Syrian monitor says Iran continues military recruitment operations

Syrian monitor says Iran continues military recruitment operations
The number of volunteers recruited into Iran-loyal militias in Syria are now more than 18,000, according to the UK-based watchdog. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 February 2021

Syrian monitor says Iran continues military recruitment operations

Syrian monitor says Iran continues military recruitment operations

RIYADH: Iran continues to consolidate its powers in Syrian territories as deployed military personnel on the ground rise, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Wednesday.
The number of volunteers recruited into Iran-loyal militias in Syria are now more than 18,000, according to the UK-based watchdog.
Israel meanwhile has been consistently attacking positions in southern Syria to force Iranian-supported to withdraw from the area.
Last week, Israel mounted a missile attack in at least five sites housing fighters from the Iran-backed militias and the Lebanese group Hezbollah, who fighting along Syrian government forces.
On January 13, at least 57 military personnel were killed in a series of Israeli offensives in eastern Syria, the highest toll from such attacks in the war-torn country, the Observatory reported at the time.

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Iran says drills near Azerbaijan an issue of ‘sovereignty’

Updated 5 sec ago

Iran says drills near Azerbaijan an issue of ‘sovereignty’

Iran says drills near Azerbaijan an issue of ‘sovereignty’
TEHRAN: Tehran on Tuesday invoked its “sovereignty” to dismiss Azerbaijan’s concerns over Iranian military exercises near their shared border.
“The drills carried out by our country in the northwest border areas... are a question of sovereignty,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement on the ministry website.
Tehran “will take all measures it judges necessary for its national security,” he said, adding, “Iran will not tolerate the presence of the Zionist regime near our borders” — an allusion to Azerbaijan’s relations with Iran’s enemy Israel.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had criticized Tehran over the drills, calling them “a very surprising event.”
“Every country can carry out any military drill on its own territory. It’s their sovereign right. But why now, and why on our border?” he said in an interview with Turkish news agency Anadolu published on Monday.
No further details were available on the military exercises.
Fighting broke out between Azerbaijan and Armenia in September last year over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, claiming some 6,000 lives over six weeks.
A major supplier of arms to Azerbaijan, Israel came under diplomatic fire from Armenia over the struggle between the Caucasus neighbors.
Iran and Azerbaijan share a border of around 700 kilometers (430 miles) and enjoy good relations.
According to some estimates, there are around 10 million members of Iran’s Azeri-speaking community.

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency
Updated 28 September 2021

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency

Yemen PM returns to Aden amid protests, plunging currency
  • Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed is back in the interim capital of Yemen to revive hopes of full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement
  • Dozens of Yemeni government troops and Houthis were killed over the past 24 hours as fighting rages in the provinces of Jouf and Marib

AL-MUKALLA: As Yemen’s prime minister touched down on Tuesday in the port city of Aden for the first time in months, thousands of Yemenis took to the streets of the southern city of Taiz and many other cities to protest against the country’s plunging currency and skyrocketing prices. 

Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed returned to Aden, the interim capital of Yemen, to revive hopes of quick and full implementation of the Riyadh Agreement and address the financial meltdown that has paralyzed the country. 

The prime minister and his cabinet left Aden in March after separatist protesters stormed the presidential palace.

For the second consecutive day, demonstrators marched around the densely populated Taiz carrying loaves of bread and posters. They demanded the government pay salaries and address the devaluation of the Yemeni riyal along with increasing prices of fuel and food. 

“I am hungry,” one protester shouted as security forces and armed vehicles were deployed outside key government facilities. Some protesters blocked roads and torched car tires. 

On Monday, at least five protesters were wounded when security forces fired live bullets to prevent protesters from blocking roads and disrupting traffic. 

The security committee in the city said it was safeguarding peaceful protests and warned against attacking private and public property. 

On Sept. 15, two protesters were killed during violent demonstrations over the economic meltdown and intensifying power cuts in Aden and Al-Mukalla. The protesters clashed with security forces, burnt garbage and tires, and stormed public facilities. 

The Yemeni riyal this week hit a record low against the dollar, trading at 1,200. The US dollar traded at 215 riyals in January 2015. 

In August, tough punitive measures by the Aden-based central bank against several currency-exchange firms that violated monetary rules helped the riyal recover by 10 percent, surging from 1,050 to 950. 

But the Yemeni riyal tumbled in the following weeks — breaking the historic 1,200 against the US dollar for the first time — as many firms have closed and banks in Houthi-controlled areas are being asked to relocate their operations to Aden.

On Tuesday, the central bank monitors inspected local exchange firms and shops, looking for violators of the bank’s rules. The banks also announced that the Bank of England had agreed to unfreeze its account, giving it access to millions of dollars.

