Children among 547 detained Syrians declared dead — rights monitor

Children among 547 detained Syrians declared dead — rights monitor
People hold portraits and a placard during a protest as around 300 landline telephones placed by Syrian families stand at the Bebelplatz as a call to governments to do more to seek information about detained people in Syria. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 20 December 2022

Children among 547 detained Syrians declared dead — rights monitor

Children among 547 detained Syrians declared dead — rights monitor
  • Rights group said documents provided answers to the fates of hundreds of missing people
  • Activists hope documents will be used in international proceedings against the Syrian government

BEIRUT: Ever since Yehya Hijazi and his two sons were detained in 2012 by the Syrian government, their relatives had clung onto the hope they were still alive and might be released one day.
But after a decade of silence from the authorities, their hopes were shattered when the independent Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) monitoring group contacted the Hijazi family to tell them it had obtained death certificates for all three.
“You’re hoping every second that you’ll catch another glimpse of this person whom you love very much, that you’ll hear any news of him,” Yehya’s brother Mohammad told Reuters by phone from northwestern Syria. “Then you hear he’s dead.”
The SNHR said the documents confirming the death of Yehya and his sons were among 547 detainee death certificates issued by the authorities since 2017 that it had obtained from whistleblowers within government departments.
The rights group said the documents provided answers to the fates of hundreds of missing people. Activists hope they will eventually be used in international proceedings against the government, which has been accused by a UN commission of inquiry of crimes against humanity for its detention policies.
The government did not respond to emailed questions about the death certificates obtained by SNHR. Syrian officials have in the past denied accusations of systemic torture and mass executions in jail.
Reuters reviewed 80 of the death certificates, including the three for the Hijazi family, as well as those for a three-year-old girl and her six-year-old sister.
A Syrian human rights lawyer, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, reviewed a sample of the documents. He said the layout, language used and the elements of information included matched other Syrian death certificates.
Mohammad Hijazi said the family had not requested death certificates from the authorities as they lived in areas controlled by the opposition. He added that acquaintances in government-held zones also refused to ask civil registries about deaths, fearing they might be seen as opposed to Damascus.
The war in Syria spiralled out of a 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad’s rule and has killed over 350,000 people, uprooted more than half the population and forced millions abroad as refugees.
Tens of thousands are estimated to have been held in Syrian government detention centers, according to the UN commission. Detainees are often held incommunicado, leaving their families wondering about their whereabouts, or if they are even alive, the commission and families of detainees have said.
International rights groups do not operate openly in Syria and do not have access to detention centers. In August, the UN secretary general’s office recommended establishing a mechanism to determine the fate of missing Syrians, but it has yet to be set up.
The 547 certificates included those for 15 children and 19 women, the SNHR said.
Some of the 80 certificates reviewed by Reuters listed the place of death as military hospitals or military tribunals. Others were vague about the place of death, with “Damascus” or a village on its outskirts. Some were left blank.
The certificates reviewed by Reuters also had significant gaps between the date of the death and when it was recorded in the registry, with most showing a lag of several years and one showing a delay of 10 years.
None of the certificates reviewed by Reuters listed a cause of death. The SNHR said that was the case for all 547.
The rights group said it had matched the names that appeared on the death certificates against wider lists of people detained by the Syrian authorities.
The group was able to reach the families of 23 of the deceased. It said many had suspected their loved ones were dead, but only had confirmation when they saw the death certificates.
Torture and ill treatment in Syrian government prisons remains “systemic,” according to a 2022 report by the UN commission of inquiry on Syria, which noted abuses in detention centers run by non-government factions too.
It said the government was deliberately withholding information from the families of loved ones and has described its detention policies as amounting to crimes against humanity.
In 2018, Syrian authorities began updating civil registries in bulk with the death certificates of people who had died in detention but did not directly inform their relatives, the UN commission said.
The government did not respond to questions about why it had not informed relatives of the deceased.
Relatives in government-held areas could find out if their loved-ones had died by requesting their family records from the civil registries. They were not granted access to bodies to bury them, or told where the remains were, according to the commission and the SNHR.
Others have learned of deaths by recognizing their relatives in leaked pictures taken by military photographers working in prisons, the most prominent of whom was code-named Caesar.
In a 2015 interview, Assad dismissed the Caesar photographs as allegations without evidence. Former war crimes prosecutors described the images as clear proof of systematic torture and mass killings.
SNHR director Fadel Abdul Ghany said he hoped the large batch of death certificates would provide some relief to those still waiting to know the fate of their relatives.
But for Mohammad Hijazi, the wait continues.
While he now knows the fate of his brother Yehya, he said 40 more relatives had been arrested by the government in central Syria and the family had no news of them yet.
“I haven’t been able to tell our mother Yehya is dead. I just keep telling her he’s still in jail,” he said.

