Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan

The camps, being managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces, hold the wives, widows, and children of Daesh fighters defeated by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. (Reuters/File Photo)
The camps, being managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces, hold the wives, widows, and children of Daesh fighters defeated by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 02 October 2022

Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan

Australian government gears up Syrian prison rescue plan
  • Women, children suffer malnutrition, frostbite, violence in northeastern Syrian camps

LONDON: The Australian government is set to rescue dozens of Australian women and children detained in Syrian prison camps, the Guardian reported.

More than 20 Australian women and at least 40 children are stuck in the Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps in northeastern Syria. The camps, being managed by the Syrian Democratic Forces, hold the wives, widows, and children of Daesh fighters defeated by the US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.

Many of their husbands have been killed by the coalition and its partners in the region, and some have been jailed. Canberra is now set to recover more than 20 of those still in the region. The dozens set to be repatriated will be mostly children, but officials told the Guardian that the rescue operation would take several months.

Most of the children are aged under six and several were born in the camps to widowed wives of the fighters.

The next mission will be the first time that the Australian government has attempted to repatriate citizens from the camps since 2019, when it launched a secret rescue operation to recover eight orphans, including a pregnant teenager.

The government has consistently claimed that security risks prevented any fresh attempts, but government sources told the Guardian that a rescue mission was now on the way.

A spokesperson for Clare O’Neil, Australia’s home affairs minister, told Guardian Australia on Sunday: “The Australian government’s overriding priority is the protection of Australians and Australia’s national interest, informed by national security advice. Given the sensitive nature of the matters involved, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

Forty-four children and several Australian widows are held in Al-Roj camp, which is closer to the Iraqi border than the more dangerous Al-Hol camp, where shootings have taken place and illness is rife. More than 100 murders were reported in Al-Hol camp in the 18 months leading up to June.

The SDF, a predominantly Kurdish force, last month arrested more than 300 Daesh fighters inside the camp. Its troops seized weapons and freed at least six women who were living as slaves, chained under the control of their captors. One of the women had been living in captivity since 2014, when she was just nine years old.

The Australian push to repatriate citizens comes after several other Western nations adopted similar plans.

The Guardian said that Germany had repatriated 91 citizens, France, 86, and the US, 26. Kazakhstan had recovered 700 of its citizens, with Russia and Kosovo both repatriating more than 200 each.

The US has urged Canberra to conduct repatriations amid reports of troubling conditions that the children have endured. In July, Sydney-born teenager Yusuf Zahab died of unknown causes. He had tuberculosis and was begging for support in January amid Daesh attacks on a prison. He was aged 11 when taken to Syria against his will by his family, of which a dozen joined Daesh.

Reports of malnutrition and frostbite suffered by Australian children were heard in 2020, and 2021.

UN experts said plans to repatriate women and children were “entirely feasible.”

In a joint statement, they said: “The government of Australia has the capacity to do so. Many other governments are currently doing it. Australia has an advanced child welfare, education, criminal justice, and health system which is eminently capable of addressing the needs of these children and their mothers.

“Failure to repatriate is an abdication of Australia’s treaty obligations and their deeper moral obligations to protect Australia’s most vulnerable children.”

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the Guardian that “appallingly harsh conditions” in Al-Hol were worsening.

“The children here have less food, clean water, health care, and education than international standards call for. They are endlessly exposed to dangers, and their rights are ignored. A lack of attention is not an excuse to forget the women and children here.

“We welcome the efforts that have been made to repatriate women and children back to their home countries. But this camp remains the shame of the international community,” he said.


Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star
Updated 9 sec ago

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

Spanish twin chefs earn third Michelin star

BARCELONA: When they were just eight years old, Spanish twins Sergio and Javier Torres set a goal — they wanted to become chefs who were among the top in their field.

To achieve this, they strategically split up to get training in different esteemed kitchens around the world, published books on cooking and presented a popular TV show.

The plan worked.

Over four decades after they surprised their family by saying they wanted to be chefs, Sergio and Javier’s Barcelona restaurant, Cocina Hermanos Torres, was awarded a third Michelin star last month.

“We developed a plan, that I think is a perfect plan,” a smiling Javier, 51, said at the restaurant, one of only 13 in Spain and Portugal with the top three-star ranking from the prestigious French guide.

“When we started to go out of Barcelona, we thought that Sergio would take one path, I would take another, and we would never coincide until we were ready,” he added. The journey took the twins — who grew up in a working-class Barcelona neighborhood — to different elite restaurants in Spain, Switzerland and France.

