Aid agencies decry ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza as Jordan hosts emergency summit

Special Aid agencies decry ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza as Jordan hosts emergency summit
Displaced Palestinian children line up to receive food in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 11 June 2024
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Aid agencies decry ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza as Jordan hosts emergency summit

Aid agencies decry ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in Gaza as Jordan hosts emergency summit
  • Israeli bombardment and closure of border crossings have compounded disaster, say aid workers 
  • Dead Sea conference aims to bolster the international community’s collective, coordinated response

DUBAI: Eight months after the war in Gaza began, the Palestinian population is in the grips of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe, deprived of sufficient food, water, shelter, sanitation and health services while under constant Israeli bombardment.

Israel’s military offensive has killed at least 36,654 Palestinians and injured 83,309 since Oct. 7, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health. The UN’s World Food Programme describes the situation in northern Gaza as a “full-blown famine.”

In response to the deepening crisis, Jordan is hosting an emergency international conference today to assess the humanitarian response. The event, at the King Hussein bin Talal Convention Center near the Dead Sea, is co-hosted by Egypt and the UN.

Jordan’s Royal Court said the aim of the meeting is “to identify ways to bolster the international community’s response to the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip” and seek “commitment for a collective coordinated response to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”




A man, woman, and children ride in the back of a tricycle loaded with belongings and other items as they flee bound for Khan Yunis, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 11, 2024. (AFP)

The crisis has dramatically worsened since the start of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah on May 6, Guillemette Thomas, the Medecins Sans Frontieres medical coordinator for Palestine, told Arab News.

She described conditions in Gaza as “catastrophic,” as she outlined the immense challenges international aid agencies face in distributing food, water, fuel and medical supplies to the population.

“Since the ground operations started, we’ve seen almost 1 million people leaving the area, and moving from one place to another with very few things, living already in dire conditions,” Thomas said.

The majority of the people who had been sheltering in Rafah, having already been displaced from elsewhere in Gaza, have now been forced to evacuate to Deir Al-Balah and Khan Younis, where there are no facilities in place to support them.




Palestinians flee with their belongings as smoke rises in the background, in the area of Tel Al-Sultan in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 30, 2024. (AFP)

“Intensified hostilities and military operations in Rafah have so far forced the displacement of approximately 1 million people,” a UN spokesperson told Arab News. “This has deepened the humanitarian crisis and significantly destabilized humanitarian aid. 

“Less than 100,000 people are estimated to have remained in Rafah governorate. At present, there are no functioning hospitals and no functioning bakeries inside Rafah. According to UNICEF, nine of every ten children in Gaza are experiencing severe food poverty, surviving on two or fewer food groups per day. 

“Deir Al-Balah and Khan Younis, where almost a million people have fled, are very crowded; people face dire shortages of food, clean water, medical supplies and healthcare services. Partners are currently providing hot meals in the area. 

“In northern Gaza, aid, primarily food, that has arrived via the northern crossings since May 1 has provided some relief, but lack of access to clean water, nutritious foods, health care and sanitation continue to devastate the area.”




A UN spokesperson said that intensified hostilities and military operations in Rafah have so far forced the displacement of approximately 1 million people. (AFP)

Gazan authorities have said about 3,500 children are at imminent risk of starvation because of severe shortages of milk, food, nutritional supplements and vaccines. Females are considered especially vulnerable.

“When it comes to women and girls, they are living in terrible conditions,” said Thomas. “There is no privacy, no hygiene and no access to basic necessities like showers or toilets.”

She said pregnant women are in an impossible situation, unable to give birth in humane conditions because of limited access to health facilities, which are overwhelmed by the scale of needs and a lack of supplies.

In the past eight months, at least 20,000 women have given birth in Gaza under extremely challenging conditions, said Dr. Hafeez ur Rahman of the nongovernmental organization Alkhidmat Foundation Pakistan.

“These newborn babies are also at high risk of malnutrition because their mothers do not intake enough nutrients in order to be able to feed them,” he told Arab News.

