France issues arrest warrants for Syrian president, 3 generals alleging involvement in war crimes

France issues arrest warrants for Syrian president, 3 generals alleging involvement in war crimes
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Syrians walk through destruction in the town of Douma, the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack, near Damascus on Apr. 16, 2018. (AP/File)
France issues arrest warrants for Syrian president, 3 generals alleging involvement in war crimes
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French judicial authorities on Wednesday issued international arrest warrants for Syrian President Bashar Assad, his brother Maher, and two army generals alleging their involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity, lawyers for Syrian victims said. (AP/File)
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Updated 15 November 2023
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France issues arrest warrants for Syrian president, 3 generals alleging involvement in war crimes

France issues arrest warrants for Syrian president, 3 generals alleging involvement in war crimes
  • The arrest warrants were issued for his brother, Maher Assad, and two Syrian army generals
  • Jeanne Sulzer and Clemence Witt, lawyers at the Paris Bar who represent the plaintiffs, and NGOs behind the complaint, hailed the decision

PARIS: French judicial authorities on Wednesday issued international arrest warrants for Syrian President Bashar Assad, his brother and two army generals for their alleged involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity, including a 2013 chemical attack on rebel-held Damascus suburbs, lawyers for Syrian victims said.
In addition to President Assad, the arrest warrants were issued for his brother, Maher Assad, the commander of the 4th Armored Division, and two Syrian army generals, Ghassan Abbas and Bassam Al-Hassan.
Jeanne Sulzer and Clemence Witt, lawyers at the Paris Bar who represent the plaintiffs, and NGOs behind the complaint, hailed the decision.
“It marks a crucial milestone in the battle against impunity,” Sulzer told The Associated Press on the phone. “It signifies a positive evolution in case law recognizing the grave nature of the crimes committed.”
The Paris prosecutor’s office has not publicly commented on the arrest warrants that remain secret under French law while an investigation is ongoing.
“Legally speaking, this is a procedural act as the investigation into the 2013 attacks in Eastern Ghouta and Douma continues,” Sulzer said. The four individuals named in the arrest warrants “can be arrested and brought to France for questioning by the investigative judges,” she said.
More than 1,000 people were killed and thousands were injured in the August 2013 attacks on Douma and Eastern Ghouta.
The investigation into the two chemical weapons attacks has been conducted under universal jurisdiction in France by investigative judges of the Specialized Unit for Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes of the Paris Judicial Court.
The investigation was opened in March 2021 in response to a criminal complaint by the survivors. It was filed by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression.
Mazen Darwish, the director of the center, said the issuing of arrest warrants is “a new victory for the victims, their families and survivors” of the 2013 attacks.
Assad’s government was widely deemed by the international community to be responsible for the Aug. 21, 2013, sarin gas attack in the then-opposition-held Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta. The Syrian government and its allies have denied their responsibility and claimed the Ghouta attack was carried out by opposition forces trying to push for foreign military intervention.
The United States threatened military retaliation in the aftermath of the attack, with then-President Barack Obama saying Assad’s use of chemical weapons would be Washington’s “red line.” However, the US public and Congress were wary of a new war, as invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq had turned into quagmires.
In the end, Washington settled for a deal with Moscow for Syria to give up its chemical weapons stockpile.
Syria says it eliminated its chemical arsenal under the 2013 agreement. However, watchdog groups have continued to allege chemical attacks by Syrian government forces since then.
Alaa Makhzoumi, a survivor of the chemical attack in Eastern Ghouta, said the French decision is an “initial step toward achieving justice and fulfilling the rights of all martyrs and victims we lost that day.”
Makhzoumi, now a refugee in Turkiye, said she and her husband and son suffered respiratory problems after the attack, and her younger son was born with birth defects that she believes are linked to chemical exposure.
“The most important thing about this decision is to bring the chemical (attacks) issue back to the forefront,” she said, at a time when international attention has drifted away from Syria following normalization agreements of several Arab countries with Assad’s government.
“I hope that all countries will contribute to the implementation of the decision by arresting Assad if they have the opportunity,” Makhzoumi said.
In addition to France, complaints relating to the chemical attacks in Eastern Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Shaykhun in 2017 were submitted to the authorities in Germany in October 2022, and in Sweeden on April 2021, based on witness testimonies, visual evidence and information about the chain of command of the entities suspected of carrying out the attacks.
Syria is not a member of the International Criminal Court, meaning it does not have jurisdiction there. However, human rights lawyers in the past have urged prosecutors to open an investigation into crimes during the country’s civil war, arguing that the court could exercise jurisdiction over Syrian civilians forced into Jordan, which is a member of the court.
So far, the court has not opened an investigation.
An investigative team at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has repeatedly found that Syrian forces used chemical weapons, including in the April 2018 attack on Douma. However, the OPCW does not have any means of prosecuting perpetrators.


