Diverse coalition of Syrians in US gathers to plot a future for Syria free of violence

Exclusive Diverse coalition of Syrians in US gathers to plot a future for Syria free of violence
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A young girl walks past a damaged vehicle and destroyed building at the Yarmuk refugee camp in the southern suburbs of Damascus on Nov. 2, 2022. (AFP)
Exclusive Diverse coalition of Syrians in US gathers to plot a future for Syria free of violence
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Boys play amid destroyed buildings at the Yarmuk refugee camp in the southern suburbs of Damascus, Syria, on November 2, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 05 November 2022

Diverse coalition of Syrians in US gathers to plot a future for Syria free of violence

Diverse coalition of Syrians in US gathers to plot a future for Syria free of violence
  • The group held its first ‘consultative’ meeting last week in Washington, during which 70 participants agreed to work together to develop and advance an agenda to help end Syria’s civil war
  • Maybe through this we can create, not necessarily an opposition, but an alternative to the Syria war, allowing every partner in this to come together,’ one of the participants told Arab News

CHICAGO: A diverse grouping of Syrian expatriates and Syrian-American community leaders and activists are joining forces in the hope of creating a representative coalition that can effectively lobby for an end to the violence in Syria and an acceptable resolution to the ongoing civil war.

Talking exclusively to Arab News, the organizers of the coalition said that formerly rival groups and their leaders are now working together and coordinating their efforts to focus on how they can help to end the conflict, as a first step toward establishing a more representative government in the country.

The Syrian expatriates held their first “consultative” meeting on Oct. 29 in Washington, during which the 70 participants agreed to work together and plan a followup meeting to develop and advance an agenda to help end Syria’s civil war, which began on March 15, 2011.

Organizers said the diversity of the participants, including more than 70 prominent Syrians, and their “determination to work together” can become a driver to push authorities in the US and Europe to take a more active role in helping Syria get back on track toward a productive future free of violence.

“The goal, if we set aside the need to communicate with this (US) administration and the different American establishment bodies, what is more important is that we need to show and to practice the bringing up of all differences between the Syrians themselves; this will help,” said Samir Al-Taqi, a former member of the Syrian parliament who once served as a consultant to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and before that to his father, former President Hafez Assad.

“All of us believe that without a reconciliation to rebuild a voluntary participation of all Syrians without any pressures, regardless of democracy because democracy doesn’t solve all the issues among people … what we need in Syria is not the opposition to the regime — we need in Syria an alternative to the regime. This is very important.

“So maybe through this we can create not necessarily an opposition but an alternative to the Syria war, allowing every partner in this to come together. I don’t believe there will be any kind of justice in this world, so we need to be conciliatory regardless of justice.”

In his capacity as a close adviser to Assad, Al-Taqi served as director of the Orient Center for International Studies, a research extension to the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs that was based in Damascus. He also represented the Syrian government during the investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

Al-Taqi’s relationship with Assad broke down before the civil war began, when he advised the president that an impending conflict could jeopardize the country. He was arrested and tortured before being allowed to leave the country on Aug. 9, 2010. He moved to the US and is currently a non-resident researcher at the Middle East Institute, the American Center for Levant Studies, and a part of the Distinguished Scholars program at Queens University related to the peace process.

Also present at the meeting in Washington were six of 10 former Syrian government ministers who fled the country and found refuge in US, along with activists, business leaders and former diplomats.

Ayman Abdel Nour, a member of the organizing committee, said the primary goal was to create a strong, unified voice to help push for the implementation of UN Resolution 2254, which was adopted on Dec. 18, 2015, and specifically sets out the requirement that the “Syrian People will decide the future of Syria.”

“There have been many efforts to bring the Syrian-American community and Syrian expatriates together to define a strategy to end the conflict and put Syria back on a road to recovery and transition but all have failed because of the inability of all the different sides to come together,” said Abdel Nour, agreeing with Al-Taqi. “I believe we can now overcome those divisions.”

He pointed out that the participants in the meeting came from many parts of the US, including Florida, New Jersey, Boston, Washington State and California.

A leading reformist, Abdel Nour is a consultant to several multinational organizations, including the UN and EU, and advises on civil society and economic development in Syria. A trained engineer and economist, he has testified before the European Parliament, provides consulting services on Middle East public policy to international organizations and is also president of Syrian Christians for Dialogue.

Stressing the “need for unity” if the coalition is to be successful, he said it includes representatives from all sections of Syrian society, including Yazidis, the Syrian-Jewish American community in New York, Druze leaders, Kurds, a Syrian-American student committee in Los Angeles, and members of several of Syria’s 10 societal tribes who are now living in the US.

According to the organizers, the 70 diverse participants at the coalition meeting included:

Hussein Amash, a former minister of state for combating unemployment and head of Al-Furat University. He was jailed in Syria but released because he had American citizenship. He was previously director-general of Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.

Former Minister Taghreed Al-Hajali, a leading Druze sect leader who served as minister of culture.

Wael Mirza, a former political adviser to President Assad.

Edward Hashweh, a leading Syrian attorney from Homs who had close relationships with all Syrian presidents dating back to 1957.

