‘I’m being strangled here’: Refugees returned by Turkey to Syria say conditions are bleak

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>'I'm being strangled here': Refugees returned by Turkey to Syria say conditions are bleak

In the Turkish city of Istanbul, police have continued a stepped-up campaign of random ID checks in immigrant neighborhoods. This week, officials acknowledged that 19,000 people have been deported over the past eight months. It’s not clear how many of them are Syrians.

The WorldJuly 28, 2022 · 1:45 PM EDT

In this photo taken on July 31, 2019, Syrians pass time at a coffee shop in an Istanbul neighborhood where many Syrians live. Syrians say Turkey has been detaining and forcing some Syrian refugees to return back to their country over the past year. The expulsions reflect increasing anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey, which opened its doors to millions of Syrians fleeing their country's civil war.

Mehmet Guzel/AP

Seven months ago, Ahmed earned a good living as a tailor in Istanbul, supporting his wife and their 10-year-old son.

They had fled the Syrian city of Aleppo in 2012, around the start of the country’s civil war, as the front lines drew closer to their home. They built a new life for themselves in Turkey, making friends and learning the language.

But all of it came crashing down last January when Ahmed was stopped by authorites for a random ID check on his way home from the grocery store, and deported to Syria, despite having legal papers that allowed him to live in Turkey.

“I’m being strangled here,” Ahmed said. “I just want to return to my wife and son. That’s the bottom line.”

Because he is in a part of the country controlled by pro-Turkish militias, The World is not publishing his last name out of concern for his safety.

Ahmed’s story has strong parallels to testimonies given by other Syrians who say they were arrested at random checkpoints, detained and coerced or forced to sign legal documents saying they were voluntarily returning to Syria.

It’s part of a larger sweep that has been ramping up in Turkey since January.

In the Turkish city of Istanbul, police have continued a stepped-up campaign of random ID checks in immigrant neighborhoods. This past week, officials acknowledged that at least 19,000 people in the city have been deported over the past eight months. It’s not clear how many of them are Syrians. A government spokesman declined to comment on the cases mentioned in this story. 

“No sane person would voluntarily return to Syria at this point,” said Nesreen Alresh, a Gaziantep-based activist working with the Voices for Displaced Syrians Forum (VDSF). “People risked their lives to be here, they didn’t come as tourists.”

Syria, a nation of 17.5 million people, remains controlled by militias and government forces, with clashes breaking out regularly. With 90% of the population living below the poverty line, millions of people are relying on humanitarian aid, deliveries of which are unreliable and based on agreements between warring factions.

And yet, sending Syrians back to Syria is a popular idea among Turkish voters. It has become an election promise for opposition candidates, as reports of hate crimes and bullying toward Syrian refugees continue to rise.

On May 3, in a televised address, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced a government plan to resettle up to a million Syrian refugees in parts of Syria under Turkish control. The country has already begun to build 100,000 cinder block homes funded by relief groups.

“We have not only opened our doors to save the lives and dignity of the oppressed, but we have also made every effort to help them return to their homes,” Erdoğan said. “We believe that our God bestows much more on us.”

Already, Erdoğan said that 500,000 refugees have resettled in “safe zones” created by the Turkish military in northern Syria.

The United Nations, however, estimates the number of total refugee returns from Turkey to be closer to 140,000 across the entire country of Syria.

And yet, these returns are likely not entirely voluntary. In a VSDF report based on interviews with returnees from several nations to Syria, 22% of respondents said they were forced by their host countries to return. Another 16% said they were pressured by authorities to go.

The returns have put families like Ahmed’s in a precarious situation.

Ahmed is the primary breadwinner for his wife and son and his deportation to Syria, he said, has left them homeless.

“My family sold the furniture, and now they’re living with the neighbors,” Ahmed said. “Business owners won’t allow women to work if they have a child.” 

Desperate, he scraped together a personal loan to send her 500 Turkish liras, or $28.

His only hope at this point, he said, is to borrow enough money to pay smugglers to help him cross the border back into Turkey. He would be breaking the law for the first time, he said, but it would potentially enable him to bring a case to court alleging that he was wrongly deported.

“I dare to speak because I know that I’ve done nothing wrong,” Ahmed said. 

‘I have no criminal cases against me’

Ahmed’s experience isn’t isolated.

Hussein, a Syrian refugee who says he was deported from Istanbul in March, recalls being stopped by a plainclothes policeman who asked to see his ID. He presented a temporary protection card given to Syrian refugees in Turkey, but admitted that he had had difficulties updating his information in an online system two months prior.

To his surprise, he was handcuffed and taken on a bus with dozens of others to a migrant detention center.

“I have no criminal cases against me, nothing,” he said.

After 10 days in detention, Hussein said that he and 150 others were put on a bus, and sent to Kilis, a city on Turkey’s eastern border with Syria. He remembers a fenced area with low, prefabricated containers used in construction areas. People were told to wait outside before being called into the trailer in groups of five.

There, Hussein said, a Syrian translator told the men to sign papers so they could return to their home city, Istanbul. But some members of the group spoke Turkish and realized that they were being asked to sign a document agreeing to “voluntarily return” to Syria.