Boat with 45 refugees capsizes off Yemen’s coast, UNHCR says

Boat with 45 refugees capsizes off Yemen’s coast, UNHCR says
Updated 3 sec ago
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Boat with 45 refugees capsizes off Yemen’s coast, UNHCR says

Boat with 45 refugees capsizes off Yemen’s coast, UNHCR says
  • The boat capsized because of strong winds and overloading
  • Boat departed from Somalia carrying 260 migrants
DUBAI: A boat with at least 45 refugees has capsized off the coast of Yemen’s Taiz on Wednesday night, and there are only four survivors, the UN refugee agency in Yemen said on Thursday.
The boat capsized because of strong winds and overloading, the agency added. It said it was working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to assist the survivors and provide protection.
No further details were provided about the rest of the refugees.
In June, at least 49 migrants died and 140 went missing after their vessel, which departed from Somalia carrying 260 migrants, capsized of the Yemeni coast.
IOM, which runs a tally of migrants who are killed or go missing on migration routes, has since 2014 recorded 1,860 migrant deaths and disappearances along the route running from East Africa and the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries.
According to the United Nations, 97,000 migrants arrived in Yemen from the Horn of Africa last year.

Israeli forces advance in southern Gaza, tanks active in Rafah

Israeli forces advance in southern Gaza, tanks active in Rafah
Updated 15 min 50 sec ago
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Israeli forces advance in southern Gaza, tanks active in Rafah

Israeli forces advance in southern Gaza, tanks active in Rafah
  • Fighting in recent days has centered around the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna, and Al-Karara
  • Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators to conclude a ceasefire deal seem to be on hold

CAIRO: Israeli forces advanced deeper into some towns on the eastern side of Khan Younis in southern Gaza on Thursday, hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US lawmakers he was actively engaged in bringing hostages home.
Fighting in recent days has centered around the eastern towns of Bani Suaila, Al-Zanna, and Al-Karara, where the army said on Wednesday it had found the bodies of five Israelis who were killed in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and held in Gaza since.
Hamas militants took more than 250 hostages in the early morning raid into southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel retaliated by vowing to eradicate Hamas in Gaza in a nine-month war that has killed more than 39,000 Palestinians, Gaza health officials say.
Several were wounded in the eastern towns during Israeli tank and aerial shelling, while an airstrike east of Khan Younis killed four people, Palestinian health officials said.
Israeli bombardment intensified in several areas in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, as tanks operated north, west and in the town center, residents and medics said. Several Palestinians were also wounded in Israeli fire earlier on Thursday.
The Israeli military said forces operating in Khan Younis killed dozens of militants and dismantled around 50 military infrastructures, while it continued activities in Rafah, killing two militants.
In a speech to the US Congress, Netanyahu said his government was actively involved in seeking the release of remaining hostages and was confident they would succeed.
DISAPPOINTING SPEECH
Hamas described the comments by Netanyahu as “pure lies” accusing him of thwarting efforts to end the war.
Netanyahu’s comments also disappointed many displaced Palestinians who had hoped for a clearer signal of an imminent end to the fighting, which has laid the overcrowded enclave to waste and created a humanitarian crisis.
“It was depressing, he didn’t even mention ceasefire at all, not even once,” said Tamer Al-Burai, a resident of Gaza City, now displaced in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip.
“People awaited some surprise, a ceasefire announcement by Netanyahu as a gift to (US President Joe) Biden, but they slept with much disappointment, as Netanyahu said he was determined to pursue war,” Burai said via a chat app.
Deir Al-Balah, where tanks haven’t yet invaded, is currently overcrowded with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, displaced from other areas of the enclave, home to 2.3 million people.
“Netanyahu spoke in a play, he spoke to clowns,” said Burai.
Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators, backed by the United States, to conclude a ceasefire deal, seemed to be on hold, as Israel was expected to send a delegation for more talks next week.
In northern Gaza, an Israeli air strike on a house in the Sheikh Radwan suburb killed four people, medics said, while seven Palestinians arrived at a hospital in central Gaza who had been detained by Israeli forces and released in an area close to the border.


