitions, challenges for newly free Sudan
  • Abdalla Hamdok: Aim is to build ‘safe, stable’ country ‘where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom, justice’
  • He thanked international partners, such as Saudi Arabia, who have provided assistance to Sudan’s fledgling government

NEW YORK: The prime minister of Sudan’s transitional government has outlined its plans for a “safe and stable” nation, and urged world leaders to work together to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries.
“The transitional government in Sudan continues to implement policies aiming to lay the foundations for democracy and rule of law, and to promote human rights,” Abdalla Hamdok told UN General Assembly delegates.
“At the same time, it aims to tackle the chronic structural problems beleaguering our economy,” he said.
“These programs and these policies underpin a common goal — that is, building a safe and stable Sudan where everyone lives in peace, prosperity, freedom and justice, as expressed in the slogans of the glorious revolution of December.”
At the end of 2018 and into 2019, the Sudanese people overthrew Omar Bashir, bringing to an end 30 years of autocratic rule.
Since then, Hamdok said, “the reforms undertaken have had an effect on the most vulnerable people in our society. We’ve launched social protection programs … with the aid of regional and international partners.”
Among those international supporters is Saudi Arabia, which in May provided a $20 million grant to assist Sudan with servicing its debts to the International Monetary Fund. More investment by the Kingdom is expected.
But while Sudan’s revolution achieved its initial goal of establishing a civilian government, the country faces a plethora of systemic and economic challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamdok said Sudan has witnessed an influx of refugees from neighboring countries, and it does not have the resources to effectively manage this.
“Host communities are the first providers of protection and solidarity to these people. They share their scant resources and don’t, unfortunately, receive the support they require,” he added.
“Conditions in refugee camps are better than those in many host communities. The international community needs to effectively contribute to the development of these communities as part of distributing the burden involved. More money is needed.”
Hamdok also urged regional countries to reach a lasting agreement on Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam, which has fueled tensions between Addis Ababa on one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other because of the Nile’s critical importance to each country.
He commended the role of the World Health Organization in combating the pandemic, which he said has hit poor nations particularly hard.
“International cooperation and multilateral action” are required to ensure people in poor countries are able to access COVID-19 vaccines, he said.
A cooperative and global approach to ending the pandemic is “the only way to give true meaning to the slogan ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe’,” he added.

(With AP)

 


Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister
Updated 26 September 2021

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister

Sudanese protesters block key pipelines, says oil minister
  • Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy

KHARTOUM: Sudanese protesters on Saturday blocked two key oil pipelines in Port Sudan, the main seaport on the Red Sea, over a peace deal with rebel groups, the oil minister said.

Warning of “an extremely grave situation,” Oil Minister Gadein Ali Obeid told AFP one pipeline transports oil exports from South Sudan while the other handles Sudanese crude imports.

“Entrances and exits at the port’s export terminal have been completely shuttered” since early Saturday, he said.

Last October, several rebel groups signed a peace deal with Sudan’s transitional government which came to power shortly after the April 2019 ouster of longtime President Omar Bashir.

The protesters, from Sudan’s Beja minority, say that the deal, with rebels from the Darfur region and Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, ignored their interests.

Beja rebels agreed on a peace deal with the Bashir regime in 2006 after a decade of low-level conflict in Port Sudan and the east.

Port Sudan is the country’s main seaport and a vital trade hub for its export-dependent economy.

The Khartoum government receives around $25 for every barrel of oil sold from South Sudan, according to official figures.

South Sudan produces around 162,000 barrels per day, which is transported by pipeline to Port Sudan and then shipped to global markets.

“There are enough (oil) reserves to last the country’s needs for up to 10 days,” Sudan’s oil ministry said in a statement.

It warned the export pipeline could sustain damage after demonstrators prevented a vessel from loading crude.

Protests against the October 2020 deal have rocked east Sudan since last week.

On Sept. 17, demonstrators impeded access to the docks in Port Sudan.

On Friday, demonstrators blocked the entrance to the airport and a bridge linking Kassala state with the rest of the country.