Before moving to Paris where he worked with top French chef Alain Ducasse, Sergio spent two years at the award-winning Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier which is also run by twins — Jacques and Laurent Pourcel.

“We were separated but every month we met up in a restaurant, ate well, we spent the little money we had and developed the next steps of our strategy,” said Sergio as he sat beside his brother.

Each brother specialized in different areas — one learned to cook meat and vegetables, the other fish and bread, he added.

Both siblings credit their grandmother for their passion for cooking.

She was part of a wave of people who moved from the southern region of Andalusia to the more industrialized Catalonia in the northeast in search of a better life following Spain’s devastating 1936-39 civil war.

“Our grandmother looked after us, and since she was in the kitchen all day we literally grew up in a kitchen,” said Sergio.

After earning two Michelin stars with their previous project “Dos Cielos” and becoming familiar faces thanks to their participation in a cooking show, they decided to open Cocina Hermanos Torres in 2018.

The twins visited some 200 possible locations before settling on an industrial building near Barcelona’s iconic Camp Nou football stadium.

They invested nearly 3 million euros to convert it into the restaurant, which seats a maximum of 50 people at tables with no wall separating them from the three workstations where staff prepare meals.

“We wanted to reflect what we experienced in our childhood, which was a kitchen and a table, and everyone around the table,” said Javier.


Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal
Updated 6 min 13 sec ago

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal

Bangladesh eyes energy, food security cooperation after new GCC deal
  • Bangladesh, GCC signed memorandum establishing framework for cooperation
  • Energy security one of top priorities for Bangladesh amid recent power crisis

DHAKA: Bangladesh is planning to tap into cooperation possibilities with Gulf countries, focusing on energy and food security after a recent agreement on future partnerships with the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Dhaka and the GCC — an intergovernmental economic union of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — signed a memorandum establishing a framework for cooperation on Nov. 18.

The deal was reached on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue regional security conference in Bahrain by Bangladeshi Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen and GCC Secretary-General Dr. Nayef bin Falah Al-Hajraf.

“Energy cooperation is one of our topmost priority issues which will be discussed during joint consultation. Besides, boosting political cooperation will also be a priority area,” Iqbal Hussain Khan, director general of West Asia at the Bangladeshi Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Arab News over the weekend.

He added that as Gulf countries had lately been focused on ensuring food security, Bangladesh — a major seafood and vegetable exporter — would also try to identify potential areas of cooperation in that sector.

“We will sit with GCC authorities for detailing the cooperation areas and fixing the road map within the shortest possible time which is mutually convenient for both the parties,” Khan said.

“We have huge potential for boosting cooperation with Gulf countries since nowadays regional organizations are becoming stronger.”

More details and specific proposals are expected to be announced after upcoming talks between Bangladeshi and GCC authorities.

“Let the discussions begin first. Very soon we will contact the GCC to start the first round of discussions,” Khan added.

The cooperation was likely to help Bangladesh with energy security.

Bangladesh, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis for the past couple of months. In early October, some 80 percent of its 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure, which occurred when more than one-third of the country’s gas-powered units were short of fuel.

“Energy security is another big area of cooperation for Bangladesh. Through a long-term arrangement, during bilateral trade talks for a preferential trade agreement or free trade agreement, we must include the oil supply issues to be ensured,” Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank in Dhaka, told Arab News.

He added that the future cooperation would also benefit Bangladeshi migrant workers — 90 percent of whom live and work in GCC countries.

“In the case of migrant labor exports, cooperation from the GCC nations will be very important. We need to work to reduce the cost of migration as well as increasing workplace safety, job security, and ensuring earning security,” he said.

“In the long run, it will benefit the GCC countries also since they also need migrant workers from this region.”


Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report
Updated 10 min 22 sec ago

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report

Former UK foreign minister’s conduct during Afghan withdrawal ‘led to deaths’: Report
  • Dominic Raab was moved to the Justice Ministry in the aftermath of the disastrous evacuation of British troops in 2021
  • Official: ‘One deputy director relayed the extraordinary information that … advice pertaining to the evacuation of Afghanistan had been delayed because (Raab) didn’t like the formatting’

LONDON: Afghans died as a result of the actions of the former UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, during the disastrous withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, a high-level meeting of officials was told, The Guardian reported on Monday.

Raab, who is now the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, faces allegations that his decisions during the withdrawal were partially responsible for the UK’s lackluster evacuation efforts.

According to the report, a meeting called to discuss Raab’s conduct during the 2021 evacuation was told that “people had died” in Afghanistan because the former foreign minister decided not to read crucial new information.

