Syria protests spurred by economic misery stir memories of the 2011 anti-government uprising

Syria protests spurred by economic misery stir memories of the 2011 anti-government uprising
Angry protesters raided the local offices of the ruling Baath party in a south Syrian province as protests intensified against the country’s government during a severe economic and financial crisis battering the war-torn country. (Suwayda24 via AP)
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Updated 29 August 2023
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Syria protests spurred by economic misery stir memories of the 2011 anti-government uprising

Syria protests spurred by economic misery stir memories of the 2011 anti-government uprising
  • The protests have been centered in the government-controlled province of Sweida
  • The protests were initially driven by surging inflation and the war-torn country’s spiraling economy, but quickly shifted focus, with marchers calling for the fall of the Assad government

BEIRUT: Anti-government protests in southern Syria have entered their second week, with demonstrators waving the colorful flag of the minority Druze community, burning banners of President Bashar Assad and at one point raiding several offices of his ruling party.
The protests were initially driven by surging inflation and the war-torn country’s spiraling economy, but quickly shifted focus, with marchers calling for the fall of the Assad government.
The protests have been centered in the government-controlled province of Sweida, the heartland of Syria’s Druze, who had largely stayed on the sidelines during the long-running conflict between Assad and those trying to topple him.
In a scene that once would have been unthinkable in the Druze stronghold, protesters kicked members of Assad’s Baath party out of some of their offices, welded the doors shut and spray-painted anti-government slogans on the walls.
The protests have rattled the Assad government, but don’t seem to pose an existential threat. They come at a time when government forces have consolidated their control over most of the country and Damascus has returned to the Arab fold and restored ties with most governments in the region.
Still, anger is building, even among Syrians who did not join the initial anti-Assad protests in 2011 that were met by a harsh crackdown and plunged the country into years of civil war.
For some, the final straw came two weeks ago when the Syrian president further scaled back the country’s expensive fuel and gasoline subsidy program. A simultaneous doubling of meager public sector wages and pensions did little to cushion the blow, as it accelerated inflation and further weakened the Syrian pound, further piling the pressure on millions living in poverty.
Soon after, protests kicked off in the provinces of Sweida and the neighboring province of Daraa.
Over the past decade, Sweida had largely isolated itself from Syria’s uprising turned-conflict although it witnessed sporadic protests decrying corruption and the country’s economic backslide. This time, crowds quickly swelled into the hundreds, calling out political repression by Assad’s government, in an echo of protests that rocked the country in 2011.
“People have reached a point where they can no longer withstand the situation,” Rayan Maarouf, editor-in-chief of the local activist media collective Suwayda24, told The Associated Press. “Everything is crumbling.”
While Assad’s political fortunes have been on the rise in recent months, life for much of the country’s population has become increasingly miserable. At least 300,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict, half of Syria’s prewar population of 23 million has been displaced and large parts of the infrastructure have been crippled. Ninety percent of Syrians live in poverty. Rampant corruption and Western-led sanctions have also worsened poverty and inflation.
In Daraa, often referred to as the birthplace of the 2011 uprising but now under government control, at least 57 people were arrested in the current protests, according to the Britain-based Syrian Network for Human Rights. Unlike in 2011, government forces did not use lethal force.
In Sweida, the response has been more restrained, with Assad apparently wary of exerting too much force against the Druze. During the years of civil war, his government presented itself as a defender of religious minorities against Islamist extremism.
Over the years, the province’s young men have also armed themselves to defend their villages from Daesh militants and Damascus-associated militias that produce and trade in illegal amphetamine pills, known as Captagon.
Joseph Daher, a Swiss-Syrian researcher and professor at the European University Institute in Florence, believes that this provides a layer of protection for protesters.
“Unlike other government-held areas, Sweida has some form of limited autonomy,” Daher said.
Meanwhile, in Damascus, Lattakia, Tartous and other urban government strongholds, some are voicing their discontent more quietly. They write messages of support for the protests on paper, take pictures of those notes on the streets of their towns, and share them on social media.
Others suffer in silence and focus on daily survival. In Damascus, some have taken to carrying backpacks instead of wallets to carry the wads of cash they need to make everyday purchases amid the rampant inflation, while families struggle to buy basic necessities.
“If I buy (my son) two containers of milk, I’d have spent my entire month’s salary,” Damascus resident Ghaswan Al-Wadi told the AP while preparing her family dinner at home after a long day at work.
The ongoing protests highlight Assad’s vulnerability as a result of the failing economy, even in areas without widespread ideologically driven opposition to his continued rule, such as Sweida.
Could the protests eventually threaten his rule?
Daher said this could only happen if the protesters banded together.
“You have forms of solidarity from other cities (with Sweida),” Daher said. “But you can’t say it would have a real effect on the regime, unless there would be collaboration between (protesters in) different cities.”


Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right self-determination

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right self-determination
Updated 4 sec ago
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Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right self-determination

Day 4 at ICJ hearing: Iran says Israel continues to violate Palestinians’ right self-determination
  • ‘The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process’

The International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, on Thursday continued its hearing from dozens of states and three international organizations who question the legality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

Representatives from countries including China, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon and Libya were expected to deliver their positions during the third day of the hearing at the ICJ, also known as the World Court.

Speakers from the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already demanded Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, with the Kingdom’s envoy to the Netherlands Ziad Al-Atiyah stating Israel’s continued actions were legally indefensible.

Ma Xinmin, a foreign ministry legal adviser, said Beijing “has consistently supported the just cause of the Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate right”.

“In pursuit of the right to self-determination”, he mentioned, the Palestinian people’s use of force to “resist foreign oppression” and complete the establishment of an independent state is an “inalienable right”.

The Iranian representative said the Israeli occupation force continuously violated Palestinians right to self-determination.

“The establishment of the Israeli regime was done through a violent process which involved the forcible displacement of native Palestinian people to create a majority Jewish colony in line with the Zionist movement,” Raza Najafi, Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs said.

Najafi listed a series ongoing violation by the Israeli occupying regime: prolonged occupation; alterationof the demographic composition in the occupied territories; alterion of the character and the status of the Holy City; discriminatory measures; andviolations of the rights of Palestinian people to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.


Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies
Updated 22 min 27 sec ago
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Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

Missile attack causes fire aboard vessel off Yemen: maritime agencies

DUBAI: A missile attack Thursday targeted a vessel transiting the Gulf of Aden, causing a fire on board, two maritime agencies said, the latest in a flurry of strikes disrupting global shipping.

“A vessel was attacked by two missiles, resulting in a fire onboard,” the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said, adding that “coalition forces are responding.”

Security firm Ambrey also reported a fire aboard a Palau-flagged, British-owned general cargo ship following two missile strikes southeast of Yemen’s Aden.

The ship “appeared to be headed from Map Ta Phut, Thailand, and headed in the direction of the Red Sea,” Ambrey said.

“Merchant shipping is advised to stay clear of the vessel and proceed with caution,” it added.

There was no immediate claim for the attack but it follows a series of strikes on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

The Houthis say the attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.

The strikes have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
Updated 22 February 2024
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Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator

Abandoned Red Sea ship remains afloat, to be towed to Djibouti: operator
  • Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship, was damaged in Sunday’s Houthi missile strike

DUBAI: A cargo ship abandoned in the Gulf of Aden after an attack by Yemeni rebels remains afloat and could be towed to Djibouti this week, its operator said on Thursday.
Rubymar, a Belize-flagged, British-registered and Lebanese-operated cargo ship carrying combustible fertilizer, was damaged in Sunday’s missile strike claimed by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Its crew was evacuated to Djibouti after one missile hit the side of the ship, causing water to enter the engine room and its stern to sag, said its operator, the Blue Fleet Group.
A second missile hit the vessel’s deck without causing major damage, Blue Fleet CEO Roy Khoury said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels had claimed on Monday the attack on the ship, saying it was “at risk of potential sinking in the Gulf of Aden” after receiving “extensive damage.”
Khoury said the ship was still afloat and shared an image captured on Wednesday that showed its stern low in the water.
“She will be towed to Djibouti but the tugboat has not yet arrived,” Khoury said. “It should be there in two to three days.”
When asked about the possibility of it sinking, Khoury said there was “no risk for now but always a possibility.”
Ship-tracking site TankerTrackers.com confirmed that the Rubymar had not sunk but warned that the vessel was leaking fuel oil.
The attack on the Rubymar has inflicted the most significant damage yet to a commercial ship since the Houthis started firing on vessels in November — a campaign they say is in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war.
The Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority said the ship’s last port of call was the United Arab Emirates and it was destined for Belarus.
Its 24 crew members included 11 Syrians, six Egyptians, three Indians and four Filipinos, the authority said in a statement on Monday.
“The vessel has on board 21,999 MT (metric tons) of fertilizer IMDG class 5.1,” the authority said on X, formerly Twitter, describing it as “very dangerous.”
The Houthi attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the Red Sea, which normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.
The UN Conference on Trade and Development warned late last month that the volume of commercial traffic passing through the Suez Canal had fallen more than 40 percent in the previous two months.