"They said, 'Sign it with your dignity — or you’ll be beaten,'" Hussein said.

Hussein said he personally witnessed men who refused to sign and were beaten into submission. Word spread quickly, down the line.

So, he signed.

The group was bussed across the border, into a section of Syria under the control of Turkish-backed militias.

Hussein has been there ever since. In Turkey, he was working to support his family — his wife and two children stayed in Syria. He was hoping to bring them to Turkey.

Now, he said, he has no work and no prospects. Utilities are minimal — his family relies on expensive water deliveries and privately generated electricity.

Also, he worries about an expected military incursion from Turkey, which Erdoğan has said he is planning in an effort to combat Kurdish militias accused of working with the PKK. 

Complicating matters, these militias are also backed by the United States, a NATO ally.

“The security situation is stable now, but it can turn upside down at any moment,” Hussein said.

Translation from Arabic provided by Kinan Diab of the Voices for Displaced Syrians Forum.

Related: Jackie Chan is producing a movie in Syria. Some Syrians are outraged.

Jackie Chan is producing a movie in Syria. Some Syrians are outraged.

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Jackie Chan is producing a movie in Syria. Some Syrians are outraged.

Jackie Chan, known for his action movies, martial arts and acrobatic fighting style, is producing a new film called “Home Operation.” This one though, is not set in Tokyo or LA, but in the leveled and destroyed town of Al-Hajar al-Aswad on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria. The news has outraged some Syrians who say their destroyed homes are not props for foreign film productions.

The WorldJuly 22, 2022 · 3:00 PM EDT

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, smoke rises after Syrian government airstrikes and shelling hit in Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood held by ISIS militants, southern Damascus, Syria, April 22, 2018. 

SANA via AP

Growing up in Syria, Mohammad al-Abdallah loved watching Jackie Chan movies. They were dubbed in Arabic, and Chan’s acrobatic style of martial arts just blew him away.

“Like, even in school, sometimes people tried to copy him. So, he was a legend to our generation,” Abdallah said.

Abdallah comes from a family of activists in Syria. He was jailed and tortured by the government, he said, and had to flee to the US. He now directs the Syria Justice and Accountability Center, a human rights organization in Washington.

Syria is home for Abdallah, but one that he can’t return to. At least not now. So, this past week, when he found out that Chan was producing a film in his home country, his ears perked up; but after he learned the details, he was disappointed.

Chan’s production team began filming “Home Operation,” in Syria this past week. The location is a city called Al-Hajar al-Aswad, outside of the capital, Damascus. The area was a stronghold for the opposition during the war. The news has outraged some Syrians like Abdallah, who say their destroyed homes are not props for foreign film productions.

“These used to be homes of people and schools of children and hospitals for elders and it all does not exist now, and the government of Syria is just renting it to Jackie Chan and his production company to make a movie.” 

In 2015, ISIS took over the city, and three years later, Syrian government forces drove the militants out.

Years of fighting leveled Al-Hajar al-Aswad. Today, what’s left is mostly just pulverized buildings and destroyed roads.

“As far as we know, there might still be bodies under the rubble,” said Alia Malek, a Syrian American writer and director of the international reporting program at City University of New York’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

Malek has written about high-level Syrian security officers taken to court in Germany for their crimes. She said that Al-Hajar-al-Aswad is the site of potential war crimes.

“So, these sites should be preserved, in theory, if we are a world that cares about accountability and justice,” she said.

“Home Operation” is based on a true story. In 2015, the Chinese navy carried out a rescue operation in Yemen to evacuate a group of Chinese citizens and other people. They were trapped there because of the war.

The operation was touted as a huge success in China. Now, the Chinese government wants to chronicle the event in this movie, which is also getting support from the United Arab Emirates.

The movie is being shot in Syria instead of Yemen because of the ongoing war there. There are no reports about Chan himself being on the ground in Syria.

Malek pointed out that using a city in Syria that hasn’t recovered from war as a backdrop for a movie normalizes brutality and atrocities.

“It’s becoming increasingly more normal — the idea that authoritarian or totalitarian regimes are able to act with impunity,” she said. “The more normalized Arab or Syrian death is, the more we are all, as a human race, diminished by that.”

In recent years, as the fighting slowed down, foreign filmmakers, YouTube celebrities and influencers started going to Syria on government-sponsored trips. They claim to show the “real Syria” where things are perfectly normal and people are living side by side in peace.

“The idea that you can go and get a great TikTok video or Instagram video or YouTube video from Syria is part and parcel of that normalization,” Malek said.

Last week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, himself, strolled through the ruins of Aleppo, another city destroyed in the war. Photos posted online showed him and his family in casual summer linen, looking as if they are on a Mediterranean vacation.

“They walk around like, ‘Oh, where did this destruction come from?’ As if they didn’t have a hand in it,” Malek said.

For Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateab, influencers and artists flocking to Syria for content is just painful.

“It’s really difficult just to think about it,” she said.

