Damascus fair offers hope for exports-starved Aleppo artisans

Visitors tour a trade fair dedicated to war-hit businesses from Aleppo looking to make a revival, in the Syrian capital Damascus’ Tekkiyeh Sulimaniyeh complex. (AFP)
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Updated 06 November 2020

Damascus fair offers hope for exports-starved Aleppo artisans

DAMASCUS: Under the elegant arches and domes of an Ottoman-era compound, Joseph Tobjian displays his aromatic Aleppo soap at a trade fair designed to revive Syria’s exports-starved arts and crafts. 

The soap maker is among more than 130 merchants taking part in the state-sponsored fair in Damascus for small businesses from Aleppo, northern Syria. 

“I’ve spent my entire life around laurel oil and soap. Their scent does not leave my lungs,” Tobjian told AFP. 

“We’re in Damascus looking for an alternative to foreign markets, after exports stopped,” he said, soap bottles and natural cosmetics lining the table in front of him. 

The 61-year-old said he was surprised by the high number of visitors at the fair, including Damascus traders interested in his beauty products. 

Aleppo, Syria’s pre-war economic hub, is famed for its ancient crafts, hit hard by the conflict that broke out in 2011. 

Goods ranging from traditional soaps, furniture and garments to made-in-Syria marshmallows are on show in the capital’s Tekkiye Al-Sulaymaniyah complex. 

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Aleppo, Syria’s pre-war economic hub, is famed for its ancient crafts, hit hard by the conflict that broke out in 2011.

The Tobjian family fled to Canada from Aleppo in 2012, leaving behind a soap workshop that employed about 40 workers in its heyday. 

Unhappy with life in exile, the Syrian Armenian family returned in 2018 to find both their workshop and city in ruins. 

They relocated to a modest workshop and employed two workers to resume production of Aleppo soap, once a top export also popular among tourists. 

“We inherited this craft from our fathers and grandfathers,” said Tobjian, wearing a T-shirt bearing the image of Syria’s Bashar Assad. 

“We must do everything we can to revive our workshops and factories.” 

Aleppo’s centuries-old covered bazaar, situated in its Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, once teemed with thousands of stalls. 

The Old City saw some of the heaviest battles of Syria’s war, before Russian-backed regime forces recaptured rebel-held districts of Aleppo in December 2016. 

A gradual regime-led restoration program has revived parts of Aleppo’s bazaar but the scars of war remain. 

In Aleppo’s industrial zone, the largest in Syria, most factories and workshops were also ravaged by fighting. 

With state support, some 70 small workshops have reopened but business is slow amid an economic crisis compounded by Western sanctions and the collapse of the Syrian pound against the dollar. 

“The war destroyed the infrastructure of industries in Aleppo,” said Alaa Hilal, director of the week-long Damascus fair. 

Western sanctions, which hinder fuel imports, have also made it tough for factories to operate. 

This is why Aleppo craftsmen are looking “for opportunities to make sales, sign contracts and market their products in Damascus,” Hilal said. 

Western sanctions have pushed Syrian businesses to find alternatives. 

At the fair, Sonali Ghazal shows off marshmallows scented with rose water or pistachios from Aleppo. 

“We managed to make marshmallow in Syria, and we gave them an Aleppo touch,” the 42-year-old teacher said. 

Sonali said she used to buy them for her students before marshmallows vanished from the market because of the war and sanctions. 

She came up with a home-grown alternative, “but this time, with the flavour of Aleppo pistachios.”


Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

Updated 58 min 40 sec ago

Italian far-right activists held for assault on Morocco soccer fans

  • The supporters were revelling in the centre of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco's victory over Spain
  • Fans were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, police said

ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had detained 13 far-right activists in Verona for an assault on Moroccan soccer fans who were celebrating their historic qualification for the World Cup quarter-finals.
The supporters were revelling in the center of the northern Italian city on Tuesday evening after Morocco’s victory over Spain when they were attacked by a group of men dressed in black with their faces covered, the police said in a statement.
Those held “were identified by investigators as militants of far-right groups in the city,” it said.
Morocco’s World Cup progress has seen vibrant celebrations by its supporters in cities with large Moroccan immigrant populations around the world, which have sometimes turned violent.
Their victory over Belgium in the group stage sparked riots in Brussels, and on Tuesday evening video footage showed fans lighting flares and throwing furniture and other objects in the center of Milan.
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigrant League party, tweeted the images of the Milan episodes, saying he hoped those responsible would be identified and made to pay for the damage to property.
He did not comment on the incidents in Verona.


