Russia-backed conference on Syrian refugees dismissed as ‘dog and pony show’

Russia-backed conference on Syrian refugees dismissed as ‘dog and pony show’
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Syria's President Bashar Assad is seen on screen as he speaks during the international conference on the return of Syrian refugees in Damascus on Nov. 11, 2020. (SANA/Handout via REUTERS)
Russia-backed conference on Syrian refugees dismissed as ‘dog and pony show’
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Russia's special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev speaks during the international conference on the return of Syrian refugees in Damascus on Nov. 11, 2020. (SANA/Handout via REUTERS)
Russia-backed conference on Syrian refugees dismissed as ‘dog and pony show’
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Ali-Ashgar Khaji, senior aide to Iran's foreign minister, speaks during the international conference on the return of Syrian refugees in Damascus on Nov. 11, 2020. (SANA/Handout via REUTERS)
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Updated 13 November 2020

Russia-backed conference on Syrian refugees dismissed as ‘dog and pony show’

Russia-backed conference on Syrian refugees dismissed as ‘dog and pony show’
  • US State Department officials describe it as a distraction that is using millions of refugees as ‘political pawns’

NEW YORK: The US State Department on Thursday dismissed as a distraction a Russian-backed conference in Damascus that called for the return of millions of Syrian refugees to the war-ravaged country.

Richard Albright, deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, said it is no more than a show that bears no relation to the grim reality of the situation in Syria.

Joel Rayburn, the US special envoy for Syria, said the conference was “just a dog and pony show meant to distract from the fact that the Russians and the Assad regime have not done what the international community has been pressing them to do, which is to end the war and move to a political solution under UN Security Council resolution 2254.”

During the joint briefing, Albright also accused Russia and the Syrian regime of using refugees as “political pawns” to lend legitimacy to the regime. 

“This blatant disregard for the lives at stake is reprehensible,” he said, pointing out that the position of the UN is that conditions in Syria are not yet conducive to the safe and sustainable return of refugees.

“The few returns that have taken place have all too often been met with secondary displacement, continued dependence on international assistance and, in some cases, forced conscription, detention, forced disappearances and other human-rights violations,” Albright added.

“Displaced Syrians know this, and that’s why they’re not going back.”

The briefing came as the conference in Damascus entered its second day, with the aim of facilitating the return home of millions of people displaced by the Civil War. Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a televised speech that they “want to return home” but fear “terrorists and jihadists.”

Since the war began in 2011, more than half of the Syrian people have fled their homes. Millions are now refugees in other countries.

Albright said that a million Syrians were displaced by a regime offensive between December 2019 and February this year. This was “a pace of displacement faster than at any other time in the nine-year conflict,” he added,

“The Syrian government has a choice,” said Rayburn. “They can either take irreversible steps toward a peaceful resolution of this nearly decade-long conflict, or they can face further crippling sanctions and diplomatic isolation.”

On Nov. 9, the US administration implemented the fifth tranche of its Caesar Act sanctions, targeting Syrian military commanders, MPs, senior government figures and financiers. A total of 94 individuals and entities have been blacklisted since the first sanctions were announced in June.

The Caesar Act attracted overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, where it was backed by more than 500 of the 535 members. 

“There’s a bipartisan mandate for the Syria policy that we have been executing, and that is unlikely to change,” Rayburn said. 

Delegates at the conference in Damascus included representatives of 27 countries, including Iran, Venezuela and China. The UN and its organizations were not represented, nor were any of the major refugee-hosting countries. 

“Some of the countries that joined (the conference) are the same ones that continue to kill and injure civilians in Syria, forcing millions to flee,” said Rayburn. “These countries falsely suggested that Syria is now safe for refugees to return.

“Russia and the Assad regime in particular are seeking to raise funds for rebuilding a Syria that they themselves are responsible for destroying, while the Assad regime continues to fund military operations — at many millions of dollars a month — against its own citizens, and the Syrian regime is continuing to disappear Syrians who do return to areas under the regime’s control.”

Asked by Arab News what effects the US sanctions are having on the Syrian regime, Albright said they have damaged its “ability to mask the resources that it’s been using to attack and keep a stranglehold on the Syrian people.”

He added: “The impact has been quite deep on the Assad regime; the leaders at the top are desperate to get out from under the sanctions’ pressure. They are worried that it will continue to build.”

Rayburn said the US campaign of political and economic pressure is being carried out in concert with the EU, and vowed that the diplomatic and economic isolation of the Syrian regime will continue until a political solution is implemented, based on UN Security Council resolutions.

“We simply think you can’t have political reconciliation without accountability for what has happened,” he added. “Until there’s accountability and justice, there cannot be meaningful discussions around refugee returns.”