Kateab made a documentary about the uprisings in Syria called “For Sama,” that was nominated for an Oscar in 2020. She fled her home in Aleppo and now lives in the UK.

She said that she’s also troubled about “Home Operation” being shot in Syria.

“We’re worried to see our own neighborhoods, where we grew up, our own houses, which were destroyed by the regime, [become] like a part of a film set,” she said.

Chan’s publicist didn’t respond to an interview request for this story.

Syria decided to break off diplomatic relations with Ukraine

The decision was made in response to a similar step by the Ukrainian side. Kyiv decided to break off relations with Damascus after the latter recognized the independence of the DPR and LPR .jpg” alt=”Syria has decided to break off diplomatic relations with Ukraine” />

Syria decided to break off diplomatic relations with Ukraine after a similar decision by Kyiv, the Syrian state news agency SANA reports, citing a source in the Foreign Ministry.

The Ukrainian authorities announced their decision to terminate relations with Damascus at the end of June. The reason was the decision of Syria to recognize the LPR and the DPR. In Kyiv, it was regarded as an unfriendly act, an encroachment on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state, a “gross violation” Ukrainian legislation and international law.

“The Ukrainian side is also starting the procedure for imposing a trade embargo against Syria, as well as the adoption of other sanctions against Syrian legal entities and individuals,” added in the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. At the same time, Ukraine maintained consular ties with Syria.

Damascus announced its decision to recognize the DPR and LPR on June 29. Syria became the first state after Russia recognized at the UN level to declare such an intention. The Arab Republic also announced agreements on strengthening cooperation and establishing diplomatic relations with the DPR and LPR.

DPR Foreign Minister Natalya Nikonorova then announced that the process of recognizing the republic by Syria “is going intensively”, they cooperate in the fields of education, science, medicine and political construction.

On July 13, the DPRK announced the recognition of the republics of Donbass. Kyiv severed diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky promised to respond harshly to this step of the North Korean authorities. In response, the DPRK Foreign Ministry said that Ukraine has no right to object to the “legitimate manifestation of sovereignty” North Korea.

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Russia recognized the LPR and DPR in February, shortly before the start of the military operation in Ukraine. The Kremlin said that they would welcome the recognition of the republics by other countries.

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Turkey eyes a new military operation in northern Syria, leaving people in the area on edge

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Turkey eyes a new military operation in northern Syria, leaving people in the area on edge

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says he plans to establish an 18-mile “safe zone” in northern Syria to counter a US-backed Kurdish group. Erdoğan considers the People’s Protection Units, or the YPG, a threat to the security of his country.

The WorldJuly 8, 2022 · 3:30 PM EDT

A Syrian Democratic Forces soldier keeps watch by a prison that was attacked by Islamic State militants, in Hassakeh, Syria, Feb. 8, 2022. Hardly a day passes in northern Syria without Kurdish fighters and opposition gunmen backed by Turkey exchanging gunfire and shelling and concerns are rising that the situation will only get worse in the coming weeks with Ankara threatening to launch a new major operation along its southern border.

Baderkhan Ahmad/AP

The Kurdish group that runs the autonomous region in northeastern Syria announced a state of emergency this week in response to threats from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to start a new military campaign in northern Syria.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria called on “all councils, bodies, committees and institutions to prepare for an emergency situation and to put all capabilities in self-defense projects.”

Threats from the Turkish president have been coming in since May.

“We will clean up Tal Rifaat and Manbij of terrorists,” Erdoğan said, referring to the two cities west of the Euphrates river in Syria, at a parliament meeting last month.

The cities are controlled by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers a terrorist group. And Turkey claims the YPG has ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it also considers a terrorist group, because it has waged a war against Turkey for decades.

Erdoğan said he plans to establish an 18-mile “safe zone” in northern Syria to counter the US-backed Kurdish group, and threats of a renewed military offensive have people there on edge.

Fared al-Mahlool, who lives in the area, said he has been hearing about the news for some time.

“Every day, there are Turkish forces entering the country through the border.”

Fared al-Mahlool, lives in Syria

“Every day, there are Turkish forces entering the country through the border,” he told The World over WhatsApp.

Mahlool fled to Idlib from a village further south when his home came under attack in 2019. He lost his aunt and he said that all of his family members were injured.

An attack on Manbij and Tal Rifaat, he said, would threaten the relative and fragile stability in northern Syria.

“The displaced people want to go back to their homes,” he said. “The Turkish operation doesn’t help.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that Turkey has carried out a military operation inside Syria. In 2019, after former President Donald Trump pulled American troops from the border, Turkey entered northern Syria and sent thousands of people fleeing to Iraq. Since then, Turkey has kept a presence inside Syria.

Merve Tahiroglu, Turkey program coordinator at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a Washington-based nongovernmental organization, said that the Turkish president’s threats this time have more to do with what’s happening inside Turkey.

“Currently, [Erdoğan] is performing really badly in all opinion polls, and Turkey is facing a pretty consequential election next summer,” she said.

Inflation in Turkey soared to nearly 80% last month, its highest level in about two decades. And food prices have skyrocketed.

