Archive for September 9, 2017

Tuesday 22 August

Civilians fleeing the Islamic State (IS) group’s two remaining Syrian strongholds face “horrific conditions” in dozens of poorly equipped camps on the outskirts of Syrian cities.

Many of these camps lack clean water, food and healthcare. Some are run by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, according to camp residents. The SDF denies it runs the camps, despite them being in territory under its control.

The fighting in areas where US-backed forces continue to battle IS militants has forced tens of thousands of Syrians from their homes into dozens of camps in Hasakeh and Raqqa provinces.

Many find themselves trapped in terrible conditions.

“Living in an actual prison would have been easier than living in one of these camps,” said Ahmed, who fled his home in Deir Ezzor along with his parents and five brothers and moved to al-Sad camp, also known as Arisha.

Arisha is located in the southern suburbs of Hasakeh and is considered one of the biggest IDP camps housing about 6,000 people.

“We are like prisoners in the camp, not even allowed to leave,” added Ahmed.

In a statement on 14 August, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Syrian civilians in Arisha as well as in dozens of other poorly equipped informal camps face “terrible, terrible conditions”.

“There is one camp called Arisha in Hasakeh governorate. The camp itself used to be an oil refinery, so you see children playing in toxic waste, drinking and bathing in contaminated water,” ICRC spokesperson Ingy Sedky said.

According to Ahmed, six people died in Arisha recently due to rising temperatures and the lack of medical care.

“The ambulance comes to the camp every day because the women and elderly keep falling ill due to the heat, lack of hygiene and an abundance of insects, snakes, and scorpions.”

About 70,000 people are living in such camps, which are often in hard-to-reach locations, complicating aid provision, according to the ICRC.

‘Death Camps’

Mohamed Hassan, a Syrian activist heading the “Death Camps” Campaign, an online initiative launched last week to raise awareness about the conditions in Syrian IDP camps, said that civilians were facing deadly conditions in eight informal camps on the outskirts of Hasakeh and Raqqa, and which are run by the SDF.

“Many Syrians leaving their homes are transferred by SDF members to SDF-run camps which lack any source of water or medical facilities,” Hassan told MEE.

Residents of the eight camps – Rajm Salibi, Arisha, Alhoul and Mabouka in the suburbs of Hasakeh, Ain Eissa and Karama in the suburbs of Raqqa, and Ruwaishid and Rukban near the Iraqi border – reported poor conditions, and said that vital resources, such as medical facilities and food, are lacking, reported the campaigners.

Many well-known Syrian activists, including Lina al-Shamy and others, have joined the Twitter campaign to raise awareness about the issue.

In its report, the ICRC documented that tents at these camps tend to be placed in the middle of the desert, with snakes and scorpions posing a daily threat to the residents. Many of the camps are poorly equipped, lacking basic medical equipment and access to clean water, according to ICRC spokesperson Sedky.

“Most of the camps don’t have doctors on site. They don’t even have bandages, even the simplest things are not available. As a result, the camps’ inhabitants are at risk of chronic diseases,” Sedky said at the time.

Other camps lacked even the most basic items, including tents, with new arrivals sleeping in the open for up to 10 days while waiting for shelter.

The ICRC also reported that around 50 percent of camp residents are children, with intense heat and overcrowding making the conditions even worse.

“At the same time, the sheer number of people arriving every day is adding to the catastrophe,” he added saying that there were about 18,000 people dispersed across the eight camps, all of which lack basic services.

According to ICRC, IDP camps in Syria are cramped with some housing anywhere between 2,000 and 10,000 people. And as the fighting has continued, the numbers within the camps have been increasing, the Red Cross said in a statement earlier this month.

Hassan told MEE that one camp was established along the frontlines between the SDF and IS and have therefore been sites where civilians died due to the fighting.

“IS attacked the IDPs in the Rajm Salabi camp last month while it was fighting with SDF and this led to 37 people being killed inside the camp,” said Hassan.

According to the campaign organizers, Rajm Salabi, located in the suburbs of Hasakeh, is run by the SDF and houses about 400 families, most of whom fled their homes in Deir Ezzor.

But SDF spokesperson Mustafa Bali told MEE that his forces did not manage any camps across Syria and are “solely preoccupied with fighting IS”.