Tunisia’s financial crisis leaves the sick struggling to find medicine

Tunisia’s financial crisis leaves the sick struggling to find medicine
Updated 14 sec ago

Tunisia’s financial crisis leaves the sick struggling to find medicine

Tunisia’s financial crisis leaves the sick struggling to find medicine
TUNIS: Sick Tunisians face a frantic struggle to find some medicines because the cash-strapped state has reduced imports, leaving doctors unable to control debilitating health problems and patients turning to informal markets for their medication.
Hundreds of medicines have been missing for months, pharmacies say, including important treatments for heart disease, cancer and diabetes as well as more basic products such as medicated eye drops whose absence worsens chronic conditions.
“The issue of missing medicine has become very hard for patients. We have a real problem with some medicines for which there are no generics available,” said Douha Maaoui Faourati, a Tunis doctor specializing in kidney and blood pressure disease.
Faourati has had to ask patients to try to get drugs from Europe, including ones used to control dangerously irregular heartbeat, swelling and clotting, and for which she says no good alternative is available in Tunisia.
Her difficulties show how Tunisia’s worsening fiscal problems are hitting ordinary people and adding to public anger at a state barely able to maintain even basic services.
Since last year Tunisia has struggled to pay for other goods that are sold at subsidised rates, causing periodic shortages of bread, dairy products and cooking oil as foreign currency reserves dropped from 130 days of imports to 93 days.
Tunisia wants a $1.9 billion International Monetary Fund bailout, without which ratings agencies have warned it may default on sovereign debt, but President Kais Saied has rejected key terms of the deal and donors say talks have stalled.
Tunisia imports all medicine through the state-owned Central Pharmacy, which provides drugs to hospitals and pharmacies around the country which offer them to patients at a subsidised rate.
The head of Tunisia’s Syndicate of Pharmacies, Naoufel Amira, said hundreds of medicines are no longer available, including for diabetes, anaesthesia and cancer treatment.
Amira and two officials at the Central Pharmacy who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to talk to media, said the body owed large sums to foreign suppliers, which had restricted their sales to Tunisia in response.
“The problem is primarily financial,” Amira said.
Amira said the Central Pharmacy owed about 1 billion dinars ($325 million) to suppliers. The officials there said it owed about 800 million dinars, adding that public insurance companies and hospitals were delaying paying their bills by up to a year.
Tunisia’s Health Ministry and Central Pharmacy did not respond to requests for comment.

From the roof of his Tunis house, retired soldier Nabil Boukhili has opened an unofficial medicine exchange for his neighborhood in coordination with local doctors. “We have dozens of people coming here daily to get medication,” he said.
He sources medicine from people traveling overseas as well as leftover pills from people who have finished their own treatment, dispensing it free of charge to people who can show a prescription.
While Reuters was interviewing Boukhili, a woman arrived needing medicine for a thyroid problem. “I’ve been without this medicine for over a week,” said Najia Guadri, adding that she felt unable to function without it.
Sitting at his parents’ home in Tunis, Abdessalem Maraouni described how a lack of medicated eye drops has left him at risk of blindness and unable to go outside, forcing him to abandon his law studies at the university.
“This country can no longer provide even a box of medicine,” he lamented, sitting in the modest family home decorated with posters of his favorite football club but unable to see objects more than a few meters away.
The 25 year-old has not been able to find the medicine, or an alternative, for six months and has had to seek supplies from people traveling abroad, paying far more than he would from Tunisian pharmacies and rationing his use.
Maraouni’s father Kamal wept as he described how the state’s inability to import medicines had hit his son’s prospects.
“We don’t ask the state for money or grand places to live. We only ask for medicine. Is that too much?” he said.