So, Erdoğan is trying to shore up support from a key swing constituency — the hardcore Turkish nationalists, Tahiroglu explained.

“In previous years, every time he has carried out an operation in Syria targeting the YPG, he did manage to increase his popularity and votes among the nationalists,” she said.

Nicholas Heras of the Newlines Institute, also based in Washington, said that Turkey has already amped up its activity in northern Syria in recent weeks, targeting the SDF, the defense arm of the Autonomous Administration.

“There have been a rising number of Turkish drone strikes against various officials, both in the Autonomous Administration, as well as tied to the SDF,” he said.

Heras pointed out that the Biden administration can’t ignore these tensions with Turkey, a NATO ally. Roughly 900 American troops are currently in Syria. The US has strategic interests there, Heras said, both for countering extremist groups and in relation to Russia.

“Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine is the focus of the Biden team's foreign policy. And what they hope to have in Syria is a long-term, quiet presence that has geopolitical impact,” Heras said.

In Turkey, Erdoğan has also presented this military operation as a way to help pave the way for the Syrian refugees in his country to return to Syria, yet another move that would boost his standing with the nationalist voters, Tahiroglu said.

“[It’s] to show his domestic base that he is doing something to create safe zones in Syria, where part of the Syrian refugee population in Turkey can be transferred to and thereby, quote-unquote, 'solve Turkey’s refugee crisis,'” she added.

But about 77% of Syrians in Turkey say they don’t want to go back, according to a UN survey from last year. Previous projects to return Syrian refugees have largely failed.

Last week, speaking to journalists on the sidelines of the NATO summit, Erdoğan seemed to walk back his comments about a military operation in Syria.

“We are in no rush,” he told the journalists.

For now, people in northern Syria are waiting to see what he'll do next.

Related: MBS visits Ankara as Turkey attempts to repair relations with its regional rivals

Turkish Defense Minister: Ankara will not postpone military operation in Syria

photo: hulusi akar. source: wikipedia

Ankara will not postpone or avoid a military operation in northern Syria. This was stated by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Sunday.

The head of the Ministry of Defense referred to the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“As our President stated, there can be no question of to agree to this, it is out of the question for us to listen to this, ”said Akar, quoted by RIA Novosti.

Erdogan previously announced a military operation in Syria, which the international community, according to in his words, “understand”.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview with RT Arabic that the Syrian people and the country's army are ready to confront Turkish troops on their territory, if necessary.

Источник www.mk.ru

Syria’s descent into a narco state

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Syria's descent into a narco state

The World's Carol Hills spoke with Natasha Hall, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, about Syria's drug trade and the country's descent into a narco state status. 

The WorldJune 24, 2022 · 3:45 PM EDT

Syrian authorities display Captagon pills, in rural Damascus, Syria, which they say they’ve seized while being smuggled in pasta, headed for Saudi Arabia, Nov. 30, 2021.

Syrian official news agency SANA via AP/File photo

Syria's government is enriching itself in the drug trade, according to a new investigation by the German newspaper Der Spiegel.

The report found that senior members of the Syrian government are at the center of the illegal drug trade of the smuggled drug known as Captagon. A picture is now emerging of Syria descending into a narco state.

The World's Carol Hills spoke with Natasha Hall, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, about Syria's drug trade and the country's descent into a narco state status. 

Related: Syria is at the center of a booming trade in a little pill that's cheap, easy to produce and completely illegal

Carol Hills: The term narco state conjures up a lot of images. Why does it apply to Syria at this point?Natasha Hall: Well, I think that Syria has actually been a narco state for quite some time, but it's sort of risen to the media stature at this point as the drug trade increases. Small factories began emerging in 2013 and were likely connected to Hezbollah, which is a main ally of the Assad government. But as the plundering and seizures of assets that the regime has undertaken, as it's taken more territory in Syria, has somewhat dried up, this new revenue stream began to emerge and now what we're seeing is sort of industrial production-level capacity of this drug called Captagon.Captagon is the drug in question. What is it?So, it has a bit of a storied history. It was developed in 1960 by a German pharmaceutical company for the treatment of attention deficit disorders. But by the '80s, it was banned because of its side effects. But it continued to thrive on the black market, particularly from Bulgaria. It no longer uses the original ingredient, which was fenethylline, which is harder to come by. It's now primarily using pseudoephedrine.And is it a stimulant, a depressant? What are its addictive qualities? I mean, why do people take it?So, it's essentially a low-grade amphetamine. It could potentially become more dangerous, since obviously, it's not a standardized recipe, and we've seen that in the United States as low-grade-type amphetamines have become more dangerous and addictive over time.So, what is the evidence that the family of Bashar al-Assad is involved in the illegal Captagon business?So, that's what's so interesting about these new investigations in Germany because previously, there had been quite a bit of evidence beginning to mount that the Assad regime was at the center of this renewed and more robust drug trade. But it was very difficult to link these huge shipments that we were seeing in Salerno, in Italy, in the Gulf and other places with the actual point of delivery. And in this case, the case in Essen, Germany, could now change that.Briefly describe the case in Essen. What happened?Essentially, what was found is that one particular individual had long had ties to ports in Latakia, which is also a stronghold of the regime, in exporting the drug from there. But essentially, the investigators had been tapping into his phone lines and also tracking the trade for many years now, actually, before they were actually able to arrest him upon his arrival in Germany and tie him to a trade of nearly 130 million euros [$137 million], street value in Captagon.What does this mean for the future of Syria's economy? I mean, is this kind of it?I think it's difficult to determine now, but certainly that's what policymakers need to be looking into. What are the long-term development plans of this industry? You have Lebanon on one side and Iraq on the other, which have militias that are all tied to the Assad government, as well as Iran and global drug trade network. So, this is kind of the perfect storm for a global drug trade to emerge. And within that, you have a country that has been ravaged by war, didn't make more than probably $860 million in legal exports just a couple of years ago. And that compares to billions that it's been making from the Captagon trade.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Lavrentiev urged to curtail the cross-border mechanism of assistance to Syria

