Tag Archive: Levant


January 10, 2017

The Russian defence ministry has reportedly announced that Egypt would send troops to Syria to observe the implementation of the truce reached between the Syrian regime’s forces and the armed opposition, according to the Israeli website Rotter.

The news website added that the Egyptian troops will arrive in Syria early next week, noting that a number of Egyptian officers had been already in Syria to pave the way for the troops’ arrival.

At the same time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Egypt as a partner to join his country along with Turkey and Iran in the talks on Syria’s future and the implementation of the truce, according to Rotter.

Russia had decided to halt flights to Egyptian airports after a Russian plane crashed in October 2015 over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 217 passengers on board. The Metrojet flight crashed after its departure from the Egypt’s Sharm El Sheikh International Airport.

Rotter said that for Egypt to join the trio discussing Syria’s future would be a great Russian success, which is also interesting in light of Egypt’s tense relations with Turkey on the one hand and its relations with Iran on the other.

It will be also interesting to know the US response to this step, given that the United States and European countries are not taking part in the Syria talks, the Israeli website added.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170110-citing-russian-defence-ministry-israeli-website-says-egypt-to-send-troops-to-syria-next-week/.

July 28, 2017

Eleven years after the 2006 Gaza beach massacre that killed seven members of her family, Huda Ghalia has graduated after completing her undergraduate studies in Sharia and Law at the Islamic University of Gaza.

On the afternoon of 9 June 2006, the Ghalia family were picnicking on the Sudaniya beach near Beit Lahia in northern Gaza when Israeli artillery and naval shelling struck the beach, killing seven members of her family, including her father, stepmother and five siblings.

Huda’s heart wrenching cries for her father as she ran towards his dead body not long after the blast were broadcast around the world. The images of her collapsing besides his body, weeping have turned her into an icon of the Palestinian struggle.

Before handing Huda an honorary award, the head of the Islamic University of Gaza Adel Awadallah said:

Huda is not an average person; she is a piece of every Palestinian. She got into our souls and into our hearts, and it is our duty to take care of her and stand by her.

“I am particularly grateful for my mother who stayed up with me, did so much to take care of me, raised me and encouraged me to finish my education,” Huda said during her graduation ceremony.

Israel initially took responsibility for the bombing, saying it regretted the civilian deaths. Later, however, it retracted and said the Israeli army was not responsible, concluding that the bombing was caused by a bomb planted by Hamas on the beach.

Following the incident, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning, describing the incident a “bloody massacre”.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170728-iconic-girl-from-gaza-beach-massacre-graduates/.

August 3, 2017

Some 78 Jordanian members of parliament have signed a motion demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy in Amman following an Israeli shooting that left two Jordanians dead last month.

The motion, submitted on Tuesday, also demanded that the Jordanian ambassador leave Israel immediately in order “to express rejection of the Jordanian government’s handling of the issue and returning the killer to Israel”, according to Ma’an news agency.

“Jordanian blood and Jordanians’ dignity are not cheap and the government was supposed to stand for the right of the blood that was shed and maintain their dignity strongly and firmly,” the motion read.

Read: Jordan should stop bowing to Israel

Deputy Khalid Ramadan Awada added that further action would be taken if the government did not respond to their demands.

The petition comes a week after hundreds of people protested outside the Israeli embassy in Amman calling for the cancellation of Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel known as “Wadi Araba”.

Tensions have been high since the Jordanian government returned the shooter to Tel Aviv, followed by the release of images of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcoming the soldier. Jordan’s King Abdullah has since demanded that the guard be tried for murder.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170803-jordan-mps-demand-closure-of-israeli-embassy/.

August 01, 2017

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The lower house of Jordan’s parliament on Tuesday scrapped a provision in the kingdom’s penal code that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim. Cheers erupted from the spectators’ gallery as legislators narrowly voted for repeal, following an emotional debate.

The vote was hailed as a major step forward for women in the conservative kingdom. “This is a victory for the women’s movement and human rights movement in Jordan,” said Salma Nims, the secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women.

Despite the country’s pro-Western political orientation and cosmopolitan urban elites, many areas of Jordan remain socially conservative, with entrenched notions of “family honor.” This includes the belief that having a rape victim in the family is shameful, and that such “shame” can be expunged through marriage.

In Tuesday’s debate, some lawmakers had argued that an amended version of Article 308 was needed to protect rape victims against social stigma by giving them the marriage option. In the end, lawmakers voted in line with the recommendations of the government and a royal committee on legal reforms.