Palestinians accuse Israeli authorities of waging war on their education

Palestinians accuse Israeli authorities of waging war on their education
Updated 25 min 22 sec ago

Palestinians accuse Israeli authorities of waging war on their education

Palestinians accuse Israeli authorities of waging war on their education
  • Bills to tighten grip over Arab schools, ease restriction on firing Arab teachers condemned

RAMALLAH: Palestinian activists and political leaders have accused Israeli authorities of waging war on Palestinian education in East Jerusalem.

They have condemned what they termed as the Israelization of the Palestinian-taught curriculum after the Israeli Knesset approved two bills to increase supervision over schools in the Palestinian community in occupied East Jerusalem and inside Israel, where 1.7 million Palestinians live.

Palestinians see a deepening involvement of the Israeli intelligence service — known as the Shin Bet — in scrutinizing the activities of Palestinian teachers and facilitating their dismissal under the claim that they are associated with activities against the Israeli occupation and its repressive practices and apartheid policy.

Ahmed Ghunaim, a prominent leader in the Fatah movement in East Jerusalem, told Arab News that Israel was trying to erase Palestinian identity, history, and culture from the education curriculum. Now, he said Israel was targeting the teachers themselves.

The Israeli occupation, he told Arab News, realizes the importance of Palestinian identity and the efforts to keep it alive from generation to generation. It is thus working to weaken this identity that unites Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the diaspora.

“Israel wants to force the Palestinians to accept the Judaization and Israelization of knowledge and education, and this will not succeed,” he added.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the Israeli Knesset’s adoption of the new laws.

It hit out at Israel for intensifying its restrictive measures against teachers and students, citing moves to grant licenses to schools teaching an Israeli curriculum and to facilitate the filing of charges against any student, teacher or educational administrator alleged to have violated the laws.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the ministry said it was looking very seriously at the consequences of these racist laws, which would legitimize the persecution of Palestinians.

“The attempt to control the consciousness of generations and push them to accept the procedures and measures of the occupation is clear,” the ministry said, adding that the moves constitute “a flagrant violation of international law.”

The ministry called on international organizations concerned with human rights to raise their voices and intervene urgently to block these laws from being enacted.

The laws, it says, violate the citizen’s right, under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to adhere to his or her identity and practice freedom of thought and speech through peaceful and educational means.

The bill stipulating stricter criteria for granting a teaching license, submitted by M.K. Amit Halevy of the Likud party, was supported by 45 Knesset members and opposed by 25.

The draft law — introduced as an amendment to the Schools Supervision Law — seeks to oblige the Ministry of Education to check any Palestinian candidate’s “security background” for a teaching job.

Also, granting a teaching license requires that the candidate has “no security history or connection to the execution of a terrorist act.”

The draft law requires the director-general of the Ministry of Education to revoke the approval of the appointment of a teacher “convicted of terrorism” and to suspend the teaching license of teachers against whom “criminal procedures have been opened on suspicion of carrying out a terrorist act.”

The bill recognizes that it targets occupied Jerusalem. 

It also claims that “the fertile ground for the reckless incitement going on in schools where the Palestinian curriculum is taught in East Jerusalem is the delegitimization and demonization of the Jewish people and the state of Israel and the glorification of terrorists and terrorist operations.”

Similar reasons were cited in another draft law aimed at blocking the budgets of schools teaching the Palestinian curriculum.

The other bill, submitted by Knesset member Zvi Vogel of the racist Otzma Yehudit party headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir, provides for the formation of a committee authorizing the dismissal of teachers for allegedly “supporting terrorism or belonging to a terrorist organization,” which could target persons or organizations engaging in peaceful protest against Israel and its practices.

The bill stipulates that the committee would include five members appointed by the minister of education, including representatives from the education system, the police, the Shin Bet, and the local government.

The bill also grants the committee the authority to refuse to appoint or continue to employ a teacher after an interrogation session because he or she “expressed support for the armed struggle of an enemy country or a terrorist organization, or a terrorist act or membership in a terrorist organization.”

Ben-Gvir presented a similar bill during the last Knesset term.

During the current Knesset session, Knesset member Sheeran Haskel, from the National Camp list headed by Benny Gantz, also presented a similar bill.

Targeted by the bill are dozens of Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem that teach tens of thousands of students.

The law would allow for Israeli intelligence to interfere in the affairs of thousands of Palestinian teachers, whether in East Jerusalem or schools where Palestinian teachers work in Israel.