Russia believes that it is time to curtail the cross-border mechanism of assistance to Syria. This was stated to journalists by the presidential special representative for the Syrian settlement Alexander Lavrentyev, RIA Novosti reports.

“Many are now concerned about the further functioning of the cross-border mechanism. As you know, resolution 2585 expires on July 10th. So far, we do not see any progress on the part of the West in easing the sanctions regime. This mechanism was created as a temporary measure, and, perhaps, the time has come for all the assistance provided by the international community to go legally through the territory of Syria, through Damascus. This is the position of Russia at the moment,»— he said.

According to him, the West has not fulfilled its obligations to implement early recovery projects, which were promised a year ago. “Therefore, under these conditions, we will probably consider the issue of curtailing the cross-border mechanism. Maybe we will think about developing some new mechanisms for the decent provision of assistance and restoration of the Syrian economy by the international community,— explained Lavrentiev.

The decision to launch cross-border humanitarian operations in Syria was taken by the UN Security Council in July 2014. Until 2020, UN humanitarian agencies and their partners could use four border checkpoints— “Bab es-Salaam” and “Bab el-Hawa” on the border with Turkey, “Al-Yarubiya” on the border with Iraq and “Al-Ramta” on the border with Jordan. As the Syrian army began to establish control over more and more territory, Damascus and Moscow began to advocate curtailing the work of border crossings. In January 2020, the UN Security Council extended the operation of two checkpoints on the Turkish border for six months.

Moscow explained the need for a gradual “winding down” mechanism of the changed situation on earth. More areas in Syria are returning to government control, so aid can be delivered from within the country in coordination with Damascus, as prescribed by international humanitarian law, said Russia's permanent representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya.

In the summer of 2021, the UN Security Council took five attempts to extend the mechanism for cross-border humanitarian assistance. Russia and China twice vetoed a draft extension resolution proposed by Germany and Belgium. In turn, the Russian version of the resolution twice failed to gain a majority in the Security Council. As a result, a compromise option left only one checkpoint open for a year— “Bab al-Hawa”, through which humanitarian goods come from Turkey to Idlib. This resolution expires on July 10.

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Military pilots of the Russian Federation and Syria held joint exercises

Pilots of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Syrian Air Force conducted joint military exercises to repel air strikes of a mock enemy, the Russian Ministry of Defense reports.

According to the Defense Ministry, the crews worked out maneuvers to repel air strikes of a mock enemy during the day and at night. The Ministry of Defense noted that during the exercises, aerial targets were hit at night for the first time.

In addition, pilots of Russia and Syria conducted joint patrols along the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The Ministry of Defense said that the Russian Aerospace Forces were represented by the crews of Su-24m, Su-34, Su-35s aircraft. Pilots of the MIG-23ml and MIG-29 fighters participated in the exercise from the Syrian Air Force.

“The joint exercise helped the pilots of the two friendly countries to better understand each other and learn how to interact in various situations”, – noted in the Russian defense department.

Recall that earlier the air groups of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Chinese Air Force carried out joint patrols in the Asia-Pacific region as part of the provisions on military cooperation between countries for 2022.

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The Pentagon did not find those responsible for the deaths of residents due to US Air Force strikes on Syria

We are talking about the 2019 airstrikes in the Syrian Baguz, which killed dozens of civilians. The investigation was launched in November 2021 after the revealing publication of The New York Times ” alt=”The Pentagon has not found those responsible for the deaths of residents due to US Air Force strikes on Syria” />

The Pentagon investigation found no fault of US military personnel in the deaths of civilians as a result of US airstrike in Syrian Bagouz in 2019 year. The results of the investigation, launched in November 2021, are published by the US military.

“There were no violations of the rules of engagement or the laws of war, <…> [The US Air Force] acted within the framework of a defensive strategy approved by the President and did not strike deliberately or unreasonably for high civilian casualties,” — said in the conclusion of the head of the command of the ground forces, General Michael Garrett, who conducted the analysis of the incident at the direction of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. civilians.