US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

Updated 07 December 2022

US to ban Sudan officials who hold up post-coup transition

  • The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted
  • The State Department did not list who would be affected

WASHINGTON: The United States said Wednesday it would bar visas to any current or former Sudanese officials who hold up a transition to democracy, hoping to boost a tentative deal between the military and civilians.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced US support for the initial agreement announced Monday, which some pro-democracy protesters see as falling short on specifics and timelines.
“Recognizing the fragility of democratic transitions, the United States will hold to account spoilers — whether military or political actors — who attempt to undermine or delay democratic progress,” Blinken said in a statement.
The ban would also apply to immediate family members of any current or former officials targeted. The State Department did not list who would be affected.
“We once again call on Sudan’s military leaders to cede power to civilians, respect human rights and end violence against protesters,” Blinken said.
“At the same time, we urge representatives of Sudan’s civilian leaders to negotiate in good faith and place the national interest first.”
Longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir was ousted in April 2019 following massive youth-led protests but the army chief, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, in October last year derailed the transition by carrying out a military coup.
The United States following the coup suspended $700 million in aid that was meant to help Sudan cope economically as it moves toward democracy.
The latest US step is an expansion of visa restrictions imposed during the first stage of Sudan’s democratic transition.

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Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Updated 06 December 2022

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

  • An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer
  • The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies

BEIRUT: Commercial brakes produced by a Dutch company to be used in ambulances in Turkiye instead ended up in missiles used by Turkiye in attacks in northeastern Syria, a report released Tuesday said.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, field investigators with London-based Conflict Armament Research analyzed the remnants of 17 air-to-surface missiles used in strikes in northeast Syria, the report said. An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer.
The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies, among them electromagnetic brakes with “markings and characteristics consistent with production by (Netherlands-based company) Kendrion NV,” the report said.
Representatives of Kendrion told researchers that the company had agreed in 2018 to supply 20-25,000 brakes to a Turkish company called FEMSAN, with the stated purpose of using them on blood analysis machines fitted to ambulances, the report said. After being notified that the brakes were being used in military applications, Kendrion said it had cut off its business relationship with the Turkish company, the report noted.
FEMSAN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while representatives of Roketsan could not be reached for comment.
The research was carried out before the most recent round of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, launched last month in response to a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups based in Syria — an allegation that the groups deny. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion.
The report did not allege that the sellers of the components used in the missiles had violated any laws, noting that “while the EU has had an arms embargo related to Syria itself since 2011, (Turkiye) has never been subject to sanctions at the multilateral level.”
It added that the case “highlights both the critical importance and the relative complexity of commercial due diligence for material of these types” which “may serve multiple purposes, some of which the manufacturer may not even be aware, and which may be extremely sensitive.”


Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

Updated 06 December 2022

Al Jazeera files lawsuit against Israeli forces at ICC over killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

  • Case follows an investigation into journalist’s killing by news network’s legal team
  • Israeli Prime Minister says that no one would be allowed to question Israeli soldiers

DUBAI: Al Jazeera on Tuesday said it has filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court against Israeli forces over the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot during an Israeli raid in the West Bank in May.

The lawsuit follows an investigation by the television news network’s legal team, Al Jazeera said on Twitter.

The ICC must identify the individuals who were directly involved in Abu Akleh’s killing, Al Jazeera lawyer Rodney Dixon KC told a news conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

“The rulings of the International Criminal Court stipulate that those responsible be investigated and held accountable. Otherwise, they bear the same responsibility as if they were the ones who opened fire,” Dixon said.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday that no one would question Israeli soldiers.

“No one will interrogate IDF soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals of combat, certainly not the Al Jazeera network,” Lapid said.


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.

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