Rahman said most relief operations have been halted, including the provision of hot meals and clean drinking water, because of the ongoing fighting.




According to UNICEF, nine of every ten children in Gaza are experiencing severe food poverty, surviving on two or fewer food groups per day. (AFP)

Thomas said she fears the closure last month of the Rafah border crossing, through which much of the aid provided to Gazans had been arriving via Egypt, and restrictions placed on aid trucks at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, could make matters even worse. Kerem Shalom, which had been closed for several weeks, recently reopened but strict Israeli security checks remain in place.

“The number of trucks that used to enter before the closure was about 150 trucks per day,” said Thomas. “This is the number of trucks entering Kerem Shalom per week, now.”

The World Food Programme said that ongoing attacks have blocked access to its main warehouse in Rafah, and the quantity of aid entering Gaza fell by 67 percent to a daily average of 58 trucks between May 7 and May 28. The UN previously reported that 500 aid trucks entered Gaza each day on average in the months before Oct. 7.

“The incursion into Rafah has further choked off aid entering Gaza,” the spokesperson for the UN told Arab News. “The closure of Rafah has also reduced fuel supplies, affecting trucks, hospitals, sewage systems, desalination operations and bakeries.

“We need meaningful reassurances that our convoys and our facilities are not targeted. This means ensuring that the movement of aid movements within Gaza, including through checkpoints, is predictable and expedited. 

“It also means all roads are operational because land routes are the most viable, effective and efficient aid delivery method for the passage of life-saving humanitarian assistance and fuel into Gaza.”

While Israeli officials have insisted there is no limit on the amount of aid that can enter Gaza, the UN has accused authorities of imposing “unlawful restrictions” on relief operations, including blocked land routes, communications blackouts and air strikes.

According to Thomas, the biggest challenges currently facing Medecins Sans Frontieres in Gaza are gaining access to the population and having the means to safely distribute the limited supplies of hygiene kits, medications and food.

“Insecurity in Kerem Shalom and around the border is making our work extremely difficult as it is difficult to get the supplies across the border safely, to reach the warehouse safely, and then to be distributed to the population,” she said.

Because supplies are so limited, food prices have surged. There has also been an increase in reports of looting of the few aid trucks permitted to enter in recent weeks.

“For many people, they are just totally desperate,” Thomas said. “They have no food, hey have nothing, and at some point you just need to survive and get food for your kids.”




The World Food Programme said that the quantity of aid entering Gaza fell by 67 percent to a daily average of 58 trucks between May 7 and May 28. (AFP)

Since the closure of the Rafah crossing, aid agencies have been exploring other access routes. At the Western Erez crossing in Zikim, approximately 50 to 60 trucks are now able to enter the territory each day. While this remains insufficient, it is providing some relief to the population.

“Recently, a new route has been used by these NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) to deliver aid to Gaza, which starts from Jordan and goes through Israel and the West Bank,” said Rahman, whose Alkhidmat Foundation Pakistan has used this route to deliver aid in partnership with the Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization.

However, all of these routes are fully controlled by Israeli forces and every consignment is subject to approval by authorities, aid officials say, adding that as a result, truckloads of humanitarian relief have been left queuing at the border, unable to enter.

“There is a dire need to create pressure on Israel by the neighboring countries and the UN,” said Rahman. “The upcoming conference could prove to be beneficial for convincing the international community and Israel to allow aid into Gaza.”




Humanitarian aid dropped on Khan Yunis falls near tents sheltering Palestinians displaced by conflict in the southern Gaza Strip on June 4, 2024. (AFP)

Meanwhile, the few hospitals still functioning have been completely overwhelmed by the number of wounded and the lack of basic medical supplies they need to treat casualties.

An Israeli hostage-rescue operation on Saturday in the Nuseirat refugee camp and areas around Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah resulted in more than 200 deaths and at least 400 injuries, according to Gaza health officials.