Pentagon spokesman John Kibri, answering journalists' questions related to the publication of the conclusion, noted that holding the military accountable for the delay in providing information on civilian casualties is a “hypothetical issue.” He also said that the Pentagon regrets and apologizes for the incident, but sees no reason to hold those involved accountable.

On November 14, 2021, the American newspaper The New York Times, citing military sources, reported that the United States deliberately covered up the deaths of at least 80 people after an air strike by the US Air Force in March 2019 near the Syrian city of Bagouz (located on the border with Iraq).

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According to the publication, on March 18, 2019, an American F-15E attack aircraft dropped one 500-pound bomb and two bombs weighing 2 thousand pounds (227 and 907 kg, respectively) on a crowd of people. The military then said that terrorists were hiding among the civilians in the crowd.

The NYT also indicated that high-ranking military and officials tried to cover up the consequences of the “catastrophic strike”, and the number of victims was underestimated . According to the newspaper, coalition forces bulldozed the site of the bombing and did not conduct an independent investigation.

Two weeks after the publication of the material, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered a new investigation into the airstrikes.

The United States has been involved in the military operation in Syria since 2014. With the support of the aviation of the United States and its allies, it was possible to liberate a significant part of the provinces of Al-Hasakah and Deir ez-Zor from militants, and also to occupy the city of Raqqa. In December 2018, former US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of military contingents from Syria. He explained his decision by the defeat of the main part of the militants.

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Three months after ISIS attacked a prison in northeast Syria, the fate of at least 100 child detainees remains unclear

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>Three months after ISIS attacked a prison in northeast Syria, the fate of at least 100 child detainees remains unclear

Human rights groups say they are deeply concerned about the well-being of the children who remain injured or unaccounted for following an ISIS attack on a prison in northeast Syria. Many of the children's home countries refuse to them them back.

The WorldApril 27, 2022 · 2:45 PM EDT

Soldiers with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces check a house in Hassakeh, Syria, Jan. 25, 2022. After breaking into the prison late Thursday, ISIS militants were joined by others rioting inside the facility that housed over 3,000 inmates, including hundreds of minors.

Orhan Qereman/AP

Last January, ISIS fighters carried out a brazen and coordinated attack on a prison in northeastern Syria.

They set off bombs at the entrance of the Al-Sina'a prison, killing dozens of people initially, and later, hundreds more.

The fighting went on for over a week. In the end, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in charge of the prison managed to take back control, with some help from US forces.

Related: Former ISIS member is found guilty in US federal court

But roughly three months later, the fate of about 100 children, who were held at the prison, remains unclear — and human rights groups say they are deeply concerned about their well-being.

During the battle at the prison, one teenager, who said that he’s from Australia, sent audio messages to his family.

“I just got shot by an Apache [a type of helicopter], my head is bleeding. I have injured my head and my hand. There’s no doctors here who can help me,” he said.

The audio messages were shared with The World by a human rights group. The name of the boy was bleeped out for his own safety. But he says he is 17 and that he was held in the prison for three years.

That was back in January.

Related: For many Syrians, Russia's invasion of Ukraine feels painfully familiar

Letta Tayler, from Human Rights Watch, who’s been following this teenager’s case, said that she hasn’t heard from him since.

“I cannot stop thinking about this boy. Because his text messages to me and his communications with me were just so devastating.”

Letta Tayler, Human Rights Watch

“I cannot stop thinking about this boy. Because his text messages to me and his communications with me were just so devastating.”

Aid groups say that there were at least 700 minors at al-Sina’a prison at the time of the attack. But Kurdish authorities have not provided detailed figures. SDF spokesman Farhad Shami did not respond to repeated requests for an interview with The World.

But earlier this month, the United Nations said that at least 100 children, some as young as 10 years old, are still unaccounted for.

“We have no idea if they are alive, wounded, sick or dead,” Tayler from Human Rights Watch said.

UNICEF told The World in an email that it does not have any updates about the children.

In February, The New York Times reported that the bodies of two teenagers had been found in the area.

Related: Despite killing of ISIS leader, the terror group is not defeated, experts say

The majority of the prisoners who were held at al-Sina’a are from Iraq and Syria. But new documents show that besides the Australian boy, there are minors who were born in Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, the UK and at least one American teenager.

In response to questions about the American minor, a US State Department spokesperson said via email that the agency can’t comment on specific cases, but that “the US government has repatriated 15 adult US citizens and 24 US citizen minors from Syria and Iraq.”

Sasha Hoffman, a researcher with the Rojava Information Center, a volunteer media group in northeastern Syria, said that the physical damage to the prison has not been repaired and that the prisoners have been moved to a new location.

“The compound where the ISIS members are being held right now is this new compound and they will not be transferred back to the old facilities,” Hoffman said.

What to do with the families of suspected ISIS members has been a major issue since the fall of the so-called caliphate in 2019. Thousands of women and children remain in camps or prisons in Syria and Iraq. Some are citizens of countries that are not willing to take them back.

In March, Save The Children said that “it will take 30 years before foreign children stuck in unsafe camps in northeast Syria can return home, if repatriations continue at the current rate.”

The charity didn’t comment for this story.

Some countries have repatriated their citizens who were in detention at the prison but the pace has been very slow.

