Syria’s Assad regime on trial in Europe

Wafa Mustafa is one of many Syrians still looking for relatives missing since a brutal government crackdown on dissent began in 2011. (Thomas Lohnes/AFP)
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Updated 10 January 2022

Syria’s Assad regime on trial in Europe

  • Germany has used the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity

PARIS: A growing number of cases are being brought in Europe, and especially Germany, against loyalists of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime on accusations of state-sponsored torture.
In the latest case, a court in the German city of Koblenz is set on Thursday to rule on the case of former Syrian intelligence agent, Anwar Raslan, who is accused of crimes against humanity, for which prosecutors are demanding a life sentence.
In February 2021, the court jailed a lower-ranking former Syrian intelligence agent, Eyad Al-Gharib, for being an accomplice to crimes against humanity in the world’s first prosecution over the abuses.
Here is a snapshot of the cases:
Germany has used the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a foreign country to prosecute crimes against humanity, including war crimes and genocide, regardless of where they were committed, after receiving complaints from Syrians who claim to have been tortured in regime jails.
In March 2017, seven Syrian torture survivors and a human rights group filed a criminal complaint in Germany against Syrian secret service officials.
Later that year nearly 27,000 photos taken by a former Syrian military photographer known as Caesar, who documented torture and death in regime jails, were also turned over to German courts, according to German rights group ECCHR.
In November 2017, the ECCHR announced that two new complaints for crimes against humanity and war crimes had been filed by 13 Syrians over alleged acts of torture.
Seven other Syrian men and women who claimed to have suffered or witnessed rape and sexual abuse in Assad’s detention centers also submitted a complaint to German prosecutors, the group revealed in June 2020.
They named nine senior government and air force intelligence officials, including top Syrian intelligence officer Jamil Hassan, already the subject of an international arrest notice.
The trial of a Syrian doctor accused of torture, murder and crimes against humanity is due to start in Frankfurt on January 19.
In September 2015, a Paris prosecutor opened a preliminary inquiry against Assad’s regime for crimes against humanity over allegations of abduction and torture.
The following July the family of a Syrian doctor who died in a government prison lodged a complaint in Paris over his torture and murder
Another French court opened an investigation in 2016 into the disappearance of Mazen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, two French-Syrian nationals who had been arrested in Syria three years earlier.
France issued its first international arrest notices for Syrian intelligence officials in 2018 for “complicity in acts of torture” related to the case as well as “complicity in crimes against humanity” and “complicity in war crimes.”
The warrants were for National Security Bureau director Ali Mamluk, Air Force Intelligence chief Jamil Hassan and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, who was in charge of the Damascus branch of the Air Force Intelligence investigative branch.
In April 2021, three NGOs that had lodged civil complaints managed to get a probe opened into chemical attacks in 2013 blamed on the Syrian government. The case, already filed in Germany, was lodged on behalf of victims of the 2013 attack and a 2017 attack using sarin gas.
In December 2021, a Franco-Syrian man was jailed, suspected of providing material to the Syrian army which could be used to make chemical weapons.
It is the first time that someone had been found charged in France with supporting Assad’s troops, judicial officials said.
In July 2017, a Spanish court rejected a complaint filed by a Spanish woman of Syrian origin against nine Syrian government officials over the forced detention, torture and alleged execution of her brother in 2013.
Legal proceedings have also been launched in Austria, Norway and Sweden which was in 2017 the first country to sentence a former soldier for war crimes.
In Sweden, four NGOs lodged a complaint in April 2021 against Assad and several top officials after two chemical attacks in 2013 and 2017.
In 2016, the United Nations set up its International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism, which is preparing war crimes charges against individuals over the Syrian conflict.
Since April 20 the body has been gathering evidence for use in possible future trials.