“Within the last few days, we have been receiving many mass-casualty incidents in Al-Aqsa Hospital, where more than 300 wounded patients arrived in 24 hours,” said Thomas. “Seventy of them were dead on arrival due to the bombing and the shelling in crowded areas.”

The majority of the casualties were women and children, many of whom suffered burns covering more than 40 percent of their bodies. Others sustained complex fractures and required traumatic amputations, she added.

“Unfortunately, many of them will die following these kinds of injuries because we are simply unable to provide the necessary care for them,” said Thomas.

“When it comes to supplies, the level of violence is extremely high and the entry of medical supplies has almost stopped, which leaves us in a very critical situation now.”




The few hospitals still functioning have been completely overwhelmed by the number of wounded and the lack of basic medical supplies they need to treat casualties. (AFP)

Thomas said only three hospitals are still functioning in southern Gaza: Nasser Hospital, Gaza European Hospital, and Al-Aqsa Hospital. A few field hospitals have been set up in Al-Mawasi and other areas, managed by NGOs such as UK-MED and International Medical Corps.

“It is very important to understand that we cannot replace a hospital with a field hospital,” said Thomas. “We are doing what we can in these kinds of facilities but it is really not enough.”

The conditions for patients in field hospitals are far from ideal, she explained, adding: “They are under tents, it’s extremely hot and it’s unsafe. Any shrapnel that enters the hospital area leaves everyone unprotected. It’s not safe for the patients or the health workers.”




Palestinians walk on a ravaged road in front of Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 2, 2024. (AFP)

Doctors are also witnessing a rise in diseases that were unseen before the war, including numerous cases of acute diarrhea leading to dehydration, and skin diseases resulting from poor hygiene.

“Many diseases we’re seeing at primary health centers are directly related to living conditions: the lack of access to clean water, proper shelter and basic sanitation systems,” said Thomas.

“We need a ceasefire, we need this war to end. There is no other solution to be able to help this population. We need full access to the population. This is the message we want to send today.”

 


What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?

What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?
Updated 24 min 56 sec ago
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What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?

What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?
  • A Turkish man was arrested in Istanbul earlier this month after threatening a group of Saudi tourists with a knife
  • The incident occurred against the backdrop of a fresh wave of violence against Syrians living in Turkiye

LONDON: A spike in the number of violent assaults on Arabs in Turkiye in recent times has raised concern about the safety of foreigners in a country visited by tens of thousands of tourists from Middle East countries and which hosts millions of Syrian refugees.

Earlier this month, a Turkish man was arrested in Istanbul after threatening a group of Saudi tourists with a knife while seemingly hurling derogatory epithets at them, Al-Arabiya reported.

A video of the attack recently circulated on social media showing the man making a hand gesture associated with the Gray Wolves — an ultranationalist and pan-Turkic group established in the late 1960s as the youth wing of the Nationalist Movement Party.

The Gray Wolves have long been associated with violent acts, including attacks on leftists, Kurds and other minority groups. Despite their controversial reputation, they remain influential in Turkish society.

Turkiye is a popular destination for Saudi tourists, with 650,000 of them visiting from January through August last year, according to the Saudi Gazette newspaper. An outburst of hostility toward Arabs could dent Saudi visitor numbers.

This was of course not the first time that clips of attacks on Arab tourists in Turkiye went viral online. Incidents involving fistfights and xenophobic insults were uploaded to social media platforms last year by users from the Gulf states and Egypt.

Turkish man threatening to attack Saudis in a cafe in Turkiye. (Twitter photo/File)

The knife-brandishing incident occurred against the backdrop of a fresh wave of violence against Syrians in Turkiye, following the arrest of a 26-year-old Syrian man on charges of sexual assault against a minor in Kayseri, Central Anatolia.

Riots broke out overnight on June 30 across Kayseri after news spread on social media about a Syrian man who was allegedly caught abusing a 7-year-old female relative in a public restroom in the Melikgazi district, according to a Reuters report.

The rioters attacked and vandalized dozens of Syrian-owned businesses, homes, and vehicles, following which the violence spread to other parts of Turkiye, including Gaziantep, Bursa, and Hatay, where a Syrian grocery store was set on fire.

