Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians

Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians
A view of Baghouz town, in Syria’s eastern province of Deir el-Zour. An investigation into a 2019 strike by US forces in Syria that killed numerous civilians found no violations of policy or wanton negligence. (AP)
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Updated 18 May 2022

Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians

Pentagon finds no wrongdoing in 2019 Syria strike that killed civilians
  • The Times report said that 70 people, many of them women and children, had been killed in the strike
  • The US ground force commander for the anti-Daesh coalition received a request for air strike support from Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the extremists

WASHINGTON: An investigation into a 2019 strike by US forces in Syria that killed numerous civilians found no violations of policy or wanton negligence, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The internal US Army investigation focused on an operation by a special US force operating in Syria which launched an airstrike on a Daesh bastion in Baghouz on March 18, 2019.
The investigation was sparked last year after the New York Times reported that in the original strike the US military had covered up dozens of non-combatant deaths.
The Times report said that 70 people, many of them women and children, had been killed in the strike.
The Times report said a US legal officer “flagged the strike as a possible war crime” and that “at nearly every step, the military made moves that concealed the catastrophic strike.”
But the final report of the investigation rejected that conclusion Tuesday.
It said that the US ground force commander for the anti-Daesh coalition received a request for air strike support from Syrian Democratic Forces fighting the extremists.
The commander “received confirmation that no civilians were in the strike area” and authorized the strike.
However, they later found out there were civilians at the location.
“No Rules of Engagement or Law of War violations occurred,” the investigation said.
In addition, the commander “did not deliberately or with wanton disregard cause civilian casualties,” it said.
The report said that “administrative deficiencies” delayed US military reporting on the strike, giving the impression that it was being covered up.
The Times cited an initial assessment of the incident saying that about 70 civilians could have been killed.
Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby said that 52 combatants were killed, 51 of them adult males and one child, while four civilians died, one woman and three children.
Another 15 civilians, 11 women and four children, were wounded, he said.
Asked if anyone was being punished for the civilian deaths, Kirby said the investigation did not find the need to hold any individuals accountable.
The probe “did not find that anybody acted outside the law of war, that there was no malicious intent,” Kirby said.
“While we don’t always get everything right, we do try to improve. We do try to be as transparent as we can about what we learn,” he said.


Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid
Updated 9 sec ago

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid

Palestinian families count the cost of soaring prices in West Bank ahead of Eid
  • Stores are quiet and purchases are significantly down this year amid public-sector wage cuts and spiraling costs

RAMALLAH: Father-of-eight Mustafa Al-Hadidi, a 48-year-old working man from Ramallah, fears he will not be able to properly participate in Eid Al-Adha celebrations or complete traditional seasonal rituals this year.

His fears seem justified. Prices have soared in recent weeks in the Palestinian Territories, which is now considered one of the most expensive places in the Arab world. The cost of a sheep for sacrifice, for example, has reached $500 in the West Bank. Al-Hadidi said that the spiraling prices are even causing family arguments that sometimes end in families breaking up.

“There is more than one case of divorce that occurred due to family problems caused by high prices, so that the head of the family was unable to provide for the needs of his family members, which fuels problems inside the house until the matter ends in divorce,” he told Arab News.

Al-Hadidi said that the rising prices of Eid Al-Adha supplies mean that families are having to find at least $300 extra to pay for them compared with last year.

“Ramallah has become the most expensive city in the world,” he added, as he accused Palestinian leaders of not doing enough to curb the greed of merchants and control prices.

“The Palestinian government is subordinate to Israel in terms of raising prices and if I were of the new generation, I would have left the country and emigrated.”

According to Al-Hadidi, the Palestinian Authority appears to be indifferent about the rising prices as many of the agencies that import food items have close ties to senior officials within the authority.

After the announcement last month by the PA that public-sector workers would only receive partial wages, Al-Hadidi questioned how they can possibly live on only 70 or 80 percent of already meager salaries.

He pointed out that in previous years, Ramallah was much more crowded and bustling during the days leading up to Eid Al-Adha than it is this year.

Hashem Ibrahim, 58, who owns what he says is the oldest grocery store near Al-Manara roundabout in central Ramallah, told Arab News that Eid purchases are down by about 60 percent compared with last year.

