Syria Kurdish forces close in on Daesh-controlled prison wing

Syria Kurdish forces close in on Daesh-controlled prison wing
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) patrol a street in the northern Syrian city of Hasakeh on January 23, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 24 January 2022

Syria Kurdish forces close in on Daesh-controlled prison wing

Syria Kurdish forces close in on Daesh-controlled prison wing
  • Shami said SDF forces advanced after about 300 Daesh militants surrendered early Monday
  • Over a dozen Kurdish fighters and more than 100 militants have been killed in clashes since the assault began

BEIRUT: US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters deployed inside a prison in northeast Syria on Monday, closing in on the facility’s last wing controlled by militants for days, the force and a war monitor said. The raid follows the surrender of hundreds of Daesh fighters and aims to end one of the most brazen attacks by the group in years.
Forces took over buildings near the prison’s northern wing, said Farhad Shami, a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. That’s where dozens of Daesh militants have been holed up since Thursday.
Shami said SDF forces advanced after about 300 Daesh militants surrendered early Monday.
Over a dozen Kurdish fighters and more than 100 militants have been killed in clashes since the assault began, according to the Kurdish-led force. The number of fugitives remain unclear.
Journalists at the scene said Kurdish officials asked them to step away from the vicinity of the prison earlier Monday, apparently in anticipation of a military operation.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported a buildup of Kurdish forces backed by US armored vehicles around the prison.
Witnesses in the city of Hassakeh, where the prison is located and is under a tight security cordon, said buses arrived at the prison apparently to transport militants who had turned themselves in to another location. Coalition helicopters were hovering overhead, a resident said.
Late on Sunday, the Kurdish-led administration announced a weeklong curfew in Hassakeh starting Monday. Hundreds of city residents have fled the fighting.
The standoff followed a bold assault on Gweiran Prison on Thursday. Militants rammed vehicles through its walls, enabling a number of imprisoned fighters to escape and take hostages. Clashes have continued since then, including with militants holed up in adjacent residential areas. The US-led coalition carried out a number of strikes on suspected militants who had taken control of the prison’s northern wing.
On Sunday, Shami said the militants were using hundreds of minors detained in the prison as human shields. More than 3,000 suspected Daesh militants, including over 600 minors, are held in Gweiran, the largest of a dozen detention facilities in Syria housing militants.
Save the Children and Human Rights Watch said Monday that audio testimony they received suggests that children were among the dead and wounded.
“Reports that children have been killed or injured are tragic and outrageous,” said Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria response director, calling for the immediate evacuation of children.
Many of the boys caught in the fighting have been held in Gweiran for almost three years, including about 300 who are from Iraq and other countries, according to Human Rights Watch.
Letta Tayler, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW, said one foreign boy in an audio message described “a lot of people dead, a lot of people injured.” Tayler said the boy was speaking from the kitchen where he described coming under fire.
It was not clear if the boys, who are normally held in separate wings, were brought to the kitchen after the assault began. Earlier in the assault, SDF officials said the group had lost contact with kitchen staff, suggesting they were among hostages taken by Daesh.
“While the responsibility for this siege rests squarely with (IS), this does not absolve the US-led coalition and the local authorities of their responsibility to take all feasible steps to protect these prisoners from harm, including hundreds of boys trapped inside who have never been charged with any crime,” Tayler said.
Khush, of Save the Children, called for foreign children to be repatriated with their families. “The international community cannot have the blood of any of these children on their hands,” she said.
Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Observatory, said scores of minors, some as young as 15, had been moved to another prison facility to the south soon after the assault began.
The SDF said about 27 of its fighters were killed in the assault. Abdurrahman put the figure at 52, adding that about 100 militants were killed. The SDF said about 100 escaped and were arrested by the total number of fugitive is still not clear.
Dozen of facilities in northeastern Syria run by the SDF house thousands of suspected Daesh militants, including foreigners, since the defeat of the extremists in 2019. The Kurdish-led administration has said the facilities are a strain on its resources and had repeatedly appealed for countries to repatriate their nationals.
Thousands of Daesh family members and supporters are also held in displacement camps in what amounts to detention facilities mostly for women and children.


Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 
Updated 6 sec ago

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 

Yemen’s Presidential Council member, US ambassador discuss Houthi threats to peace 
  • Al-Alimi praised the US’ efforts in supporting the truce in Yemen, and its constructive approach when dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the country

DUBAI: Abdullah al-Alimi, a member of Yemen’s Presidential Council, warned that the Houthi militia’s mobilization, regrouping and constant breaches of the UN truce continue to threaten the peace process. 