In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters
Updated 25 July 2024
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In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters
  • Netanyahu’s speech quickly took on a darker tone as he defended his country but also derided those protesting the war
  • He drew shouts of applause from many in Congress, but also silence from leading Democrats

WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s war in Gaza and condemned American protesters in a scathing speech to Congress Wednesday that triggered boycotts by many top Democratic lawmakers and drew thousands to the Capitol to condemn the war and the humanitarian crisis it has created.
Netanyahu vowed to press on with the war until “total victory,” disappointing hopes by some that the Israeli leader’s visit to the United States could bring some breakthrough in negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage-release.
Speaking to applause from US lawmakers, and stony silence from others, Netanyahu sought to bolster US support for his country’s fight against Hamas and other Iran-backed armed groups.
“America and Israel must stand together. When we stand together something really simple happens: We win, they lose,” said Netanyahu, who wore a yellow pin expressing solidarity with the Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
But the Israeli leader soon pivoted to a darker tone as he derided those protesting the war on college campuses and elsewhere in the US, gesturing to demonstrations happening on the streets outside the Capitol. He called protesters “useful idiots” for Israel’s adversaries.
He drew shouts of applause from many in Congress, but also silence from leading Democrats who declined to stand and cheer.
Freed former hostages of Hamas and families of hostages listened in the House chamber. Lawmakers of both parties rose to applaud the Israeli leader in milder moments in the speech. Security escorted out protesters in the gallery who rose to display T-shirts with slogans demanding that leaders close a deal ending the conflict and freeing hostages.
Netanyahu accused the numerous protesters of the war in the United States of standing with the militants who he said killed babies in Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7. “These protesters that stand with them, they should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
Netanyahu — who is frequently accused of wading into US politics in favor of conservative and Republican causes — started his remarks with praise of President Joe Biden. But he turned to lavishing praise on former president and current presidential contender Donald Trump “for all he’s done for Israel.”
With criticism against him rising in Israel, too, Netanyahu aimed to portray himself as a statesman respected by Israel’s most important ally. That task is complicated by Americans’ increasingly divided views on Israel and the war, which has emerged as a key issue in the US presidential election.
Tall steel barriers ringed the Capitol Wednesday, and police deployed pepper spray as thousands of protesters rallied near the Capitol, denouncing Netanyahu as a “war criminal” and calling for a ceasefire.
Netanyahu received a warm welcome from House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republican lawmakers who arranged his speech in the House chamber. Netanyahu received a bipartisan standing ovation before speaking.
The appearance made Netanyahu the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of Congress four times, surpassing Winston Churchill.
More than 50 Democrats and political independent Bernie Sanders boycotted Netanyahu’s speech. The most notable absence was right behind him: Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as president of the Senate, said a long-scheduled trip kept her from attending.
The next Democrat in line, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, declined to attend, so Sen. Ben Cardin, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, served as “senator pro tempore” in place of her.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who has family in the West Bank, sat in the House chamber with a keffiyeh, which she often wears, wrapped over her shoulders. Tlaib was censured last year for her strident criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war.
Republicans said the absence of Harris, the new Democratic front-runner for the presidency, was a sign of disloyalty to an ally. Former President Donald Trump’s running mate, JD Vance, was also a no-show for Netanyahu’s speech, citing the need to campaign.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden and Harris on Thursday, and with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Friday.
Many in the swelling crowds of demonstrators protested the killings of more than 39,000 Palestinians in the war. Others condemned Netanyahu’s inability to free Israeli and American hostages taken by Hamas and other militants during the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.
Support for Israel has long carried political weight in US politics. But the usual warm welcome for Netanyahu’s visits has been diminished this time around by political turmoil, including the assassination attempt against Trump and Biden’s decision not to seek another term.
Many Democrats who support Israel but have been critical of Netanyahu saw the address as a Republican effort to cast itself as the party most loyal.
Many Democrats attended the address despite their criticism of Netanyahu, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who called for new elections in Israel in a March floor speech. Schumer, of New York, said then that Netanyahu has “lost his way” and is an obstacle to peace in the region amid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
About 60 lawmakers met Wednesday with relatives of those taken hostage by Hamas, and they expressed anger toward Netanyahu. “Because by coming here, he risks making himself the issue, turning the humanitarian issue of the hostages into a political one,” Maya Roman, who had several family members taken hostage, told the lawmakers.
The United States is Israel’s most important ally, arms supplier and source of military aid. Netanyahu’s visit is his first abroad since the war started, and comes under the shadow of arrest warrants sought against him by the International Criminal Court over alleged Israel war crimes against Palestinians. The United States does not recognize the ICC.
The Biden administration says it wants to see Netanyahu focus his visit on helping it complete a deal for a ceasefire and hostage-release. Growing numbers of Israelis accuse Netanyahu of prolonging the war in order to avoid a likely fall from power whenever the conflict ends.
Netanyahu has said his aims for the US visit are to press for freeing hostages held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza, to build support for continuing Israel’s battle against the group, and to argue for continuing to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Iranian-allied groups in the region.
Some Democrats are wary about Netanyahu since he used a 2015 joint address to Congress to denounce then-President Barack Obama’s pending nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu used an appearance early Wednesday to focus on Iran, its nuclear program and its network of armed allies. Iran is “behind the entire axis of terror” that threatens the US and Israel, he said, speaking at a memorial for former Sen. Joe Lieberman.


