Archive for August, 2018


August 29, 2018

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Britain and Nigeria signed a security and defense agreement during a one-day visit by Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday as Africa’s most populous country struggles to defeat Boko Haram extremists and others linked to the Islamic State organization.

The British prime minister is on a three-country Africa visit with a large business delegation as Britain seeks to boost economic ties ahead of a bumpy exit from the European Union in March. This is the first visit by a British prime minister to Africa in five years. May also stopped in South Africa, another of the continent’s top economies, and she goes next to Kenya.

After meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, May said the countries will work together on “shared security threats like Boko Haram and human trafficking.” The defense aid includes more training and equipment for Nigeria’s military, which has been criticized by human rights groups over alleged abuses that it denies.

Last week, Buhari attracted headlines when he told troops in northwestern Zamfara state that “as your commander-in-chief, I want you to be as ruthless as humanly possible” against bandits in the region: “Nigerians deserve some peace.”

As elections approach next year Buhari is under pressure to deliver on promises to improve the country’s security, in particular to defeat Boko Haram’s years-long insurgency in the northeast. The extremists, known both for mass abductions and for using young women as suicide bombers, continue to carry out attacks on military bases and in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and the insurgency’s birthplace.

Buhari and his government more than once have declared that Boko Haram had been crushed. As Europe worries about migration and human trafficking from West Africa, May also announced a new project with France to help Nigeria, the region’s powerhouse, and neighboring Niger improve border cooperation along one of the main migration routes north. Nigeria and other West African countries in recent months have brought hundreds of migrants stranded in Libya home after reports of abuses, but the dream of employment remains a draw for some in the region where poverty and climate change can bite hard.

As it tries to assert itself more across Africa, Britain also is opening new embassies in Niger and Chad and expanding its embassy in Mali, calling it support to countries “on the front line of instability” as West Africa’s vast, arid Sahel is threatened by a number of extremist groups with shifting allegiances.

Britain and Nigeria, Britain’s second-largest trading partner on the continent, also signed an agreement on economic cooperation. May welcomed the commitment from two major Nigeria companies, Dangote Cement and Seplat Petroleum to make listings on the London Stock Exchange.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

DAMASCUS, June 20 (Reuters) – In a Damascus cafe, some of the Syrians watching Russia play Egypt in the World Cup faced a dilemma: whether to support a fellow Arab nation or their government’s most powerful ally.

“I am confused because I was supposed to support Egypt but because Russia supports us, I support Russia,” said Amin Maarouf, 62, as he watched Russia defeat Egypt 3-1 on Tuesday at a crowded cafe in a middle class Damascus neighborhood.

“If Egypt were playing against any other country I would support it. But when I had to choose, I chose Russia.”

Seven years of conflict have muddled the loyalties of a Syrian nation fractured by a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and driven millions abroad as refugees.

While Russia enjoys support among Syrians who back the government, President Bashar al-Assad’s opponents are rooting for any team that is playing against it or Iran, his other major military ally.

These are the first World Cup finals since Russia intervened in support of Assad in 2015, turning the tide of the war decisively in his favor. Russia is hosting the tournament.

Russian flags were being waved by fans watching Tuesday’s match at an open-air screen in a street in Damascus, where just last month the government and its allies crushed the last remaining rebel enclave.

Still, not everyone was cheering for Russia. “I am supporting Egypt,” said Jubran Louis, 18. “It’s an Arab team, I have to support it.”

The Syrian national side did not make it to the tournament, but it made an unexpectedly strong showing in the qualifiers. This too was also a point of division among Syrians. While government supporters rallied behind the team, some Assad opponents identified it with the Syrian government.

Omar Fleihan, who has lived in Istanbul since leaving Syria in 2014, ultimately wants England to win the World Cup and was hoping Egypt would beat Russia on Tuesday.

“Yesterday they were supporting Russia in Damascus, and this isn’t something strange or new to them,” he said. “I certainly support anyone (playing) against Iran and Russia without exception – Arab or non-Arab”. (Reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus and Beirut bureau Writing by Tom Perry Editing by Alison Williams)

Link: http://news.trust.org//item/20180620121506-t77yl/.

June 19, 2018

Some 30,000 Syrians who have been granted Turkish citizenship will vote in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections, broadcaster NTV quoted Prime Minister Binali Yildirim as saying today.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has granted citizenship to thousands of refugees who have fled the conflict in neighboring Syria. Turkey is hosting around 3.5 million Syrian refugees.

