Pro-Turkiye Syria mercenaries head to Niger to earn cash

Pro-Turkiye Syria mercenaries head to Niger to earn cash
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Abed, a 30-year-old pro-Turkish Syrian fighter using a pseudonym who has been displaced with his family for more than a decade, sits with an assault rifle near his children inside their family's shelter at a camp for people displaced by conflict in Syria's northern Aleppo province on April 26, 2024. (AFP)
Pro-Turkiye Syria mercenaries head to Niger to earn cash
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Ahmed, a 30-year-old pro-Turkish Syrian fighter using a pseudonym, sits with his son in a field at a location in Syria's northern Aleppo province on April 26, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 16 May 2024
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Pro-Turkiye Syria mercenaries head to Niger to earn cash

Pro-Turkiye Syria mercenaries head to Niger to earn cash
  • At least 1,000 fighters have been sent to Niger in recent months “to protect Turkish projects and interests,” says Syrian war monitor SOHR
  • Niger borders oil-rich Libya, and in 2020, Washington accused Turkiye-linked SADAT of sending Syrian fighters to Libya

BEIRUT: Like hundreds of other pro-Turkish fighters, Omar left northern Syria for mineral-rich Niger last year, joining Syrian mercenaries sent to the West African nation by a private Turkish military company.

“The main reason I left is because life is hard in Syria,” fighter Omar, 24, told AFP on message app WhatsApp from Niger.
In northern Syria “there are no job opportunities besides joining an armed faction and earning no more than 1,500 Turkish lira ($46) a month,” Omar said, requesting like others AFP interviewed to be identified by a pseudonym for security reasons.
Analysts say Ankara has strong ties with the new military regime in Niamey, in power since a July 2023 coup.
And in recent months, at least 1,000 fighters have been sent to Niger “to protect Turkish projects and interests,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
For the past decade, Turkiye has been increasing its footprint in Niger, mostly through “humanitarian aid, development and commerce,” said Gabriella Korling, a researcher focusing on the Sahel at the Swedish Defense Research Agency.
“The defense component of the relation between Niger and Turkiye has become more important over time with the signing of a military cooperation agreement in 2020 and the sale of armed drones,” Korling said.
Niamey often refers to Turkiye, Russia and China as “partners that are respectful of Niger’s sovereignty,” she added.
Omar, who supports his mother and three siblings, said since leaving his home in August he receives a “very good” monthly salary of $1,500 for his work in the West African nation.
He hopes his earnings will help him start a small business and quit the battlefield, after years working as a fighter for a pro-Ankara faction.
Tens of thousands of young men have joined the ranks of jihadist factions and others loyal to Ankara in Syria’s north and northwest, where four million people, half of them displaced, live in desperate conditions.

Omar said he was among a first batch of more than 200 fighters who left Syria’s Turkish-controlled north in August for Niger.
He is now readying to return home after his six-month contract, renewed once, ended.
He and two other pro-Ankara Syrian fighters who spoke to AFP in recent weeks said they had enlisted for work in Niger with the Sultan Murad faction, one of Turkiye’s most loyal proxies in northern Syria.
They said they had signed six-month contracts at the faction’s headquarters with private firm SADAT International Defense Consultancy.
“SADAT officers came into the room and we signed the contract with them,” said fighter Ahmed.
“They handle everything,” from travel to accommodation, added the 30-year-old, who was readying to travel from northern Syria to Niger.
The company is widely seen as Ankara’s secret weapon in wars across North Africa and the Middle East, although its chief denied the allegation in a 2021 interview with AFP.
Niger borders oil-rich Libya, and in 2020, Washington accused SADAT of sending Syrian fighters to Libya.
Turkiye has sent thousands of Syrian fighters to Libya to buttress the Tripoli government, which it backs against rival Russian-backed authorities in the east according to the Observatory and the Syria Justice and Accountability Center.
The Center said SADAT was “responsible for the international air transport of mercenaries once they crossed into Turkish territory” to go to Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Turkiye has also sent Syrian fighters to bolster Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia in Nagorno-Karabakh, but its efforts to send mercenaries to Niger have been shrouded in secrecy.
Turkiye’s defense ministry told AFP: “All these allegations are false and have no truth.”
Omar said his journey took him to Gaziantep in Turkiye, then to Istanbul, where he boarded a military plane to Burkina Faso before being driven under escort to camps in neighboring Niger.
After two weeks of military training, he was tasked with guarding a site near a mine, whose name he said he didn’t know.
He said he and other Syrians worked alongside Nigeriens in military fatigues, but was unable to say if they were soldiers.
“They divided us into several groups of guards and fighters,” he said.
Another group “was sent to fight Boko Haram (jihadists) and another was sent to Lome” in neighboring Togo, he said, without providing details about their mission.
His family collects his monthly salary, minus a $350 fee for his faction.