Moussa Maaytah, the Cabinet minister for parliamentary affairs, said that Tuesday’s “progressive decision” capped years of debate in the Jordanian society. The decision must still be approved by parliament’s appointed upper house, or Senate, and by King Abdullah II. After the expected final approval, Jordan would join Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt which have canceled their “marry the rapist” clauses over the years.

The international rights group Human Rights Watch said Lebanon’s parliament is also considering repealing such a provision. The clause remains on the books in several other countries in the Middle East and Latin America, as well as in the Philippines and Tajikistan, HRW said.

In a statement issued before Tuesday’s vote, the New York-based watchdog said that scrapping Article 308 “would be a positive step to strengthen the rule of law and end impunity for violence against women.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, several dozen activists rallied outside the parliament in Amman, the Jordanian capital, calling for repeal. They held up banners reading “Article 308 is a disgrace to the Jordanian justice system” and “Article 308 does not protect honor, it protects the culprit.”

Nims said before the vote that many of the lawmakers had been undecided. She said some saw the provision as a form of “protection” for women who can demand marriage rather than suffer further social stigma for having been raped.

The need for such “protection” indicates a fundamental problem in how Jordanian law and society perceive women, said Eva Abu Halaweh, executive manager of Mizan for Law, a human rights group. “The law still looks at women as bodies, linked with ‘honor,'” Abu Halaweh said.

Earlier this week, parliament took another step toward legal reform, closing a legal loophole that had given courts the discretion to impose sentences of as little as six months on those who killed female relatives in the name of “family honor.”

Under the new amendment, killing “in a fit of rage” can no longer be considered a mitigating circumstance in such cases.

Associated Press writer Reem Saad in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

July 11, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Qatar will continue to support development projects in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, a Qatari envoy said Tuesday, defying a boycott by powerful Arab neighbors imposed in part over its support for the Islamic militant group.

Mohammed al-Amadi, the head of Qatar’s Gaza Reconstruction Committee, made his promise as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in the region pressing for an end to the Gulf crisis. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar last month, accusing the energy-rich sheikhdom of supporting Islamic extremists, including Hamas, across the region. Qatar denies the charges.

“My current visit is to emphasize to the Palestinian people that we are still here to continue projects and launch new ones,” al-Amadi said at a ceremony to sign a contract for building eight residential buildings. He stressed that the timing of the visit was “calculated.”

One of the main goals of the Saudi-led isolation of Qatar is to convince it to cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, the historical parent of the militant Hamas group. Qatar has been the largest single donor to Gaza over the past five years, disbursing about $500 million for housing, reconstruction, infrastructure development, and health projects.

Al-Amadi stressed that his country doesn’t support Hamas, but the massive projects are widely seen as indirectly aiding the group. Qatar also hosts exiled Hamas leaders. Qatar notes that its aid to Gaza is coordinated with Israel, which controls most land crossings into the blockaded territory, and the rival government of President Mahmoud Abbas, who still claims authority over Gaza after losing control of the territory a decade ago.

Nickolay Mladenov, a U.N. envoy who attended the ceremony, thanked Qatar for its role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis. His office released a report predicting a bleak future for Gaza, 10 years after the Hamas takeover and a subsequent blockade by Israel and Egypt. The countries say the restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza are needed to prevent Hamas from arming.

The U.N. had warned five years ago that Gaza would be “unliveable” by 2020 due to the deterioration of the economy and natural resources. Tuesday’s report says things have only gotten worse. “Today’s update shows that unfortunately things have speeded up and have deteriorated more quickly than expected,” Mladenov said.

2017-06-30

GENEVA – Nearly half a million displaced Syrians have returned to their homes since the beginning of the year, mainly to find family members and check on property, the UN refugee agency said Friday.

The agency said it had seen “a notable trend of spontaneous returns to and within Syria in 2017.”

Since January, about 440,000 people who had been displaced within the war-ravaged country had returned to their homes, mainly in Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus, Andrej Mahecic, a spokesman for the agency, known as the UNHCR, told reporters in Geneva.

In addition, around 31,000 refugees in neighboring countries had also returned, he said, bringing to 260,000 the number of refugees who have returned to the country since 2015.

But Mahecic said this is a mere “fraction” of the five million Syrian refugees hosted in the region.

He said the main factors prompting the displaced to return home were “seeking out family members, checking on property, and, in some cases, a real or perceived improvement in security conditions in parts of the country.”

He said it was too early to say if the returns might be directly linked to a palpable drop in violence since Turkey agreed at talks in Astana in May with Russia and Iran, allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to establish four safe zones across Syria to ban flights and ensure aid drops.