In April, Erdogan announced snap parliamentary and presidential elections would take place in the country on 24 June.

The move came a day after his main ally, far-right leader Devlet Bahceli, called for snap polls, with the decision primarily motivated by the need to strengthen the current administration to effectively tackle the ongoing crisis in Syria and the country’s economic challenges.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180619-turkey-30000-syrians-who-were-granted-citizenship-will-vote/.

18.06.2018

Turkish army on Monday announced the start of patrols in the northern Syrian city of Manbij by Turkish and U.S. troops in line with a previously agreed roadmap for eliminating terrorists and stabilizing the area.

In a tweet, the Turkish Armed Forces said the patrols were being carried out between Manbij and Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield area.

Earlier on Monday, local sources speaking anonymously said armored vehicles of Turkish army were stationed around Sajur stream which divides Jarablus town, in the Operation Euphrates Shield area, and Manbij.

The joint forces carried out patrols in an area overlooking the U.S. base in Syria’s Dadat town, the sources said, adding that the patrols lasted around three hours.

The roadmap was first announced after a meeting in Washington last week between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The deal focuses on the withdrawal of PKK-affiliated YPG terror group from the northern Syrian city and stability in the region.

Should the model prove to be a success, Turkey will push for a similar arrangement in eastern Syria.

In its over-30-year terrorist campaign against Turkey, the PKK has taken some 40,000 lives. The YPG/PKK is its Syrian branch.

Turkey has said the presence of terrorist forces near its border constitute a threat, and has launched military operations and other efforts to rid the region of terrorists.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkish-army-announces-patrols-in-syrias-manbij/1178013.

June 1, 2018

The bodies of 15 Palestinian refugees who were killed by regime shelling have been found in Yarmouk refugee camp, the Working Group for the Palestinians in Syria said yesterday.

The rights group went on to demand medical and civil defense teams be allowed access to the Palestinian refugee camp to recover the bodies from under the rubble.

Following the Assad regime’s brutal air raids against Syria’s largest refugee camp, the United Nations said the regime “turned it into a death camp”.

“The Yarmouk camp in Damascus lies today in ruins, with hardly a single building that has not been destroyed or damaged.  The fighting has been particularly intense in the last month or more.  Almost all the Palestine refugees who were there have now fled,” United Nations Secretary-General’s Spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said last week.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180601-15-palestinian-refugees-killed-in-syrian-regime-shelling-on-yarmouk-camp/.

June 1, 2018

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) said yesterday that the years of conflict in Syria have left almost three million homes completely or almost completely destroyed, and the regime has caused about 90 per cent of the damage.

In a report the network stressed that it had obtained satellite images which prove that the Russian attacks on eastern Ghouta destroyed entire towns.

Under the title “Satellite imagery proves that Russian attacks have exterminated entire eastern Ghouta towns”, the report said that the military campaign in eastern Ghouta in February was the most brutal of the campaigns by the Russian-Syrian-Iranian coalition forces since the outbreak of popular movements in March 2011.

The report pointed out that “the Syrian regime and Russia deliberately bombed and destroyed the largest possible number of houses later, especially vital installations.” It noted that “most of the bombing was without a military justification as required by the law of war.”

“Some three million homes have been partially or completely destroyed in Syria and that millions of Syrians have lost their homes, which means for the majority the loss of a quarter of a century of work that they spent in order to have housing.”

According to the report, “the regime used extensive destruction as a war tool against all who opposed it, and aimed to end and destroy all forms of opposition to the regime, and to completely destroy society.”…

… It went on: “Since 18 February until 12 April 2018, the use of 3,968 surface-to-surface missiles, approximately 1,674 explosive barrels, 5,281 mortar and artillery shells, as well as four explosive hoses, 60 rockets loaded with incendiary munitions, 45 rockets loaded with cluster munitions has been registered.”

During the same period, “the Russia-Syria forces killed 1,843 civilians, including 317 children, 280 women, 15 medical personnel and 12 civil defense personnel. The same forces committed at least 68 massacres and at least 61 attacks on civilians’ vital centers.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180601-3m-homes-destroyed-in-syria-war/.

May 30, 2018

Syrian civilians held demonstrations across the city of Raqqa yesterday calling on US-backed Kurdish militias to leave the area, according to Syria Call news agency.