The unrest comes as Sudan grapples with chronic economic problems inherited from the Bashir regime.

Shortly after it began, the transitional government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said it had foiled a coup attempt by supporters of the ousted president.


Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies
Yahya Kabbara, a Lebanese math teacher, chose his own method to fight bullying by swimming 5.5 km to a rocky island off Lebanon’s coast to prove that “being overweight doesn’t impede oneself from notching achievements’. (Supplied/Yahya Nabil Kabbara)
Updated 25 September 2021

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies

Lebanese teacher swims 5.5 km to island off Tripoli coast to challenge obesity bullies
  • Double Ph.D., Yahya Kabbara, was bullied as a youth for being obese until he ‘notched a physical success’
  • “Classmates and friends never allowed me to play any sport with them because, according to them, my obesity always made them lose,” he told Arab News

DUBAI: Yahya Nabil Kabbara has always been perceived as academically distinguished, but not athletically, due to being subjected to nightmarish waves of bullying over his obesity since childhood.
A Lebanese math teacher, Kabbara chose his own method to fight bullying by swimming 5.5 km to a rocky island off Lebanon’s coast to prove that “being overweight doesn’t impede oneself from notching achievements.”
Since a teenager, friends and classmates never allowed Kabbara to play any sport with them because they said his “obesity makes them lose.”
“That left a scar in me and pushed me to set that personal challenge to swim to the furthest island off Tripoli’s seashore,” Kabbara told Arab News.
Born in the northern Lebanese city in 1987, the 34-year-old tutor currently teaches math for secondary classes at a public high school.
Commonly known as “Araneb Island” or “Rabbit’s Island,” his target is the biggest of three flat rocky islands that constitute the Palm Islands Nature Reserve. The three islands’ area is around 4.2 sq km.
On Sunday, Sept. 19, Kabbara put on a pair of paddles, jumped into the ocean and swam for nearly four-and-a-half hours until he reached Rabbit’s Island.
Having once weighed over 140kg, Kabbara has been training seriously by swimming, walking, hiking, mountain climbing and preparing himself mentally and physically to be able to fulfill what he describes as a “personal challenge and a message to all those who bullied him for being overweight.”
He added: “Classmates and friends never allowed me to play any sport with them because, according to them, my obesity always made them lose. That hurt me a lot … it left an aching scar in me that I always stayed alone. My family once thought I had autism,” he said.
Coming from a hardworking family, Kabbara started teaching at the age of 14 because he adores the profession and needed to earn pocket money to support his father.
Despite having two doctorates, he could not land a university job because, according to him, “you need a wasta (support from a politician or influential person), meanwhile I’ve never been affiliated to or supported any Lebanese politician.”
In 2015, Kabbara obtained a Ph.D. in applied Mathematics at the Lebanese University while also picking up a doctorate from Paris-Est Creteil University in France.  
The father of a nine-month-old daughter said the fact that he was constantly bullied at youth pushed him to work “seriously and really hard” on his fitness to prove to others that being overweight “should not cripple oneself from fulfilling their goals.”
“At a certain point of my life I realized that I have fulfilled a lot academically and that the time has come for me to accomplish something physical,” he said, reiterating that he set up his swimming challenge “to prove to himself and others that with perseverance any goal is attainable.”
Kabbara explained that the idea to swim to Rabbit’s Island was like a dream to him since childhood.
When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) surfaced in early 2020, the 34-year-old had still been suffering from obesity and feared that lockdowns would force him to gain more weight and feel “desolate and depressed.”
“But I told myself ‘no.’ I walked as much as possible and swam a lot after borrowing my cousin’s paddles. I love swimming so I swam 300 meters, then 500. In November I swam to the nearest island, Al-Ballan. It took me an hour. Then I went to the second island of Al-Rmayleh,” said Kabbara.
“All I wanted to do is accomplish my goal and prove to myself and others that everything is possible,” concluded Kabbara, who said that he had dropped his weight to 109kg.


Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 
Updated 25 September 2021

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 

Ahead of Erdogan-Putin meeting, Idlib quagmire is a fresh test 
  • Putin criticized the presence of foreign troops without a UN mandate last week during a meeting with Assad
  • Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has urged Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syrian soil immediately

ANKARA: Turkey has deployed more troops to northwestern Syria as a deterrent against any major offensive by Russian-backed Syrian forces, ahead of a meeting between the Turkish and Russian leaders next week.

Ankara is concerned that an escalation in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in northwest Syria, would push a new wave of refugees toward Turkey, which has been hosting about 4 million Syrians since the start of the conflict a decade ago.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to raise this issue during his meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Sept. 29. To what extent Russia’s position will find a common ground with Ankara is still unclear.

Last week, during a meeting between Putin and Syrian President Bashar Assad, the Russian president criticized the presence of foreign troops without a UN mandate.

Three Turkish soldiers were killed on Sept. 11 in Idlib as the Syrian regime forces have intensified their attacks.

“Russia is frustrated with Turkey’s unwillingness to expel Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham from Idlib and is using its warplanes as well as Syrian ground forces to put pressure on Turkey,” Samuel Ramani, a tutor of politics and international relations at the University of Oxford, told Arab News.

Russia is holding Turkey to its 2018 commitment to separate radicals such as HTS, the dominant group in Idlib, from other rebels in Idlib. But Ankara rejects claims that it has failed to deliver on its promise.

HTS has been distancing itself from Al-Qaeda and rebranding itself as a moderate rebel group — an image makeover before the international community. But it is still designated by the US, the UN Security Council and Turkey as a terror group.

“Turkey does not view a limited escalation of this kind as a major cross-border threat but would certainly fear a refugee influx if Assad and Putin carry out a much larger assault on Idlib, which mirrored the events of late 2019 and early 2020,” Ramani said. “So Turkey’s troops are there to deter such a scenario from taking place and ensure that the status quo holds until the Putin-Erdogan meeting.”

However, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has urged Turkey to withdraw its forces from Syrian soil immediately and said he considered Turkish presence an act of occupation.

Ramani said that in the past Putin-Erdogan meetings have often reduced the conflict in Syria, for example after the Operation Peace Spring in October 2019 and Operation Spring Shield in March 2020: “So the hope is that this will happen again.”

On Sept. 24, Erdogan said he expects Russia to change its approach toward Syria as the Syrian regime poses a threat to Turkey along the southern border.

At the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, Erdogan addressed the Syrian crisis, saying that “as a country that protected human dignity in the Syrian crisis, we no longer have the potential nor the tolerance to absorb new immigration waves.”

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Ankara think tank ORSAM, said Turkey attaches importance of retaining its place in Syrian game. 

“If it completely withdraws from the region, it will stay out of the endgame and will not have a say when a political process in Syria begins,” Orhan told Arab News.

According to Orhan, Turkey is also concerned about the presence of foreign fighters and radical elements in Idlib.

“If there were a regime offensive, they would be likely to flock toward the Turkish border and would pose a security threat not only to Turkey but to the global community,” he said.

Experts say that although it exposes the limits of their cooperation, Turkish-Russian relations will likely survive this latest round of escalation as both sides have too much to lose if their relationship is damaged.

Orhan says the deployment of Turkish troops ahead of Putin-Erdogan meeting is a symbolic move to gain leverage at the negotiation table.

“Although Russia supports the Assad regime, it also takes notice of Turkish presence in the region, as well as of cooperation in the fields of energy and defense industry. It doesn’t want to undermine them, yet tries to use Idlib card as a bargaining chip each time there is a crisis in bilateral ties,” he said.

Russia reportedly conducted about 200 aerial attacks against Idlib in September. Some of the attacks targeted zones close to Turkey’s military posts in the province. Turkey has about 80 military bases and observation posts in Idlib.

“Although Turkish and Syrian intelligence agencies have met in the past, Russia has been pushing Turkey for years to open a diplomatic communication channel with the Syrian regime. But Ankara is not willing to take this step. I expect that Erdogan-Putin meeting will de-escalate the tension in Idlib, but both leaders will test their determination before sitting at the negotiation table,” Orhan said.