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Iran systematically undermines the stability of the region, Israeli president tells WEF

Updated 28 sec ago

Iran systematically undermines the stability of the region, Israeli president tells WEF

DAVOS: Iran systematically undermines the stability of the region and Israel cannot accept Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities, the Israeli President Isaac Herzog told the World Economic Forum on Wednesday.
“The Iranian regime systematically undermines the stability of the region. Israel and all nations of the world cannot accept Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities, recognizing the threat it poses to Israel and the entire Middle East,” Herzog said.
He said that every country or region infiltrated by Iran has had “the life sucked out of its people and its land,” adding that Tehran spreads hate, pain and suffering.
“Prosperity, human liberty, creativity and growth are all erased,” the president said, pointing to what has happened in Iraq, Yemen, Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.
“Israel is eager to share its prosperity and successes with all its neighbors to break down barriers imposed by Iran’s influence. I truly believe that if we only choose the forces of light, the path to a drastically different brighter future is closer than we can imagine,” Herzog said.
He added that Israelis will always extend their hands for peace to their neighbors from the “Levant to the Gulf, from the Maghreb to the Mashreq, from our immediate neighbors the Palestinians to the entire Muslim world, and also to the entire continent of Africa, and the entire Middle East.”
When asked whether Saudi Arabia would follow in the footsteps of its Gulf neighbors the UAE and Bahrain in normalizing relations with Israel, Herzog said that although the Kingdom is a “very important country in the region,” the process of joining the Abraham Accords “has to take its time.”
“I think the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a very important country in the region. And we would love to see developments in that direction, but it’s a process that has to take its time I guess,” Herzog commented.
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan reiterated the Kingdom’s stance regarding normalization with Israel at the WEF on Tuesday, saying nothing had changed despite recent unconfirmed media reports suggesting otherwise.
“I’ve addressed that several times in the past and nothing has changed in how we view the subject. I think we have always seen normalization as the end result, but the end result of a path,” Prince Faisal told the WEF.
“We always envisioned that there will be full normalization with Israel, and I’ve said before that a full normalization between us and Israel, between the region and Israel, will bring immense benefits — we won’t be able to reap those benefits unless we address the issue of Palestine,” the foreign minister said.
Herzog also spoke about the death of veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in Jenin while covering Israeli raids on a refugee camp in the West Bank on May 11.
“This is of course a very sad event. And it pains me like it pains many Israelis,” the president said.
He said that Israel offered the Palestinians a joint investigation into the circumstances of the “tragic event” but that the Palestinians refused to cooperate.
“They took the body. They took the bullet and one cannot substantiate any one of the scenarios without those facts. And Israel was open and transparent and offered the US to join this process of investigation as well because we pay high importance to the freedom of speech and the work of journalists and media channels, and we respect them,” he added.

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Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns

Updated 25 May 2022

Erdogan’s vowed military operation returns spotlight to Syrian border towns

  • Yeni Safak newspaper: ‘Among the probable targets of the Turkish Armed forces and the (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army, are Tal Rifaat, Ain al Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Manbij’
  • The potential target areas are controlled by the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey

ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to carry out a new military incursion on Turkey’s southern borders has triggered speculation about potential targets, with the Syrian town of Tal Rifaat emerging as a primary goal of any operation.
Two days after Erdogan announced the plan, the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said on Wednesday preparations had been made for a new operation to expand “safe zones” already set up in northern Syria, with several goals identified.
“Among the probable targets of the Turkish Armed forces and the (Turkey-backed) Syrian National Army, are Tal Rifaat, Ain al Arab (Kobani), Ain Issa and Manbij,” the paper said.
Turkish control of the towns, which lie on or close to a central stretch of the 911-km-long border with Syria, could extend and deepen its military presence from near the Mediterranean coast along nearly three-quarters of the frontier.
So far, there have been few signs of military movements that preceded Turkey’s last four incursions into northern Syria. Erdogan has said decisions on military operations would be made at a National Security Council meeting on Thursday.
The potential target areas are controlled by the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as an extension of the PKK, a Kurdish militant group waging an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984. Turkey designates both as terrorist organizations.
The YPG has been the main target of several incursions which Turkey has carried out in northern Syria since 2016, seizing hundreds of kilometers of land and pushing some 30 km (20 miles) deep into the country.
YPG spokesman Nuri Mahmoud told Reuters the group took Erdogan’s threats very seriously: “The international coalition, America, and Russia should commit to the pledges that they made to this region. Their presence in our areas must be meaningful, in the sense that it stops the repeated attacks on our people.”
The Yeni Safak newspaper said the most critical target of the latest operation would be Tal Rifaat, some 15 km (9 miles) from the Turkish border, which it said Kurdish fighters used as a base from which to launch attacks in the Afrin, Azaz and Jarablus areas controlled by Turkey and Ankara-backed Syrian fighters.
Tal Rifaat is located north of Aleppo city and just south of Azaz. An operation there alone would not represent a widening of Turkey’s “safe zones” along the border, but would push its forces deeper into Syria.
Dareen Khalifa, an analyst on Syria at the International Crisis Group, said it was unclear whether Erdogan was talking about an operation in Tal Rifaat or further east, but she highlighted the role of the town.
“Tal Rifaat, if anything, can get him what he wants and it would avoid triggering a huge headache. I don’t think the Americans care about Tal Rifaat,” she said.
Most US forces in northern Syria are based further east.
She said Russia, which has forces deployed in the region, had not been addressing his concerns on militant attacks on Turkish-controlled areas from Tal Rifaat, and that Erdogan has been saying for years that Tal Rifaat needs to be captured.
The predominantly Kurdish town of Kobani was touted as another potential target. The YPG’s defeat of Daesh militants there in 2015 helped turn the tide against the group.
“Kobani represents the value of a global victory in the war against terrorism,” YPG spokesman Mahmoud said. “There’s no doubt that our forces will do what is needed to defend” the area.
The YPG, or People’s Defense Units, are a key element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition which the United States largely relied on to fight Islamic State.
However, Khalifa played down the prospects of Turkey targeting Kobani.
“I don’t think there’s any interest in getting stuck in Kobani,” she said, pointing to the major demographic changes and reaction that would ensue if the Kurdish population fled.
She said that while United States forces were not in Manbij physically, it is a US zone of influence, so “I expect it to also trigger a US reaction.”
Any attack on Kobani would also risk triggering a strong reaction from Turkey’s Kurds, who make up some 20 percent of the country’s population. The Islamic State attack on Kobani in 2014 led to protests in which dozens died in Turkey.
Mithat Sancar, joint head of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), warned about the consequences of Erdogan’s plans for fresh military operations.
“We must all see that this will lead again to a bloody vortex in this region and country,” he told HDP lawmakers.
Erdogan’s talk of a military operation has also raised the stakes in Turkey’s row with NATO partners over Finland and Sweden joining the alliance, with Turkey accusing both of harboring people linked to the PKK.
Analysts said the incursion plans reflected his belief that the West would not oppose such operations when it needs Ankara’s support for the Nordic countries’ bid to join NATO.
Erdogan’s announcement was also aimed at bolstering nationalist support as he gears up for difficult elections next year, analysts said. Cross-border military operations have boosted his poll ratings in the past.


UAE announces first case of monkeypox

Updated 25 May 2022

UAE announces first case of monkeypox

  • The case was detected in a 29-year-old woman who arrived from West Africa
  • Health ministry assures public health authorities taking all necessary measures

DUBAI: The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention announced the country’s first case of monkeypox on Tuesday.

The case was detected in a 29-year-old woman who arrived from West Africa and is receiving the necessary medical care, Emirates News Agency reported.

The ministry assured the public that health authorities are taking all necessary measures including investigation, the examination of contacts, and monitoring their health.

It added that it is cooperating with other health authorities in implementing an epidemiological surveillance system to ensure sustainable efficiency, protection from communicable diseases, and rapid detection of all diseases and viruses, including monkeypox, in the UAE.

The ministry called on members of the public to obtain information from official sources in the UAE, and to refrain from spreading rumours and false information, highlighting the importance of staying updated on developments and guidelines issued by UAE health authorities.


Turkey says normalization of Israel ties will help resolve Palestinian conflict

Updated 25 May 2022

Turkey says normalization of Israel ties will help resolve Palestinian conflict

  • Mevlut Cavusoglu: Two countries agreed to ‘re-energize’ relations in many areas

ISTANBUL: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that the normalization of ties between Turkey and Israel will have a “positive impact” for a “peaceful” resolution to the Palestinian conflict.
In a news conference after talks with his Israeli counterpart, Cavusoglu said the two countries agreed to “re-energise” relations in many areas, including resuming talks on civil aviation.


76 people missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

Updated 25 May 2022

76 people missing after migrant boat sinks off Tunisia

TUNIS: Seventy six people were missing after a crowded boat of migrants sank off Tunisia on Wednesday, the International Organization for Migration said, as the numbers risking the dangerous crossing to Europe increase.
The IOM said 24 people had been rescued from the boat, which had departed from the beaches of Zawara in Libya and sank off the coast of Sfax.
In recent months, dozens of people have drowned off the Tunisian coast, with an increase in the frequency of attempted crossings from Tunisia and Libya toward Italy.
Hundreds of thousands of people have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing in recent years.