Rayburn also warned that “any attempt to reestablish or upgrade relations with the Syrian regime without addressing (its) atrocities undercuts efforts to promote accountability and move toward a lasting, peaceful and political solution to the Syrian conflict.”


Egypt, Russia in talks over Sputnik V vaccine imports

Egypt, Russia in talks over Sputnik V vaccine imports
Updated 9 min 2 sec ago

Egypt, Russia in talks over Sputnik V vaccine imports

Egypt, Russia in talks over Sputnik V vaccine imports
  • The two-dose Sputnik V vaccine has obtained approval from the Egyptian Drug Authority – both doses are designed to be administered within a 21-day period
  • Russian Ambassador to Egypt Georgy Borisenko said that Russia is keen to accelerate the delivery of Sputnik V doses to Egypt

CAIRO: Egypt is negotiating with manufacturers of the Russian-made Sputnik vaccine in a bid to buy enough doses for Egypt’s entire population, Mohamed Awad Tag El-Din, advisor to the president on health affairs, has said.

The move emerged during a meeting headed by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly on Tuesday to discuss ways to control the pandemic. The meeting heard that coordination is taking place regarding the supply of monthly doses.

Egypt’s Health Minister Hala Zayed said that the ministry is working on increasing the daily capacity of vaccine centers so that Egypt can inoculate more than 112,000 people per day, adding that there are adequate reserves of medical oxygen in the country.

Negotiations have also taken place with oxygen manufacturers to increase the amount available in Egyptian hospitals and health centers, and to redirect industrial oxygen to the medical sector. Medical gas networks have been upgraded for 40 hospitals affiliated with the ministry.

Zayed also discussed the possibility of manufacturing the Sputnik V vaccine in Egypt in a meeting with Russian Ambassador to Egypt Georgy Borisenko.

Khaled Megahed, health ministry spokesperson, said that the meeting also involved talks on investment opportunities and a potential strategy of using Egypt as a vaccine manufacturing base for all of Africa.

Megahed said that the ministry “endeavors to provide vaccines and prioritize the health of citizens and workers in Egypt.”

The two-dose Sputnik V vaccine has obtained approval from the Egyptian Drug Authority. Both doses are designed to be administered within a 21-day period.

Borisenko said that Russia is keen to accelerate the delivery of Sputnik V doses to Egypt. He added that Russia has given its “full support and cooperation” to Egypt in fighting the pandemic.


Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit
Updated 20 April 2021

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit

Deals signed during Egyptian PM’s Libya visit
  • During Mostafa Madbouly’s visit, several agreements were signed between the two governments, most notably on the establishment of power stations in Libya
  • Libya is considered a natural extension of the Egyptian market, due to the geographical proximity and long history of trade exchange and cooperation between the two countries

CAIRO: Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, accompanied by a team of ministers, visited Tripoli on Tuesday to discuss economic and political cooperation with the Libyan Government of National Unity.

It followed instructions from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who is planning a visit to Libya.

During Madbouly’s visit, several agreements were signed between the two governments, most notably on the establishment of power stations in Libya to strengthen its energy networks.

Libya is considered a natural extension of the Egyptian market, due to the geographical proximity and long history of trade exchange and cooperation between the two countries.

Egyptian companies are awaiting government decisions regarding participation in the reconstruction of Libya, which they hope will produce new opportunities in a renewed market.

According to local sources, Madbouly’s visit is focussed on investments in the country, Egyptian labor issues and the reopening of diplomatic missions.

Last month, El-Sisi discussed with the head of the Libyan Presidential Council, Mohamed Al-Menfi, prospects for enhanced cooperation between the two countries.

El-Sisi stressed Egypt’s full and absolute support for the new executive authority in Libya in all fields and for its success in holding general elections at the end of the year.

He said Egypt was fully prepared to provide its expertise to the Libyan government to help restore its national institutions, especially security and police forces, to achieve greater stability.

Since the beginning of the Libyan crisis, Egypt has promoted political settlement by hosting the warring factions in key meetings.


Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria
Updated 20 April 2021

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria

Chemical weapons watchdog weighs measures against Syria
  • OPCW members are proposing to strip Syria of its rights at the agency in response to findings government forces used poison gas
  • U.N. director at Human Rights Watch hopes the move will encourage countries to prosecute individuals for criminal responsibility

