Poverty, fear drive exodus from Syria’s one-time Daesh capital

Poverty, fear drive exodus from Syria’s one-time Daesh capital
Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the self-proclaimed Daesh caliphate and home to about 300,000, is now free, but many of its residents try to leave. (AP/Baderkhan Ahmad)
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Updated 22 February 2022

Poverty, fear drive exodus from Syria’s one-time Daesh capital

Poverty, fear drive exodus from Syria’s one-time Daesh capital

RAQQA, Syria: In a square that a few years ago was a grim stage for the Daesh group’s brutal rule in the Syrian city of Raqqa, Mahmoud Dander sat deep in thought.
He wants to leave Syria, but has a problem: The 75-year-old has no money. He recalled the old days before protests and wars led to his country’s collapse and national currency crash: Syria wasn’t thriving back then, but he had work, his children had university degrees and decent futures, and food was always on the table.
That’s all gone now. “We have fallen, just like our currency,” he said.
Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the self-proclaimed Daesh caliphate and home to about 300,000 people, is now free, but many of its residents try to leave. Those with property are trying to sell it to save up for the journey to Turkey. Those without money struggle to get by.
At least 3,000 people left Raqqa for Turkey in 2021, according to the city’s civil council co-chair Mohammed Nour.
Their reasons span the spectrum of post-war life in Syria, one of the world’s most complex conflict zones. They include economic collapse and widespread unemployment following one of the worst years of drought, as well as fears of an Daesh comeback and a proliferation of criminal gangs. And there is the looming specter of conflict between rival powers that control various parts of northern Syria, including Turkey, Russia and Syrian government forces.
On the surface, the city’s slow recovery from Daesh rule is evident. Cafes and restaurant are full of patrons. Kurdish-led forces stand guard at every major intersection.
But poverty is rampant in the majority Arab city administered by US-backed Kurdish-led forces. People line up for basics such as bread. Unemployed young men sit around. Water and electricity are limited. Many live among bombed-out ruins. Local officials say at least 30 percent of the city remains destroyed.
Poverty and unemployment drive young men into the arms of Daesh. Kurdish investigators say new Daesh recruits captured last month had been lured by money. At the same time, the Kurdish-led city administration received applications from 27,000 job seekers last year, but had no jobs.
Milhem Daher, a 35-year-old engineer, is in the process of selling his home, businesses and properties to pay a smuggler to take him and his family of eight to Turkey, a key route for Syrian migrants trying to win asylum in Europe.
He plans to leave as soon as he has enough money.
Daher had survived Raqqa’s recent violent history, including the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011, and the 2014 takeover by Daesh militants who turned the city into the capital of their caliphate spanning parts of Syria and Iraq. A US-led coalition dropped thousands of bombs on the once vibrant city to drive out Daesh, liberating it in 2017. Daesh lost its last territorial foothold in Syria in 2019.
Daher emerged from the dark chapter ready to invest, but said he faced many obstacles, including a lack of resources and export markets. “If you sell to locals, it won’t generate profit,” he said.
For his first project, Daher bought seeds to cultivate vegetables. When it was time to harvest, traders weren’t interested in paying the asking price.
He purchased trucks to lift rubble amid reconstruction efforts. But the quality of the vehicles quickly degraded as a result of poor fuel in the market and lack of materials for upkeep. A potato chip factory and Internet service company also floundered.
Finally, Daher bought livestock, but a devastating drought led to shortages in animal feed. His cattle died.
Now he is selling off what remains of these failed businesses to start a new life. He needs $10,000.
In Raqqa, having money can also be a problem as kidnappings-for-ransom are on the rise.
Real estate developer Imam Al-Hasan, 37, was taken from his home and held for days by attackers in military fatigues. To secure his release, he paid $400,000, money belonging to him and traders who trusted him with their life savings. He complained to the local authorities, but he said nothing was done. A month after the ordeal, bruises are still visible on his face and legs.
Al-Hasan, too, is selling his home and belongings. “There is nothing left for me here,” he said.
Two of Al-Hasan’s relatives who left in September and recently arrived in Europe said that apart from economic uncertainty it was the threat of more violence that pushed them to leave.
“At any moment the situation could explode, how can I stay there?” said Ibrahim, 27. He and Mohammed, 41, spoke under the condition that only their first names be used, citing security concerns for their wives and children still living in the city.
Like many others, their journey from northeastern Syria to Europe began via tunnels along the town of Ras Al-Ain, which straddles the border with Turkey.
The smuggler had charged $2,000 per person. From there, the path to Europe was riddled with risk.
Ibrahim arrived in Germany last week after an arduous journey that began in Belarus. Mohammed walked for treacherous miles before setting off for Greece by boat. He ended up in The Netherlands in October.
Mohammed is waiting for a chance to bring his family from Raqqa to Europe, he said in a phone interview. For now, he is without work.
Back in Raqqa, Reem Al-Ani, 70, prepares tea for two. Her son is the only one of four children who has remained in Syria. The others are spread across the world.
The stairs leading to their apartment are riddled with bullet holes, remnants of battles to dislodge Daesh. The ceilings are charred from smoke.
She has grown accustomed to a silent house. “I miss them,” she said of her children.
Nearby, in Naim Square, the elderly Dander says he barely makes ends meet, surviving on his rapidly diminishing pension from his previous government job.
His three children have university degrees in engineering and literature, and one was a teacher, he said. But none have been able to find work. He wishes he had the money to help them leave.
“I spend every day thinking about how to get out,” he said.