‘Living in a prison’

After fleeing the violence around his home in Deir Ezzor, Mohamed, 22, was taken by a member of the SDF to the Karama camp in the suburbs of Raqqa and interrogated for hours before being left without a tent.

“We arrived at the camp to find nothing but sand. The women and children were taken to a tent but all the men were left to sit and sleep in the open with nothing to shade us from the heat of the desert,” Mohamed told MEE.

“After that, each one of us was searched and questioned by members of SDF to make sure we weren’t affiliated with IS,” he added.

According to Mohamed, when he tried to leave the camp, members of the SDF would not let him go without paying an extortionate amount of money.

“The SDF wouldn’t let anyone out of the camp unless they were ill or willing to pay a huge sum of money,” said Mohamed.

“For a young man like me, they wanted a huge amount.”

Source: Middle East Eye.


11 Aug, 2017

AlDorar AlShamia:

The newly formed National Liberation Front of Syria (NFL) has announced the entry of new revolutionary factions into its ranks.

The Front published a number of statements bearing the names of the factions affiliated to it, namely, Osoud al-Furat Gathering, the Martyr Abu Mansur al-Amel Brigade, the Kafar Shams Martyrs Brigade, the Free Golan Brigade, the Golan Command Brigade and the Special Tasks Brigade.

At the end of last July, 10 military factions joined the group: the Commandos, the Qadisiyah Brigade, the Ahbab Omar Brigade, the Ra’ad, the Ahrar al-Janoub, the Maghawir al-Janoub, Ahrar al-Masifra, the martyrs of Damascus, Osoud Bani Umiya and the Karak martyrs.

It is noteworthy that the “National Front for the Liberation of Syria” was announced on July 22 after the merger of more than ten military factions.

It is worth mentioning that one of the objectives of the new formation – according to a previous statement – is to “restore the Syrian revolution to the right direction, to overthrow the injustice regime, to keep the national decision free and independent, to preserve the unity of Syria and the people and the gains achieved through the sacrifice of the people.”

Source: al-Dorar al-Shamia.


August 28, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip said Monday his group has repaired relations with Iran after a five-year rift and is using its newfound financial and military aid to gear up for new hostilities with Israel.

The announcement by Yehiyeh Sinwar came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Israel. At a meeting with the U.N. chief, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about what he called rising anti-Israel activity by Iran and its allies in the region.

Iran was once the top backer of Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction. But Hamas broke with Iran in 2012 after the group refused to support Iran’s close ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Syrian civil war.

During a four-hour meeting with journalists, Sinwar said those ties have been restored and are stronger than ever. “Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent,” Sinwar said. He added that the Islamic Republic is “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’ military wing.

It was the first time that Sinwar has met reporters since he was elected in February. The 55-year-old Sinwar, who spent two decades in Israeli prison after being convicted of masterminding the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, has close ties with Hamas’ militant wing and takes a hard line toward Israel.

Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, and Israel has recently expressed concern that Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are seeking a permanent military presence in Syria near the Israeli border. Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed Assad’s forces in the Syrian war.

In his meeting with Guterres, Netanyahu alleged Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce “precision-guided missiles” to be used against Israel. “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept.”

Israel has also accused the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, of failing to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling huge quantities of weapons into southern Lebanon in violation of a 2006 cease-fire. UNIFIL’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent the alleged Hezbollah arms buildup.

UNIFIL’s commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, told The Associated Press last week that he has no evidence that weapons are being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the Hezbollah-dominated south. But Guterres promised Netanyahu that he will do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said. Responding to Israeli claims that the U.N. is biased, Guterres stressed his commitment to “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

Guterres heads to the West Bank on Tuesday and is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday. The U.N. maintains major operations in Gaza, running schools and health clinics and delivering humanitarian aid. Guterres is not scheduled to speak to Hamas.

Late Monday, Guterres met with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, commander of COGAT, the defense body that is responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. Mordechai blamed Hamas for the poor conditions in Gaza, saying the group tries to exploit civilians and aid programs. He also said Hamas’ refusal to return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, along with two Israeli civilians it is holding, hinders Israeli efforts to assist Gaza.

“The terror organization Hamas does not hesitate at all and repeatedly exploits the Gaza residents by attempting to take advantage of Israel’s assistance, despite the severe civil hardships in the strip,” Mordechai said.