WHO AREGRAY WOLVES?

Turkish ultranationalist and pan-Turkic group.

Paramilitary wing of the Nationalist Movement Party.

Believes in the supremacy of the Turkish race and nation.

Rose to prominence in the late 1970s.

Outlawed for hate speech in France in 2020.

Ali Yerlikaya, the Turkish interior minister, said the assault was being investigated and condemned the rioters’ actions as “illegal” and contrary to the nation’s values.

He said in a post on X that local authorities had detained 67 of the protesters, stressing that it was “unacceptable for our people to harm the environment without considering public order, security and human rights.”

In a separate post, Yerlikaya said authorities were investigating several X accounts that had helped to stoke the violence, with 10 referred to the prosecutor’s office.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the violence, saying: “Nothing can be achieved by fueling xenophobia and hatred of refugees in society.”

A few days after the Kayseri incident, the personal data of some 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkiye was leaked online, sparking fears of an eruption of xenophobic violence.

The Turkish Interior Ministry confirmed that the personal details of Syrians under temporary protection were shared from the social media account “Uprising#Turkey,” which is run by a 14-year-old.

“The necessary action was taken against E.P. (the account admin) by the Istanbul Children’s Branch Directorate,” the ministry said in a statement.

UK-based Syrian activist Lana, whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity, told Arab News that her family in Gaziantep “went through hell for at least two weeks following the Kayseri incident.”

She said: “In the few days following the riots, they couldn’t even leave the house to buy bread. They were gripped by fear and paralyzed by the uncertainty created by the recent developments, including talk since June (regarding the) end of normalization of Turkish ties with President Bashar Assad.”

Marwah, a Syrian who lives in Bursa and works in human resources, thinks social media was responsible for blowing the situation out of proportion.

“While following the news, I felt like I’d be killed for my identity if I stepped outside my house, but this has not been the case,” she told Arab News.

Still, the news and footage of the riots have caused panic among Syrians. “Some have frantically sold their possessions or borrowed about $8,000 to flee Turkiye while others have contemplated returning to Syria,” said Marwah.

“Even my colleague who has Turkish citizenship was inquiring about relocating to Egypt despite not having witnessed any of the violence.”

FASTFACT

3.6 million

Registered Syrian refugees in Turkiye. (UNHCR)

UN agencies and several human rights bodies, including Amnesty International, have concluded that Syria remains unsafe for refugee repatriation.

Marwah explained that although violence against Syrians has not been unusual in Turkiye since the outbreak of civil war in 2011 sent millions fleeing abroad, “Kayseri is a place where Syrians and Turks have coexisted peacefully, with 48 percent of workers being Syrian.

“Apparently it was not easy to incite strife between Syrians and Turks in Kayseri, so it had to be done through something related to common values, as the people of Kayseri are generally conservative,” said Marwah.

She said she heard from locals that “groups of thugs were brought to Kayseri in buses to stir up violence.

“Turks in Kayseri, which is an industrial city, typically retire early, so it is unlikely the locals were the ones who engaged in the violence against Syrians,” she said, stressing that “anyone living in Turkiye for years would know that those riots — and their social media coverage — could not have erupted spontaneously, without prior planning.”

Anti-Arab sentiments may have already put a damper on the Turkish tourism industry’s ambitions.

According to the news website Hurriyet Daily, the number of tourists visiting Turkiye from Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan dropped in 2023 respectively by 34 percent, 17 percent, 24.2 percent, 24.4 percent and 22.2 percent.

UK-based Syrian activist Lana said that “while heightened anti-Arab racism in recent years has caused a decline in Arab tourism to Turkiye, the biggest impact is felt by Syrian nationals, who for the last three years have been pursuing onward migration to Europe.”

She believes the hostility has been encouraged in part because Syrian refugees have been used as a “political pawn” in local elections and “are not included in any discussions related to their status and future.”