At the same time, economists have warned that the deepening financial meltdown would exacerbate the already dire humanitarian crisis in Yemen and would fuel violence.  

Waled Al-Attas, an assistant professor of finance and banking sciences at Hadramout University, criticized the Yemeni government’s silence and late solutions to the continuing depreciation of the Yemeni riyal. 

“The state has given up doing the simplest things for the citizens and left them in the lurch,” he told Arab News. “This situation spells a real catastrophe as the plunging of the riyal continues and prices are going up. Salaries lost their values.”

During a brief visit to the southern city of Shabwa on Monday, the Yemeni premier attributed the fall of the riyal and the financial crisis in the country to the parallel Houthi economy and the movement’s military operations along with speculative activities by currency traders. 

“The economic situation is very difficult,” he said. 

Meanwhile, fighting has raged between Yemeni government troops and the Houthis over the past 24 hours in the province of Jouf and the central province of Marib. Dozens of combatants on both sides were killed.

The fiercest clashes on Tuesday were reported in Hareb district, south Marib province, where government troops, backed by air support from the Arab coalition warplanes, thwarted consecutive Houthi attacks. 

The rebels have recently opened new fronts south of Marib city after their forces failed to make major headway in their push west of Marib. In the Jouf province, government troops announced liberating a number of locations, east of Hazem city, the province’s capital.


Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October
Updated 28 September 2021

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October

Syrian parties to return to constitutional talks in October
  • UN special envoy: Methodology agreed for moving forward in first meeting in 8 months
  • UK ambassador: ‘It’s time for the (Assad) regime to end its artificial delays of the process’

NEW YORK: Parties to the conflict in Syria will return to the negotiating table in October to discuss a new constitution, Geir Pederson, UN special envoy for the country, said on Tuesday.

However, UN Security Council members have warned that obstacles remain to a political resolution to the conflict.

Pederson said Syria’s Constitutional Committee, formed two years ago after intensive negotiations, had agreed on a methodology for moving forward and would meet for the first time in eight months in October.

Up to now, he added, the committee had “not yet begun to make steady progress on its mandate,” which is to draft a new constitution as part of the Syrian peace process initiated in 2015.
The talks, scheduled for mid-October in Geneva, will be the sixth round that the committee has conducted. Parties will deliver their drafts of constitutional texts in the meeting.

“We should all now expect the Constitutional Committee to begin to work seriously on a process of drafting — not just preparing — a constitutional reform,” Pederson said.

“If it does that, then we’ll have a different and credible constitutional process. We need that if we’re to build a modicum of trust.”

And trust, he said, is a commodity in desperately short supply in Syria. Ten years of war have claimed the lives of 350,000 people — at the very least — and displaced over 12 million.

“It’s clear from all our engagements that trust is low, but it’s also clear that common interests do exist, that things aren’t static, and that there’s every reason to try now to build a more effective political effort,” Pederson added.

Despite the tentative progress, UNSC members continue to express their dissatisfaction with the pace and trajectory of the political process in Syria. 

Barbara Woodward, the UK’s ambassador to the UN, said she welcomes the October meeting but warned that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has not yet participated in the talks in good faith.

“The next meeting needs to be different to those that have gone before,” she added. “It’s time for the regime to end its artificial delays of the process, and for substantive progress to be made on a new constitution, as envisaged in (UN) Resolution 2254.”

That resolution, agreed in 2015, mandates the UN to facilitate a Syrian-led political process to end the war, including the creation of a new constitution.

In 2019, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the resolution, if effectively implemented by all parties, was “the beginning of the political path out of the tragedy” that has afflicted Syria since the popular uprising began in 2011.

Despite the diplomatic agreement, though, the reality on the ground in Syria has meant a political resolution to the conflict has long remained out of reach.

External involvement in the war has complicated the path toward peace as external players have prioritized their interests in the country over that of the Syrian people.

While active fighting has declined in the past two years, the conflict has become frozen — as has the path to a lasting solution.

“Until progress is made on the political process, and until there’s a nationwide ceasefire, the suffering of the Syrian people will continue, and the millions displaced will be unable to return,” said Woodward.

Russia’s UN delegate accused Turkey and Israel of destabilizing the peace process in Syria through their interventions in the country.

Moscow intervened on behalf of the Assad regime in 2015 and turned the tide of the war against the rebels.

Richard Mills, deputy representative of the US to the UN, called on the Assad regime to “unilaterally and immediately release the tens of thousands of arbitrarily detained men, women and children in its custody.”

This, he said, could serve as a “confidence-building” measure that would build trust and “bolster the political process.”

But, echoing the British position, he added: “We haven’t yet seen meaningful efforts from the Syria regime.”