Houthis halt Marib gas supply to squeeze Yemen govt funds

Houthis halt Marib gas supply to squeeze Yemen govt funds
Updated 24 min 7 sec ago

Houthis halt Marib gas supply to squeeze Yemen govt funds

Houthis halt Marib gas supply to squeeze Yemen govt funds
  • Experts highlight militia efforts to develop new revenue streams since ceasefire last year
  • Yemenis paying high price for Houthis’ criminal practices, information minister says

AL-MUKALLAH: The Houthis have stepped up their economic war against the Yemen government by banning gas tankers from government-controlled Marib from entering their territory in a bid to shut down a significant revenue source.

Government officials and the government’s gas company said the Houthis have seized hundreds of gas tanker trucks and stopped other loaded vehicles from entering their areas in Sanaa and Jouf, even as densely populated areas under their control experience severe shortages of cooking gas. 

The Iran-backed militia has blocked cheap gas imports from Marib in favor of more expensive gas imported into Yemen through Hodeidah port, the government said.

Yemen’s Information Minister Muammar Al-Eryani said that the Houthis replaced the local cooking gas with more expensive imports from Iran, selling it to people in their areas at double the price, a move adds to the financial burdens of the locals but swells militia coffers.

“These criminal practices are an extension of the policies of poverty and starvation pursued by the terrorist Houthi militia against its citizens since its coup against the government, tripling their burdens, multiplying its war profits, and enriching its leaders,” the Yemeni minister said on Twitter.

He repeated accusations directed at Iran of fueling instability in Yemen, despite the Tehran regime’s recent vow to support peace efforts to end the war.

“The smuggling of Iranian crude and gas to the Houthi militia through the port of Hodeidah confirms that the Tehran regime continues to support and finance the militia,” Al-Eryani said.

The Yemen Oil and Gas Corp. in Marib said that the Houthis seized 1,108 tanker trucks carrying 28,333 tons of gas heading from Marib to Houthi territories in April alone.

Yemen’s government sells most of the cooking gas from Marib fields to people living in Houthi-controlled areas, generating billions of Yemeni riyals per month in revenue.

As the Houthis suppress opposition and protest in their areas, people have taken to social media to express anger at the increase in cooking prices, complaining that gas is distributed only by Houthi representatives in their regions. 

The Yemeni government said that the Houthis used UN-brokered truce facilities to import fuel from Iran through Hodeidah.

The Houthi restriction on gas from Marib is the latest in a series of actions aimed at squeezing government funds.

This week, the Houthis barred a dozen lorries carrying flour from government-controlled Aden from entering their areas via a checkpoint in Taiz’s Al-Raheda, ignoring warnings from traders and locals that the critically needed commodities would be ruined, potentially costing traders millions of riyals. 

The Houthis say that traders should import products through Hodeidah port, a move designed to push traders out of government-controlled areas such as Aden.

Oil exports, the government’s main source of revenue, have been stopped since last year when the Houthis launched drone and missile strikes on oil installations in the government-controlled provinces of Shabwa and Hadramout.

The Houthi economic measures have prompted Yemeni Prime Minister Maeen Abdul Malik Saeed to call on international donors to help his government carry out its economic goals.

During a meeting with the US ambassador to Yemen on Wednesday, the Yemeni leader said that Houthi strikes on oil facilities have had “dangerous repercussions” on the government’s efforts to stabilize the economy and have exacerbated the country’s already dire humanitarian crisis.

Experts say that the Houthis are also attempting to develop new revenue streams.

“This comes as a series of measures the Houthis have taken since the beginning of the truce last year to create new funding streams for themselves while depriving the government of important revenues,” Nadwa Al-Dawsari, a Yemeni conflict analyst, told Arab News.

Hezbollah accused of deliberately killing peacekeeper

Hezbollah accused of deliberately killing peacekeeper
Updated 01 June 2023

Hezbollah accused of deliberately killing peacekeeper

Hezbollah accused of deliberately killing peacekeeper
  • The soldier, an Irishman, was shot in the head as he tried to drive his stricken vehicle to safety

BEIRUT: Hezbollah members have been accused by a military court of intentionally killing a UNIFIL soldier and injuring others in an ambush of their vehicle in southern Lebanon.