Raab is also facing allegations of bullying behavior towards staff and claims that while foreign minister, he blocked important communications with high-level officials in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. At the time of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Raab faced significant criticism about his personal conduct when he went on holiday to Greece at the height of the crisis.

An official present at the meeting, which took place on May 6, said: “There was a long discussion to clarify that his behavior stepped over the mark from forthright to unprofessional.

“One deputy director relayed the extraordinary information that, when Raab was at FCDO, people had died when advice pertaining to the evacuation of Afghanistan had been delayed because he didn’t like the formatting.”

The official also alleged that Raab arrived hours late to meetings with high-level staff because he was exercising. The minister also needlessly “snapped at and belittled” staff, the official said.

In separate evidence during an inquiry into Raab’s conduct, former FCDO official Raphael Marshall said that the former foreign minister took “hours to engage” in high priority cases.

As a result, some Afghans who might otherwise have been able to leave the country failed to arrive at Kabul airport in time for flights on British aircraft, he added.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said: “This is yet more evidence that suggests Dominic Raab created a toxic culture at the FCDO that could have put lives on the line during the disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan.”

Raab was moved from his position and given the Justice Ministry portfolio in the wake of the Afghanistan withdrawal. He has consistently denied the allegations against him and has taken partial credit for Britain’s evacuation of almost 17,000 Afghans.


Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
Updated 05 December 2022

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors

Scholar Ramadan to face Geneva rape trial: prosecutors
  • A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017
  • The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned

GENEVA: Embattled Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan will go on trial for rape in Geneva next year, over a case dating back more than 14 years, the prosecution said on Monday.
A Swiss national and former professor at Oxford University, Ramadan has faced a string of rape and sexual assault allegations in France and Switzerland since 2017.
The Geneva judiciary said in the current case Ramadan had been charged with rape and sexual coercion, and would be tried before the Geneva criminal court, confirming information first published by Swiss broadcaster RTS.
The accuser in this case, named simply “Brigitte” by Swiss media, has accused the now 60-year-old scholar of brutally attacking her on the evening of October 28, 2008.
The Muslim convert, who had met Ramadan a month earlier during a book signing, accuses him of subjecting her to sexual attacks, beatings and insults in a Geneva hotel room.
She waited a decade before coming forward, filing her complaint in April 2018.
Her lawyer, Francois Zimeray, told AFP his client was fearful as she brought the case.
“She feels no desire for revenge but is relieved and is putting her faith in the institutions,” he said, adding that he expected the trial to take place during the first half of 2023.
Ramadan’s lawyer, Guerric Canonica, meanwhile alleged on Monday that the prosecution had simply “copied the complaint without considering disqualifying elements.”
“It is now up to the judges to re-establish Mr. Ramadan’s complete innocence and we are serenely waiting for our day in court,” he told AFP.
Ramadan, who has previously filed a complaint against Brigitte for slander, is a father of four whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
He was a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at Oxford University until he was forced to take leave when rape allegations surfaced at the height of the “Me Too” movement in 2017.
The Swiss investigation has moved slowly, since Ramadan was initially in pre-trial detention in Paris over other rape allegations and could not be questioned.
After he was released in November 2018, he was put on probation and barred from leaving France.
Swiss prosecutors went to Paris to question him, and once the probation was partially lifted, Ramadan traveled to Geneva for witness hearings in 2020.


Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
Updated 05 December 2022

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash

Belgian auction house delists Arab, African skulls amid backlash
  • Lot included jewel-encrusted skull of Arab chieftain slaver killed in 1893

LONDON: An auction house in Brussels has delisted three African and Arab skulls that were set for bidding following a backlash against the sale, The Times reported on Monday.

Drouot and Vanderkindere listed the three items — including one jewel-encrusted skull of an Arab slaver killed in 1893 — alongside paintings, coats, and other antiques.

The skulls date back to Belgium’s period of colonization in Africa. An estimated 10 million people died as a result of Belgian expansion, with the Congo in particular being subject to widespread violence.

The Arab skull of Munie Mohara, a chieftain slaver, was believed to have been taken as a prize by Belgian steelers following his death.

Earlier this year Belgium passed a law to return looted artifacts to the Congo. A government committee was expected to propose the return of human remains held in the European country.

Following the sale delisting, the auction house said: “We in no way support the suffering and humiliation that people were subjected to during the colonial period. We apologize to anyone who feels hurt by this sale.”

Colonial Memory and the Fight Against Discrimination, a campaign group, filed a complaint over the auction.

The group’s co-coordinator, Genevieve Kaninda, said: “It is as if people are being killed a second time. The colonial violence keeps repeating itself.”