The comments were made when al-Alimi met with Stephen Fagin, US Ambassador to Yemen, state news agency SABA reported on Thursday.

Al-Alimi said that the Houthi militia must honor its commitment by lifting the siege on Taiz, opening roads in and out of the city, and allowing Yemeni people to move safely and freely across the country. 

Fagin agreed that the commitment on the Houthi’s part is crucial to honor the UN truce, and he confirmed the US’ continuous support for Yemen's internationally-recognized government by helping it perform its responsibilities.

Meanwhile, al-Alimi pointed out that the Presidential Leadership Council has a clear work-plan to tackle challenges faced in the economic, service, security, and military fields, in addition to combating terrorism in the country. 

The two also spoke about ways to promote mutual relations between the two countries. 

Al-Alimi and Fagin addressed issues of common interest during their meeting, which include regional security and the latest methods for combating terrorism. 

Al-Alimi praised the US’ efforts in supporting the truce in Yemen, and its constructive approach when dealing with the humanitarian crisis in the country. 

Fagin also praised the positive position of the Presidential Leadership Council and the government in tightening the humanitarian truce and supporting all efforts for achieving peace in Yemen.


Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution
Updated 01 July 2022

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution

Tunisian president takes most powers in proposed constitution
  • Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president published a planned new constitution on Thursday that he will put to a referendum next month, expanding his own powers and limiting the role of parliament in a vote most political parties have already rejected.
Kais Saied has ruled by decree since last summer, when he brushed aside the parliament and the democratic 2014 constitution in a step his foes called a coup, moving toward one-man rule and vowing to remake the political system.
His intervention last summer has thrust Tunisia into its biggest political crisis since the 2011 revolution that ousted former autocrat Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali and introduced democracy.
Voters will be asked to approve the new constitution in a July 25 referendum for which there is no minimum level of participation.
With most of the political establishment opposed to his moves and urging their supporters to boycott the vote, analysts say the measure is likely to pass, but with only limited public involvement.
None of the major parties, including the Islamist Ennahda which is the biggest in parliament and has played a major role in successive coalition governments since the revolution, issued immediate comment on the draft constitution.
Meanwhile, many Tunisians are far more focused on a growing economic crisis and threats to public finances that have caused salary delays and the risk of shortages of key subsidised goods.
An online ‘consultation’ Saied held from January-March in preparation for drafting the constitution received scant attention from Tunisians, with very few taking part.

Power
The draft constitution published in the official gazette late on Thursday would bring most political power under Saied, give him ultimate authority over the government and judiciary.
Previously, political power was more directly exercised by the parliament, which took the lead role in appointing the government and approving legislation.
Under the new constitution, the government would answer to the president and not to parliament, though the chamber could withdraw confidence from the government with a two-thirds majority.
Saied would be allowed to present draft laws, have sole responsibility for proposing treaties and drafting state budgets, appoint or sack government ministers and appoint judges, the gazette said.
He could serve two terms of five years each, but extend them if he felt there was an imminent danger to the state, and would have the right to dissolve parliament while no clause allows for the removal of a president.
The constitution would allow Saied to continue to rule by decree until the creation of a new parliament through an election expected in December.
It would also create a new ‘Council of Regions’ as a second chamber of parliament, but it gives few details on how it would be elected or what powers it would have.
Saied, a political independent, has promised a new electoral law. Though he has not yet published it, he has indicated that voters would only choose candidates as individuals, not as members of political parties.
Meanwhile, although Islam will no longer be the state religion, Tunisia will be regarded as part of the wider Islamic nation and the state should work to achieve Islamic goals. The president must be Muslim.
However, Saied has maintained most parts of the 2014 constitution that enumerated rights and liberties, including freedom of speech, the right to organize in unions and the right to peaceful gatherings.
However, judges, police, army and customs officials would not have a right to go on strike. Judges have recently been on strike for weeks in protest at Saied’s moves to curtail judicial independence. 
 


Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough
Updated 30 June 2022

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough

Libya talks in Geneva end without breakthrough
  • Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back toward territorial division or conflict

GENEVA: Libya talks in Geneva ended on Thursday without making enough progress to move toward elections, the United Nations Libya adviser Stephanie Williams said in a statement.

