2022 Look Ahead: No end to suffering in sight for war-weary Syrians

Special 2022 Look Ahead: No end to suffering in sight for war-weary Syrians
Short Url
Updated 13 January 2022

2022 Look Ahead: No end to suffering in sight for war-weary Syrians

2022 Look Ahead: No end to suffering in sight for war-weary Syrians
  • Impoverished and persecuted Syrian refugees traveled to Belarus last year in a desperate bid to reach Europe 
  • Human rights monitors say detainees have been subjected to “unimaginable suffering” in Assad regime jails 

MISSOURI / WASHINGTON: If 2020 was the year when fissures began to appear within the ranks of Syria’s ruling Assad clan, then 2021 was the year of determined attempts by the leadership to tighten its grip and reclaim its legitimacy.

Although several states lately have tried to bring the regime back into the Arab fold, even opting to reopen their embassies in Damascus, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s dependence on his Russian and Iranian benefactors has only continued to grow.

Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin received Assad in Moscow in September for the first time since 2018, no doubt to assist his Syrian counterpart’s rehabilitation but also to rebuke Turkey and the US for their ongoing involvement in Syria.

Assad’s reliance on Russia and Iran is owed in large part to the parlous state of Syria’s economy, the crippling effects of Western sanctions, the country’s diplomatic isolation, its military vulnerabilities, de facto partition, and the lack of popular support.

Syria is geographically fractured between regime-held areas, rebel holdouts in the northwest, and Kurdish self-administration in the northeast, making the distribution of aid — particularly COVID-19 vaccines — all the more difficult.

Russian, Turkish and American forces stationed in Syria have maintained an uneasy standoff, with the cracks between their respective spheres of influence filled by mercenaries, traffickers and the increasingly emboldened remnants of Daesh.

Many Syrian cities still lie in ruins and millions of citizens remain displaced, internally and externally, often in precarious circumstances, too terrified to return home and face the regime’s retribution.

A report published in September by Amnesty International, titled “You’re Going to your Death,” documented a catalog of horrific violations committed by the regime against Syrians who were forced to return after seeking refuge in Europe.




A man evacuates a young bombing casualty after a reported air strike by regime forces and their allies in the extremist-held Syrian town of Maaret Al-Numan. (AFP/File Photo)

The scale of the regime’s crimes was hammered home in November when Omar Alshogre, a 25-year-old former regime detainee and torture survivor, addressed a UN Security Council meeting on the prevailing impunity in Syria and the need to ensure accountability.

“We have stronger evidence today than what we had against the Nazis at Nuremberg,” said Alshogre. “(We) even know where the mass graves are located. But still no international court and no end to the ongoing slaughter for the civilians in Syria.”

A report in September by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic concluded that thousands of detainees have been subjected to “unimaginable suffering” during the war, including torture, death and sexual violence against women, girls and boys.

The sentencing by a German court in Koblenz in February of former Syrian intelligence agent Eyad Al-Gharib to four and a half years in prison on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity has been hailed as historic.




A Russian military police vehicle patrols the M4 highway in the northeastern Syrian Hasakeh province on the border with Turkey, on February 22, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Nevertheless, few Syrians believe they will ever obtain justice for the abuses of the past decade, nor do they hold out much hope of an improvement in the humanitarian situation.

Indeed, during the closing months of 2021 thousands of Syrians lined up at Damascus airport having paid thousands of dollars to a Belorussian travel agency to fly them to a remote wilderness on the border with the EU in the desperate hope of starting a new life.

“The situation in Syria is quieter now but that doesn’t mean it is better,” Asaad Hanna, a Syrian activist and refugee, told Arab News. “In the regime-held areas, people are living from one day to the next. They can’t meet their basic needs. The economy is collapsing and the currency is losing its value.

“The Assad regime is still arresting anyone who complains, so people who are suffering are leaving the country. Imagine: since 2011, those finishing their studies have either been drafted into the army or have left the country.”




A fireball erupts from the site of an explosion reportedly targeting a joint Turkish-Russian patrol on the strategic M4 highway, near the Syrian town of Ariha. (AFP/File Photo)

In Hanna’s view, the country is going the way of other international pariahs.

“With the increase in poverty, 10 years of destruction, Syria is getting the kind of stability of North Korea,” he added.

In northwest Syria, on the other side of the dividing line between the Assad regime and the last remaining rebel holdouts, 2021 was yet another year filled with tragedy, as schools, hospitals and even displacement camps were targeted in air and artillery attacks.

Mousa Zidane, who works for the rebel-affiliated Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, said 2021 was a difficult year for first responders.

“The bombing and deaths continued despite the ceasefire decision,” he told Arab News. “The coronavirus invaded the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps and cities of Syria. The burden on us was great.