Related: A prison battle in Syria puts the spotlight on the plight of child detainees

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, and her colleagues, have written letters to governments that have minors who are citizens of their countries in detention, calling for their repatriation.

In a letter to the British government dated Feb. 1, 2022, they wrote that the “boys were primarily brought to Syria or Iraq by parents or other family members, or were born in Syria to individuals who traveled there. An unknown number of children were allegedly conceived from acts of rape and sexual coercion during the conflict or forced marriage.”

They also sent a letter to American officials.

“These are children. They have no responsibility for the circumstances of their birth. They did not choose to go or be born in northeast Syria. And they deserve to be treated with the full compassion and the rights of the child.”

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism

“These are children. They have no responsibility for the circumstances of their birth,” Ní Aoláin told The World. “They did not choose to go or be born in northeast Syria. And they deserve to be treated with the full compassion and the rights of the child.”

In fact, she said, they should be treated as victims of ISIS, not accomplices, given how the terror group indoctrinated children for its own purposes.

“The prison is not the solution to this problem,” she added.

The US and other countries provide some funding for these prisons.

In 2020, The Global Coalition To Defeat ISIS, led by the US, gave more than $2 million to the Kurdish authorities running the detention facilities. Some of that aid was in the form of riot gear and security equipment.

Last year, the British government said it would give $20 million to upgrade the main prison in Syria.

The coalition also sent in more armored vehicles to northeastern Syria in February, adding that the vehicles had “quickly proved their worth” in the fight to take back the Al-Sina’a prison.

But Tayler, of Human Rights Watch, sees this as shifting the burden onto the Kurds, “who have a lot on their hands.”

“They are an undermanned, cash-strapped force, fighting a war on various fronts. And what I find unconscionable is that the home countries of these boys outsource management of their citizens inside a warzone.”

Experts like Tayler say these prisons remain a target for ISIS. And keeping young boys locked up, without due process, under inhumane conditions, could lead to security threats in the future.

“The longer that they know that their home countries have shut the door on them and thrown away the key, the more they might think, ‘Well, OK, I might as well join ISIS.’” 

Tayler said that it’s time for these children’s home countries to step up and find a political and humane solution.

The Russian military used a modernized Lancet drone in Syria

The Russian military used a highly modernized version of the Lancet loitering ammunition (kamikaze drone) against terrorists in Syria, which is capable of carrying a larger warhead, RIA Novosti reports, citing a military-diplomatic source.

According to the interlocutor of the agency, the new version of the kamikaze drone has changed the aerodynamics of – now it has one large X-shaped wing and an X-shaped tail, and not two symmetrical X-shaped wings, as before.

The device has increased the duration and range of the flight, and it is “capable combat unit of increased power,” the source said.

Earlier it was reported that a new airfield tanker was being developed for the Aerospace Forces. It will allow you to refuel several aircraft at the same time.

It also became known that from March 1, drone owners will have to undergo training at the Federal Air Transport Agency and obtain a pilot's license.

Источник aif.ru

What did the expedition of Russian scientists find in Syria?

For the third year now, Syrian specialists and researchers from Sevastopol University and Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with the assistance of the Ministry of Defense and Russian Geographical Society, have been studying the largest island of Syria — Arvad. The next stage of underwater archaeological research has recently been completed.

Arvad. Photo: NASA

Arvad was one of the largest Phoenician city-states, it was mentioned in the Old Testament and the papyri of the Egyptian pharaohs. Now the fragments of this ancient civilization are under water. For the first time in the last 30 years they were studied during the course of a joint Syrian-Russian expedition.     by by now, the remains of the Arvad fortress walls that collapsed on the seabed, which were built in  from blocks up to 3 meters, — says head of the expedition from the Russian side, member of the Russian Geographical Society Viktor Lebedinsky. — Masonry of large stone blocks — the remains of an ancient pier that covered the harbor of the island. Laser scanning, aerial photography, photogrammetric surveys, as well as georeferencing of the surviving fragments of fortress walls and port facilities, whose age is more than 3 thousand years».

In addition, Russian specialists drew up plans and 3D models of four uninhabited islands located in a chain south of Arvad Island. These islands (El Abbas, El Faris, El Fanar and  Makroud) are interesting because they were actively used by the inhabitants of Arvad for the extraction of stone blocks, from which defensive walls and other structures were built. Some large blocks still lie under the water: they were lost in in antiquity during transportation.

During the three seasons of the expedition from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, artifacts from almost all historical eras represented in the region were raised. These are parts of ceramic vessels and  sarcophagi of the Phoenician, Greek and  Roman periods, household items of the Byzantine period, basalt cores of a throwing machine of the Crusader era. All found items were handed over to the Department of Antiquities and Museums of Tartus Province.

Russian specialists held master classes for Syrian colleagues on working with modern scientific equipment for underwater archaeological and field research. Now they are busy processing data. The continuation of the research is planned for August-September 2022. The result of this expedition will be the creation of a 3D model of the defensive walls of Arvad Island. Scientists will combine the remains of walls and port facilities on shore with those that are now under water. You will get a digital copy of the fortress lost thousands of years ago.