One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
Updated 2 min 7 sec ago
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One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement

One killed, eight wounded in gun attack near West Bank settlement
  • Eight people with varying degrees of injuries were evacuated from the scene by medics
  • Violence was already on the increase across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war

JERUSALEM: Three Palestinian gunmen killed one person and wounded eight, among them a young pregnant woman, in a “terror attack” Thursday when they sprayed automatic weapons fire at vehicles near a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank, Israeli police said.
The shooters were “neutralized,” police said, and an AFP photographer later saw their bodies at the scene of the attack on a highway east of Jerusalem, where five cars were riddled with bullets.
“The three terrorists... got out of their vehicle and started shooting automatic weapons at vehicles that were in a traffic jam on the road toward Jerusalem,” police said in a statement about the attack near the Maale Adumim settlement.
“Two terrorists were neutralized on the spot,” police said. “In the searches conducted at the scene, another terrorist was located who tried to escape and he was also neutralized.”

The gunmen were identified as Mohammed Zawahrah, 26, his brother Kathim Zawahrah, 31, and Ahmed Al-Wahsh, also 31, by Israel’s internal security service Shin Bet.
Among those wounded was a 23-year-old pregnant woman who was in critical condition, said the emergency response service Magen David Adom and a spokesperson for the Shaare Tzedek Hospital.
Violence was already on the rise across the West Bank prior to the Gaza war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack, but has escalated since then to levels unseen in nearly two decades, with hundreds killed in recent months.
Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visited the site of Thursday’s attack where he told journalists: “The enemies... want to hurt us. They hate us.”
He argued that “we need to distribute more weapons” and that “our right to life is superior to the freedom of movement” of residents governed by the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas.
“There should be more restrictions and we should put barriers around villages and limit the freedom of movement” of people from the West Bank, Ben Gvir added.
Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for a “firm security response... and colonization” by building thousands of new housing units in settlements like Maale Adumim and across the West Bank.
“Our enemies must know that any harm done to us would result in more construction, more development and even more control over the entire country,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.
The attack came after two people were shot dead last Friday at a bus stop in southern Israel near the town of Kiryat Malakhi.
The West Bank has seen frequent Palestinian attacks on Israelis and near-daily raids by the Israeli military that often turn deadly.
Israeli troops and settlers have killed at least 400 Palestinians in the West Bank since the Gaza war broke out, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Ramallah.
Israel captured the West Bank — including east Jerusalem, which it later annexed — in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.
Around 475,000 Jewish settlers currently live in the occupied West Bank, in settlements considered illegal by the United Nations and most of the international community.
The West Bank’s Palestinian population is about 2.9 million.
The Palestinians claim the territory as the heartland of a future independent state, a goal being discussed by the international community as the Gaza war rages into a fifth month.
Israel’s parliament Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposing any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.
The Gaza war erupted after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, resulting in the deaths of around 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
At least 29,410 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military offensive on Gaza, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting

Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting
Updated 22 February 2024
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Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting

Turkiye calls for Gaza ceasefire, two-state solution at G20 meeting
  • Turkiye has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court

ANKARA: Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan called on the international community to take a more active role toward an urgent ceasefire in Gaza and a two-state solution to the conflict during talks at the G20 meeting in Brazil, a Turkish diplomatic source said.
Turkiye, which has harshly criticized Israel for its attacks on Gaza and backed measures to have it tried for genocide at the World Court, has repeatedly called for a ceasefire.
Unlike its Western allies and some Gulf nations, NATO member Turkiye does not view Hamas, the Palestinian militant group which runs Gaza and on Oct. 7 carried out an attack inside Israel that prompted the Israeli campaign, as a terrorist organization.
Fidan told a G20 foreign ministers meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday that the “savagery” in Gaza must be stopped, and discussed steps to achieve an urgent ceasefire and get more aid into the enclave during talks with counterparts from the United States, Germany, and Egypt, the source said.
“Steps that can be taken to achieve a full ceasefire as soon as possible were discussed,” during talks between Fidan and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the source said, adding Fidan also discussed “concrete steps” to stop the fighting with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.
“The fact that a decision on a ceasefire did not come out of the UN Security Council once again, has shown that reform is a must,” Fidan told a session at the G20 meeting, according to one of his aides, referring to a third US veto on a ceasefire call at the 15-member body.
Ankara says the UN Security Council must be reformed to be more inclusive and representative of the world.
“The stance shown by Brazilian President Lula (Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva) is admirable,” the aide cited Fidan as saying, in reference to comments by Lula in which he likened the war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two and which caused a diplomatic spat.