Sudan closes border crossing with Ethiopia after disappearance of commander: reports 

Sudan closes border crossing with Ethiopia after disappearance of commander: reports 
Clashes erupted late last year between Sudanese and Ethiopian forces over Al-Fashqa. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2021

Sudan closes border crossing with Ethiopia after disappearance of commander: reports 

Sudan closes border crossing with Ethiopia after disappearance of commander: reports 

DUBAI: Sudan closed its border with Ethiopia on Saturday following the “disappearance” of a commander who was in the area pursuing Ethiopian militias off, local media Sudan Tribune reported. 

Captain Bahaa El-Din Youssef was pursuing Ethiopian militias who “kidnapped three Sudanese children from within the border” on Friday, the report said. 

According to the report, the children were aged between 10 and 15 years old and were taken to an unknown location. 

Clashes erupted late last year between Sudanese and Ethiopian forces over Al-Fashqa, an area of fertile land settled by Ethiopian farmers that Sudan says lies on the Sudanese side of a border demarcated at the start of the 20th century.


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.


Syrian refugee dies after swallowing gasoline 

Syrian refugee dies after swallowing gasoline 
Updated 25 September 2021

Syrian refugee dies after swallowing gasoline 

Syrian refugee dies after swallowing gasoline 
  • Queues outside gas stations persist, along with disputes that often descend into physical violence
  • Some people provide “waiting” services, staying in the car instead of the vehicle owner to fill the tank up and earning up to LBP100,000 for doing so

BEIRUT: A Syrian refugee in Minieh, north Lebanon, died on Saturday after accidentally swallowing a large quantity of gasoline while siphoning it from his car in a black market fuel operation. He was taken to hospital but could not be saved.

Abdulrahman Darwish, the representative for the Relief Associations’ Federation in Danniye, said the man used to make deals on the black market.

Lebanon has been suffering from an acute fuel crisis during the past few months.

“He went to gas stations every day, where he waited in the queue for hours to get 40 liters of gasoline to later withdraw this quantity from his car and sell it on the black market at a higher price to those who do not want to wait in queues,” he told Arab News. “The black market's activities have thrived during the crisis. The youth, Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees have found themselves unemployed amid the harsh economic crisis of Lebanon. They are looking to earn money at all costs to secure food, medicines and milk for their families, and have found a golden opportunity on the black market.”

A security source told Arab News that authorities had observed a decline in the north’s robbery rate in the past few weeks, where “thugs had focused on the black market” instead of theft because it was very profitable.

“Every day, tens of them gather outside gas stations forming gangs to get gasoline and later sell it on the black market. The unemployed youth has found an opportunity to earn money by resorting to illegal means,” the source said.

According to the price list issued by the Economy Ministry on Wednesday, fuel will be sold according to the dollar exchange rate, with $1 worth LBP14,000.

Queues outside gas stations persist, along with disputes that often descend into physical violence and even shooting.

Some people had expected a decline in black market activities after the availability of fuel in the market and the gasoline price being liberalized.

However, job opportunities have emerged amid this mess. Some people provide “waiting” services, staying in the car instead of the vehicle owner to fill the tank up and earning up to LBP100,000 for doing so.

Some reserve a place outside gas stations during the night and sell the spot in the morning for those waiting at the back.

Fadi Abu Shakra, a representative of the Fuel Distributors’ Union, said the queues seemed shorter on Monday as fuel had become available and imports were ongoing.

“The activities of the black market traders who have exhausted us are likely to drop down,” he told Arab News.

The economic crisis in Lebanon that peaked in 2019 after the depletion of its financial resources has led to a complete economic collapse, where hundreds of businesses shut down and thousands of employees were laid off.

The latest report from the Central Administration of Statistics said the unemployment rate in 2020 increased to 55 percent for those in informal employment and 45 percent for workers in the formal economy.

The unemployment rate among college students reached 35.7 percent, and the highest rates of unemployment were noted in Akkar, Central Bekaa and Aley.

The International Labor Organization noted the extent of “informal employment and vulnerability among the most deprived Lebanese citizens, as well as Syrian refugees in 2021.”

According to Labor Ministry estimates, unemployment in 2020 increased to about 36 percent and is estimated to reach 41.4 percent by the end of 2021.

Statistics from the National Social Security Fund from the start of 2020 until Feb. 2021 indicated that 40,000 people who were registered with the fund had exited the labor market.