Handwritten letters from American classrooms lift hopes of schoolchildren in war-torn Syria

“Letters of Hope” was launched in 2016 to counter the claims of Syrian President Bashar Assad the international community had abandoned Syrians. (AN Photo)
“Letters of Hope” was launched in 2016 to counter the claims of Syrian President Bashar Assad the international community had abandoned Syrians. (AN Photo)
Updated 48 min 6 sec ago

Handwritten letters from American classrooms lift hopes of schoolchildren in war-torn Syria

“Letters of Hope” was launched in 2016 to counter the claims of Syrian President Bashar Assad the international community had abandoned Syrians. (AN Photo)
  • Letters for Hope was launched to counter the Assad regime narrative that the world has abandoned the Syrian people
  • Children have suffered the brunt of the war, with UN monitors saying the regime targets civilians indiscriminately

WASHINGTON, D.C.: “Have hope, stay strong, you are loved somewhere.” These are the words of American schoolchildren, handwritten on colorful paper and posted thousands of miles away to boys and girls in Syria’s besieged rebel-held areas.

Hope may seem in short supply in Syria, but thanks to a group of dedicated activists in the US and their humanitarian colleagues in Syria itself, a measure of relief and messages of solidarity are on hand.

The Syrian Emergency Task Force, a US-based NGO founded in 2011, connects America’s heartland with communities in Syria, while also providing vital humanitarian assistance to the country’s vulnerable children.

“Letters of Hope” was launched in 2016 to counter the claims of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and its international backers that the international community has abandoned the Syrian people.

A boy holds a personal photo print showing children as he stands by rubble in the aftermath of Syrian government forces' bombardment on the town of Balashun in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the south of Syria's rebel-held northwestern Idlib. (AFP)

The program collects letters of solidarity from young people around the world and sends them directly to displaced Syrian civilians to reassure them they are not alone.

“To take part in the letters of hope mission is more than just a sign of solidarity. It is a movement,” Abby Straessle, SETF’s director of development, told Arab News.

Many of the Syrian children who receive these letters live under regime bombardment. Attacks have recently intensified in Syria’s northwest, already shattered by a Russian and Iranian-backed offensive in March last year.

Children have suffered the brunt of the conflict, which began more than a decade ago when anti-government protests were brutally repressed, sparking a bloody civil war.

One recent batch of hand-decorated cards came from Holy Souls’ pre-kindergarten class in Little Rock, Arkansas in the US. (AN Photo)

The Syrian Civil Defense, a non-governmental organization popularly known as the “White Helmets,” alleges that regime artillery and Russian jets have deliberately targeted schools and deprived children of an education. The Russian government strenuously denied responsibility for such airstrikes.

A recent report from the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic claims that residential areas, markets, and medical facilities have also been deliberately targeted, often indiscriminately.

Syrian children are frequently killed in such attacks on civilian infrastructure. In July, Russian-made Kransnopol guided artillery shells struck a medical facility in the southern countryside of Idlib, killing six children.

According to UNICEF, some 512 children were killed in similar attacks last year, most of them in northwest Syria. Around 1.7 million vulnerable children reside in the rebel-held areas, most of whom have been displaced multiple times by successive regime offensives.

Psychological warfare appears to figure prominently in the regime’s tactical playbook. Leaflets are regularly dropped from the air over rebel-held areas warning residents they “face annihilation” if they do not leave.

A man carries a girl who was injured during aerial bombardment at a make-shift camp for displaced Syrians, along a stairway in a hospital in the atby town of Maaret Misrin in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. (AFP)

“Everyone has given up on you,” one such leaflet read, referring to the international community. “They left you alone to face your doom.”

Letters of Hope began as a direct challenge to that message, reminding Syrian children they have not been forgotten.

“Letters of Hope shows the people of Syria that even if world governments look away and even if the US administration continues to distance itself from the atrocities unfolding in Syria, the American people and people all over the world stand in solidarity with civilians demanding freedom in war-torn Syria,” Mouaz Moustafa, director of SETF, told Arab News.

Of course, letters alone cannot provide Syrian children with an education, protect them from bombardment, nor ease the pangs of hunger. That is why SETF has a parallel program in northern Syria called Wisdom House, which runs a kindergarten, and a women’s center called Tomorrow’s Dawn.

The center has provided hundreds of women with vocational training, offering professional certificates in cosmetology, nursing, crafts, and computer science.

INNUMBERS

* 13.4 million Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance, the highest since 2017.

* $4.2 billion Syrian Humanitarian Response Plan, which is only 27% funded.

(Source: UN)

“Your beautiful and emotional words enter our hearts and give us hope,” Moumena, an English teacher and principal of Wisdom House, said in response to the letters.

“It means so much for me personally and for the other teachers who take care of the children. When we see the letters that are sent by teachers and students and people who care about us, we feel that we will be safe and there are no doubts that we will be the winners.

