France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps
Above, the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp which holds relatives of suspected Daesh group fighters in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh governorate. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 05 July 2022

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps
  • The French government had long refused mass repatriations of the hundreds of French children detained in Kurdish-controlled camps, dealing with them on a case-by-case basis

PARIS: France repatriated 35 children and 16 mothers from camps in Syria holding family members of suspected Daesh terrorists on Tuesday in the largest such operation by Paris after pressure from campaigners.

The French government had long refused mass repatriations of the hundreds of French children detained in Kurdish-controlled camps, dealing with them on a case-by-case basis that rights groups criticized as deliberately slow.

“France has today undertaken the return to the country of 35 French minors who were in camps in northeast Syria. This operation also includes the return of 16 mothers from these same camps,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.

It added that the minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings that lawyers expect to lead to their prosecution for terror offenses.

One of the women was 37-year-old Emilie Konig, a Muslim convert from northwest France who became a notorious recruiter for the group and urged supporters in the West to carry out attacks, a security source told AFP.

Family members of the returnees said that French officials had entered the sprawling and squalid Roj camp on Monday to select orphans and women with medical problems for the flight home.

“It’s a 180-degree turn from the French government to repatriate women as well. It gives us hope, but there are still a lot of children over there,” the aunt of one of the repatriated women told AFP, asking not to be named.

Western countries have faced a dilemma over how to handle their citizens detained in Syria since the end of military operations against the Daesh group there in 2019.

Thousands of extremists in Europe decided to join the group as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared in territory conquered in Iraq and Syria.

Until now, France had prioritized its security over welfare concerns for the detained, pointing to a series of attacks by Daesh militants, including the November 2015 assaults on Paris that left 130 people dead.

In a 2019 poll by Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting, seven out of 10 people surveyed were opposed to bringing back the children of jihadists to France.

Before Tuesday’s operation, Paris had repatriated 126 children since 2016.

The decision to return 51 people in a single operation points to a change in policy that came after Germany and Belgium announced that they would bring back all of their minors from Syria.

Around 150 remain in Syria, lawyers and campaigners said on Tuesday.

“Our country has isolated itself more and more by choosing inhumanity and irresponsibility, unlike Germany, Belgium and many other European countries,” the French campaign group Collective for United Families said in a statement on Tuesday.

A UN watchdog also increased  the pressure in February when it said that France had violated the rights of children by leaving them for years in inhuman and life-threatening conditions.

The president of the Seine-Saint-Denis region northeast of Paris, where many previous returnees have been housed, said it was important to make a distinction between Daesh fighters and children, many of whom are orphans.

“Whenever this issue becomes a news story, I’m aware of the fantasies that it can create,” Stephane Troussel told AFP recently. “The images of children indoctrinated by Daesh, weapons in their hands, are deeply ingrained.”

But “the children are not guilty. They are above all the victims of the deadly excesses of their parents and what they need more than anything is an opportunity to rebuild themselves if we want them to rejoin society,” he added.

A statement from France’s anti-terror prosecutor’s office said the mothers repatriated on Tuesday were aged between 22 and 39 and had been taken into custody.

In addition to Konig, there is also a mother-of-four with colon cancer whose mother, Pascale Descamps, went on hunger strike to campaign for her return on humanitarian grounds.

She left France in 2015 with her husband and three children. He was killed in combat, leading her to re-marry another Daesh extremist, who also died.

One of the minors, who is nearly 18, was also detained because “evidence exists likely to prove his association with a terrorist organization,” the statement from anti-terror prosecutors added.

Daesh declared a caliphate in 2014 in territory stretching across Iraq and Syria, but was progressively beaten back by a coalition of Western-backed local forces, losing its last territory in March 2019.