“Citizens’ demand for purchases is deficient and this is limited to purchasing only the necessary items,” he said, adding that rising prices and the delay by the PA in paying salaries to public-sector workers in June have contributed to the fall in trade.

Jihad Abu Eid, the owner of Al-Amin butcher’s shop in Ramallah, told Arab News that demand for meat and sacrifices for Eid Al-Adha is very low this year. He added that he has resisted increasing his prices in the hope that this would attract customers.

He explained that he is absorbing much of the increased cost of meat, with the price of a cow rising by $430.

According to economist Nasr Abdel Karim: “The Palestinian economic crisis is a complex situation that is linked to different circumstances that affect it directly and indirectly, such as the Ukrainian-Russian war which has indirectly affected the economy through the joint trade channel with Ukraine, in addition to the clear and significant impact of the Israeli-occupation policies followed by the Palestinian government.”

Mohammad Shaheen, a spokesperson for the Consumer Protection Association, said that the suggested measures to ease the retail crisis do not fall only on the government alone but also on consumers, who must adjust to a new shopping culture in which they adjust their retail habits to match their incomes and purchasing power.

Ibrahim Al-Qadi, the head of consumer protection at the Palestinian Ministry of National Economy, said efforts are being made to control rising prices, either by sourcing local products as an alternative to import, or through assistance from neighboring countries that can quickly and easily supply the Palestinian market.

Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesperson for the PA, told Arab News: “The government has paid $43 million to support basic commodities such as fuel, electricity and foodstuffs, and has tightened control over merchants and called on them not to raise prices, to mitigate the repercussions of the global food crisis on the local Palestinian market.”


Lebanon plans to send refugees back to Syria within months

Lebanon plans to send refugees back to Syria within months
Updated 15 min 49 sec ago

Lebanon plans to send refugees back to Syria within months

Lebanon plans to send refugees back to Syria within months
  • Lebanon has one of the world’s highest numbers of refugees per capita and currently hosts over 1 million Syrians who fled the decade-old conflict

BEIRUT: Lebanon plans to start sending back tens of thousands of Syrian refugees within months over objections by the UN and rights groups, a minister said in an interview on Wednesday.

Lebanon has one of the world’s highest numbers of refugees per capita and currently hosts over 1 million Syrians who fled the decade-old conflict. Officials say the influx has cost Lebanon billions of dollars and further damaged its crippled infrastructure while it struggles with a financial meltdown.

“We are serious about implementing this plan and we hope to do so within months,” Issam Charafeddine, Lebanon’s caretaker minister of the displaced, said. “This is a humane, honorable, patriotic and economic plan that is necessary for Lebanon.”

The Lebanese government’s plan would entail sending back 15,000 Syrian refugees every month.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and rights groups oppose involuntary repatriation to Syria and say the practice risks endangering the returning refugees.

The UN refugee agency in a press statement denied that it is engaged in negotiations with Beirut and Damascus on refugee returns.

“UNHCR continues to call on the government of Lebanon to respect the fundamental right of all refugees to a voluntary, safe and dignified return,” the statement read.

The UN  estimates that 90 percent of Syrian refugee households live in extreme poverty. But since late 2019, poverty has worsened for both Lebanese and Syrians as the Mediterranean country continues to struggle with crippling economic crisis. Sky-rocketing fuel prices coupled with a currency collapse has meant many essential commodities are now out of reach.

The Lebanese minister on Monday presented the plan to President Michel Aoun. A committee consisting of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Charafeddine, six other ministers and the country’s General Security organization had been working on the proposal since March to gradually return some 1.5 million Syrian refugees from Lebanon.

Charafeddine plans to visit Syria next week to meet Local Administration and Environment Minister Hussein Makhlouf.

He hopes they will agree on a concrete timeline for the plan to repatriate 15,000 Syrian refugees every month. The minister says Makhlouf had told him that the Syrian government could provide temporary shelter for repatriated refugees in areas that are “entirely safe.”

“We have statistics from the Interior Ministry of the names of the displaced, where they live, and where they’re originally from, and so we would return them by neighborhood,” the minister said. He said Lebanon is willing to repatriate refugees in larger numbers if the Syrian government is able to receive them “at a later stage.”

