HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria
Syria’s war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011. Above, a Turkiye-supported Syrian fighter on the outskirts of the town of Marea, in the northern Aleppo countryside. (AFP)
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Updated 29 February 2024
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HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria

HRW: Turkiye responsible for abuses in north Syria
  • HRW: Turkiye ‘bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports’ in Syria’s north’

BEIRUT: Turkiye bears responsibility for human rights abuses and violations of land and property rights in swathes of northern Syria it controls alongside its proxies, a Human Rights Watch report said Thursday.
Since 2016, Turkiye has carried out successive ground operations to expel the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from Syria’s north, with its proxies now controlling two large border strips.
Turkiye “bears responsibility for the serious abuses and potential war crimes committed by members of its own forces and local armed groups it supports” in Syria’s north, HRW said in its report.
Turkish officials in Syria’s north have in some cases “been directly involved in apparent war crimes,” with Turkish forces and intelligence agencies involved “in carrying out and overseeing abuses,” the report said.
Abuses and violations are “most often directed at Kurdish civilians and anyone else perceived to have ties to Kurdish-led forces,” HRW said.
Kurdish women detainees have reported sexual violence including rape, while children as young as six months old have been detained with their mothers, the report said.
Ankara views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that dominate the SDF as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it considers a terrorist group.
The military police and the myriad rebel factions of the Syrian National Army (SNA), both backed by Ankara, “have arbitrarily arrested and detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and subjected to unfair military trials scores of people with impunity,” HRW said.
A Syrian who formerly lived under SNA rule told HRW: “Everything is by the power of the weapon.”
The rights group has also accused Ankara of having “summarily deported thousands of Syrian refugees” from Turkiye to areas under its control in Syria.
In July 2023 alone, Ankara sent back more than 1,700 Syrians into the Tal Abyad border area, the report said.
Hundreds of thousands of residents in northeast Syria’s Turkish-controlled border strip have been displaced from their homes, with SNA factions looting, pillaging, and seizing their properties, the report said.
“The hardest thing for me was standing in front of my house and not being able to enter it,” a displaced Yazidi man from Ras Al-Ain told HRW.
Turkiye and its proxies “should grant independent investigative bodies immediate and unhindered access to territories under their control,” the rights group said.
Syria’s war has killed more than 500,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011 with Damascus’s brutal repression of anti-government protests.


How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel

How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel
Updated 17 min 21 sec ago
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How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel

How Iranian drones went into action from Yemen to Ukraine to Israel
  • Country has come a long way since first building surveillance drones during the Iran-Iraq War
  • Attack on Israel showed UAVs deployed en masse are vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems

LONDON: In July 2018, a senior Iranian official made an announcement that raised eyebrows around the Middle East.

The Islamic Republic, said Manouchehr Manteqi, head of the Headquarters for Development of Knowledge-Based Aviation and Aeronautics Technology and Industry, was now capable of producing drones self-sufficiently, without reliance on foreign suppliers or outside technical know-how.

International sanctions restricting imports of vital technology had effectively crippled Iran’s ability to develop sophisticated conventional military aircraft.

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi (C) and Defense Minister Mohammad Reza Gharaei Ashtiani (R) attend an unveiling ceremony of the new drone "Mohajer 10" in Tehran on August 22, 2023. (Iranian Presidency photo handout/AFP)

But now, said Manteqi, “designing and building drone parts for special needs (is) done by Iranian knowledge-based companies.”

In developing its own drone technology, Iran had found a way to build up its military capabilities regardless of sanctions.

Iran had already come a long way in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, having first embarked on the creation of surveillance drones during the Iran-Iraq War.

Speaking in September 2016, Maj. Gen. Mohammed Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, credited the tactical demands of the eight-year conflict as having been “pivotal in the production of modern science and technology for future use.”

This, he said, had led to the development of “Iranian-manufactured long-range drones (that) can target terrorists’ positions from a great distance and with a surface of one meter square.”

Iran’s first UAV was the Ababil, a low-tech surveillance drone built in the 1980s by the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Co. It first flew in 1985 and was quickly joined by the Mohajer, developed by the Quds Aviation Industry Co.

Although initially both of these drones were fairly primitive, over the years both platforms have been steadily developed and have become far more sophisticated.