Guterres later met with the families of the dead soldiers and captive Israeli civilians. In his briefing with reporters, Sinwar would not say how much aid Iran provides his group. Before the 2012 breakup, Iran provided an estimated $50 million a month to Hamas.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks. It is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Sinwar stressed that the Iranian aid is for “rebuilding and accumulating” Hamas’ military powers for a larger fight against Israel that is meant to “liberate Palestine.” “Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, (dig) tunnels and train frogmen,” he said. “The relationship with Iran is in this context.”

But the shadowy leader said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel, instead preferring to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a decade ago. Trying to pressure Hamas and regain control, Abbas has asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza, and he has slashed the salaries of thousands of his former government employees there.

The result is that Gaza suffers acute power outages of up to 16 hours a day, unemployment of nearly 50 percent and widespread poverty. Sinwar has turned to Egypt, which has begun to ease the blockade as it seeks Hamas’ help in controlling their border. The Egyptian military has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai desert, near Gaza.

Relations with Cairo “have improved dramatically,” Sinwar said. Egypt has recently sent fuel to ease the power crisis in response to Hamas’ building of a buffer zone along the border. “We will knock on all the doors, except that of the (Israeli) occupation, to resolve the problems,” he said.

Sinwar was among more than 1,000 Palestinians released by Israel in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006. Sinwar said there would be no new talks over a prisoner swap until Israel frees 54 prisoners released in the Schalit swap that have been re-arrested.

“We are ready to start negotiations through a mediator, but only when the table is cleaned. Freed prisoners must feel they are immune.”

Federman reported from Jerusalem.


BENGHAZI – Two months after the dominant military force in eastern Libya declared victory in a campaign to retake Benghazi, Hassan al-Zawy is living rough in his home in the district that witnessed the city’s last major battle.

Like many other residents, he ventured back as Khalifa Haftar Libyan National Army gradually wrested back control from Islamist militants and other rebel groups.

Parts of Libya’s second city were reduced to rubble during more than three years of fighting and, with economic crisis and political turmoil gripping the country, rebuilding is a daunting challenge.

“There are flies, mosquitoes and garbage. At night, we have absolutely nothing,” Zawy said in mid-August in the seafront neighborhood of Sabri.

“We’ve been here for one month and 10 days and all we want from the state is (this): electricity and water, and for people to return to their homes, and stay there.” A conflict that developed after strongman Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in an uprising six years ago has yet to be resolved. Benghazi, where the 2011 revolution started, has seen some of the worst violence. Tens of thousands of residents, many opposed to Haftar, were displaced to other Libyan cities.

Sabri is where Haftar’s rivals had their final strongholds, and was bombarded by LNA heavy artillery and air strikes up until a few weeks ago. Sporadic fighting continued after Haftar announced victory on July 5..

People recover what they can from the rubble of ruined buildings. Children help with the cleanup.

Afterwards, men sit outside drinking tea or coffee and guarding their streets. One says he will stay in his home even if he has to hang towels over the doors and windows.

Another Sabri resident, Farag Mahmoud, said some people were so keen to get back to their homes that they were ignoring the risk from land mines still planted in parts of the district.

“We found our homes had been flooded from broken pipes in the plumbing systems, and were submerged in water around 70 to 80 centimeters deep,” he said.

Some returning residents have formed citizens’ committees to lobby the municipal authorities on water, electricity and hygiene, said Milad Fadlallah, a local engineer.

Most residents in the less severely damaged eastern part of Sabri would be able to spend the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which starts on Sept. 1, back in their neighborhood, Fadlallah said.

But a lack of funds and political leadership in a country still divided between two rival governments will hinder reconstruction, said Osama al-Kaza, director of projects at Benghazi’s municipality.

In Benghazi, the conflict has also had left deep physical and psychological scars.

“Achieving an outstanding and modern image for the city will have to be done in stages, will take years and cost billions,” he said.

Source: Middle East Online.


August 22, 2017

An unofficial armed group is stopping boats used by people smugglers from setting off from Libya to cross the Mediterranean Sea, resulting in a fall in the number of migrants making the perilous journey.

There has been a noted decline in migrants arriving in Italy from Libya this year. Libya is the main route for migration to Europe but there was a fall of more than 50 per cent in July compared with 2016. Even fewer have made the journey this month, despite this time of year being a peak period due to more favorable weather and sea conditions.