Charafeddine said the Syrian government has agreed to drop charges against former opposition fighters and political opposition.


Iran media says foreign diplomats arrested including Briton

Iran media says foreign diplomats arrested including Briton
Updated 18 min 38 sec ago

Iran media says foreign diplomats arrested including Briton

Iran media says foreign diplomats arrested including Briton
  • Revolutionary Guard accused the UK deputy ambassador and other foreigners of ‘espionage’ and taking soil samples from prohibited military zones
  • UK says reports British diplomat has been detained are completely false

TEHRAN/LONDON: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards arrested several foreign diplomats including a Briton, accusing them of “spying,” the Fars news agency and state television said Wednesday.
“The Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence service identified and arrested diplomats from foreign embassies who were spying in Iran,” Fars said, adding that a British diplomat was subsequently expelled from the country.
State television however reported that the Briton was expelled from “the area” where the diplomats had been arrested in central Iran.
Britain’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that reports that a British diplomat had been detained in Tehran for alleged spying were “completely false.”
“Reports of the arrest of a British diplomat in Iran are completely false,” a British foreign office spokesperson said.
The news comes amid tensions as Iran and world powers struggle to agree on a return to a 2015 nuclear deal.
It also comes as Belgium’s parliament on Wednesday approved a controversial prisoner-swap treaty with Iran in a first reading of a text that still has to be submitted to a full vote to be ratified.
Last month Amnesty International called on the British government to investigate Iran’s six-year detention of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, denouncing it as “an act of hostage-taking.”
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, who was first detained in Iran in 2016, returned to Britain in March along with fellow dual national Anoosheh Ashoori after London agreed to pay a longstanding debt to Tehran.
Amnesty has compiled a detailed analysis of the case, which it says includes “compelling evidence that Iran’s detention of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe amounted to an act of hostage-taking.”
(With AFP and Reuters)


Jordan chalks up business success from limestone riches

Jordan chalks up business success from limestone riches
Updated 21 min 20 sec ago

Jordan chalks up business success from limestone riches

Jordan chalks up business success from limestone riches

KARAK, Jordan: Long before whiteboards, beamers and laptops entered modern school classrooms, teachers relied on the humble, dusty, sometimes screechy blackboard chalk — a material that has created a Jordanian business success story.

Chemical engineer Salah Aloqbi remembers sitting on a bus in Amman in 1995 when he hit on the idea that would lead him to create his company. More than two decades later it boasts 150 staff, with exports to more than 100 countries.

Chalk, a white, soft limestone, was formed eons ago when the shells of tiny marine creatures were compressed on the sea floor — and the Middle Eastern desert country of Jordan is blessed with vast deposits.

“It was a game-changing idea,” recalled Aloqbi, now 49, who founded the Jordan Chalk Manufacturing Company.

“I was returning from work at the Jordan Carbonate Company when I heard a radio interview saying that the calcium carbonate produced by the company is used in various industries in Jordan — except the chalk industry.”

Aloqbi pondered how to make blackboard chalk, which was until then wholly imported, to gain extra value from the calcium carbonate that is also used to produce white cement, make soils less acidic, and toothpaste more abrasive.

Seven years later, he launched a small factory in Karak governorate south of Amman, with two rooms and just five workers, and started experimenting — initially by pulverizing the porous material with a meat mincer.

“But the chalk that we produced at that time was no longer used around the world, so we moved to produce dustless medical chalk,” he said, referring to a carbonate-based type with larger particles.

Some 2,149 attempts later, the businessman said proudly, he hit the right formula for dustless chalk, creating a “very strong export opportunity” that now sees his company produce 10 billion pieces a year.

Jordan has a near endless supply of raw material, with the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources the country’s “assets of limestone exceed 1.3 billion metric tons.”

Limestone is the common form of calcium carbonate CaCO3, the main ingredient for chalk.

“It comes to mind that this is an outdated product, but the truth is that we are struggling to meet the great demand,” Aloqbi said as he inspected hundreds of cartons heading to Britain and Germany, Mali and Morocco.