A displaced Syrian child, one of thousands who fled their homes in the countrysides of Raqa and Deir Ezzor, carries a bag of recyclable garbage. (AFP/File Photo)

“In addition to all of that, the regime and Russia’s attacks on us continued. Three of my colleagues in the White Helmets died as a result of direct attacks targeting our teams while performing their humanitarian missions, and more than 14 other volunteers were injured.”

The near-daily bombardment of rebel-held areas has drained the public’s morale, Zidane said, leaving people with little hope of change this year.

“Although we have always searched for hope, we doubt the coming year will be better for the Syrians,” he said. “But we do not lose hope in ourselves and we do not lose hope in the true friends of Syria and the Syrians. We will continue our work and our rightful demands.”

Like many Syrians, Hanna believes the Assad regime is unlikely to ever face justice for the killing of protesters, the bombardment of civilian areas, the torture and killing of opponents, or the alleged use of chemical weapons.




White helmets in Idlib. (Twitter: @syriacivildef)

“Obviously, the international community is not interested in starting an accountability track right now but that doesn’t mean we should stop. It gives us more responsibility to keep pushing for justice and accountability for the Syrian people.”

Hanna fears the Biden administration’s openness to easing sanctions against the regime, and the recent diplomatic overtures by Arab countries, mean international pressure for regime change in Syria is all but finished. Indeed, Damascus might very well regain its seat in the Arab League.

“I only see that as a result of the new Democratic administration in the US,” Hanna said. “The previous one was clear about no relations with the Assad regime. But now we see Biden’s administration softening their position on everything Iran-related.”

Of course, almost everything in Syria remains Iran-related. Militias armed and funded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps continue to solidify their hold over wide swaths of the country.




A man stands at the entrance of a barber shop next to a portrait of Syria's president Bashar Assad in the capital Damascus on December 15, 2021. (AFP)

A long-standing alliance between Tehran and Damascus has allowed Iran to use Syria to expand its regional influence and smuggle advanced munitions. Lebanese Hezbollah, another Iranian proxy, has likewise played a decisive role in staving off a rebel victory over the embattled Assad regime.

Iran’s exploitation of Syria has drawn the attention of Israel, which is increasingly at odds with Washington’s more conciliatory approach to Tehran.

In December, Israel twice attacked suspected Iranian weapons shipments at the Syrian regime’s Latakia port. The coming months could see many more unilateral Israeli strikes targeting Iran’s regional interests.

Despite the suffering, setbacks and grim expectations for 2022, activists such as Hanna remain defiant.

“For me, personally, I don’t consider this a job; it has become a way of life,” he said. “As long as it goes on, we will keep supporting what we went into the streets for in 2011.”

---------

* David Romano is the Thomas G. Strong professor of Middle East politics at Missouri State University

* Oubai Shahbandar is a former defense intelligence officer and Middle East analyst with the Pentagon

 


Egypt to release 25 pretrial detainees: report

Egypt to release 25 pretrial detainees: report
Updated 9 sec ago

Egypt to release 25 pretrial detainees: report

Egypt to release 25 pretrial detainees: report

CAIRO: Egypt will release 25 pretrial detainees pending investigations on Wednesday, according to a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee. 

The group of pretrial detainees are to be released within around 24 hours, said Tarek El-Kholy, as quoted by Ahlam Online.   

This will be the latest batch of pretrial detainees released pending investigations.

The Presidential Pardon Committee is mandated to review the cases of pretrial detainees for political crimes.

El-Kholy previously noted in an interview with The Africa Report that only individuals who have not participated in violent acts or killed military personnel or civilians will be considered for pardon.  

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi re-affirmed on several occasions that Egypt holds no political prisoners and that the government promotes respect for human rights.


Attacks on Iranian clerics, fueled by public anger, on the rise: Report

Attacks on Iranian clerics, fueled by public anger, on the rise: Report
Updated 30 min 1 sec ago

Attacks on Iranian clerics, fueled by public anger, on the rise: Report

Attacks on Iranian clerics, fueled by public anger, on the rise: Report
  • Attacks on Iranian clerics have been fueled by public disdain over suffocating restrictions on public life and the dire economic conditions

Attacks on Iranian clerics, fueled by public disdain over suffocating restrictions on public life and the dire economic conditions, have been on the rise in Iran in recent years, according to Iranian daily Radio Farda. 

Iran has reported several incidents of physical attacks of clerics, with many religious officials saying they no longer wear their robes or turbans in public to avoid being targeted, Radio Farda reported. 

Two-dozen clerics were violently attacked in the past decade, out of which three were killed and two were blinded, according to Radio Farda. 

Recent attacks have also targeted low-level clerics who have attempted to enforce strict religious codes in public such as the hijab rule, the report added. 

Many Iranians can no longer tolerate clerics who impose “their reactionary lifestyle on others,” Radio Farda cited Tehran-based dissident cleric Abolfazl Najafi-Tehrani as saying. 

“In recent years, we have witnessed people’s hatred and anger towards particularly those clerics who follow state policies,” Najafi-Tehrani said, adding that a governing system based on religion and its interference in the daily lives of people has sparked resentment towards the religious officials. 