According to a report in state newspaper Tehran Times, the current Ababil-5, unveiled on Iran Army Day in April 2022, has a range of about 480 km and can carry up to six smart bombs or missiles.

But the Mohajer 10, launched last year on Aug. 22, appears to be an even more capable, hi-tech UAV, closely resembling America’s MQ-9 Reaper in both looks and capabilities.

Armed with several missiles and able to remain aloft for 24 hours at an altitude of up to 7 km, it has a claimed range of 2,000 km. If true, this means it is capable of hitting targets almost anywhere in any country in the Middle East.

This appeared to be confirmed in July 2022, when Javad Karimi Qodousi, a member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told Iran’s state news agency IRNA that “Iran’s strategy in building drones is to maintain the security of the country's surrounding environment up to a depth of 2,000 kilometers.”

He added: “According to the declared policy of the Leader of the Revolution, any person, group or country who stands up against the Zionist regime, the Islamic Republic will support him with all its might, and the Islamic Republic can provide them with knowledge in the field of drones.”

By 2021, following a rash of attacks in the region, it was clear that Iranian drone technology was in the hands of non-state actors and militias throughout the Middle East.

Speaking during a visit to Iraq in May 2021, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, said the Iranian drone program “has innovated with sophisticated, indigenously produced drones, which it supplies to regional allies.”

This “broad diffusion of Iranian drone technologies makes it almost impossible to tell who conducted a lethal drone strike in the region, and thus who should be held responsible and accountable.”

This, he added, “is only going to get more difficult.”

As it has raced to supply proxies and allies throughout the region and the wider world with these weapons, Iran has developed a second, cheaper class of UAV — the so-called “loitering munition,” or suicide drone.

Variations of these weapons, relatively cheap to produce but capable of carrying a significant explosive payload over hundreds of kilometers, have been produced in large numbers by the IRGC-linked Shahed Aviation Industries Research Center.

In September 2019, the Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for an attack by 25 drones and other missiles on Saudi Aramco oil sites at Abqaiq and Khurais in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Afterward, the Kingdom’s Defense Ministry displayed wreckage that revealed delta-winged Shahed 136 drones were among the weapons that had been fired at the Kingdom.

The Houthis have claimed responsibility for other attacks by Iranian-made drones. In 2020, another Saudi oil facility was hit, at Jazan near the Yemen border; the following year, four drones targeted a civilian airport at Abha in southern Saudi Arabia, setting an aircraft on fire; and in January 2022 drones struck two targets in Abu Dhabi — at the international airport and an oil storage facility, where three workers were killed.

A picture taken on June 19, 2018 in Abu Dhabi shows the wreckage of a drone used by Yemen's Houthi militia in battles against the coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The coalition was assembled in 2014 to help restore the UN-recognized Yemeni government that was ousted by the Iran-backed Houthis. (AFP)

In addition to supplying non-state actors with its drones, Iran is also developing a lucrative export market for the technology.

In November 2022, analysis by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy concluded that Iran “may be outsourcing kamikaze drone production to Venezuela,” a country sanctioned by the US in part because of its ties with Tehran, and in July 2023, Forbes reported that Bolivia had also expressed interest in acquiring Iranian drone technology.

Iran is not alone in developing markets for such weapons in South America. In December 2022, military intelligence and analysis organization Janes reported that Argentina had signed a contract with the Israeli Ministry of Defense to buy man-portable anti-personnel and anti-tank loitering munitions, produced by Israeli arms company Uvision.

Only four days ago, it was reported that Iranian-made armed drones have been used by the Sudanese army to turn the tide of conflict in the country’s civil war and halt the progress of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

According to Reuters, Sudan’s acting Foreign Minister Ali Sadeq denied his country had obtained any weapons from Iran. But the news agency cited “six Iranian sources, regional officials and diplomats,” who confirmed that Sudan’s military “had acquired Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) over the past few months.”

Iran’s interest in Sudan is strategic, according to an unnamed Western diplomat quoted by Reuters: “They now have a staging post on the Red Sea and on the African side.”

But Iran’s most significant state customer for its deadly drone technology to date is Russia.

In September 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expelled Iranian diplomats from the country after several downed drones were found to have been made in Iran.