The EU’s Frontex border control agency said last week that “clashes in Sabratha” contributed to July’s migrant decline. The agency also cited changeable weather and an increased Libyan coastguard presence.

According to sources in Sabratha, the sudden drop has been due to a new group operating in the city which is preventing migrants from leaving and in some cases locking them up in detention centers instead, reports Lebanon’s Daily Star. The group is made up of several hundred “civilians, policemen and army figures” who conduct a “very strong campaign” that was launched by a “former mafia boss,” local sources told Associated Press.

Italy has been trying to bolster the ability of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) to stop people smuggling by giving cash incentives, training the coastguard and sending a ship to help repair coastguard and naval vessels.

Over 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea from North Africa since 2014; more than 12,000 having died trying to make the journey. Italy will be looking to replicate a deal with Libya like the one struck by the EU with Turkey last year to shut down migrant routes through Greece and the Balkan states.

The UN-backed GNA has little control over armed groups in western Libya, including the capital, and none at all over militant factions which control the east of the country under the leadership of the Libyan National Army’s Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar. Smuggling networks are likely to keep on operating as along as the country suffers from a lack of a strong central authority, the absence of which has worsened Libya’s security situation.

Source: Middle East Monitor.


August 22, 2017

Derna Local Council and civil society institutions have reiterated their call to state officials and all local and international human rights organizations to intervene and save their besieged city.

The council said in a statement that the siege of the city imposed by Dignity Operation militants is still in force despite their announcement of partial lifting of the blockade.

“Dignity Operation forces are still banning access of food, fuel and medical supplies to the city”, read the statement.

Source: Libya Observer.


August 17, 2017

Clashes erupted Wednesday among groups of gunmen of Omar Al-Mukhtar operations room near Martuba checkpoint in east Derna.

According to eyewitnesses, the gunmen used light weapons to resolve the dispute over who should be controlling the checkpoint that separate Derna from the areas eastward.

“The gunmen, after internal clashes, opened fire on Derna locals who were gathering there since early morning to enter Martuba to buy basic needs after all of the city’s entrances and exits have been closed for two weeks.” Eyewitnesses added.

According to sources, the reason behind the clashes was that some of the gunmen wanted to open the road for Derna residents to enter Martuba, while others disagreed.

Tens of Derna locals gather every day in front of Martuba road’s checkpoint hoping to get a pass to go and buy whatever they could find of the needed basic needs like foods, medicines and fuel after the siege of Haftar-led forces had left the city on the verge of a humanitarian disaster.

Meanwhile, the head of the Derna local council, Awad Al-Aweij, said in presser in Tripoli that the city has become a disaster, calling on the residents to break the siege.

He also urged local and international organizations and officials to lift the siege on Derna and allow the basic needs and services to enter the city urgently via humanitarian corridors.

Source: Libya Observer.


August 14, 2017

Pro-Haftar Omar Al-Mukhtar Operations Room is preparing for carrying out a land attack on Derna city in the coming days after the crippling siege that has been laid by Haftar’s forces on the city depriving them of basic humanitarian needs.

The spokesman of the Dignity Operation forces, Ahmed Al-Mismari, revealed a plan for the attack on Derna by controlling strategic spots in the city including Wadi Al-Naqa area and western entrance of the city, which was used by Derna Shura Council fighters in several attacks against Haftar’s forces.

“A new joint operations room was formed in Ean Mara area.” Al-Mismari added.

In that area, there is a force called “Awliya Al-Dam” (blood Owners) a group of civilians related to the victims of Al-Qubba explosion two years ago, when over 50 people got killed from Ean Mara area.

The residents of Ean Mara still hold Derna Shura Council accountable for the explosion despite the fact that IS militants – who were fought out of Derna by the council fighters – claimed responsibility for it.

“Other fight axes will be protecting the advance of the frontline forces.” Al-Mismari added, naming Martuba in east Darn and Al-Fatayeh as well.

He also indicated that a new fighting axis will see warplanes taking part in the operation, without saying which warplanes – Haftar’s ones or those from other countries like Egypt, which had already air-attacked Derna several times.

Al-Mismari explained that, on Sunday, ground troops advanced toward Derna from five fighting axes under an aircraft cover, adding that their fighter jets had targeted houses in Daher Al-Hamar area on the outskirt of the city and destroyed two vehicles for Derna Shura Council.

