Tadamon massacre exposé lifts veil of secrecy over Syrian war atrocities

Special Tadamon massacre exposé lifts veil of secrecy over Syrian war atrocities
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Stills from amateur footage of the Tadamon massacre in Damascus in which militia members can be clearly seen shooting people. (AFP)
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People demonstrate outside the courthouse where former Syrian intelligence officer Anwar Raslan stood on trial in Koblenz, Germany, on Jan/ 13, 2022. (AFP)
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Syrian security forces on patrol in Aleppo province in 2020. (Twitter photo)
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Syrian activists display pictures documenting the torture of detainees inside the Assad regime's detention centers on March 17, 2016 in Geneva. (AFP)
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A photo of a torture victim taken by a former military policeman of the Syrian army are shown by Syrian activists during a rally in Geneva on March 17, 2016 in Geneva. (AFP)
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Updated 02 June 2022

Tadamon massacre exposé lifts veil of secrecy over Syrian war atrocities

Tadamon massacre exposé lifts veil of secrecy over Syrian war atrocities
  • Almost 10 years after their loved ones disappeared, video confirms the worst fears of Damascus families
  • Mass crime comes to light following investigation by Guardian newspaper and the New Lines Magazine

DUBAI: Forty-one civilians in all were murdered in a single coldblooded incident in 2013. One by one, the blindfolded detainees were brought to the edge of a freshly dug pit in the Damascus suburb of Tadamon and systematically shot. The bodies, piled one on top of the other, were later set on fire.

Footage of the massacre, carried out by Syrian militia members loyal to President Bashar Assad, emerged only in April this year following an expose by the UK’s Guardian newspaper and the online New Lines Magazine.

The amateur video, taken by the killers themselves, was discovered by a militia recruit in the laptop of one of his seniors. Sickened by what he had seen, the rookie passed the video on to researchers, who later confronted one of the killers identified in the footage.




A Syrian woman holds images of victims of the Assad regime outside a German courtroom. (AFP)

Journalists and activists from southern Damascus, speaking to Arab News following online circulation of the video, said that the Tadamon massacre was unlikely to have been the only atrocity committed in the area during that period.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, pro-regime militias would shoot random passers-by at checkpoints in Tadamon, Yalda and the Yarmouk camp, and also gun down people in their homes. Bodies of the victims were often left to rot, according to local residents.

“We would hear about these massacres and the burning of corpses,” Rami Al-Sayed, a photographer from the Tadamon neighborhood, told Arab News. “We knew that anyone arrested by the shabiha of Nisreen Street would be disappeared and, in most cases, executed.”

Shabiha is a Syrian term for militias sponsored by the Assad government that carried out extrajudicial killings during the civil war that broke out in the wake of the 2011 uprising.

Nisreen Street was notorious as a stronghold of one such militia, which at the start of the uprising violently repressed protests, and later began detaining and executing residents of southern Damascus.

“All the victims identified so far are not known to have participated in protests or military activity against the regime,” Al-Sayed said.

“In fact, the presence of a strong pro-regime contingent in Tadamon forced most people opposed to the regime to flee the neighborhood entirely, or to reside in an area that was still under the control of the opposition in 2013.”




A Syrian man show cigarette burns on his body at the al-Waalan special needs center in the northern town of Aldana on Feb.14, 2019. (AFP)

Syrian human rights monitors say entire families that attempted to cross checkpoints in southern Damascus went missing in 2013, including children and the elderly. In many cases, their fate remains unknown even today.

These families constitute a small fraction of the 102,000 civilians who have vanished since the uprising began in 2011, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, which believes regime forces are responsible for the forced disappearance of almost 85 percent of the total number of missing Syrians.

Most of the victims of the Tadamon massacre are yet to be publicly identified since their families, fearing further reprisals, are reluctant to come forward and acknowledge their relationship.

“Many of the relatives are afraid to announce that they recognized their loved one in the video because they are afraid of persecution by the Syrian secret police, especially if they live in regime-held areas,” Mahmoud Zaghmout, a Syrian-Palestinian from Yarmouk camp, told Arab News.

Residents of southern Damascus expect neither the perpetrators of this specific massacre nor those responsible for overseeing countless others to be held to account any time soon, despite the incriminating video evidence.

“This is not the first time such clear evidence of the involvement of Syrian regime personnel in crimes of genocide has been exposed,” said Zaghmout. “But the regime remains protected by the Russians, enabling it to avoid any accountability.”

When footage of the massacre first emerged online, the families of Syrians and Palestinians who had disappeared in 2013 frantically scanned the video for clues to the whereabouts of their loved ones.