Huda Aljord, a Syrian professor at the University of California, Riverside.

International Attorney Hamid Al-Rifai, who is based in Washington.

Mahmoud Diaba, leader of the Tribes of Palmyra, one of Syria’s 10 tribes, which has an office in Michigan.

Ayman Hakki, a surgeon from Washington.

Lina Murad, who teaches at John Hopkins University.

Hisham Nashwati, head of the Syrian organization Syria Freedom, based in New Jersey.

Nimrod Suleiman, an analyst and commentator on Syria for Al-Arabiya TV.

Zaher Baadrani, director of the Future Movement and of the Islamic Youth Movement in Florida.

Both Al-Taqi and Abdel Nour said that the focus of the coalition is not an effort to continue the existing conflict but to use their influence in the US to convince the Biden administration to help create a “new alternative.”

“The caliber of the leadership attending the meeting puts an end to the criticism that the Syrian-American community is fractured and cannot come together,” said Abdel Nour. “They may be the strongest group to give new momentum to revive the effort to implement UN Resolution 2254.

“We are very optimistic but this is a process. The date of the next meeting is not set but we are working on it. Participation will grow.” 


Defense ministers chart ‘new course’ in UAE-Italy relations

Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto meets with his Emirati counterpart in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. (Italy MoD)
Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto meets with his Emirati counterpart in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. (Italy MoD)
Updated 58 min 21 sec ago

Defense ministers chart ‘new course’ in UAE-Italy relations

Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto meets with his Emirati counterpart in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. (Italy MoD)
  • Guido Crosetto, Mohammed Ahmed Al-Bowardi met in Abu Dhabi
  • “Great openness was expressed by the Emirati defense minister,” Italian Defense Ministry source tells Arab News

ROME: Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetto met with his Emirati counterpart Mohammed Ahmed Al-Bowardi in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

An Italian Defense Ministry source told Arab News that the visit “marks a new course in defining and reinvigorating the relationship between Italy and the UAE, and the role both countries intend to play in the field of security in the region.”

The source added: “Great willingness and openness toward Italy was expressed by the Emirati defense minister.”

During a long meeting, both ministers pledged “renewed engagement” to protect both countries’ mutual interests. The security situation in the Middle East was also discussed.

According to the Italian Defense Ministry, Crosetto and Al-Bowardi share “a common vision on the new challenges in the regional geostrategic scenario.”

Crosetto offered, on behalf of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s “full cooperation” with the UAE.

Crosetto laid a wreath at the Martyrs’ Monument in the presence of Khalifa bin Tahnoun Al-Nahyan, executive director of the Martyrs’ Families’ Affairs Office. Italy’s Ambassador to the UAE Lorenzo Fanara attended the ceremony.

Crosetto also met with Tareq Al-Hosani, CEO of the Tawazun Economic Council — the procurement agency of the UAE Armed Forces — and Faisal Al-Bannai, CEO and managing director of the Edge Group.


Bahrain, Qatar foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to set procedures for bilateral talks

Bahrain, Qatar foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to set procedures for bilateral talks
Updated 08 February 2023

Bahrain, Qatar foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to set procedures for bilateral talks

Bahrain, Qatar foreign ministers meet in Riyadh to set procedures for bilateral talks
  • Discussions on reviving talks came under the Al-Ula Declaration to end the dispute with Qatar

RIYADH: The foreign ministers of Qatar and Bahrain met in Riyadh on Wednesday to establish procedures for bilateral talks, Bahrain News Agency (BNA) reported.

During the meeting, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani and his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani explored the “necessary mechanisms and procedures to launch discussions at the level of bilateral committees”, the BNA statement went on to say.  

Discussions on reviving talks came under the Al-Ula Declaration, issued at the Al-Ula GCC Summit in Saudi Arabia last year, to end the dispute with Qatar and re-unite the Gulf states in the face of regional challenges.

During the meeting at the headquarters of the General Secretariat of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf in Riyadh, the ministers reiterated the importance of boosting cooperation to support the joint action of the GCC countries and achieve security and prosperity.


King Charles ‘profoundly saddened’ by deadly quakes in Turkiye, Syria

King Charles ‘profoundly saddened’ by deadly quakes in Turkiye, Syria
Updated 08 February 2023

King Charles ‘profoundly saddened’ by deadly quakes in Turkiye, Syria

King Charles ‘profoundly saddened’ by deadly quakes in Turkiye, Syria
  • British monarch sends ‘thoughts and special prayers’ in message to Turkish president
  • ‘I can only begin to imagine the scale of suffering and loss as a result of these dreadful tragedies’

LONDON: King Charles has said he is “profoundly saddened” by Monday’s deadly earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, offering “thoughts and special prayers” to those affected, MailOnline reported.

In the message to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the British monarch said: “My wife and I have been most shocked and profoundly saddened by the news of the devastating earthquakes in southeast Turkiye.

“I can only begin to imagine the scale of suffering and loss as a result of these dreadful tragedies, and I particularly wanted to convey our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy to the families of all those who have lost their loved ones.”