UN Security Council to meet over Gaza fighting

UN Security Council to meet over Gaza fighting
Updated 52 min 46 sec ago

UN Security Council to meet over Gaza fighting

UN Security Council to meet over Gaza fighting
  • Both sides have reserved the right to respond if the cease-fire is violated

USA: The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the situation in Gaza, where a truce is holding between Islamic Jihad militants and Israel after three days of deadly conflict.
China, which holds the presidency of the Security Council in August, announced the emergency meeting on Saturday, with Ambassador Zhang Jun expressing his concern over Gaza’s worst fighting since an 11-day war last year.
Ahead of the meeting, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan called Monday for the council to place “full accountability” on Islamic Jihad, accusing the Iran-backed group of using Gazans as “human shields.
“There must be one outcome and one outcome only, to condemn the (Islamic Jihad) for its double war crimes while placing the full accountability ... for the murder of innocent Palestinians on the shoulder of the radical terror group,” he said at a press briefing.
“They fire rockets at Israeli civilians while using Gazans as human shields. This is a double war crime,” he said.
Israel had since Friday launched a heavy aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in Gaza, leading the militants to fire over a thousand rockets in retaliation, according to the Israeli army.
An Egypt-brokered cease-fire reached late Sunday ended the intense fighting that killed 44 people, including 15 children, and wounded 360 in the enclave according to Gaza’s health ministry.
Both sides have reserved the right to respond if the cease-fire is violated.
The Security Council’s consultations will take place on Monday afternoon in New York. No statement is expected after the meeting, several diplomatic sources have said.


Qatar Tourism launches program to upskill global travel partners

Qatar Tourism launches program to upskill global travel partners
Updated 08 August 2022

Qatar Tourism launches program to upskill global travel partners

Qatar Tourism launches program to upskill global travel partners
  • Focuses on various aspects of Qatar’s history, heritage, attractions, and experiences

DOHA: Qatar Tourism has launched a new interactive online training program to improve its global travel t partners’ knowledge of the country’s diverse offerings, and provide them with accredited qualifications, Qatar News Agency reported. 

The Qatar Specialist Program is part of Qatar’s comprehensive plan to transform the country into a world-class tourist destination. 

The program uses cutting-edge digital learning technologies to provide partners with the knowledge and tools they need to effectively promote and sell Qatar internationally.

“The Qatar Specialist Program is another step towards supporting the global travel trade industry in working alongside Qatar Tourism to help drive significant growth in annual international visitor arrivals and welcoming six million visitors a year by 2030,” Qatar Tourism’s International Markets chief Philip Dickinson said. 

The program focuses on various aspects of Qatar’s tourism industry, including history, heritage, attractions, and experiences. 

International partners who complete the entire course will be eligible for exclusive benefits such as insider tips, itineraries, and the most up-to-date information on accommodations and attractions.


EU submits ‘final text’ at Iran nuclear talks, Tehran examining document

EU submits ‘final text’ at Iran nuclear talks, Tehran examining document
Updated 24 min 39 sec ago

EU submits ‘final text’ at Iran nuclear talks, Tehran examining document

EU submits ‘final text’ at Iran nuclear talks, Tehran examining document
  • Talks aimed at reviving the agreement over Iran’s nuclear program resumed on Thursday in Vienna