In this 2017 photo, Syrian refugees are allowed to return to Syria at the Oncupinar crossing gate near the town of Kilis, south central Turkey, to attend al-Adha festivities. (AFP/File)

Enass, a France-based Syrian journalist who also requested anonymity, believes “Turkiye, like other neighboring countries, has profited from hosting Syrian refugees.

“There was a clear agreement to increase EU support for Turkiye in exchange for curbing the influx of refugees to European countries in 2015,” she told Arab News, emphasizing that most of Syria’s neighbors “addressed the refugee crisis as an emergency rather than a permanent situation.”

In 2016, an agreement was reached between the European Commission and Ankara to control the flow of irregular migrant boats to Greece. Turkiye agreed to tighten border security at its shores in exchange for 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion).

“The government’s management of the refugee issue has been both political and economic, aimed at serving the national interest, while the public has often been misled about how their country benefited from hosting Syrian refugees,” said Enass.

She added that many Turkish politicians, particularly during election campaigns, “have employed an anti-refugee rhetoric” that “has contributed to inciting violence against vulnerable Syrian communities across the country.

“For years, competing political parties in Turkiye have spread misleading information about the support provided to Syrian refugees. This has led Turkish citizens to believe refugees were entitled to services and support, which in turn has contributed to economic inflation. This isn’t true,” Enass said.

“Opposition parties capitalized on this misinformation to stoke anger among the Turkish populace.”

Syrian entrepreneurs in Turkiye wholly or partly owned at least 10,000 businesses as of 2019, according to a study by the Economic Research Foundation of Turkiye. Those enterprises employ around 44,000 Syrians as well as thousands of Turkish nationals.

Enass said the changing political and economic landscape “is prompting the Turkish government to take new measures that encourage Syrians to ‘voluntarily’ return, but this is a form of unjustified deportation of individuals holding valid permits.”

She added: “The delay in addressing security incidents against Syrians in Turkiye undermines the interests of Syrians and contributes to the rise in hate speech.”

Erdogan has said he sees no reason not to restore diplomatic relations with Damascus, but the Syrian leadership has conditioned normalization on the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syrian territory.

A rapprochement would see the opening of a crossing between government-held areas and those controlled by Turkish-backed opposition forces in Aleppo province.
 

 


PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday

PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday
Updated 17 July 2024
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PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday

PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday

DUBAI: Egypt will halt load-shedding power cuts during the summer as of Sunday, after some natural gas shipments arrived, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said on Wednesday, in a bid to end a crisis that inconvenienced a population of 106 million.

The North African country has been grappling with power shortages as high cooling demand during summer drives up consumption. Egypt generates most of its electricity from burning natural gas.

Load-shedding refers to rotating power cuts in parts of the electricity grid to prevent failure of the entire system when demand exceeds capacity.

Egypt’s daily power consumption has exceeded 37 gigawatts, up 12 percent from last year, Madbouly said in a televised press conference.

It has received five cargoes containing 155,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas out of 21 cargoes that it contracted for, the Petroleum Ministry said on Monday.


Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command

Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command
Updated 17 July 2024
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Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command

Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command
  • Attacks double compared to 2023

BAGHDAD: The US Central Command said on Wednesday that the Daesh group is trying “to reconstitute” as the number of attacks in Syria and Iraq is on track to double this year, compared to the year before.

Daesh claimed 153 attacks in the two countries in the first six months of 2024, CENTCOM said in a statement. 

According to a US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t allowed to speak publicly on the matter, the group was behind 121 attacks in Syria and Iraq in 2023.

“The increase in attacks indicates Daesh is attempting to reconstitute following several years of decreased capability,” CENTCOM said.

In northeastern Syria, Kurdish-led authorities issued a general amnesty on Wednesday that would include hundreds of Syrians who have been held by the main US-backed force over their roles within IS.

The US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are holding over 10,000 captured Daesh fighters in around two dozen detention facilities — including 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them. The SDF captured the last sliver of land in Syria from Daesh in March 2019.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said a life sentence will be reduced to 15 years in jail, while those detainees serving life sentences who have incurable diseases will be set free, as will those who have reached the age of 75. 