Judge Fadi Sawan ruled in a provisional decision after concluding investigations into the incident in Al-Aqabiya on Dec. 14. The soldier, an Irishman, was shot in the head as he tried to drive his stricken vehicle to safety and four others were injured when the vehicle overturned.

Preliminary investigations conducted by the Intelligence Directorate of the Lebanese Army said that at least one person, identified as Mohammad Ayad, who is currently detained, was the one who fired the shots and was handed over by Hezbollah. The others fled, and arrest warrants were issued against them in absentia.

Judge Sawan called for the prosecution of Ayad and four other fugitives: Ali Hassan Khalifa, Ali Hassan Sleiman, Hussein Hassan Sleiman, and Mustafa Hassan Sleiman, and recommended sentences ranging from 20 years in jail to the death penalty.

Article 549, subsection 5 of the Lebanese penal code, invoked by Judge Sawan, states that “the death penalty shall be imposed on anyone who commits the murder of an employee while performing their duties, or in connection with or because of their duties.”

Lebanese law applies to crimes committed against UNIFIL troops under an agreement between the state and the UN.

Sawan said that there “there was a single criminal project among those who attacked the UNIFIL-affiliated vehicle, with the aim of forming a gang.”

His report said that the attack began when the UNIFIL vehicle lost its way while traveling to Beirut. 

A captain in another vehicle radioed the lost soldiers, only to hear screaming and the sounds of sticks and iron pipes pounding against metal. The soldiers appealed for help as they were “trapped in an ambush,” and one of the occupants was heard to say: “We’re finished.” 

The report said that several CCTV devices recorded footage and audio of the incident, including one person arriving in a car who was heard saying: “We are Hezbollah.” 

Another voice caught on surveillance called out for “Hadi” and “Abbas,” and a third voice said: “You fool, we are Hezbollah.”

Attackers surrounded the stricken vehicle, broke the rear window, then started stealing helmets and body armor. The Irish soldier, who was the driver, attempted to get the vehicle to safety but was shot in the back of the head and killed.

The vehicle then overturned. Four others inside were injured, one of whom underwent two surgeries in Lebanon before being returned to his country after falling into a coma.

UAE’s In-Country Value Projects Driving Billions to Local Firms

UAE’s In-Country Value Projects Driving Billions to Local Firms
Updated 01 June 2023

UAE’s In-Country Value Projects Driving Billions to Local Firms

UAE’s In-Country Value Projects Driving Billions to Local Firms

ABU DHABI: More than $27.23 billion has been redirected to the local economy since the UAE Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology (MoIAT) and ADNOC launched major in-country value programs to support domestic industries.
This press release features multimedia. View the full release here:
Sideline of Make It In The Emirates Forum (Photo: AETOSWire)
Speaking at the Make in the Emirates Forum today, His Excellency Abdulla Al Shamsi, Assistant Undersecretary of MoIAT, said more than $14.43 billion of investment was redirected to the local economy last year alone, an increase of 25 percent year-on-year.
“The National In-Country Value Program is a nationwide program that speaks one language across many different sectors,” HE said. “It’s one methodology and this is something we’re very proud of because it benefits the private sector and when the private sector sees this it helps them prepare, invest, and spend.”
The forum heard how the National ICV Program is “functionating well and accelerating.”
The forum also heard how industrial zones are playing a critical role in the in the country’s sustainable industrial development and broader economic prospects. Local industrial leaders described how they are utilizing alternative energy resources such as solar and hydrogen to reduce their carbon footprint.
The second edition of the Make it in the Emirates Forum concluded on Thursday with the UAE showcasing its unique value proposition to international investors.
Investors were invited to explore opportunities and competitive advantages, with panel discussions focusing on the National In-Country Value (ICV) Program, the role of industrial zones, competitive financing as a key enabler and local talent in the private sector.
The UAE’s industrial exports reached $47.6 billion in 2022, growing 49 on 2021. The industrial sector’s contribution to GDP rose to $49.5 billion in 2022, a 38 percent increase on 2020.
The Make it in the Emirates Forum is organized by the Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology in partnership the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED) and ADNOC.
On the first day of the forum, the UAE government announced $2.7 billion in industrial offtake agreements, building on the $29.9 billion of offtake agreements announced at the 2022 edition of the forum.