“Our thoughts and special prayers are with everyone who has been affected by this appalling natural disaster, whether through injury or the destruction of their property, and also with the emergency services and those assisting in the rescue efforts.”

The king’s message came as the World Health Organization warned that the death toll from the quakes could exceed 20,000.

In response to the disaster, the UK sent a team of 77 search-and-rescue experts to Turkiye along with equipment and highly trained dogs to aid in recovery efforts.

A British aircraft carrying the response team arrived in Gaziantep in southeast Turkiye late on Tuesday.

The team includes specialist firefighters and rescue staff from 14 fire and rescue services across the UK.


4 Australians missing in Turkiye, Syria after deadly quakes

4 Australians missing in Turkiye, Syria after deadly quakes
Updated 08 February 2023

4 Australians missing in Turkiye, Syria after deadly quakes

4 Australians missing in Turkiye, Syria after deadly quakes
  • Country sending 73 defense personnel, $10m in relief funds to affected areas

LONDON: Four Australians are missing in Turkiye and Syria following Monday’s deadly earthquakes, The Guardian reported.

The country’s Foreign Ministry said it was providing support to families of the missing nationals as well as about 40 other Australians who are in the quake zone.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong told the Australian Senate on Wednesday: “We’ve all seen the scenes of devastation, and the stories of human tragedy that we are witnessing.

“So, if we are able to assist, notwithstanding we are a long way away, I’m sure all of us would want the government to support our personnel to engage in such assistance.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia was sending 73 defense personnel by the end of the week as well as $10 million in funding to aid in rescue and relief efforts.

“These urban search and rescue specialists are highly trained to locate, deliver medical assistance to and remove victims who have been trapped or impacted by a structural collapse.

“I extend my deepest condolences to all those affected by the devastating earthquakes and aftershocks in Turkiye, Syria, and neighboring countries.

“Our hearts are heavy. It is impossible to look away from the terrible and heart-breaking scenes of loss,” Albanese added.

Brisbane Turkish Islamic Society board member, Sadullah Karatas, said that Australians with ties to Turkiye and Syria were facing a “difficult time” watching the disaster unfold from across the world.

“Everyone’s having a really difficult time, and nobody really knows how to process it. These are essentially our brothers and sisters who are left under this rubble and because we’re not there we almost feel desperate.

“We wish we could just go and physically take the rubble out ourselves,” he added.

The society has launched a donation fund to send medicine, food, and blankets to affected areas.


Syria’s White Helmets rescuers urge international quake help

Syria’s White Helmets rescuers urge international quake help
Updated 08 February 2023

Syria’s White Helmets rescuers urge international quake help

Syria’s White Helmets rescuers urge international quake help

BEIRUT: The White Helmets leading efforts to rescue people buried under rubble in rebel-held areas of earthquake-hit Syria appealed Wednesday for international help in their “race against time.”
First responders from the group that was formed a decade ago to save the lives of civilians during Syria’s civil war sprung into action early Monday when a 7.8-magnitude quake rocked Syria and Turkiye.
They have been toiling ever since to pull survivors out from under the debris of dozens of flattened buildings in northwestern areas of war-torn Syria that remain outside the government’s control.
In a video widely shared on social media, crowds of people surrounding the White Helmets cheered loudly as they lifted a young girl and her entire family from a collapsed building in Idlib province.
“International rescue teams must come into our region,” said Mohammed Shibli, a spokesperson for the group known formally as the Syria Civil Defense.
“People are dying every second; we are in a race against time,” he told AFP from neighboring Turkiye.
Monday’s earthquake devastated entire sections of major cities in Turkiye and Syria, killing more than 9,500 people, injuring thousands more and leaving many more without shelter in the winter cold.
In Syria alone at least 2,597 people have been killed, according to the government and the White Helmets.
Shibli said it was “impossible” for the group to respond to the large-scale calamity alone in the rebel-held northwest, home to more than four million people.
“Even states can’t do that,” he said, adding that the group’s volunteers have not had time to reach all of the disaster-struck places.
Britain announced Wednesday that it would release an additional 800,000 pounds ($968,000) to aid the rescue group.
The White Helmets emerged in 2013, when Syria’s civil war was nearing its third year, and operates in battered opposition-held zones.
They have been internationally praised for their work, with a Netflix documentary called “The White Helmets” winning an Academy Award in 2017, while a second film focused on the group, “Last Men in Aleppo,” was a 2018 Oscars nominee.
Their volunteers include 3,300 young men and women, including 1,600 dedicated to search and rescue operations.
“After 56 hours of continuous work... hundreds of families are still missing or trapped under the rubble,” Shibli said.
“People’s chances of survival are declining” in the biting cold, he said.
The rescue group needs heavy machinery, spare parts for the ones they already have, and equipment, “but when will we get them,” Shibli asked.
AFP correspondents across the war-ravaged country said rescue workers and residents have had to sift through the rubble with their bare hands.
White Helmets volunteer Fatima Obeid told AFP teams were busy at work despite exhaustion.
“Being able to pull survivors brings them indescribable joy and excitement,” she said from Sarmada in Idlib.