AMSTERDAM: Members of the global chemical weapons watchdog considered a proposal on Tuesday to strip Syria of its rights at the Hague-based agency in response to findings that government forces repeatedly used poison gas.
A draft document, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, was circulated among the 193 members at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
It was proposed by 46 nations, including the United States, Britain and France.
Syria and its military ally Russia have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the decade-old conflict, which has turned the once-technical agency into a flashpoint between rival political forces and deadlocked the UN Security Council.
The Russian and Syrian delegations at the OPCW did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The draft decision, which must win a two-thirds majority of members attending and voting during a meeting of the OPCW’s governing Conference of States Parties this week, proposes revoking voting rights and banning Damascus from holding any offices within the OPCW.
The draft, which could be put to a vote on Wednesday, said the ongoing use “establishes that the Syrian Arab Republic failed to declare and destroy all of its chemical weapons” after joining the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, hopes the move will encourage countries to prosecute individuals for criminal responsibility.
“While this may be largely symbolic, it’s an important step toward holding the Syrian leadership accountable for their war crimes while confronting the biggest compliance crisis that parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention have ever faced,” he said.
Several investigations at the United Nations and by the OPCW’s special Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded that Syrian government forces used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine barrel bombs, in attacks between 2015 and 2018 that investigators said killed or injured thousands.
Last week, the OPCW’s IIT concluded there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that Syria’s air force dropped a chlorine bomb on a residential neighborhood in the rebel-controlled Idlib region in February 2018. Syria dismissed the findings.


Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'
Updated 20 April 2021

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'

Jordan's public prosecution ends investigation into 'recent events threatening security'
  • The results of the investigation for those involved ‘constituted a clear threat to the security and stability of the kingdom’

LONDON: An investigation into recent events that threatened to undermine Jordan’s security and stability has ended, the kingdom’s public prosecution said on Tuesday.
Brig. Gen. Hazem Al-Majali said: “The Public Prosecution of the State Security Court has completed its investigations relating to the events that the kingdom was exposed to recently.”
On April 5, Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Ayman Safadi announced that more than a dozen individuals had been arrested on charges of undermining the security of the state.
“It became clear from the investigation that it contained different and varied roles and facts for those involved, which would have constituted a clear threat to the security and stability of the kingdom,” Brig. Gen. Al-Majali added.
He also said the State Security Prosecution is working on completing the final stages of the investigation and the legal procedures required to refer them to the State Security Court,” Jordanian news agency Petra reported.


Egypt fires top railway official after deadly train crashes

People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 20 April 2021

Egypt fires top railway official after deadly train crashes

People gather by an overturned train carriage at the scene of a railway accident in the city of Toukh in Egypt's central Nile Delta province of Qalyubiya on April 18, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Raslan, who headed the railway authority since July 2018, was replaced Mustafa Abuel-Makarm
  • Country has seen three accidents in less than a month that left at least 29 people dead, some 320 injured

CAIRO: Egypt’s transportation minister on Tuesday said he sacked the country’s top railway official, following three train accidents in less than a month that left at least 29 people dead and some 320 injured.
The firing of Asharf Raslan, head of the railway authority, was part of a wide ranging overhaul of the rundown railway system's leadership amid public outcry over repeated train crashes.
Raslan, who headed the railway authority since July 2018, was replaced Mustafa Abuel-Makarm, the office of Transportation Minister Kamal el-Wazir said in a statement.
The changes included the main departments of the railway authority that manages train traffic in the Arab world’s most populous country.

READ MORE

At least 11 people were killed and nearly 100 injured in a train accident in Egypt on Sunday. Click here for more.

The overhaul was designed to “inject a number of competent professionals” amid efforts to upgrade the poorly-maintained network.
The changes came after a passenger train derailed Sunday north of Cairo, killing at least 11 people and injuring at least 98 others. That followed another train crash in the Nile Delta province of Sharqia last week that left 15 people wounded.
After Sunday’s crash, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced the establishment of an official commission to investigate its causes. Prosecutors also launched their own probe.
On March 25, two passenger trains collided in the southern province of Sohag, killing at least 18 people and injuring 200 others, including children. Prosecutors blamed gross negligence by railway employees for that crash.
The country’s railway system, one of the world's oldest, has a history of badly maintained equipment and poor management.

READ MORE

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it expresses its deep sorrow for the train accident north of the Egyptian capital Cairo. Click here for more.

The government says it has launched a broad renovation and modernization initiative, buying train cars and other equipment from European and U.S. manufacturers to automate the system and develop a domestic railcar industry.
El-Sissi said in March 2018 that the government needs about 250 billion Egyptian pounds, or $14.1 billion, to overhaul the run-down rail system.
Hundreds of train accidents are reported every year. In February 2019 an unmanned locomotive slammed into a barrier inside Cairo’s main Ramses railway station, causing a huge explosion and a fire that killed at least 25 people. That crash prompted the then-transportation minister to resign.
In August 2017, two passenger trains collided just outside the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, killing 43 people. In 2016, at least 51 people were killed when two commuter trains collided near Cairo.
Egypt’s deadliest train crash was in 2002, when over 300 people were killed after a fire broke out in an overnight train traveling from Cairo to southern Egypt.