Ahmed, who has been a fighter for 10 years, said he had been told his mission would consist of “protecting military positions” after undergoing training.
He said “there could be battles” at some point, but did not know who he would be fighting.
The father of three said he spent six months in Libya in 2020 earning more than $2,000 a month.
In July 2023, the army seized power in Niger, ending security and defense agreements with Western countries including France, which has withdrawn forces who were fighting jihadists.
“The coup in 2023 did not disrupt diplomatic relations between Turkiye and Niger,” researcher Korling added, pointing to the appointment of the first Turkish defense attache to Niger earlier this year.
Last year, Turkish state television opened a French-language channel covering Africa, and Ankara operates daily flights to Niamey.
“Turkiye, given its religious proximity and lack of political and historical baggage, is looked upon quite favorably in Niger especially in comparison to” Western countries, said Korling.


Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said Turkiye was “exploiting” impoverished men in areas under its control “to recruit them as mercenaries in military operations” serving Ankara’s foreign interests.
The war monitor and other human rights groups said promises of lucrative payments to mercenaries sent abroad are not always kept.
Mohammad Al-Abdallah of the Syria Justice and Accountability Center said his organization had for example documented “false promises of granting Turkish citizenship” to those sent to Azerbaijan or Libya.
Abdul Rahman noted reports that about 50 Syrian fighters had been killed in Niger, mostly after they were attacked by jihadists, but he said his organization had only verified nine deaths, with four bodies having been repatriated.
A source within a faction whose members have been dispatched to Niger said about 50 bodies were expected to return in the coming days.
For Abed, a 30-year-old Syrian who has been displaced with his family for more than a decade, death is a risk he has decided to take.
The father of four and sole breadwinner told AFP: “I’m scared of dying... but maybe I could die here” too.
The difference, he said, is that in Syria “I would die for 1,000 Turkish liras ($30), and (in Niger) I would die for $1,500.”
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Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state
Updated 14 sec ago
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Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state

Israel parliament votes to oppose Palestinian state
JERUSALEM: An Israeli parliament vote to oppose a Palestinian state as an “existential threat,” just days ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington, brought Palestinian and international criticism on Thursday.
The 120-member Knesset late on Wednesday passed by 68 votes to nine a resolution that said a Palestinian state on land occupied by Israel would “perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
The resolution is symbolic but lays down a marker before Netanyahu’s Washington trip as well as an opinion to be issued by the International Court of Justice over the legality of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“The Knesset firmly opposes the creation of a Palestinian state (on land) west of Jordan,” said the resolution, referring to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which has been devastated by the war unleashed by the October 7 Hamas attacks.
“The creation of a Palestinian state in the heart of the land of Israel would constitute an existential danger for the state of Israel and its citizens, would perpetuate the Israel-Palestinian conflict and destabilize the region.”
It predicted that Hamas would take over the state and turn it into “a radical Islamic terrorist base” seeking to destroy Israel.
The resolution said “promoting” a Palestinian state was “a reward for terrorism and would only encourage Hamas and its supporters” after the October 7 attacks.
The Palestinian Authority said there would be “neither peace nor security for anyone without the establishment of a Palestinian state.” It accused Israel’s ruling coalition of “plunging the region into an abyss.”
The French foreign ministry expressed “consternation” at the resolution that it said was “in contradiction with resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council.”
The Knesset voted by an even larger majority in February against countries unilaterally backing a Palestinian state. Spain, Ireland, Norway and Armenia have since said they recognized a Palestinian state.
The latest Knesset resolution was proposed by a right-wing deputy in opposition to Netanyahu’s coalition of conservative and far-right parties. However, coalition deputies and some centrist lawmakers voted in favor.
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First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning.
Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning.
Updated 20 min 11 sec ago
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First Algerian presidential hopeful submits candidacy

Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning.
  • Algerian president said he would seek a second term

ALGIERS: The leader of Algeria’s main Islamist party on Thursday kicked off the official candidate submissions for the upcoming presidential election in which the incumbent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 78, is the frontrunner.
Abdelaali Hassani, head of the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) party, was first to submit his candidacy on Thursday morning, an AFP correspondent saw, hours before Tebboune was expected to do the same.
Tebboune, who was elected in 2019 following months of pro-democracy protests and the ousting of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, said on July 11 he would seek a second term.
In March, he announced that the election would be held on September 7, three months ahead of schedule, but gave no reason for the decision.
Algeria, home to some 45 million people, is Africa’s largest country.
The hydrocarbon-rich nation is the continent’s main natural gas supplier, with neighboring Tunisia, Spain, and Italy heavily reliant on Algerian gas.
The final list of hopefuls for the election will be published on July 27.
To qualify to appear on the ballot, candidates are required to present a list of at least 50,000 individual signatures from registered voters or from 600 members from at least 29 of Algeria’s various provincial assemblies.
Ahmed Sadok, an MSP representative, told AFP that his party had already gathered “more than 90,000 petition signatures” in support of Hassani as well as the backing of “2,200 other elected representatives.”
With the Algerian Workers Party’s leader Louisa Hanoune dropping out of the race last week, only two female candidates — businesswoman Saida Nezgha and lawyer Zoubida Assoul — remain in contention.
But Tebboune is still the favorite, with endorsements from several political parties.
“Given the desire of many parties, political and non-political organizations and the youth, I announce my intention to run for a second term,” he said when announcing his candidacy.


Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament

Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament
Updated 18 July 2024
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Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament

Syrian President Assad’s Baath Party clinches control of parliament
  • Elections for 250 parliamentary seats were held Monday at 8,151 centers in government-held areas of the country
  • The voting was repeated in several districts after election officials said there had been irregularities

DAMASCUS: The results of Syria’s parliamentary elections, announced Thursday, showed that President Bashar Assad’s Baath Party has won a majority of seats, as expected.
The elections for 250 parliamentary seats were held Monday at 8,151 centers in government-held areas of the country, but the voting was repeated in several districts — including Aleppo, Latakia, Hama and Daraa — after election officials said there had been irregularities, including voters casting ballots twice.
The heads of some electoral centers were referred to the judiciary for alleged electoral violations.
Altogether, 1,516 candidates were competing for the 250 seats. However, only 65 of those seats were seen as truly up for competition, as the Baath Party and allied parties presented a list of 185 candidates. Typically, all candidates who make it through the Baath Party primaries and appear on the final list win seats.
The results announced Thursday showed that all 185 candidates from the Baath Party and its allies won seats as expected, an increase from the 177 seats won by the coalition in 2020.
Turnout was 38 percent of the 19.3 million eligible voters, election officials said.
Unlike presidential elections, Syrians in the diaspora are not eligible to vote in parliamentary elections.
The head of the Supreme Judicial Committee for Elections, Jihad Murad, who announced the results, said they “reflected the broadest representation of the Syrian people in their various groups and sectors.”
The vote is the fourth since the country’s civil war began in March 2011.
With Assad facing term limits that would end his presidency in 2028, the next parliament is widely expected to try to pass a constitutional amendment to extend his term.
An amendment requires a three-quarters majority, or 188 votes, just over the number of seats held by the Bath Party and its allies. However, nominally independent candidates are also generally seen as loyal to the government.


Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah

Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah
Updated 18 July 2024
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Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah

Israel bombards central Gaza as tanks advance deeper in Rafah
  • One Israeli airstrike kills six people in Zawayda town in central Gaza
  • An Israeli airstrike killed three people in a car in Deir Al-Balah

CAIRO: Israeli forces bombarded the Gaza Strip’s historic refugee camps in the center of the enclave and struck Gaza City in the north on Thursday, killing at least 13 people, and tanks pushed deeper into Rafah in the south, health officials and residents said.
One Israeli airstrike killed six people in Zawayda town in central Gaza and two other people were killed in a strike on a house in Bureij camp. An Israeli air strike killed three people in a car in Deir Al-Balah, a city packed with people displaced from elsewhere in Gaza, health officials said.
In Gaza City in the north, medics said two Palestinians were killed in another airstrike.
The Israeli military said in a statement its forces killed two senior Islamic Jihad commanders in two airstrikes in Gaza City, including one whom it said had taken part in the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that triggered the Gaza war.
In Rafah, residents said Israeli tanks advanced deeper in the western side of the city and took position on a hilltop there. The Israeli military said forces located several tunnels and killed several gunmen.
The armed wing of militant group Hamas and its allies said they fired mortar bombs at Israeli forces in southwest Rafah on Thursday.
More than a million people had sought shelter in Rafah from fighting further north, but most have scattered again since Israel launched an offensive in and around the city in May.
The fighting has pushed the 60-bed Red Cross field hospital in Rafah to the brink of capacity, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a statement on Thursday.
“The repeated mass casualty events resulting from the unrelenting hostilities have stretched to breaking point the response capacity of our hospital – and all health facilities in southern Gaza – to care for those with life-threatening injuries,” said William Schomburg, head of the ICRC’s subdelegation in Gaza.
CEASEFIRE EFFORTS STALLED
More than nine months into the war, Palestinian fighters led by Hamas are still able to attack Israeli forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, occasionally firing rocket barrages into Israel.
Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas after its militants killed 1,200 people and took more than 250 hostages in the Oct. 7 attack, according to Israeli tallies. More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory offensive since then, Gaza health authorities say.
On Tuesday, Israel said it had eliminated half of the leadership of Hamas’ military wing and killed or captured about 14,000 fighters since the start of the war. Israel says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
Hamas doesn’t release figures of casualties among its ranks and said Israel was exaggerating to portray a “fake victory.”
Diplomatic efforts by Arab mediators to halt the hostilities, backed by the United States, appear on hold, though all sides say they are open to more talks, including Israel and Hamas.
A deal would aim to end the war and release Israeli hostages in Gaza in return for many Palestinians jailed by Israel.
Hamas was awaiting an Israeli response to a ceasefire offer drafted by the United States based on ideas announced by President Joe Biden, a Palestinian official close to the mediation effort said.
“The feeling in Hamas is that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is stalling and that he might not say anything before he goes to the United States next week,” said the official, who asked not to be named.


Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say

Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say
Updated 18 July 2024
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Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say

Omani brothers behind Shi’ite mosque attack, police say
  • The brothers were killed in a shoot-out with security officers

MUSCAT: Perpetrators in the shooting that targeted a Shi’ite mosque in Oman’s Wadi al-Kabir area near the capital Muscat were all Omani citizens, state news agency ONA said on Thursday.

The perpetrators were brothers and were killed in a shoot-out with security officers, according to a statement released by the Omani police.

Monday’s shooting killed at least six people -- four Pakistanis, an Indian and an Omani police officer -- and wounded 28, authorities have said.

Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack in a rare operation in one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, the group said in a statement on Telegram on Tuesday.

The police said in their statement on Thursday that the perpetrators “were influenced by misguided ideas.”