VIENNA: The European Union submitted a “final text” at talks to salvage a 2015 deal aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Tehran said Monday it was reviewing the proposals.
Britain, China, France, Germany, Iran and Russia, as well as the United States indirectly, resumed talks on Thursday in Vienna, months after they had stalled.
The European Union has submitted a “final text,” a European official said on Monday. “We worked for four days and today the text is on the table,” the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
“The negotiation is finished, it’s the final text... and it will not be renegotiated.”
“Now the ball is in the court of the capitals and we will see what happens,” the European official added. “No one is staying in Vienna.”
The official said he hoped to see the “quality” text accepted “within weeks.”
Iran said it was examining the 25-page document.
“As soon as we received these ideas, we conveyed our initial response and considerations,” state news agency IRNA quoted an unnamed foreign ministry official as saying.
“But naturally, these items require a comprehensive review, and we will convey our additional views and considerations.”
On Sunday, Iran demanded the UN nuclear watchdog “completely” resolve questions over nuclear material at undeclared sites.
Iranian sources have suggested a key sticking point has been a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on traces of nuclear material found at undeclared Iranian sites.
“That has nothing to do with” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement of 2015, the European official said.
“I hope Iran and the IAEA will reach an agreement because that will facilitate a lot of things.”
The UN agency’s board of governors adopted a resolution in June, censuring Iran for failing to adequately explain the previous discovery of traces of enriched uranium at three previously undeclared sites.
“We believe that the agency should completely resolve the remaining safeguard issues from a technical route by distancing itself from irrelevant and unconstructive political issues, Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Sunday.
Kelsey Davenport, an expert at the Arms Control Association, warned against abandoning the IAEA probe in a bid to revive the JCPOA, which she called “the most effective way to verifiably block Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons.”
If the United States and the other signatories to the 2015 deal do not support the UN body, it will “undermine the agency’s mandate” and broader non-proliferation goals, she wrote on Twitter.
The EU-coordinated negotiations to revive the JCPOA began in April 2021 before coming to a standstill in March.
The 2015 accord gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its atomic program to guarantee Tehran could not develop a nuclear weapon — something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the deal under president Donald Trump in 2018 and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.


Jordan government reiterates support to Yemen truce

Jordan government reiterates support to Yemen truce
Updated 08 August 2022

Jordan government reiterates support to Yemen truce

Jordan government reiterates support to Yemen truce
  • Jordan’s foreign minister added that the country has received ‘7,000 Yemenis since the start of the armistice’

DUBAI: Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi said on Monday that Amman is ‘committed to continuing its support for Yemen and enhancing its stability.’

Safadi, who spoke in a joint press conference with his Yemeni counterpart, Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak, said Jordan supports the truce in Yemen and ‘roads to Taiz must be opened.’

“A comprehensive agreement must be reached in Yemen in accordance to the Gulf’s references and initiatives,” he said.

Jordan’s foreign minister added that the country has received ‘7,000 Yemenis since the start of the armistice.’

Also speaking at the conference, bin Mubarak accused the Iran-backed Houthis of not abiding by a key element in the UN-brokered truce to reopen roads to the besieged city of Taiz saying the group was “running away” from its commitments.

He said the Houthis ‘imposed’ the war on the country after the militia’s failed uprising, laying a siege on Taiz and its residents for seven years using ‘minefields’.

Bin Mubarak confirmed his government's support to expand the truce into a ‘comprehensive political agreement.’

He said all nations are ‘facing the Iranian project’, which chose Yemen as its station.

Meanwhile, Safadi condemned the recent attacks in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque during the meeting.

‘We are committed to the two-state solution,’ he said.

Bin Mubarak also announced an upcoming visit of Rashad Al-Alimi, the chairman of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, to Jordan.


As Israel-Palestinian truce holds, Gaza power plant restarts

As Israel-Palestinian truce holds, Gaza power plant restarts
Updated 08 August 2022

As Israel-Palestinian truce holds, Gaza power plant restarts

As Israel-Palestinian truce holds, Gaza power plant restarts
  • Trucks passed from Israel through the Kerem Shalom goods crossing to southern Gaza