The talks between the House of Representatives and High State Council legislative bodies were aimed at agreeing on a constitutional basis and interim arrangements for holding elections that were originally scheduled for December 2021.

Many Libyans fear that a failure to set a path to elections and resolve an existing dispute about control of an interim government will thrust the country back toward territorial division or conflict.

Since the planned December election was abandoned, Libya’s rival factions have moved to a standoff over control of the government with both sides backed by armed forces in western areas of the country.

Williams said that in the Geneva talks and earlier meetings in Cairo the two sides had resolved previous disputes on the makeup of a future legislature, the powers of a future president and government, and how to allocate state revenues.

“Disagreement persists on the eligibility requirements for the candidates in the first presidential elections,” Williams said, adding that she would make recommendations on alternative ways forward.

Disputes over the eligibility of several controversial candidates were the trigger for the collapse of December’s election.


Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike
Updated 30 June 2022

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike

Beirut airport booming despite some departments on strike
  • Ninety-three flights carrying expatriates arrived in Lebanon, while pilgrim number decreased amid high prices

BEIRUT: Beirut’s Rafic Hariri International Airport is perhaps the only active official facility in Lebanon these days.

Caretaker Minister of Public Works and Transport Ali Hamiyeh said Thursday: “Ninety-three flights arrived at Beirut airport on Wednesday, carrying 15,444 passengers coming to spend summer vacation here.

“The number of planes arriving in Beirut will increase in the coming days,” Hamiyeh expected.

Lebanon is counting on summertime travel to pump hard currency into the economic cycle amid accumulated political and economic crises and their impact on the living situation of the Lebanese people.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who is also PM-designated, warned Thursday during the Parliamentary Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “Every delay in coming up with solutions to crises costs Lebanon $25 million a day.”

A source at the Middle East Airlines told Arab News: “As a result of the economic crisis, COVID-19 precautionary measures, and the decline in the financial capabilities of the Lebanese, only a few thousand pilgrims will be traveling to perform Hajj this year. Their numbers reached over 25,000 in previous years.”

On Wednesday, an MEA flight carrying the first batch of Lebanese pilgrims landed at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah. MEA is the only authorized airline in Lebanon to transport pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia.

The economic collapse and the national currency’s depreciation made the pilgrimage more difficult for those wishing to go to Makkah.

Former MP Mohammed Al-Hajjar complained about “the inability of the Lebanese to travel to perform Hajj because the vaccine against meningitis, which Saudi Arabia requires from pilgrims for their safety, is not available in the Ministry of Health for lack of funding, or in pharmacies.”

Abdelrahman Al-Taweel, who is in charge of the Foutowa campaign for Hajj and Umrah, said: “The number of pilgrims this year did not reach 2,700, which is the quota allocated to Lebanon. The main reason is the high cost of the trip, which amounts to $6,000 per pilgrim. Everything is more expensive nowadays, [including] airline tickets, the price of which has risen globally as a result of the high cost of fuel, as well as tents and other supplies, and other additional fees.”

Al-Taweel noted: “The unavailability of the meningitis vaccine, which the Ministry of Health is supposed to provide to people, prompted the pilgrims to buy it at their own expense. It costs $60, which is equivalent to 1,800,000 LBP, according to the black-market exchange rate.”

Lebanon is trying to convey the image that it is doing well — despite the crises plaguing it — to visitors, including the Arab foreign ministers whom officials encouraged Thursday to hold their consultative meeting in Beirut ahead of the Arab Summit.

However, public-sector employees went on strike and will only resume work once their demands — including increased salaries, transportation allowances and health and educational benefits — are met.

In the absence of solutions, it seems that the general strike will continue, paralyzing the entire country.

MP Ghassan Hasbani, member of the Strong Republic bloc, warned after the Finance and Budget Committee meeting: “The government is yet to present a final financial…reform plan in order to interpret laws. The government must refer this plan to parliament as quickly as possible with a legislative roadmap and laws ready for implementation to speed up recovery and approve a budget that reflects the required reforms.”

It remains unknown whether the composition of the new government that Mikati handed over to President Michel Aoun on Wednesday morning will get the latter’s approval.

Less than 24 hours after the non-binding parliamentary consultations, Mikati drafted a government formation consisting of the current government, with some amendments, particularly to the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Economy.