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Even if the horrific images confirmed their worst fears, they thought, at least they might find a semblance of closure that would end the uncertainty concerning their loss and allow them to mourn properly.

Families endured the same trauma while trawling through thousands of photographs smuggled out of Syria by a military defector code-named Caesar in 2013. The images contained horrifying evidence of rape, torture and extrajudicial executions inside regime jails.

Evidence provided by Caesar was used to help prosecute Anwar Raslan, a former Syrian intelligence officer, who in January was sentenced to life in prison by a court in Germany for the horrific abuses he inflicted on detainees.




Anwar Raslan (right) was found guilty of overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of 4,000 others in Damascus in 2011 and 2012. (AFP)

The Koblenz trial offered a glimmer of hope to Syrians eager to see their tormentors face justice. Despite this small victory, the Tadamon families doubt the militiamen who murdered their loved ones will ever have their day in court.

One couple who sat through the gruesome footage were the parents of Wassim Siyam, a Palestinian resident of the Yarmouk camp, who was 33 when he vanished.

 “I watched it a few times, then the way a man was running caught my attention. It was my son. It’s his way of running. I knew it was him,” Wassim’s father told journalists.

Many families had held out hope that their children might still be alive somewhere in the regime’s prison system and would someday be released under one of the government’s occasional amnesties.

On May 2, about 60 detainees were released by the regime under a new presidential decree granting amnesty to Syrians who had committed “terrorist crimes” — a term authorities often use for those arbitrarily arrested.




Syrian activists display pictures documenting the torture of detainees inside the Assad regime's detention centers on March 17, 2016 in Geneva. (AFP)

Some had spent more than a decade in facilities described by the rights monitor Amnesty International as “human slaughterhouses.”

Large crowds gathered in Damascus in the days following the amnesty, hoping to find their relatives. Some held photos of their missing loved ones and asked the freed detainees whether they had seen them alive in jail.

Wassim’s mother had long held out hope that her son might still be alive, almost a decade after his disappearance. “I kept my faith in God. I thought he was probably detained but still alive,” she was quoted as saying.

“I don’t know how they were able to do this to the civilians. One avoids even stepping on an ant while walking. How were they able to do this?”

She added: “The community loved my son. We never harmed anyone to be hurt this way. I expected to see him out of prison — meek, tortured, maybe missing an eye — but I did not expect this.”




A photo of a torture victim taken by a former military policeman of the Syrian army are shown by Syrian activists during a rally in Geneva on March 17, 2016 in Geneva. (AFP)

The clip of the Tadamon massacre ruled out the possibility of Wassim and the other men being still alive.

“The hope that they had, even if a small one, was gone,” Hazem Youness, a Palestinian-Syrian researcher and former diplomat who has interviewed several of the families, told Arab News.

The daughters of one of the victims told Youness that since her father disappeared, “whenever I would hear a knock on the door, I hoped it would be my father, and now I can’t be hoping anymore.”

Aware of the brutal and subhuman conditions inside regime jails, some families admitted they were relieved to see their relatives in the video. At least, they reasoned, their loved ones had not suffered for long.

“It’s better this way,” said Youness, quoting one of the families. “We were reassured that he is not being tortured now. It was harder for us when we would keep thinking: ‘What is he doing? Is he being tortured now? What is he eating? How is his health? Is he sick? Where is he?’”

The release of the footage had another important effect: It validated the claims of survivors and confirmed that killings had indeed taken place in the area.




Stills from amateur footage of the Tadamon massacre in Damascus in which militia members can be clearly seen shooting people. (AFP)

“Everyone knew massacres were happening,” said Youness. “People in Tadamon and the areas of the camp said that there was a smell of blood and then of rotting corpses coming out from houses.

“But, you know, it’s one thing to suspect something or know it; you still don’t want to believe it’s true, and then you have the proof.”

Some local residents were not surprised to learn that war crimes had been committed in Tadamon. Rather what they found shocking was the cruelty and inhumanity of the militiamen in the video.

“I didn’t expect it to be this horrific,” said Youness. “You can see from the video that it’s a normal thing for them. You see that they do this with ease, while joking around with each other, like it’s routine, like this is a game.

“These are beasts killing in cold blood. It’s unfair to call them beasts, because beasts have at least some degree of compassion and mercy.”

Alluding to the importance of staying optimistic, Youness said: “The path to justice, unfortunately, is a long one. But no matter how long it takes, the march must continue.”