Putin meets Assad amid calls to defuse Turkiye-Syria tensions

Putin meets Assad amid calls to defuse Turkiye-Syria tensions
Updated 18 min 17 sec ago
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Putin meets Assad amid calls to defuse Turkiye-Syria tensions

Putin meets Assad amid calls to defuse Turkiye-Syria tensions
  • Meeting comes at a time when Russia could mediate to defuse tensions between Syria and Turkiye

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin held talks with Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad in Moscow amid calls for Russian mediation to cool tensions between Turkiye and Syria.
Wednesday’s talks between the pair — the first since since March 2023 — come after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan flagged the potential of a three-way meeting to discuss normalizing ties between Ankara and Damascus.
Putin highlighted his concerns over the situation in the Middle East, which he said was “tending to escalate,” in opening remarks between the pair which were aired on state television Thursday.
Moscow is Syria’s most important ally, having effectively saved Assad’s government through its military intervention in 2015 during a civil war.
“I am very interested in your opinion on how the situation in the region as a whole is developing. Unfortunately, it is tending to escalate, we see this. This concerns Syria directly,” Putin said.
Assad said his visit to Moscow was a “very important” opportunity to discuss “events that are taking place today in the world as a whole and in the Eurasian region,” according to a translation into Russian.
Neither mentioned Turkiye or the conflict in Syria in the televised remarks.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether a possible meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Assad was discussed in private talks.
“The situation in the region was discussed in a broad context,” he told Russian state media on Thursday.

Turkiye-Syria tensions
Turkiye originally aimed to topple Assad’s regime when the Syrian conflict erupted with the violent suppression of peaceful protesters in 2011.
Turkiye then backed rebels calling for Assad to be removed and Erdogan has also branded the Syrian leader a “murderer.”
As Damascus regained territory, however, Erdogan reversed course and has lately prioritized the prevention of what in 2019 he called a “terror corridor” opening up in northern Syria.
Since 2022, top Syrian and Turkish officials have met for Russia-mediated talks.
Erdogan has long said he could reconsider ties with Assad as his government is working to ensure safe and voluntary return of Syrian refugees.
“Now we have come to such a point that as soon as Bashar Assad takes a step toward improving relations with Turkiye, we will show him the same approach,” Erdogan said at a regional summit in Kazakhstan earlier this month.
In a complex multi-sided conflict, Turkiye has launched a string of offensives in Syria since 2016 targeting Kurdish militias, Daesh group jihadists and forces loyal to Assad.
Pro-Turkish forces in Syria now control two vast strips of territory along the border.
Moscow has complicated, but generally pragmatic and warm relations with NATO member Turkiye, with Putin and Erdogan speaking regularly.
Analysts have said any rapprochement between Turkiye and Syria is likely to be gradual due to the complex set of thorny issues between the two sides.


Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress
Updated 25 July 2024
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Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas said Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “misleading” the international community after he addressed the US Congress and called for expedited military aid to his country.

“Netanyahu’s talk about intensified efforts to return the hostages is a complete lie and misleading Israeli, American and international public opinion, while he is the one who thwarted all efforts aimed at ending the war and concluding a deal to release the prisoners, despite the continuous efforts of mediators from our brothers in Egypt and Qatar,” the Palestinian militant group said in a statement.