Protests took part in the main Al-Sakia Street as well as in several of the city’s neighborhoods, including Al-Mashbal. Demonstrators shouted slogans against the Kurdish authorities and expressed opposition to the federalist system they seek to implement in the northern territories under their control.

People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militias sent security reinforcements to suppress the demonstrations and reportedly fired on the crowded protesters, resulting in several injuries.

The protests come a week after the YPG imposed forced conscription on residents of the city, mandating that men between the ages of 18 and 30 join militias for at least nine months, dubbing the policy “compulsory conscription in the duty of self-defense”.

The YPG, an offshoot of the designated terror organization the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has started to face increasing resistance to its policies from Syrians, including the formation of a new battalion called the Al-Raqqa Brigade.

Earlier this week, Kurdish militias stormed a bastion of the group in an operation that left three opposition fighters dead. Despite the attack, Al-Raqqa Brigade called on civilians to show their resistance to the YPG in yesterday’s demonstrations.

US-backed Kurdish forces, known collectively as the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have secured swathes of land in the north of Syria causing heightened tensions with neighboring Turkey.

Since January, Turkey has undertaken an air and ground offensive in Syria as part of “Operation Olive Branch” against the YPG in Afrin. The move prompted the Kurdish militia to call on the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad to aid them in the fight against Turkish soldiers.

Cooperation between the YPG and the Syrian regime is ongoing, with a member of the Central Committee of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria revealing last week that the YPG had handed over more than 90 Kurdish detainees to the security branch of the Assad government, after withdrawing from the city of Afrin in the north-west of Aleppo.

The YPG has also received increased backing from Europe; French forces have established six artillery batteries in the north of the country and along the Syria-Iraq border since their arrival last month.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180530-syria-civilians-protest-against-us-backed-kurdish-forces/.

28.05.2018

IDLIB, Syria

Eleven opposition groups fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria formed a new alliance in northwestern Idlib province on Monday.

The sources from the groups said they merged under the name of “National Front for Liberation.”

“The aim of the new formation is to unite the components of the Free Syrian Army in Idlib province on Syria under one roof,” the new formation said on social media.

The formation includes following groups: Sham Legion, Jaysh al-Nasr, Free Idlib Army, 1st Costal Division, 2nd Costal Division, 1st Division, 2nd Army, Army of Elites, Shuhada al-Islam Darayya, Al-Hurriyat Brigade, and 23rd Division.

All of the groups have been operating in Idlib and northern part of Hama under the Free Syrian Army.

The Sham Legion commander Fadil Allah al-Hajji became the leader of the new front, while Suhaib Layyush from Jaysh al-Nasr was appointed as his deputy.

With the new formation, the opposition group created one of the largest military groups in Syria fighting the Assad regime, bringing together nearly 30,000 people.

Syria has just begun to emerge from a devastating civil war that began in early 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity. UN officials say hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/11-syrian-opposition-groups-form-new-front-in-idlib/1159183.

Thursday 17 May 2018

Like any other day at work, Dr Mamdouh Matlab arrived at the Al-Salam Hospital in the northern Syrian city of Al-Bab to make his rounds of the wards.

Arriving a few minutes early, Matlab sat down on a bench close to an empty office and rifled through his bag for patient notes.

After three years of living under Islamic State group (IS) control  – a period of public beheadings and strict controls on daily life – Matlab and the other residents of the city were beginning to adjust to a life free from the militant group.

Danger still resides in Al-Bab, however.

The doctor was on his way to see his first patient when he heard raised voices and shouting down the hallway.

Running to see what was happening, he saw a nurse kneeling on the floor, crying, as a member of the Turkish-backed Al-Hamzat Brigade pointed a gun at her head.

The unit was one of five Free Syrian Army rebel groups to join Turkish troops in an offensive that drove IS out of Al-Bab in 2016.

“Someone from the Al-Hamzat faction was screaming and shouting at the nurses and doctors. One of their fighters needed urgent medical care, but no one was able to attend to him,” said Matlab.

“They ended up dragging one of the doctors out of the hospital like he did a crime. We were scared and didn’t know what to do.”

The Turkish-backed rebels also ransacked and harassed medical staff in the Al-Hikmah hospital elsewhere in the city on the same day, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

One week on, the whereabouts of the kidnapped doctor, whose identity is withheld for security reasons, remains unknown.

An invitation to return

The battle for Al-Bab, a three-month offensive on the IS-held city that was conducted as part of Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield to better protect its border with Syria, left considerable damage.