 

 

 


Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
Updated 58 min 9 sec ago

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Palestinian killed during Israeli raid in West Bank
  • At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian man was killed by the Israeli military during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Rafiq Riyad Ghannem, 20, was “shot by the occupation (Israeli army)” near the northern West Bank city of Jenin, the ministry said in a statement, adding that he was killed in the town of Jaba.
The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Sunday, a 17-year-old Palestinian died after being shot a day earlier in another Israeli army raid in the same town.
At least 50 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank, among them suspected militants and non-combatants.
Israeli security forces have launched near-daily raids in the West Bank following a spate of attacks in Israel in recent months.
Nineteen people — mostly Israeli civilians inside Israel — have been killed mainly in attacks carried out by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Three Arab Israeli attackers have also been killed.


Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting
Updated 06 July 2022

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

Palestinian president and Hamas chief hold rare meeting

ALGIERS: Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met publicly for the first time in over five years, on the sidelines of Algerian independence anniversary celebrations.
Algeria’s state broadcaster reported late Tuesday that representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Islamist Hamas movement also attended this meeting, which it called “historic.”
The pair, who officially last met face-to-face in Doha in October 2016, were brought together in a meeting with Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose country marked the 60th anniversary of independence from France.
Abbas’ secular Fatah party, which dominates the Palestinian Authority that rules the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been at loggerheads with Hamas since elections in 2007, when the Islamists took control of Gaza.
Tebboune and Abbas also signed a document to name a street “Algeria” in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
As well as Abbas and Haniyeh, Tebboune on Tuesday hosted several foreign dignitaries, who watched a huge military parade to mark independence in 1962 when Algeria broke free from 132 years of French occupation.


WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic
Updated 06 July 2022

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic

WHO praises Bahrain’s handling of COVID-19 pandemic
  • National task force, 24-hour war room, and multilingual media campaign was key, says health body
  • Free testing and vaccines kept virus at bay

RIYADH: Bahrain’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic was built on active collaboration between various sectors in the Gulf state, according to a new WHO report.

The document titled “Bahrain COVID-19 Case Studies,” highlights the country’s wide-ranging efforts to get the health crisis under control and identifies lessons learned from that response.

The world health body credits strategic partnerships between public and private entities for the positive response.

Bahrain detected its first case of the virus on Feb. 24, 2020, and caseloads have remained relatively low during the pandemic, with only short-lived surges as a result of the delta and omicron variants. The country has lost 1,495 people to the disease since the start of the pandemic, according to the information organization Our World in Data.

The study was presented by Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the health organization’s head for the eastern Mediterranean region.

“I would like to acknowledge the resilience of the health system in Bahrain throughout the pandemic, and its continued provision of essential health services for all, under a framework of accessibility, acceptability, availability, and quality,” Al-Mandhari said.

“This new report provides us with a valuable reminder: Together we can face health emergencies, and together we can build back stronger,” he said in a joint press conference with Jaleela S. Jawad Hasan, the health minister, on Tuesday.

Hasan outlined some of the strategies that had helped to keep the virus in check on the small island kingdom of 1.7 million people.

Even before the first case appeared, Hasan said, Bahrain established a national task force coupled with a round-the-clock war room, featuring representatives from various sectors. A multilingual public media campaign to spread awareness was also introduced.

The report stated that by using its existing health infrastructure, the kingdom “capitalized on and scaled up its existing resources and displayed a level of preparedness and synergy of efforts from both the top down and the bottom up.”

King Hamad’s decision to provide testing and vaccines to the public free of charge was among the positive steps in handling the crisis, stated the authors of the report.

The lessons learned from what the country has achieved provide “invaluable insights into best practices that, shared, will have far-reaching and long-lasting effects beyond Bahrain’s borders,” the report concluded.

Hasan said Bahrain was committed to its cooperation with the WHO to combat the pandemic and achieve global health goals, according to the Bahrain News Agency.

On Tuesday, the health ministry reported 40 active hospitalized cases, 15 of which were critical.

Bahrain removed most COVID-19 restrictions in February, doing away with capacity limits at indoor venues and testing and vaccination requirements for travelers heading to the kingdom.


Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
Updated 06 July 2022

Egypt family keeps alive tradition behind Hajj centerpiece

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran onto a replica of the Kiswa. (AFP)
  • From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony

CAIRO, Egypt: Under the steady hum of a ceiling fan, Ahmed Othman weaves golden threads through black fabric, creating Qur'anic verses, a century after his grandfather’s work adorned the Kaaba in Makkah’s Grand Mosque.
A ceremonial hanging of the kiswa, huge pieces of black silk embroidered with gold patterns, over the cubic structure that is the centerpiece of the Grand Mosque symbolizes the launch of the Hajj annual pilgrimage, which starts this week.