Ukraine war refugees embody the global forced displacement crisis

Ukraine war refugees embody the global forced displacement crisis
Updated 01 July 2022

Ukraine war refugees embody the global forced displacement crisis

Ukraine war refugees embody the global forced displacement crisis
  • UNHCR’s Global Trends report for 2021 revealed that the number of displaced persons worldwide has reached 100 million
  • Europe readily accepts 7 million refugees from Ukraine while turning away millions more from Middle East and Africa

NEW YORK CITY: Last month, the UN observed World Refugee Day against the backdrop of a new grim milestone: The number of people who have been forced from their homes by war, persecution, violence and human rights abuses now sits at over 100 million.

This number is just one of many saddening figures from the UN refugee agency’s Global Trends report, published recently.

The report shows that five countries — Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar — account for more than two-thirds of displaced persons globally.

People forced to move inside their own countries — known as internally displaced people (IDPs) — constitute the majority of the forcibly displaced population. Syria and Yemen, as well as Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Republic of the Congo and Colombia, continue to host the world’s largest IDP populations.

If current conflicts remain unresolved and the eruption of new ones is not prevented, the UN report warns that the 21st century will be defined by growing numbers of people forced to flee and the increasingly limited options available to them.

Population movements around the world have become so complex in nature that aid agencies are scrambling to find new ways to deal with the continuous, massive exodus. People are fleeing not only violence, but also economic inequality as the global wealth gap continues to widen.

Changes in weather patterns and resulting droughts, floods and natural disasters have displaced more still. The food security crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine has now threatened a new wave.

“The nature of these flows is so complicated by now that (aid) responses have also become complicated, difficult to organize and manage, and exposed to the manipulation of unscrupulous politicians who demonize both the flows and the responses, claiming that it’s impossible (to host refugees), and therefore the real response is, as we hear in many places, ‘Shut borders and push people back’,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, at a recent conference attended by Arab News.

The number of displaced people worldwide has risen annually for the past 10 years, approaching 90 million by the end of 2021 — more than double the figure in 2001. Most refugees came from Syria, Venezuela and Afghanistan.

The number was also propelled by new waves of violence and conflict in countries such as Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Congo.

Riot police detain a migrant during clashes near the Moria camp for refugees and migrants, on the island of Lesbos, on March 2, 2020. (AFP)

The war in Ukraine led to the fastest and one of the largest displacements since the Second World War. In just four months, nearly 7 million Ukrainians fled their country, surpassing the Syrian crisis, which over the course of 12 years has displaced over 6 million Syrians.

Grandi has hailed the “fairly extraordinary” humanitarian response to the conflict in Ukraine. However, the Italian humanitarian, who began his current role at the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis in 2016, lamented the difference in international response between the two conflicts.

“If you get well-funded in Ukraine or in Poland or in the EU, that’s not the same for many other situations. We have Ethiopia at the end of 2020 and through 2021. We had the Afghanistan situation in the summer of last year,” Grandi said, adding that crises in Syria, South Sudan and Palestine have added to the swelling number of refugees.

“From Bangladesh to Colombia, we have a dozen operations where I am very worried about the underfunding,” he said. “It is important to hammer and hammer the message (home) that Ukraine cannot be the only humanitarian response.”

When in 2015, droves of desperate Syrian refugees fleeing battles in Aleppo showed up at Europe’s doors, Grandi said that European leaders told him: “It’s full. We can’t take anybody anymore.”

“A boat of 40 or so arrives in Sicily and (leaders) are bickering on the phone over who takes how many and for how long,” he said. “And now all of a sudden, how is it possible that in six weeks, 7 million people come in and they’re taken in? There have been problems but by and large, they have been taken in generously, effectively and with protection.”

“Now I am not naïve,” Grandi said, “I fully understand the context. I understand that it may not always be like this. But it certainly proves an important point: That responding to refugee influxes, to the arrival of desperate people at the shore or borders of rich countries, is not unmanageable. It is actually efficiently manageable, but there must be political will.”

A boat carrying migrants is stranded in the Strait of Gibraltar before being rescued by the Spanish Guardia Civil and the Salvamento Maritimo sea search and rescue agency that saw 157 migrants rescued. (AFP)

Such political will toward 1.3 million Syrian asylum seekers who made it to Europe in 2015 was largely non-existent, and these refugees were often met with vitriol and hatred even from top government officials.

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, described asylum seekers as “poison” and “Muslim invaders.”

“There is no chance — we are going to send you back. This continent will not be your homeland, you have your own homeland. This is our homeland, we built it,” Orban said in 2015.