Darwish said: “Syrian refugees in Lebanon were severely affected by the economic crisis. Some refugees are selling their food rations to buy medicine or visit a doctor.”


Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized
Updated 25 September 2021

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized

Israeli move to grab Palestinian land re-energized
  • Former mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun told Arab News the move was aimed at separating Bethlehem governorate from Hebron governorate

AMMAN: A year before representatives of Israel and Palestine met at the White House on Sept. 13, 1993, and signed a framework for peace, Israeli authorities had confiscated 48 square kilometers of Palestinian land south of Bethlehem and converted it into a nature reserve.

The Israeli army has, 28 years later, renewed the confiscation order in a politicized decision carried out to block attempts to provide building permits to Palestinians who own private land in some of those areas.

Jad Isaac, director of the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem, said a large part of those areas had been marked as Area C, meaning the Israelis had full control over who could build on them.

“Military order #51-21 of Nov. 18, 1992 has taken a large part of the areas east and south of Bethlehem, in the vicinity of the towns of Saer, Arab Al-Rashida and Shioukh,” he told Arab News.

Isaac said that Palestinians were not allowed to build on 29.7 square kilometers of the land despite them being listed as Area A, meaning local Palestinian municipalities had the right to make administrative decisions about them.

He said that 10.875 square kilometers of that land had been converted into nature reserves, blocking the rights of Palestinians in those areas.

Israeli authorities used the term nature reserve to block Palestinians from building on those areas so that, at an opportune time, they may be opened up for settlement expansion, he said.

Over the years the international community — especially the US — has been asking the Israelis to allow Palestinians to build in those areas.

Former mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun told Arab News the move was aimed at separating Bethlehem governorate from Hebron governorate.

The goal was to separate the populated Palestinian areas, as well as closing off areas to farming and grazing including blocking the ability of Palestinian farmers to reach their own land, while giving Jewish settlers the freedom to move around on Palestinian land, she added.

A Times of Israel report found that the Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing construction in Area C had issued just a handful of building permits.

Plans for just 26 housing units were advanced in subcommittee meetings, with only six of those units — located in a single building — receiving actual building permits.

“Apparently, the security Cabinet’s decision that Netanyahu made sure to publicize as if Israel actually intended to approve any development for the millions of Palestinians in the occupied territories has turned out to be one big bluff, and even the few permits that were approved have not been issued,” Hagit Ofran, from the Peace Now settlement watchdog, told the newspaper.

Isaac said that, since 1967, Israel had used a variety of military orders to curtail Palestinian growth.

“They passed tens of laws that allow them to take away Palestinian land or prevent Palestinians from using it, while seeming to be doing all this under the pretext of democratic regulations.”

He said that, in addition to confiscating state land or land of absentee Palestinians, the favorite way of stunting Palestinian growth had been the conversion of large areas of Palestinian land into nature reserves.

“Using military order 363 of 1969, the Israeli civil administration can declare any land in the occupied West Bank a nature reserve where it is extremely difficult to get a building license.”

In Jan. 2020 then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who is now prime minister, approved the declaration of seven reserves in an area of 112.5 square kilometers, in addition to the existing 12 nature reserves aimed at stopping any Palestinian building development in the Jordan Valley area.


Turkey, EU come together to enroll Syrian refugee students

Turkey, EU come together to enroll Syrian refugee students
Updated 25 September 2021

Turkey, EU come together to enroll Syrian refugee students

Turkey, EU come together to enroll Syrian refugee students
  • Ankara’s efforts to integrate nearly 700,000 refugee children into the education system hailed as a ‘huge and unique success story’
  • Brussels has provided financial assistance while the influx of Syrian students has improved Turkey’s social cohesion and integration policies

ANKARA: Saleh is a 13-year-old Syrian refugee boy who has lived in the capital city Ankara for the past six years. 

“My favorite course is mathematics. When I first came to Turkey, I did not know Turkish and I could not communicate with anybody. My family had the cash transfer assistance from the EU and I began going to the school where I learned Turkish and began playing with my peers,” he told Arab News.

Saleh spends his evenings reading books in Turkish so he can develop his language skills and prepare for the high school that he is planning to attend in Turkey. He is currently reading “Les Miserables” by French writer Victor Hugo. Saleh is also dreaming of becoming an artificial intelligence engineer. 

