Syria’s Kurds call for international court to try Daesh militants

The SDF released a statement with the remarks. (AFP/File)
Updated 25 March 2019
0

Syria’s Kurds call for international court to try Daesh militants

  • SDF said this is a way to organize fair and just tribunals
  • The group said they do not have the capability to hold the detainees

AIN ISSA, Syria: Syria’s Kurds on Monday called for an international court to be set up in the country to try suspected Daesh militants following the announced fall of their “caliphate.”
Daesh imposed its brutal interpretation of Islam on millions living in the proto-state that it declared across a large swathe of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.
The extremists stand accused of carrying out numerous crimes including mass executions, kidnappings and rape.
“We call on the international community to establish a special international tribunal in northeast Syria to prosecute terrorists,” the Syria Kurdish administration said.
In this way, “trials can be conducted fairly and in accordance with international law and human rights covenants and charters,” it said in a statement.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday announced the end of the “caliphate” after defeating Daesh militants in the eastern village of Baghouz near the Iraqi border.
Kurdish-led forces, backed by a US-led coalition, have detained thousands of suspected Daesh fighters in more than four years battling the militants, including around 1,000 foreigners.
While alleged Daesh fighters are held in jail, women and children suspected of being affiliated to the group are housed in Kurdish-run camps for the displaced.
More than 9,000 foreigners, including over 6,500 children, were held in the main camp of Al-Hol, a Kurdish spokesman said, giving the latest figures from a week ago.
The Kurdish administration has repeatedly called for the repatriation of foreign Daesh suspects, and warned it does not have capacity to detain so many people.
But the home countries of suspected Daesh members have been reluctant to take them back, due to potential security risks and a likely public backlash.
“The Kurdish administration in northeast Syria has appealed to the international community to shoulder its responsibilities” with regards to Daesh suspects, it said Monday.
“But unfortunately there was no response.”
It urged the international community, particularly countries that have nationals detained, to support the establishment of an international tribunal.
A top foreign official for the Kurdish administration said foreign experts could work side by side with local judges.
“They could be foreign judges working with local judges and be experts in crimes committed by terrorist groups,” Abdel Karim Omar told AFP.
Previous international courts include the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which tried genocide perpetrators in the African country.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia meanwhile tried those accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in conflicts that tore apart the Balkans in the 1990s.
Joel Hubrecht, a Paris-based expert in transitional justice expert, said setting up an special tribunal to judge Daesh was a good idea in theory in view of the international dimension of its alleged crimes.
“The idea of an international criminal court is relevant and interesting,” he told AFP.
“But in northeast Syria it’s not realistic.”
The Syrian Kurdish authorities are not internationally recognized, setting up such a tribunal usually takes time, and ensuring witness protection is tough in a war-torn country, he said.
Despite the declared victory against Daesh in Baghouz, the militants still maintain a presence in the country’s vast desert and have continued to claim deadly attacks in SDF-held territory.
President Bashar Assad’s forces have made a territorial comeback against rebels and militants with key Russian backing since 2015, but the war is far from over.
The battle to end the “caliphate” has triggered an exodus of tens of thousands of people — mainly women and children — out of crumbling Daesh territory, sparked a humanitarian crisis.
The main camp in Al-Hol is now bursting at the seams, housing more than 70,000 people — in a place designed for just 20,000.
“Humanitarian conditions in Hol camp are extremely critical,” World Food Programme spokeswoman Marwa Awad said Monday.
At least 140 people — overwhelmingly young children — have died on the way to the camp or shortly after arriving, the International Rescue Committee aid group says.
The Kurdish administration on Monday called on the United Nations to improve living conditions at the Al-Hol camp.
It particularly called for more humanitarian assistance, expanding the camp, and better water and sewage networks.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
Apart from fighting Daesh, the Kurds have largely stayed out of the civil war, instead setting up their own semi-autonomous institutions in the northeast of the country.


Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

Updated 19 April 2019
0

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

  • Divers find pottery and stone in shipwrecks dating back 2,300 years
  • Discoveries are from Alexander the Great’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC

BEIRUT: Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”