Also in 2015, Marine Le Pen, the far-right French politician, compared the influx of refugees to the barbarian invasion of Rome, British Pre Minister David Cameron referred to the fleeing refugees as a “swarm,” and then-Polish Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński accused migrants of carrying diseases.

This attitude toward refugees and migrants was not abandoned in 2015. In 2020, Matteo Salvini, former Italian deputy prime minister, claimed that African migrants were bringing diseases such as tuberculosis and scabies to Italy. However, during a Facebook livestream in March this year, Salvini pledged to transport Ukrainian refugees to Italy.

Grandi said: “Of course if you hammer into public opinion that people coming in will steal your jobs, threaten your security and destroy your values, public opinion will not turn positively toward the (incoming migrants).”

The fact that European leaders have not used such rhetoric against Ukrainians has positively predisposed public opinion toward those who came in looking for refuge, said Grandi.

Ukrainian nationals fleeing the conflict in their country gather at welcome centre set up for them after their arrival at the Paris-Beauvais Airport in Tille, north of Paris, on March 2, 2022. (AFP)

“That’s the attitude: Be constructive. Convey the message that politicians have conveyed about Ukrainians: That these are people in need.

“People flee because they are afraid. It’s not just Ukrainians. The Syrians have fled bombs. People in Tigray have fled bombs, people in the Sahel flee either bombs or vicious attacks. Fleeing from insecurity is the same whether you are a Ukrainian or a Nicaraguan. And I think it is important to continue to convey that message.”

The UNHCR report has dispelled common perceptions that the refugee crises only affect rich nations, or what is commonly known as the global north. In fact, more than 80 percent of refugees worldwide have fled to poor and middle-income countries.

“Nobody has heard of the 150,000 Nicaraguans hosted by Costa Rica,” said Grandi. “And yet, it’s a big problem for Costa Rica.”

Many Western nations see refugee crises as a problem they are not obligated to solve, even as many of the solutions are now contingent upon agreement between the West and Russia, whose diplomatic engagement, as a result of the war in Ukraine, has all but come to a grinding halt.

“The scars on international cooperation of those fractures between the West and Russia, between the major powers in the Security Council, is such that it will take a long time to heal. And yet if that is not healed, I don’t know how we will deal with these global crises,” said Grandi.

Borisov supporters show a banner which reads "Refugees Go Home" during the UEFA Champions League group E first leg football match between Bayer Leverkusen and FC Bate Borisov. (AFP/File Photo)

The preamble of the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone who “no longer enjoys the protection and assistance” of their own country, and are therefore the responsibility of the international community as a whole.

“The interesting thing,” said Grandi, “is that donors understand very well that there cannot be inequity in the response.”

Perhaps no other recent example illustrates this abdication of responsibility on the part of the West as much as Britain’s “Rwanda Plan,” a scheme that seeks to fly everyone who crosses the English Channel without authorization to Rwanda for processing.

According to the plan, the UK will pay into a Rwandan government “economic transformation and integration fund” and will fund each immigrant for their relocation and temporary accommodation.

“We are not supporting this deal,” said Grandi. “This is all wrong (and) in such contrast with the generosity displayed to the Ukrainians.

“It is the foundation of the right to asylum that people that are on a country’s territory (receive protection), especially if that country is signatory to the convention and has the institutions to deal with (asylum seekers). To export that responsibility to another country runs counter to any notion of international responsibility-sharing.”

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Filippo Grandi. (AFP/File Photo)

He added: “The UK says we’re doing this to save people from dangerous journeys. Let me doubt that a little bit. Saving people from a dangerous journey is great. But is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so. But I think if really the UK and other countries wanted these dangerous journeys to stop, then there are other ways to do it.”

Grandi said the scheme is a “new ball game that is being superimposed on Rwanda,” a country that, despite having taken in tens of thousands of Congolese and Burundian refugees, does not have the structures to conduct refugee status determination — structures that are well in place in England.

“I made this clear to Priti Patel: This deal makes our work very difficult,” said Grandi, referring to the British home secretary. “The precedent this is setting is catastrophic.”

Asked whether the global food security crisis now underway was likely to push more people to leave their homes, Grandi said he “could not imagine how” it could be otherwise.

He concluded that although he is calling on the world to help with the consequences of conflict, “the problem has to be solved at the root and the war has to be stopped. Negotiations have to resume.”