“Sometimes, I am subjected to peer bullying and social exclusion by people who do not know me at all,” Saleh said. “But my teacher warns such people and reminds them of the importance of cohesion. I also play chess at school, which helps me a lot in my social skills.”

He attends team activities and social projects that are organized by the UNICEF-supported Al-Farah Child and Family Support Center in Ankara. It is funded by the EU to provide services to refugee children and their families and help them meet their basic needs, including legal and social counseling along with psycho-social support.

Turkey’s efforts to integrate nearly 700,000 Syrian refugee children into the education system have also been hailed by Brussels. The head of the EU delegation to Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, said it was a “huge and unique success story” during his speech on Sept. 21 at a school opening ceremony in the southeastern Gaziantep province.

So far, the EU has provided financial assistance to nearly 400 schools across the country to support the training and employment of teachers as well as meet the operational costs. 

Brussels earmarked nearly 3 billion euros ($3.34 billion) to Turkey under the Facility for Refugees program and about one-third of those funds are mainly allocated to the educational projects that promote the integration of Syrian kids into the Turkish education system. The funds also go toward the construction and equipping of some 100 schools in provinces with a high concentration of Syrian refugees as well as cash transfers to families whose children regularly attend school. 

Of the nearly 4 million Syrians under temporary protection in Turkey, 1.2 million are of school age. 

Experts underline the enrolment of Syrian refugee children as of key importance for the success of Turkey’s social cohesion and integration policies. 

Schools provide war-affected children with the opportunity of socialization with the wider community, give a sense of belonging, and enhance Turkish language competency to overcome language barriers. 

Basak Yavcan, a researcher on migration issues at the University of Liege and from TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Anakara, said refugees’ access to education has multiple benefits to both the refugee community and the hosting community. 

“First, school enrollment is a great beginning for an effective economic, social, and political integration,” she told Arab News. “It provides a career pathway, keeps kids off the streets, and promotes inter-group contact.”

According to Yavcan, education plays a crucial role in creating a middle class of migrants which is an engine for social integration. It increases the quality of intergroup conflict and creates role models for the immigrant community. 

“By teaching the common history, values, rights, and the meaning of citizenship in a country, education also promotes political integration,” she said. “Finally, by equipping individuals with the skills needed in the labor market, education makes economic integration easy.”

While access to education was initially a challenging area for Syrian refugees in Turkey, enrollment rates were low. 

Yavcan said enrollment rates started to improve after the easing of registration policies, introducing regular degree equivalency exams, and conditional cash transfers in return for enrolled kids in a household. Local outreach programs to convince Syrian parents, training in the educational system for multicultural classroom environments, catch-up programs for Syrian students, and free transportation facilities also helped.

Last year, more than 600,000 Syrian children benefitted from the EU’s cash transfer program with the condition of continued enrollment. 

The COVID-19 pandemic affected school enrolment last year while experts also underline some remaining challenges that derive from the cultural and economic dynamics of Syrian families living in Turkey. 

“With high child labor rates and low inclusion of Syrians in the labor market, sending kids to school has a considerable cost — and opportunity cost in the case of child labor — to Syrian families,” Yavcan said. “Cultural challenges exist mainly for secondary education where girls need to attend school in co-ed classes, an area of resistance for some Syrian families. 

“So more efforts are needed to improve the economic well-being of families, and to provide career pathways and opportunities for transition to jobs for Syrian pupils.”


Egyptian, Syrian FMs meet on UNGA sidelines

Egyptian, Syrian FMs meet on UNGA sidelines
Updated 25 September 2021

Egyptian, Syrian FMs meet on UNGA sidelines

Egyptian, Syrian FMs meet on UNGA sidelines
  • Mekdad stressed the importance of relations between the two countries
  • They discussed bilateral relations, regional issues of common interest, and ways to end the Syrian conflict 

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss bilateral relations, regional issues of common interest, and ways to end the Syrian conflict. 

Mekdad stressed the importance of relations between the two countries — especially in light of the historical ties that unite them — and of mobilizing efforts to resolve the conflict while respecting Syria’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity.

Egyptian MP Mustafa Bakri said: “This meeting reflects Egypt’s keenness on Syria, its security, stability and territorial integrity — a position that (Egyptian) President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi emphasized more than once as he demanded a halt to any interference in Syrian internal affairs.”

Bakri added: “The meeting also confirms that relations between the two countries are moving forward.”

Mekdad also met with his Jordanian and Somali counterparts, Ayman Safadi and Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, respectively.