Social media outrage over US handling of Shireen Abu Akleh killing

Social media outrage over US handling of Shireen Abu Akleh killing
Updated 07 July 2022

Social media outrage over US handling of Shireen Abu Akleh killing

Social media outrage over US handling of Shireen Abu Akleh killing
  • Abu Akleh’s family said US’s total lack of transparency, undefined goals, and support for Israel’s overall position is a disappointment

LONDON: The US Department of State’s handling of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has sparked widespread social media outrage.

After summarizing both Israeli and Palestinian Authority investigations, the US Department of State concluded on Monday that gunfire from Israeli positions “was likely responsible for Shireen Abu Akleh's death,” but dismissed the incident as an unintentional “result of tragic circumstances.”

Eyewitnesses and multiple investigations by US media outlets, including CNN, the Washington Post, the Associated Press and the New York Times, have previously concluded that Israeli forces fatally shot Abu Akleh.

Investigations and video evidence also confirm that there were no armed Palestinians in the area where Abu Akleh was killed, and she and other journalists were wearing visible press gear.

Even so, the US statement emphasized that the Israeli raid was aimed at extremist fighters, which was in response to previous attacks by Palestinian assailants.

The Palestinian Authority has rejected “the US' dismissal of the Israeli occupying forces” intentional targeting and killing of Shireen Abu Akleh as "tragic circumstances" rather than an intentional war crime.

“We are incredulous,” Abu Akleh’s family said in a statement published on social media.

“To say that this investigation, with its total lack of transparency, undefined goals, and support for Israel’s overall position is a disappointment would be an understatement,” her family said.

Palestinian rights advocates have also taken to social media to express their indignation at the US announcement.

“This is a shameful day for the US, which failed to properly investigate the murder of one of its own citizens by a military it sends $3.8 billion to every year” the Jewish Voice for Peace tweeted.

The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem said: “As far as Israel is concerned, its policy regarding the killing of Palestinians has never been anything other than an organized whitewash meant to enable the continuation of the killings with impunity, and it is no different when it comes to a US citizen as in the current case.”

MSNBC’s Mehdi Hasan tweeted: "Where is the outrage from the Biden administration? Where is the urgency to find out how an American citizen was shot & killed? And how long will the US continue to give Israel a pass on, apparently, everything?"

Abu Akleh's family has stated that regardless of the investigation's findings, they will continue to fight for justice and accountability for her death.

“It’s very disappointing but at the same time, it’s not discouraging. We will continue to fight for justice. We will continue to fight for accountability and an end to this impunity because this result, that we received today, just adds on to the impunity that Israel enjoys,” the family said.

“But we will not be discouraged and we will continue on our path for justice and accountability,” the family added.

Al Jazeera has already referred the case to the International Criminal Court, and has vowed to seek justice through all international legal avenues.

Abu Akleh's family, the International Federation of Journalists, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians have directed the legal team to file a new complaint with the ICC.

The complaint requests that the ICC prosecutor investigate the circumstances surrounding Abu Akleh's death and Samoudi's shooting.

Israel claims it is not bound by the court's mandate because it did not sign the Rome Statute, and that the ICC cannot investigate abuses in Palestinian territories because Palestine is not a state.

However, the ICC ruled on February 5, 2021 that its criminal jurisdiction extended to "the situation in Palestine," and that its territorial scope included allegations made in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, according to the lawyers.

The new complaint follows an April submission to the court in which the ICC prosecutor requested that an investigation into the systematic targeting, maiming, and killing of journalists, as well as the destruction of media infrastructure in Palestine, be launched, the legal team says.

Abu Akleh was killed just days after the ICC prosecutor acknowledged receipt of the first complaint.

“This presents for the first time a real opportunity for the accountability of Israel’s alleged policy of targeting journalists and could lead to a formal investigation by the ICC prosecutor and potential prosecutions,” the lawyers' statement said.

More than 100 celebrities and artists have signed a statement demanding accountability for Israel's killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the immediate aftermath of the killing.

Actors Mark Ruffalo, Tilda Swinton, Susan Sarandon, Steve Coogan, and Miriam Margolyes, as well as filmmakers Asif Kapadia, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, and former footballer Eric Cantona, were among those who expressed they were “deeply disturbed” by her death.

As a result, an ICC investigation set on an international stage is expected to continue attracting global attention.