According to the report, Iranians are also angry over the fact that a large sum of the state’s budget continues to be spent on seminaries – despite crippling US sanctions that have plunged hundreds in the country into poverty. 

Countrywide protests are proof that Iranians “demand the withdrawal of the clerics and the noninterference of religion and religious representatives in the state,” Najafi-Tehrani said. 


Germany and Israel condemn Palestinian president’s Holocaust remarks

Germany and Israel condemn Palestinian president’s Holocaust remarks
Updated 40 min 43 sec ago

Germany and Israel condemn Palestinian president’s Holocaust remarks

Germany and Israel condemn Palestinian president’s Holocaust remarks
  • Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of committing ‘50 Holocausts’
  • His comment followed months of tension and a brief conflict this month during which 49 people were killed in Gaza

BERLIN/JERUSALEM: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz voiced disgust on Wednesday at remarks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the German leader said diminished the importance of the Holocaust, while Israel accused Abbas of telling a “monstrous lie.”
“For us Germans in particular, any relativization of the singularity of the Holocaust is intolerable and unacceptable,” Scholz tweeted on Wednesday. “I am disgusted by the outrageous remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.”
During a visit to Berlin on Tuesday, Abbas accused Israel of committing “50 Holocausts” in response to a question about the upcoming 50th anniversary of the attack on the Israeli team at the Munich Olympics by Palestinian militants.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid also condemned the comments as a “disgrace.”
“Mahmoud Abbas accusing Israel of having committed ‘50 Holocausts’ while standing on German soil is not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie,” Lapid said on Twitter.
“History will never forgive him.”
Six million Jews were killed in Nazi Germany’s Holocaust.
Standing alongside Scholz, Abbas referred to a series of historical incidents in which Palestinians were killed by Israelis in the 1948 war that accompanied the creation of the state of Israel and in the years following.
“From 1947 to the present day, Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities, in Deir Yassin, Tantura, Kafr Qasim and many others, 50 massacres, 50 Holocausts,” said Abbas.
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa did not include the Holocaust comments in its report of the meeting with Scholz, and the Palestinian foreign ministry said Lapid’s comments were intended to divert attention from Israel’s “crimes.”
In a statement, the ministry said “the occupying power is not satisfied with committing these crimes on a daily and continuous basis, but also does not tolerate and rejects any talk or statements that remind the Israelis and the international community of the many crimes committed by Israel.”
Abbas’ comment followed months of tension and a brief conflict this month during which 49 people were killed in Gaza after Israel carried out a series of air strikes in response to what it said was an imminent threat from the militant Islamic Jihad group, which fired over 1,000 rockets in response.
Dozens of Palestinians have also been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces in the occupied West Bank, while there have been a number of attacks on Israelis, including an incident on Sunday when eight people were wounded on a bus carrying Jewish worshippers in Jerusalem.
Palestinians seek statehood in territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Negotiations have been frozen since 2014.


Oman hospital carries out cardio first on 2 patients

Oman hospital carries out cardio first on 2 patients
Updated 17 August 2022

Oman hospital carries out cardio first on 2 patients

Oman hospital carries out cardio first on 2 patients

MUSCAT: A medical team at the Cardiac Centre in Salalah, Oman have transplanted two Watchman devices for elderly patients suffering recurrent thrombosis due to atrial fibrillation, the Oman News Agnecy reported.

It is the first time the heart implants used for patients have been fitted to a patient in the governorate of Dhofar, Oman, explained Dr Said Musallam Al Ma’ashani, Director of the Cardiology and Surgery Centre.

Previous operations for people in the country have either been taken abroad or to the Royal Hospital in Muscat.


Palestinian cause ‘alive and well’ in Kuwait: Minister 

Palestinian cause ‘alive and well’ in Kuwait: Minister 
Updated 17 August 2022

Palestinian cause ‘alive and well’ in Kuwait: Minister 

Palestinian cause ‘alive and well’ in Kuwait: Minister 
  • His comments came after holding a meeting with Kuwait’s Ambassador to Jordan and Palestine Aziz Al-Dihani

AMMAN: The Palestinian cause is “alive and well in the hearts of the leaders, government and people of Kuwait,” the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) cited Palestine’s Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs Sheikh Hatem Al-Bakri as saying. 
His comments came after holding a meeting with Kuwait’s Ambassador to Jordan and Palestine Aziz Al-Dihani on Tuesday. 
“The State of Kuwait is keen on supporting the Palestinian political leadership in their quest to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital,” the minister said. 
The meeting reviewed matters related to the Awqaf ministry and service sectors, with a focus on the support from Kuwaiti charitable organizations to the Palestinian people, KUNA reported. 
Ambassador Al-Dihani said Kuwait strongly believes in the Palestinian people’s legitimate rights to independence and maintains its support of Palestine on the regional and international scale.