But this week, the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told the Security Council that since the May 4 deal, “violence is clearly down. Hundreds of Syrian lives continue to be spared every week, and many towns have returned to some degree of normalcy.”

Mahecic nonetheless cautioned that “while there is overall increased hope linked to the recent Astana and Geneva peace talks, UNHCR believes conditions for refugees to return in safety and dignity are not yet in place in Syria.”

“The sustainability of security improvements in many return areas is uncertain, and there remain significant risks of protection thresholds for voluntary, safe and dignified returns not being met in parts of the country,” he said.

“Access to displaced population inside Syria remains a key challenge,” he added.

But “given the returns witnessed so far this year and in light of a progressively increased number of returns”, the agency had begun scaling up its operations inside Syria to better be able address the needs of the returnees, he said.

Syria’s war has killed more than 320,000 people and forced millions from their homes since it began in March 2011.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83717.

June 30, 2017

IRBID, Jordan (AP) — A month before Donald Trump assumed the U.S. presidency, Mohammad Al-Haj Ali, a 28-year old Syrian with a second child on the way, was taking cultural sensitivity classes in Jordan to prepare to start a new life in Illinois.

The International Organization for Migration-run class ended in a graduation ceremony that Al-Haj Ali remembers well, standing next to his pregnant 25-year old wife, Samah Hamadi, and 2-year-old son, Khaled, surrounded by about 20 other families.

“Ten to 15 days and you’ll go — get yourselves ready,” they were told. Al-Haj Ali was interviewed five times in the Jordanian capital, Amman, about his family history— at times in sessions lasting more than 12 hours — over a two-year period. Sometimes months would go by with no news, but he thought the stress was worth it.

Assured their refugee life was coming to an end, he quit his job working with kids in Zaatari refugee camp, sold his furniture for 150 dinars ($212), bought five suitcases and packed them. His uncle in Rockford, Illinois, rented him an apartment and furnished it in anticipation.

Gradually good news for other families came — an Iraqi family gone, followed by a Syrian. His was one of the last still awaiting permission to go when news of the White House executive order banning travel from six Muslim nations sapped their hope.

Two months later, Samah gave birth to the couple’s second son, two months premature — a tragedy al-Haji Ali still blames on Trump. The family waited in the hospital for a month as the baby struggled to survive in an incubator with partially formed lungs and an umbilical hernia.

They named him Laith, after Al-Haj Ali’s brother, who was killed by the Syrian regime. The baby’s brother, Khaled, had been named after their grandfather, who died in a regime prison. The family says they’ve received no clarification of their status from the coordinating refugee agencies and feel stuck in limbo. Their five suitcases remain in storage.

As he waits in northern Jordan, mere miles from his hometown in war-ravaged Deraa in southern Syria, jobless in a mostly empty house, Al-Haj Ali is desperate to escape the region. He dreams of a better life, proper medical treatment for his infant son, and of pursuing a doctorate in economics. But not in America.

“Maybe there will be a new law: Refugees aren’t allowed to study in universities, refugees aren’t allowed in certain hospitals, not allowed to go into New York or some other state,” he said, sitting in the family’s sparse apartment.

“The future there is not secure.”

2017-06-27

PARIS – Syria’s former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of President Bashar al-Assad’s father and predecessor Hafez, died in Paris on Tuesday, his son Firas said. He was 85.

Tlass, whose other son Manaf was among the most high-profile regime officials to defect during the early days of Syria’s uprising, died in a hospital on the outskirts of the French capital.

Tlass “died this morning at the Avicenne hospital and will be buried in Paris in the hope he can one day be buried in Damascus,” Firas Tlass said.

The former minister, who settled in France five years ago, had been admitted to hospital in mid-June after suffering a hip fracture, his son said.

He fell into a coma on Monday evening.

The former minister’s other son General Manaf Tlass defected from Assad’s regime in July 2012, several months into the uprising that was brutally crushed by security forces.

A childhood friend of Bashar al-Assad, Manaf Tlass later said French secret agents had helped him escape the country.

The uprising later turned into a devastating multi-sided war that has killed more than 320,000 people.

But Mustafa Tlass long refrained from publicly criticizing the regime.

A leading member of Syria’s ruling Baath party, he was close to Hafez al-Assad, succeeding his friend as defense minister in 1972 following the coup that brought Assad to the presidency.

Assad went on to rule the country with an iron fist until his death in 2000, when he was succeeded by his son Bashar, who was 34 at the time.