“We have a number of these downed Iranian drones, and these have been sold to Russia to kill our people and are being used against civilian infrastructure and peaceful civilians,” Zelensky told Arab News at the time.

Since then, drone use on both sides in the conflict has escalated, with Russia procuring many of its weapons and surveillance systems from Iran, in violation of UN resolutions.

At a meeting in New York on Friday the UK’s deputy political coordinator told the UN Security Council that “Russia has procured thousands of Iranian Shahed drones and has used them in a campaign against Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure, which is intended to beat Ukraine into submission by depriving its civilians of power and heat.”

But although Iran has successfully exported its drones, and drone technology, to several countries and non-state actors, its own use of the weapons has not been particularly auspicious.

As initially developed, drones were intended first for surveillance, and then as armed platforms for tactical use against single targets.

It is not known what Iran hoped to achieve by unleashing a swarm of 170 drones at once against Israel on Saturday night, in its first openly direct attack against the country. But all the reportedly failed attack has done is demonstrate that slow-moving drones deployed en masse in a full-frontal assault are extremely vulnerable to sophisticated air defense systems.

The vast majority of the drones, and the 30 cruise and 120 ballistic missiles fired at Israel in retaliation for the Israeli airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1, were shot down, either intercepted by American warships and aircraft or downed by Israel’s multi-layered anti-missile systems.


Drone warfare through the years

The word “drone” used to describe an unmanned aerial vehicle was first coined during the Second World War, when the British converted a Tiger Moth biplane to operate as an unmanned, radio-controlled target for anti-aircraft gunnery training. Codenamed Queen Bee, between 1933 and 1943, hundreds were built. Purpose-built drones as we know them today first took to the skies over Vietnam in the 1960s in the shape of the Ryan Aeronautical Model 147 Lightning Bug. Radio-controlled, the jet-powered aircraft was launched from under-wing pylons fitted to converted C-130 Hercules transport aircraft. After its reconnaissance mission was over, the Lightning Bug parachuted itself back to Earth, where it could be recovered by a helicopter. It was Israel that developed what is considered to be the world’s first modern military surveillance drone, the propellor-driven Mastiff, which first flew in 1973. Made by Tadiran Electronic Industries, it could be launched from a runway and remain airborne for up to seven hours, feeding back live video.

• • • • • •

The Mastiff was acquired by the US military, which led to a collaboration between AAI, a US aerospace company, and the government-owned Israel Aerospace Industries. The result was the more sophisticated AAI RQ-2 Pioneer, a reconnaissance drone used extensively during the 1991 Gulf War. The breakthrough in drones as battlefield weapons was made thanks to Abraham Karem, a former designer for the Israeli Air Force who emigrated to the US in the late 1970s. His GNAT 750 drone was acquired by General Atomics and operated extensively by the CIA over Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993 and 1994. This evolved into the satellite-linked RQ-1 Predator. First used to laser-designate targets and guide weapons fired by other aircraft, by 2000 it had been equipped with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, and the first was fired in anger less than a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America.

• • • • • •

The first strike, against a convoy carrying a Taliban leader in Afghanistan, missed. But on Nov. 14, 2001, a Predator that had taken off from a US air base in Uzbekistan fired two Hellfire missiles into a building near Kabul, killing Mohammed Atef, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, and several other senior Al-Qaeda personnel. Since then, silent death from the air has become the signature of American military power, thanks to a remotely operated weapons system from which no one is safe, no matter where they are. This was made clear by the audacious attack on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, killed by a drone strike as he left Baghdad airport on Jan. 3, 2020. The MQ-9 Reaper drone that killed him had been launched from a military base in the Middle East and was controlled by operators at a US airbase over 12,000 km away in Nevada. — Jonathan Gornall
 

 


Gazans flood road north after ‘open checkpoint’ rumors

Gazans flood road north after ‘open checkpoint’ rumors
Updated 14 April 2024
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Gazans flood road north after ‘open checkpoint’ rumors

Gazans flood road north after ‘open checkpoint’ rumors
  • Israel has killed more than 33,686 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry
  • More than 1.5 million Palestinians have taken refuge in the southern city of Rafah, according to the UN