The chalk pieces come in a wide palette of colors and are used for art and play around the world.

The firm has also branched out into colored crayons and modeling clay, and is the country’s only producer of chalk sticks.

Today, the company sits on a 7,500 square meter plot and offers sought-after jobs in a country where the unemployment rate soared to 25 percent last year, about the same as the poverty rate.

“Most of us are from villages in Karak governorate,” said one employee, 28-year-old Sundus Majali. “More than half of the workers are women.”

At first, she said, “it was difficult for parents to allow females to work ... But today they have no problem with that, especially because the factory is safe, not like other workplaces.”

Another colleague, Alaa Aloqbi, 33, said “the factory has provided job opportunities at a time when life became difficult.”


Turkey should face international court over Yazidi genocide, UK report says

Turkey should face international court over Yazidi genocide, UK report says
Updated 06 July 2022

Turkey should face international court over Yazidi genocide, UK report says

Turkey should face international court over Yazidi genocide, UK report says
  • The report, compiled by prominent human rights lawyers, highlight states' binding responsibility to prevent genocide on their territories

LONDON: British human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy has said that Turkey should face charges before the International Court of Justice for being complicit in acts of genocide against the Yazidi people.

Kennedy also endorsed an investigation against Syria and Iraq for failing to prevent the killings.

The groundbreaking report, compiled by a group of prominent human rights lawyers, seeks to highlight states' binding responsibility to prevent genocide on their territories, even if perpetrated by a third party such as extremist organizations.

The lawyers, known as the Yazidi Justice Committee (YJC), asserted that states are held accountable under the Genocide Convention to prevent genocide.

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, chair of the YJC, described the genocide of the Yazidi people as “madness heaped on evil”.

“Mechanisms in place could have saved the Yazidis from what is now part of their past, and part of their past partial destruction,” he said.

From 2013, a genocide against the Yazidis, a religious minority in Iraq and Syria, has been attempted. Following a three-year investigation into the conduct of 13 countries, the 278-page report concluded that three of them failed in their duty to take reasonable steps to prevent genocide.

Regarding Turkey, the YJC accused its leaders of being complicit in the massacres, claiming that the country failed to police its borders to prevent the free flow of extremist fighters, including a significant number of Turkish nationals. Turkish officials have dismissed the criticisms as unfounded.

The YJC also claimed that from April 2014, Turkish officials turned a blind eye to the sale, transfer and enslavement of Yazidi women and children,and assisted in training fighters affiliated with extremist organizations to fight its Kurdish enemies in Syria, thus strengthening the perpetrators of the genocide.

“Turkish officials knew and/or were willfully blind to evidence that these individuals would use this training to commit prohibited acts against the Yazidis,” the report said.

Although the report acknowledged that Iraq had called on the UN to recognize the atrocities committed in 2014, it accused the Iraqi government of failing to coordinate with Kurdish authorities or take steps to evacuate the Yazidis to safety.

According to the report, the Syrian government also failed to prevent the transfer and detention of enslaved Yazidis on its territory.

The Turkish ambassador to the UK, Ümit Yalçın, called the criticisms baseless and unfair.

“Turkey starting from the early years of the conflict in Syria played a key role in the protection of Syrian civilians and minorities, including Yazidis, in the region against the attacks and violations of terrorist groups,” Yalçın said.

He also added: “Turkey not only opened its doors and became a safe haven for millions of Syrians and Yazidis but also provided protection for the people of the region through three counter terrorism operations in Syria. Today Yazidis live peacefully in areas that are under the control of the legitimate Syrian opposition in north-western Syria.

“Moreover, last year many Yazidi families that took refugee in north-western Syria tried to return to their homes in Syria’s north-east but [were] prevented from doing so by PKK/YPG [the initials of the Kurdish groups in Turkey and Syria].”

“An ocean of impunity exists in relation to the Yazidi genocide”, Kennedy said, noting that extremist groups as a non-state actors cannot be prosecuted under international law.

Kennedy added that meanwhile, states had “failed to in their duty to address their responsibilities to prevent the genocide for a variety of inhumane reasons”. She wrote that if they are not held accountable, “then the promise of ‘never again’ rings hollow”.