Dignity Operation toughened the grip on Derna city after the downing of pro-Haftar aircraft on August 02, disallowing the residents from going out or in leading to worsened living conditions amid shortages of food, fuel and medicines.

Source: Libya Observer.


August 13, 2017

ROME (AP) — A second humanitarian group in two days has reluctantly decided to suspend migrant rescues in the Mediterranean Sea due to Libyan threats, and other charities with rescue ships on Sunday were considering doing the same.

Germany-based Sea-Eye said it made the decision to halt its water rescues “with a heavy heart,” but for the sake of its crew’s safety. Sea-Eye cited the “changed security situation in the Western Mediterranean” following the Tripoli-based government’s announcement it was extending its territorial waters.

Save the Children said its rescue ship was staying in Malta after Libya declared that its search-and-rescue area now will extend far beyond the 12 nautical miles Italy and other countries consider the limit of its territorial waters.

Libya also proclaimed its intention to “extend its control and prohibition of NGO ships in international waters,” according to Save the Children, which is evaluating whether to stop its ship’s patrols.

On Saturday, Doctors Without Borders also cited Libyan threats in suspending its sea rescue activities. A Spanish aid group’s rescue ship reported that the Libyan coast guard last week fired warning shots at them while the vessel was in international waters.

Humanitarian groups worry that if migrants are blocked at sea after setting out from Libyan shores in smugglers’ unseaworthy boats, they risk drowning without rescue ships nearby. They also fear that migrants will be mistreated in Libyan detention centers if they are thwarted from leaving the North African country.

The Italian Parliament recently approved the center-left government’s request to send a naval mission to Libya to help the Libyan coast guard patrol its coast for migrant smugglers. In an interview published Sunday in La Stampa daily newspaper, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano was quoted as saying, “We must avoid deaths at sea by reducing the departures” from Libya.

“We made two choices: that of taking away criminal earnings from traffickers — because fewer persons departing mean the traffickers earn less — and that of financing the U.N. agencies” working with refugees and migrants to “assure respect for human rights in the Libyan camps.”

Some rescued migrants have told Italian judicial authorities that while waiting months for a chance to get on the smugglers’ boats, they suffered from scarce rations, forced labor, rape, beating and torture.

Save the Children said it was seeking guarantees it could safely carry out effective rescue operations, and expressed worry for “the possibility that migrants are brought back to Libya, that’s not considered a safe place where fundamental human rights are respected.”

After hundreds of thousands of migrants rescued from foundering boats were brought to Italian ports in the last few years, Italians have become worried about the costs of caring for asylum-seekers in a country where unemployment is high and the economy is flat.

With elections due next year, Italian politicians of most stripes are advocating strategies to choke off the flow of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.


DOHA – Qatar said Tuesday that a new $7.4 billion port would help to “break the shackles” of a three-month-old boycott of the gas-rich emirate by Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

The Hamad Port, which began operating in December, is a major hub for imports to Qatar, hit by a land and air embargo by some of its most powerful neighbors.

“This is a gateway to break the shackles imposed on Qatar,” transport minister Jassim bin Saif Al-Sulaiti said in a speech during an inauguration ceremony for the port held Tuesday.

“Nothing can stop us and our ambition,” he added.

In a relatively rare public appearance since the onset of the crisis, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani attended the inauguration but did not speak.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of bankrolling Islamist extremist groups and having close ties to Shiite Iran.

Qatar denies the charges.

Tuesday’s hour-long ceremony, broadcast live on Qatari television stations, included a band, acrobats and fireworks.

The ostentatious display was a clear signal of defiance to Qatar’s neighbors after their suspension of economic and diplomatic relations with Doha.

Hamad will be Qatar’s largest container port and will provide commercial access to some 150 countries, according to official reports.

These include links to regional ports in Oman and Kuwait, and more distant ports of call from Turkey to India and Pakistan.

Qatar previously relied on neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for food imports.

But as part of the sanctions, Saudi Arabia sealed its land border with Qatar.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran have since stepped in to help meet Qatar’s food needs.

The Hamad Port is located on Qatar’s south eastern coast, around an hour’s drive from Doha.

It has a capacity of 1.7 million tonnes of general freight and one million tonnes of grain, according to Mwani Qatar, the country’s port management company.

Source: Middle East Online.