 


UK warship seizes advanced Iranian missiles bound for Yemen

UK warship seizes advanced Iranian missiles bound for Yemen
Updated 07 July 2022

UK warship seizes advanced Iranian missiles bound for Yemen

UK warship seizes advanced Iranian missiles bound for Yemen

DUBAI: A British Royal Navy vessel seized a sophisticated shipment of Iranian missiles in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, officials said Thursday, pointing to the interdiction as proof of Tehran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi militia in the country.
The British government statement was striking in that it provided some of the strongest findings to date that Tehran is arming the Houthis against the Arab coalition with advanced weapons smuggled through the Arabian Gulf.
The UK Embassy in the UAE described the seizure of surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles as “the first time a British naval warship has interdicted a vessel carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran.”
“The UK will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption,” said James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
The announcement signals an escalation as Western officials have in the past shied away from public statements that definitively blame Iran for arming Yemen’s Houthis with military contraband. The route of the smuggled shipments through the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Aden, however, has strongly suggested their destination.
Despite a United Nations Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Iran has long been suspected of transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weaponry to the Houthis since the war began in 2015. Iran denies arming the Houthis, independent experts, Western nations and UN experts have traced components back to Iran.
Citing a forensic analysis last month, the British navy linked the batch of rocket engines seized earlier this year to an Iranian-made cruise missile with a 1,000-kilometer range that it said the militia have used against Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis also used the cruise missile to attack an oil facility in Abu Dhabi in January of this year, the British navy said, an assault that killed three people and threatened the key US ally’s reputation as a haven of stability. The US military launched interceptor missiles during the attack, signaling a widening of Yemen’s war.
The HMS Montrose’s helicopter had been scanning for illicit goods in the Gulf of Oman on January 28 and February 25 when it spotted small vessels speeding away from the Iranian coast with “suspicious cargo on deck.” A team of Royal Marines then halted and searched the boats, confiscating the weapons in international waters south of Iran.
A US Navy guided-missile destroyer supported the British warship’s February operation. Fifth Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said the seizure reflected the Navy’s “strong commitment to regional security and stability.”
The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. The Arab coalition armed with US weaponry and intelligence joined the war on the side of Yemen’s exiled government in March 2015.
Years of fighting have ground into a bloody stalemate and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. A tenuous truce that began around the holy Muslim month of Ramadan appears to be holding, although both sides have accused each other of violations.


8 killed, 44 injured in car crash in southern Egypt

8 killed, 44 injured in car crash in southern Egypt
Updated 07 July 2022

8 killed, 44 injured in car crash in southern Egypt

8 killed, 44 injured in car crash in southern Egypt
  • The incident took place in the early morning when a passenger bus collided with a truck
  • Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt

CAIRO: Eight people were killed and 44 injured in a car crash on Thursday near Egypt’s southern province of Aswan, the state-run news agency reported.
The incident took place in the early morning when a passenger bus collided with a truck, on a highway linking Awsan to Abu Simbel, the seat of the ancient temples of Ramses II, MENA said.
Ambulance vehicles rushed to the scene to carry the casualties’ bodies to Aswan’s morgue and to transfer the wounded to the province’s main hospital, added the report.
Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes and collisions are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
In January, at least 16 people were killed 18 others injured when a microbus collided with a public transportation bus in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt’s official statistics agency says there were around 10,000 road accidents in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.


Egypt, UK to cooperate in renewable energy

Egypt, UK to cooperate in renewable energy
Updated 07 July 2022

Egypt, UK to cooperate in renewable energy

Egypt, UK to cooperate in renewable energy
  • Britain ‘commends Egypt’s leadership and efforts on renewable energy generation’

LONDON: Egypt and the UK have signed a statement of intent to cooperate in reforming renewable energy regulations.

The signing took place in London during a meeting between Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Liz Truss, the UK’s secretary of state for foreign, Commonwealth and development affairs.

The UK said it “commends Egypt’s leadership and efforts on renewable energy generation and opportunities for British investors and firms within the energy sector.”

Alongside the plans to cooperate on energy, there was news of a joint $325 million investment for the launch of the Lekela wind farm, located in northern Egypt, boasting 252-megawatt capacity and expected to boost the country’s wind output by 18 percent.

The ministers also explored opportunities for economic cooperation between the two countries, and agreed on a need to work on growing bilateral trade and investment.

The meeting also witnessed the finalization of British Investment International’s $100 million acquisition of Egypt’s Alfa Medical Group.


Egypt FM meets with UK business community

Egypt FM meets with UK business community
Updated 07 July 2022

Egypt FM meets with UK business community

Egypt FM meets with UK business community

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has met with representatives of the British business community as part of his visit to London.

During the meeting, he reviewed the economic reforms that Egypt has embarked on since 2014, and the challenges they are facing due to international developments. 

He also reviewed his government’s steps to restructure Egypt’s economy, especially in terms of attracting more foreign investments and providing opportunities for private sector companies to enter various sectors.

Shoukry expressed his aspiration to enhance British investments in Egypt in general, and in the green economy in particular.

He also expressed his confidence in the Egyptian economy’s ability to overcome the negative repercussions of the war in Ukraine, as it did with the coronavirus pandemic.

The meeting also discussed Egypt’s hosting of the 27th session of the UN Climate Change Conference in November.