“They give us strength, hope, and love. Everyone who sends us these letters has a beautiful, sweet and faithful heart. Again and again, I say thank you from the bottom of our hearts to anyone who stands with us and sends us these beautiful words.

“The first letter I received said: ‘Be strong, you are not alone.’ These words were and still mean so much to me,” she told Arab News.

To date, more than 2,000 letters from 17 US states have been delivered to schoolchildren in Syria. The letters are collected by SETF volunteers and then taken over the Turkish border into rebel-held Syria.

For so many around the world, the Syrian conflict and those caught up in the fighting and repression feel very far away. The personal touch these letters carry created a direct link between children born in entirely different circumstances. (AN Photo)

One recent batch of hand-decorated cards came from Holy Souls’ pre-kindergarten class in Little Rock, Ark. Wisdom House responded with a photograph of its classrooms decorated with the letters and its pupils proudly holding up a banner that read: “Arkansas stands with the People of Syria.”

It was a simple yet powerful reminder that Syria’s children are not alone.

For so many around the world, the Syrian conflict and those caught up in the fighting and repression feel very far away. The personal touch these letters carry created a direct link between children born in entirely different circumstances.

“The schools endured several forced displacements over the years, and the community was permanently forced from their homes in Idlib in early 2020,” Natalie Larrison, director of Wisdom House, told Arab News.

“Despite these obstacles, the resilience of the teachers and their communities, along with the incredible dedication of Wisdom House supporters, have kept both the kindergarten and women’s center successful and thriving.

“We hope that the children’s smiles are enough for our world leaders to see the importance of keeping them safe and giving them a chance for a free and happy future.”

A girl who was injured during aerial bombardment at a make-shift camp for displaced Syrians, is treated in the emergency ward of a hospital in the atby town of Maaret Misrin in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on September 7, 2021. (AFP)

The fighting and human-rights violations in Syria no longer make headline news around the world. Analysts say this indifference, coupled with the inaction of the UN Security Council, has emboldened the regime to continue its bombing campaign.

Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Assad to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Kremlin hopes to convince the world to welcome the Syrian president back into the international fold and recognize him as Syria’s rightful ruler, despite his documented record of war crimes. 

The Russian government has also been pressing European nations to declare Syria “safe” for refugees to return to areas under regime control.

The experience of Syrians driven out by the war tells a different story. Omar Al-Shogre, a Swedish public speaker and human rights activist who has worked closely with the Syrian emergency task force, spent years inside one of the regime’s most notorious prisons.

“There is something that the Syrian people fear far more than dying under bombardment. It is being detained by the intelligence services,” he told Arab News.

The program collects letters of solidarity from young people around the world and sends them directly to displaced Syrian civilians to reassure them they are not alone. (AN Photos)

“That basically means going through physical, sexual, and psychological torture for as long as you manage to stay alive in that detention center. Syrians refuse to return to Syria because someone is waiting for them. That someone is the intelligence services.”

For the children of rebel-held Syria, only the continuous lobbying of groups like SETF can prevent them from being forgotten altogether.

“Our vision for the future is to continue providing quality education to even more Syrians until every child has a chance to go to a school like Wisdom House,” Larrison said.

“Although the future of Syria is uncertain, we hope that the world will realize the importance of protecting these beautiful children and communities in Syria by telling their stories.”

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Twitter: @OS26


France says Iran must return to nuclear talks to avoid escalation

France says Iran must return to nuclear talks to avoid escalation
Updated 28 September 2021

France says Iran must return to nuclear talks to avoid escalation

France says Iran must return to nuclear talks to avoid escalation
  • French presidency official says Iran could not set new conditions before returning to the talks

PARIS: Iran must return to talks with world powers over its 2015 nuclear deal to avoid a diplomatic escalation that could jeopardize the negotiations, a French presidency official said on Tuesday
The official also said Iran could not set new conditions before returning to the talks in Vienna as the terms on the table were clear.
Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on reviving the accord aimed at keeping Iran from being able to develop a nuclear weapon stopped in June before Ebrahim Raisi took office as Iranian president last month.
Western powers have urged Iran to return to negotiations and said time is running out as its nuclear programme is advancing well beyond the limits set by the deal, which Washington abandoned in 2018.
"Nobody wants an escalation, but to avoid an escalation Iran must return to the negotiating table," the French presidency official told reporters.
Tehran has signalled in recent weeks that negotiations would resume in a few weeks without giving a specific date, increasing frustration among the Western parties - Britain, France, Germany and the United States - to the 2015 accord.
"The more that time passes, the harder it becomes to return to the negotiating table...and the key question of restoring a manageable and acceptable breakout time for us becomes complicated to resolve," the official said, referring to the time it takes to amass enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon.
The official said that world powers, including Russia and China, needed to remain united and that Beijing especially needed to "express itself and act in a more determined way".