GAZA: With a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants holding after nearly three days of violence, Gaza’s sole power plant resumed operations Monday as Israel began reopening crossings into the territory.
Israel also lifted security restrictions on southern Israeli communities after the Egyptian-mediated truce took effect late Sunday. Fighting abated, and war-weary people in Gaza and Israel were left picking up the pieces after another round of violence — the worst since an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas last year.
Since Friday, Israeli aircraft had pummeled targets in Gaza while the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group fired hundreds of rockets at Israel.
Over three days of fighting, 44 Palestinians were killed, including 15 children and four women, and 311 were wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. Islamic Jihad said 12 of those killed were militants. Israel said some of the dead were killed by rockets misfired from Gaza. No Israelis were killed.
The violence had threatened to spiral into another all-out war but was contained because Gaza’s ruling Hamas group stayed on the sidelines, possibly because it fears Israeli reprisals and undoing economic understandings with Israel, including Israeli work permits for thousands of Gaza residents that bolster Hamas’ control over the coastal strip.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the group overran the territory in 2007. Hamas had a strong incentive to avoid more conflict, which has exacted a staggering toll on the impoverished territory’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents.
The outburst of violence in Gaza was a key test for Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who lacks experience leading military operations. He unleashed the offensive less than three months before a general election in which he is campaigning to keep the job — and may have gained political ground with it.
Israel began to reopen crossings into Gaza for humanitarian needs on Monday and said it would fully open them if calm is maintained. Fuel trucks were seen entering at the main cargo crossing headed for the power plant, which went offline Saturday after Israel closed the crossings into Gaza last week.
That added to misery at the height of summer heat in the territory, which is under a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade and suffers from a chronic power crisis that leaves residents with only a few hours of electricity a day.
Life for hundreds of thousands of Israelis was disrupted during the violence. Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted many of the rockets launched at Israel and no significant injuries were reported.
Israel launched its operation with a strike Friday on a leader of the Islamic Jihad, saying there were “concrete threats” of an anti-tank missile attack against Israelis in response to the arrest last week of another senior Islamic Jihad member in the West Bank. That arrest came after months of Israeli raids in the West Bank to round up suspects following a spate of Palestinian attacks against Israel.
It killed another Islamic Jihad leader in a strike on Saturday.
Both sides boasted of their successes. Speaking to reporters in Tehran on Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad Al-Nakhalah said the militant group remained strong, despite losing two of its leaders. “This is a victory for Islamic Jihad,” he said.
Despite that claim, the group undoubtedly sustained a blow during the fierce offensive. Beyond losing the two leaders, it reduced its arsenal by firing hundreds of rockets.
Israel said some of the deaths in Gaza were caused by errant militant rocket fire, including in the Jebaliya refugee camp, where six Palestinians were killed Saturday. On Sunday, a projectile hit a home in the same area of Jebaliya, killing two men. Palestinians held Israel responsible for the Sunday attack, while Israel said it was investigating whether the area was struck by misfired rockets.
The cease-fire deal contained a promise that Egypt would work for the release of two senior Islamic Jihad detainees held by Israel, but there were no guarantees this would happen. The weekend fighting was also bound to complicate Islamic Jihad’s relations with Hamas.
A senior Israeli diplomatic official said the offensive was successful and had taken Islamic Jihad’s capabilities back “decades,” citing the loss of the two leaders and hits to the group’s rocket production and firing capabilities, among other blows. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the operation with the media.
US President Joe Biden welcomed the cease-fire.
“Over these last 72-hours, the United States has worked with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, and others throughout the region to encourage a swift resolution to the conflict,” he said in a statement Sunday.
In the occupied West Bank on Monday, Israeli troops demolished the homes of two Palestinians suspected of carrying out a deadly attack against Israelis in the city of Elad in May. The soldiers faced a violent protest during the operation, the military said.
The UN Security Council was to hold an emergency meeting Monday on the violence. China, which holds the council presidency this month, scheduled the session in response to a request from the United Arab Emirates, which represents Arab nations on the council, as well as China, France, Ireland and Norway.
“We underscore our commitment to do all we can toward ending the ongoing escalation, ensuring the safety and security of the civilian population, and following-up on the Palestinian prisoners file,” said UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, in a statement.
The Israeli army said militants in Gaza fired about 1,100 rockets toward Israel, with about 200 of them landing inside the Palestinian enclave. The army said its air defenses had intercepted 380 of them, including two fired toward Jerusalem. The military did not specify what happened to the remainder, but they likely fell in open areas or broke up in the air.
Islamic Jihad has fewer fighters and supporters than Hamas, and little is known about its arsenal. Both groups call for Israel’s destruction, but have different priorities, with Hamas constrained by the demands of governing.
Over the past year, Israel and Hamas have reached tacit understandings based on trading calm for work permits and a slight easing of the border blockade, imposed by Israel and Egypt when Hamas overran the territory 15 years ago. Israel has issued 12,000 work permits to Gaza laborers, and has held out the prospect of granting another 2,000 permits.