In this file photo taken on April 4, 2021 the keys of the Kaaba (box), Islam's holiest shrine at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, and a fragment of the black-clothed Kiswa (wall) which is used to cover the Kaaba, the final one provided by Egypt (in 1961) during the administration of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, are displayed at the Museum of Egyptian Civilisation (NMEC), in the Fustat district of Old Cairo. (AFP)

Othman’s family used to be honored with the task of producing the kiswa.
His family’s creations would be despatched in a camel caravan to Islam’s holiest site in western Saudi Arabia toward which Muslims across the world turn to pray.
Now, Othman keeps the tradition alive in a small workshop, tucked above the labyrinthine Khan Al-Khalili bazaar in central Cairo, where mass-produced souvenirs line the alleys.
The area is historically home to Egypt’s traditional handicrafts, but artisans face growing challenges.

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman el-Kassabgy (R), whose family was traditionally responsible for used to be honoured with the task of producing the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, supervises as another employee (L) sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica drape to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

Materials, mostly imported, have become expensive, particularly as Egypt faces economic woes and a devalued currency.
Plummeting purchasing power makes high quality hand-crafted goods inaccessible to the average Egyptian, while master craftspeople find it hard to hand down their skills as young people turn to more lucrative jobs.
This wouldn’t be the case “if there was good money in the craft,” Othman sighed, hunched over one of the many tapestries that fill his workshop.
Sheets of black and brown felt are covered in verses and prayers, delicately embroidered in silver and gold.
Every stitch echoes the “sacred ritual” Othman’s grandfather was entrusted with in 1924.
“For a whole year, 10 craftsmen” would work on the kiswa that covers the Kaaba which pilgrims circumambulate, using silver thread in a lengthy labor of love.

An embroiderer sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica of the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

From the 13th century, Egyptian artisans made the giant cloth in sections, which authorities transported to Makkah with great ceremony.
Celebrations would mark the processions through cities, flanked by guards and clergymen as Egyptians sprinkled rosewater from balconies above.
Othman’s grandfather, Othman Abdelhamid, was the last to supervise a fully Egyptian-made kiswa in 1926.
From 1927, manufacturing began to move to Makkah in the nascent Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which would fully take over production of the kiswa in 1962.
The family went on to embroider military regalia for Egyptian and foreign dignitaries, including former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
“In addition to our work with military rank embroideries, my father started embroidering Qur'anic verses on tapestries,” and then reproducing whole sections of the kiswa.
Clients began flooding in for “exact replicas of the kiswa, down to the last detail.”

Egyptian embroiderer Ahmed Othman el-Kassabgy, whose family was traditionally responsible for used to be honoured with the task of producing the Kiswa, the cloth used to cover the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Makkah, sews with gold thread a verse from the Holy Koran, Islam's holy book, onto a replica drape to be sold as a souvenir for tourists visiting the historic district of al-Hussein of Islamic Cairo in Egypt's capital on June 15, 2022. (AFP)

Though today they offer small tableaus for as little as 100 Egyptian pounds (about $5), massive customised orders go for several thousand dollars, such as replicas of the Kaaba door, which Othman proudly claims are indistinguishable from the originals in Makkah.

But the family has not been immune to the economic turbulence that began with the coronavirus pandemic, which decimated small businesses and craftsmanship in Egypt.
Since early 2020, they have sold around “two pieces per month,” whereas before they would sell at least one tapestry a day.
Othman worries that a sense of “worldwide austerity” makes business unlikely to bounce back.
Today, there might only be a dozen or so craftsmen whose work he considers authentic, with many artisans leaving the craft for quicker cash flows.
“They can make 200 to 300 pounds a day,” ($10-$16) driving a tuktuk motorized rickshaw, or a minibus, Othman said. “They’re not going to sit on a loom breaking their backs all day.”
But still, a century and a half after his great grandfather left his native Turkey and brought the craft with him to Egypt, Othman says he has stayed loyal to techniques learnt as a child when he would duck out of school to watch his father work.
“It’s on us to uphold the craft the same way we learned it, so it’s authentic to the legacy we inherited,” he said.


Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president
Updated 05 July 2022

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president
  • "We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15," said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
  • He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied

ALGIERS: Algeria said Tuesday it would reopen its land border with Tunisia later this month, more than two years after it was shut at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied, who was leaving the country after attending a huge parade marking 60 years since Algeria’s independence from France.
Passengers had been blocked from crossing the border since March 2020 to stop the Covid-19 illness spreading, although cargo traffic had continued.
Being cut off from a neighbor of some 44 million people has dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry.
More than three million Algerians usually visit the country every year, according to local media.
Air and sea links between the two countries were restored in June 2021.