Tlass remained in his post until he finally quit in 2004.

Originally from Rastan in central Syria, under rebel control since 2012, Tlass was one of the most senior Sunni Muslims in the Assad regime’s Alawite-dominated security apparatus.

“He had a minor role in military strategy, which was decided by Hafez al-Assad and the Alawite officers who controlled the army,” said Alain Chouet, a French former intelligence officer who spent many years in the Middle East.

In a rare 2005 interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the former minister defended a 1980s crackdown against a Muslim Brotherhood-led uprising, despite admitting that at its height, 150 people a week were hanged in Damascus alone.

“We used weapons to assume power, and we wanted to hold onto it. Anyone who wants power will have to take it from us with weapons,” he said.

He wrote several books including his 1983 “The Matzah of Zion”, a bestseller in the Arab world, in which he claimed that Damascus Jews had killed two Christians in 1840 in order to use their blood in religious rituals.

The “blood libel” allegations were commonly used against European Jews in the Middle Ages.

Tlass was also known for his crush on Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida.

He famously claimed to have ordered pro-Syrian factions in Lebanon’s war to avoid targeting Italian troops — “because I do not want a single tear falling from the eyes of Gina Lollobrigida”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83677.

June 27, 2017

An eight-year-old Syrian girl who drew global attention with her Twitter updates from the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo was named one of the most influential people on the internet by Time Magazine.

Other people on this year’s list included British author J.K. Rowling, pop singer Rihanna, celebrity Kim Kardashian, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Time makes its annual choice based on those with global influence on social media and in generating news headlines.

Helped by her mother Fatemah, who manages the @AlabedBana Twitter account, Bana Alabed uploaded pictures and videos of life amidst the Syrian war, gaining around 365,000 followers on the micro-blogging site since last September.

“I can’t go out because of the bombing please stop bombing us,” Bana wrote when she first joined Twitter on Sept. 24, 2016.

“Aleppo is very good city but we need peace. I want to live like a child but instead I am stressed now,” she wrote.

Last December, Bana, who was seven at the time, and her family were evacuated safely from the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo to Turkey, where they were greeted by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at his palace.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011 when Bashar Assad’s regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests, which erupted as part of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Since then, more than 400,000 people have been killed and more than 11 million have been displaced, 6.3 million internally and 5.1 million externally, across the war-battered country, according to the U.N.

Turkey, hosting more than 3 million Syrian refugees, which accounts for around 45 percent of all Syrian refugees in the region, has spent around $25 billion helping and sheltering refugees during that time.

Source: Daily Sabah.

Link: https://www.dailysabah.com/syrian-crisis/2017/06/27/aleppo-girl-bana-alabed-named-among-times-most-influential-people-on-internet.

2017-06-30

BEIRUT – Seven Lebanese soldiers were wounded on Friday as five militants blew themselves up and a sixth threw a grenade during raids on two refugee camps near the border with Syria, the army said.

The civil war, which has raged in Syria since March 2011, has triggered an exodus of more than 1.1 million refugees into neighboring Lebanon and has repeatedly spilt over.

Four of the suicide bombers struck in one camp near the border town of Arsal, wounding three soldiers, the army said.

Troops recovered four explosive devices during the raid on the Al-Nur camp.

One militant blew himself up in a second camp near the town — Al-Qariya — while another militant threw a grenade at troops wounding four of them.

The raids, which are aimed at “arresting terrorists and seizing weapons,” were still continuing in mid-morning, the army command said.

A military source said that troops made a number of arrests.

“The objective of the operation was to arrest a wanted man and it was this man who was the first to blow himself up,” the source said.

There have been multiple clashes along the border between the Lebanese army and jihadists of the Islamic State group or Al-Qaeda.

In August 2014, the army clashed with jihadists of IS and Al-Qaeda’s then Syria affiliate Al-Nusra Front in the Arsal region, with militants kidnapping 30 Lebanese soldiers and policemen as they withdrew back along the border.

After long and arduous negotiations, 16 of the kidnapped men were released in December 2015 in exchange for Islamist prisoners held in Lebanese jail.

The jihadists executed four of their hostages while a fifth died of wounds he suffered in the initial Arsal clashes, leaving nine members of Lebanon’s security forces still in their hands.

Since 2014, both the Lebanese army and Shiite militant group Hezbollah have carried out attacks on Syria-based jihadists in eastern Lebanon.

Hezbollah has intervened in the war in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, sending tens of thousands of fighters.

Its strongholds in Lebanon have been hit by several deadly attacks claimed by IS.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=83713.