Once IS was ousted, Turkey urged displaced Syrians – including the many who had fled north across the Turkish border – to return and help rebuild the city. Matlab heeded this call and came back.

Turkish-occupied areas in northern Syria have become a haven for displaced Syrians.

Following pro-Syrian government forces’ successes in rebel strongholds around Damascus and northern Homs province, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have sought refuge in the country’s north, including areas controlled by Turkey and its allies.

The displaced and returned residents have swollen the city’s population, with hundreds of Syrians recently evacuated from northern Homs stuck on the city’s outskirts. Turkey is refusing them entry, insisting Al-Bab is full.

While residents say life in Al-Bab today is more stable than during the reign of IS, months of sporadic infighting among Turkish-backed rebel groups – which has led to the deaths and wounding of many civilians – has led many caught in the crossfire to question their choice to come back.

With hospitals and medical workers now swept up in lawlessness and violence, patience with Turkey’s control of the city is beginning to wear thin.

Safety concerns

The doctor’s kidnapping angered hundreds of residents, who protested outside the police station in Al-Bab earlier this month. The crowd called for the doctor’s release and an end to the rebel clashes in their city.

Moments after the protest began, Turkish troops jumped out of their armored vehicles and started shooting into the air to disperse the protest.

But rather than turning away, the protesters directed their anger towards the Turks, chanting “free, free, Al-Bab” and telling soldiers to “go back to where they came from”, according to videos posted on social media.

Matlab joined the demonstrators. “Turkey is playing a significant role in the city, treating Al-Bab like it is its own soil. But they are not doing enough to improve security,” he said.

“I have always been unsure about Turkey’s role in the city, and despite the improvement of services, people are continuing to die from clashes by rebels who they support. Something needs to be done about this.”

Badr Taleb, a videographer based in Al-Bab, was also at the demonstration, where he said a stray Turkish bullet grazed his forehead.

During IS’s occupation of Al-Bab, Taleb lived in Aleppo city and retreated to its countryside when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces tightened the noose around the opposition-held eastern neighborhoods, which fell in the last days of 2016.

He now regrets coming back to Al-Bab following a recent bout of fighting between the Al-Hamzat fighters and rebels from Deir Ezzor.

“Things are just getting out of control. We appreciate Turkey and the role it’s played, as other world powers turned a blind eye,” said Taleb.

“But it must bring the rebels it supports in line, and not allow them to ruin everything Turkey has been building for the Syrians.”

‘Better than nothing’

Despite the simmering tensions between residents and Turkish troops in Al-Bab, Syrians have told MEE that for now, they have no choice but to work with the Turks.

Turkey has a significant presence inside Al-Bab, and since taking the city has helped repair damaged buildings, reopened schools and begun construction on a new industrial zone.

But according to Matlab, stability and safety inside Al-Bab remain its residents’ key priorities.

“The situation is no different from how it used to be under the regime,” said a dismayed Matlab.

“When a robbery took place, we would go to the police station and sign a report about what was stolen and expect nothing to be done.

“Now we can still go to the same police station. Only this time, the officers we have are trained and backed by the Turks. It’s useless but better than nothing.”

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/Al-Bab-patience-with-Turkey-wears-thin-after-rebel-lawlessness-1790512911.

15.05.2018

AFRIN, Syria

A foundation linked to Turkey’s top religious body said Tuesday it will distribute aid to 40,000 Syrians during the holy month of Ramadan in Syria’s terror-liberated city of Afrin.

Turkiye Diyanet Foundation (TDV) head Mehmet Savas Polat told Anadolu Agency that they accelerated humanitarian aid projects in the eve of Ramadan.

“We will distribute iftar [fast-breaking meals] to up to 20,000 people and also food packages to 20,000 more people in Afrin within the scope of Ramadan aid,” Polat said.

Turkey launched Operation Olive Branch on Jan. 20 to clear YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorist groups from Afrin, northwestern Syria amid growing threats from the region.

On March 18, Turkish-backed troops liberated the Afrin town center, which had been a major hideout for the YPG/PKK terrorists since 2012.

According to the Turkish General Staff, the operation aims to establish security and stability along Turkey’s borders and the region as well as to protect Syrians from the oppression and cruelty of terrorists.

Source: Anadolu Agency.

Link: https://www.aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/turkish-charity-to-send-ramadan-aid-to-syrias-afrin/1146985.