GAZA CITY: Thousands of Gazans flooded the coast road north on Sunday after hearing that several people managed to cross a closed checkpoint toward Gaza City despite Israel denying it was open.
An AFP journalist saw mothers holding their children’s hands and families piling onto donkey carts with their luggage as they journeyed. They hoped to cross a military checkpoint on Al-Rashid road south of Gaza City, but the Israeli army said that reports the route was open were “not true.”
On the other side, desperate families waited for their loved ones in the rubble of the battered main city in the Palestinian territory.
Mahmoud Awdeh said he was waiting for his wife, who has been in the southern city of Khan Younis since the start of the war on Oct. 7.
“She told me over the phone that people are leaving the southern part and heading to the north,” Awdeh said.
“She told me she’s waiting at the checkpoint until the army agrees to let her head to the north,” he said, hoping she could cross safely.
During the day, rumors also spread that the Israeli army was allowing women, children, and men over 50 to go to the north, a claim denied by the army.
Since Israel assaulted Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, the army has besieged the territory, telling Gazans to leave some areas and preventing them from moving across the narrow strip.
More than 1.5 million Palestinians have taken refuge in the southern city of Rafah, according to the UN.
Several Gazans said they came under attack on the route, and AFP footage showed people ducking for cover. The Palestinian official news agency Wafa said Israeli forces “bomb(ed) displaced Palestinians as they were trying to return to the north of Gaza Strip through Al-Rasheed Street.”
Wafa shared a video on X, showing people running away from a blast.
Nour, a displaced Gazan, said: “When we arrived at the (Israeli) checkpoint, they would let women pass or stop them, but they shot at men, so we had to return; we didn’t want to die.”
AFP has approached the Israeli military for comment.
Elsewhere in Gaza, the fighting continued on Sunday after Iran launched a huge drone and missile attack on Israel.
In Rafah on Sunday, Palestinians said Iran’s attack on Israel underwhelmed them.
“The Iranian response came so late, after 190 days of war,” Khaled Al Nems said. “You can see our suffering.”
“Their response is too little too late,” he added.
Walid Al Kurdi, a displaced Palestinian living in Rafah, said “Iran’s attack on Israel is not our business.”
“The only thing we care about is returning to our homes,” he said.
“We are waiting for the coming 48 hours to see if (Israel) responds to Iran or if they are playing with us and want to distract attention away from Rafah.”
Israel has said it plans to send ground forces into Rafah to eradicate remaining Hamas militants there.

 


Israeli airstrikes, artillery reach deep into Bekaa Valley as tensions soar

Israeli airstrikes, artillery reach deep into Bekaa Valley as tensions soar
Updated 14 April 2024
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Israeli airstrikes, artillery reach deep into Bekaa Valley as tensions soar

Israeli airstrikes, artillery reach deep into Bekaa Valley as tensions soar
  • Hezbollah modifies its tactics in south Lebanon amidst the backdrop of Iranian attack on Israel

BEIRUT: Israeli forces on Sunday struck a Hezbollah site in Lebanon’s east near the Syrian border as tensions soared following Iran’s direct attack on Israel.

Shelling heavily targeted Lebanese border villages and the Bekaa Valley on Saturday night, as the Israeli military carried out raids on Khiam, Kfarkila, and Odaisseh.

Artillery shelling also targeted Houla, Wadi Saluki, the vicinity of Deir Mimas, and areas along the Litani River.

The raid on Khiam resulted in the death of one person, and many civilians were injured in other villages.

BACKGROUND

Hezbollah has exchanged near-daily cross-border fire with Israel since the Palestinian group attacked southern Israel on October 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.

A missile exploded near a Lebanese Army intelligence office in the Jdeidet Marjayoun village.

The missile caused significant material damage to the facility and nearby houses, but miraculously, nobody was injured.

On Sunday morning, Israeli warplanes targeted the park in Jabal Safi adjacent to Jbaa and the outskirts of a village in Iqlim Al-Tuffah.

A sonic boom caused by missile fire damaged several houses, shops, and schools in Jbaa, while Israeli planes also targeted areas deep inside central Bekaa, specifically a three-floor building between the Saraain and Nabi Chit villages. Additionally, military aircraft were seen flying over Baalbek and its surroundings.

The Israeli military said that it struck “an important weapon manufacturing site for Hezbollah in Nabi Chit.”