It said the amnesty will not include Daesh officials and members who fought against the SDF, nor those who carried out attacks with explosives that killed people. Legal expert Khaled Jabr said the amnesty will include some 600 Syrian citizens who are held on terrorism charges and links to Daesh, as long as their hands are not tainted with blood or they were detained while fighting SDF members. The announcement comes just after the 10-year mark since the militant group declared its caliphate in large parts of Iraq and Syria. 

At its peak, the group ruled an area half the size of the UK where it attempted to enforce its extreme interpretation of Islam, which included attacks on religious minority groups and harsh punishment of Muslims deemed to be apostates.


Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis

Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis
Updated 17 July 2024
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Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis

Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis

TRIPOLI: Tunisia’s prime minister urged European countries on Wednesday to increase financial assistance to his country and others to help tackle the flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

Tunisia has faced protests by local residents and extra financial costs over migrants arriving from other countries in the hope of traveling on to Europe by sea, risking perilous journeys on what in many cases are dilapidated boats.

Thousands of migrants are now concentrated in southern Tunisian towns such as Amra and Jbeniana, many of them fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.

“More assistance must be provided to countries such as Tunisia. The aid provided is insufficient to address the problem,” Tunisian Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani told a migration conference in Tripoli.

He said Tunisia was a victim country and was exhausting its public finances on efforts to deal with the migration crisis, which is an additional burden for a government that was already facing other problems.

“There are towns that have absorbed migrants beyond their ability,” he said, referring to Amra and Jbeniana.

“There has been money spent for 10 or 50 years on this problem, and this problem has not been solved,” Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh told the conference. “This money must be spent there (in the countries of origin) and not in detention camps, whether in Libya or Europe.”

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told the conference that the situation could not be resolved without tackling the problem in the countries of origin.


Syrian official who oversaw prisons with widespread allegations of abuse arrested by US officials

Syrian official who oversaw prisons with widespread allegations of abuse arrested by US officials
Updated 17 July 2024
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Syrian official who oversaw prisons with widespread allegations of abuse arrested by US officials

Syrian official who oversaw prisons with widespread allegations of abuse arrested by US officials
  • Samir Ousman Al-Sheikh, 72, was arrested last week at Los Angeles International Airport on immigration fraud charges
  • Al-Sheikh, who was in charge of Syria’s infamous Adra prison, ‘provided materially false information on his visa application’

LOS ANGELES: A former Syrian military official who oversaw prisons with widespread allegations of abuse has been arrested in Los Angeles.
Samir Ousman Al-Sheikh, 72, was arrested last week at Los Angeles International Airport on immigration fraud charges, specifically that he denied on his US visa and citizenship applications that he had ever carried out any abuse in Syria, according to a criminal complaint filed on July 9.
Al-Sheikh, who was in charge of Syria’s infamous Adra prison, “provided materially false information on his visa application by falsely stating that he had not committed, ordered, incited, assisted, or otherwise participated in extrajudicial killings, political killings, or other acts of violence,” the complaint states. Al-Sheikh has been a resident of Los Angeles since 2020.
Investigators were considering additional charges, according to court papers.
“This is the highest level Assad regime official arrested anywhere in the world, it is the highest regime official arrested in the United States for sure, if not the only one of his type,” Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, said Wednesday. “This is a really big deal, it’s unprecedented.”
Human rights groups and United Nations officials have accused the Syrian government of widespread abuses in its detention facilities, including torture and arbitrary detention of thousands of people, in many cases without informing their families about their fate. Many remain missing and are presumed to have died or been executed.
Other players in Syria’s civil war, now in its 14th year, have also been accused of abuse of detainees, including insurgent groups and the US-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, which guard suspected and convicted Islamic State members imprisoned in northeastern Syria.
The war, which has left nearly half a million people dead and displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, began as peaceful protests against the government of Bashar Assad in March 2011.