Hezbollah’s own attacks were limited to Israeli military outposts repeatedly targeted since the outbreak of hostilities, including the air and missile defense headquarters at the Kaylaa outpost in the Golan Heights, which Hezbollah targeted with dozens of Katyusha missiles.

Following the Iranian attack on Israel overnight, Hezbollah’s supporters rallied in Beirut’s southern suburbs, holding the party’s banner and chanting slogans in support of Tehran.

News that the majority of the Iranian drones and missiles were intercepted before reaching Israeli airspace, however, prompted criticism of the attack online.

Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport closed for six hours after news of the impending attack broke on Saturday evening.

Lebanese people flocked to gas stations to fill their tanks in case escalating tensions affected supplies in the coming days.

The representative of the country’s fuel distributors, Fadi Abu Shaqra, said that “fuel is secured, and the quantities are sufficient for (the next several) days.”

He said gasoline and diesel were available, and there was no need for the public to worry about shortages.

Caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Ali Hamia said the airport will gradually return to work as normal.

“Closing the airport was a precautionary measure. It took into account the safety and security of people arriving and departing,” Hamia said.

“At 7 a.m., we suspended the closure decision. The airspace was opened, and work will gradually return to its normal course.”

Middle East Airlines said it had rescheduled a number of flights and announced the successful departure of flights to London and Dubai.

 

 


Egypt’s FM expresses need for restraint in calls to foreign ministers of Iran, Israel

Israeli Air Force heavy lift military transport helicopters fly over in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Israeli Air Force heavy lift military transport helicopters fly over in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2024
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Egypt’s FM expresses need for restraint in calls to foreign ministers of Iran, Israel

Israeli Air Force heavy lift military transport helicopters fly over in the southern Negev desert on April 14, 2024. (AFP)
  • Shoukry called on his Iranian and Israeli counterparts “to exercise utmost self-restraint and refrain from provocations”

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry expressed the need for restraint in phone calls with the foreign ministers of Iran and Israel on Sunday, Egypt said.
Shoukry called on his Iranian and Israeli counterparts “to exercise utmost self-restraint and refrain from provocations that would increase tension and instability in the region,” a foreign ministry statement said.
Egypt is ready to intensify its efforts to defuse the current crisis, “which has begun taking a dangerous turn as it coincides with the crisis in the Gaza Strip and adds tension to other hot spots in the region,” the statement added.
Shoukry also held a call on Sunday with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to discuss “what has become a serious threat to the security and stability” of the Middle East after Iran launched drones and missile on Israel early on Sunday.


Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications

Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications
Updated 14 April 2024
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Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications

Cyprus suspends processing of Syrian asylum applications
  • According to Cyprus Interior Ministry statistics, some 2,140 people arrived by boat to EU-member Cyprus between Jan. 1 and April 4 of this year, the vast majority of them Syrian nationals departing from Lebanon

NICOSIA: Cyprus has said it’s suspending processing all asylum applications by Syrian nationals because large numbers of refugees from the war-torn country continue to reach the island nation by boat, primarily from Lebanon.
In a written statement, the Cypriot government said the suspension is also partly because of ongoing efforts to get the EU to redesignate some areas of the war-torn country as safe zones to enable repatriations.
The drastic step comes in the wake of Cypriot President Nicos Christodoulides’ visit to Lebanon early last week to appeal to authorities there to stop departures of migrant-laden boats from their shores. The request comes in light of a 27-fold increase in migrant arrivals to Cyprus so far this year over the same period last year.
According to Cyprus Interior Ministry statistics, some 2,140 people arrived by boat to EU-member Cyprus between Jan. 1 and April 4 of this year, the vast majority of them Syrian nationals departing from Lebanon. In contrast, only 78 people arrived by boat to the island nation in the corresponding period last year.
Last Monday, Christodoulides and Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati called on the EU to provide financial support to help cash-strapped Lebanon stop migrants from reaching Cyprus.
Just days prior to his Lebanon trip, the Cypriot president said that he had personally asked EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen to intercede with Lebanese authorities to curb migrant boat departures.
Although the EU should provide “substantial” EU support to Lebanon, Christodoulides said any financial help should be linked to how effectively Lebanese authorities monitor their coastline and prevent boat departures.