Источник aif.ru

A prison battle in Syria puts the spotlight on the plight of child detainees

class=”MuiTypography-root-134 MuiTypography-h1-139″>A prison battle in Syria puts the spotlight on the plight of child detainees

For years, human rights groups and families of the detainees have called for the repatriation of these prisoners, but this has become a highly political issue because home countries refuse to take them back.

The WorldJanuary 28, 2022 · 12:00 PM EST

Syrian Democratic Forces soldiers hold a position in Hassakeh, northeast Syria, Jan. 27, 2022. Dozens of armed ISIS militants remained holed up in the last occupied section of a Syrian prison, US-backed Kurdish-led forces said Thursday. The two sides clashed a day after the Syrian Democratic Forces announced they had regained full control of the facility.

Baderkhan Ahmad/AP

A 17-year-old boy trapped at Al Sina’a prison in northeastern Syria managed to send frantic audio messages to his family in Australia amid fighting between ISIS followers and the Syrian Democratic Forces (also known as SDF) over the past week.

“I need help please. I’m very scared. There’s a lot of people dead in front of me. I’m scared I might die anytime. Please help me.” 

17-year-old trapped in Al Sina’a prison, Syria 

“I need help please. I’m very scared. There’s a lot of people dead in front of me. I’m scared I might die anytime. Please help me,” he said in a recording that The World obtained through Human Rights Watch, which has been in touch with the boy.

The 17-year-old, whose family did not wish for him to be identified publicly, is one of at least 700 children at the prison, according to the United Nations, along with at least 5,000 male detainees who have been locked up at Al-Sina’a prison since the fall of the so-called Islamic State in Syria in 2019.

Related: 'I can barely buy bread': In war-torn Syria, fighting the coronavirus is compounded by immense challenges

ISIS militants have been trying to free thousands of trained ISIS fighters being held at the prison — the majority of whom are from Syria and Iraq — but there are also individuals who traveled from Europe, the US and Canada to join the group.

For years, human rights groups and families of the detainees have called for the repatriation of these prisoners, but this has become a highly political issue because home countries refuse to take them back.

The intense clashes between the SDF and the inmates in the past week have put a spotlight on the plight of these children.

The SDF regained control of the prison on Wednesday.

Daring attack

The attack began last Thursday when two car bombs detonated outside the prison in Al Hasakah. In the chaos that followed, hundreds of detainees escaped into the city. The ones who stayed inside the prison took hostages and then clashed with SDF forces.

At one point, the fighting got so intense that the US-led coalition carried out airstrikes, while American and British ground forces also joined.

Related: Cyprus takes a hard line against immigration, trapping migrants in limbo

“We provided some support, real-time surveillance, some airstrikes and some ground support, mostly in the form of Bradley Fighting Vehicles positioned to help assist security in the area,” John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday.

After the SDF retook full control of the prison, videos posted on Twitter showed ISIS members lined up outside the prison.

SDF soldiers celebrated by raising their rifles in the air.

“[It was] a Frankenstein’s monster of prison break, special forces direct action combat and a highly televised, high stake[s] game of hostage.”

Nicholas Hera, deputy director of the Human Security Unit, Newlines Institute

Nicholas Hera, deputy director of the Human Security Unit at the Newlines Institute in Washington, summed up the ordeal as “a Frankenstein’s monster of prison break, special forces direct action combat and a highly televised, high stake[s] game of hostage.”

He and other security experts say the clashes at Al Sina’a prison (also known Gweiran) is a reminder of the threats that ISIS still poses to the security of the region: “The Gweiran prison battle demonstrates that ISIS is not done.” 

Detained against international law

Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, responded to questions on Tuesday about the 17-year-old caught up in the fighting in Al-Sina’a prison.

Payne said she was seeking advice about the matter and that “Australia does not have diplomatic representation in Syria.”

The boy was with his family in Syria and had been in ISIS territory in 2019 when he and his mother were transferred to a camp in northeast Syria before they were separated; the boy was taken to the prison, according to Australian news outlet, ABC. 

Related: Report: Syrian government manipulates exchange rates to pocket aid money

Letta Tayler of Human Rights Watch said she connected on Wednesday with the Australian boy, as well as an American man and a Canadian man trapped in Al Sina’a prison.

In an interview with The World, she expressed frustration with the slow response by countries whose citizens remain in camps and prisons across northeast Syria.

While ISIS has used children in its propaganda videos and trained them to fight, Tayler said not all of them participated in the group’s atrocities. Most of the children were either taken to Syria by their parents or were born there, she said.

“These boys have been deeply traumatized, many of them were dragged by their parents to live under ISIS or were born under ISIS. They are often deprived of contact with loved ones. They’ve gone from being held by ISIS to being held by the northeast Syrian authorities and now, they are caught in the crossfire from both sides.”

Letta Tayler, Human Rights Watch

“These boys have been deeply traumatized, many of them were dragged by their parents to live under ISIS or were born under ISIS,” she said. “They are often deprived of contact with loved ones. They’ve gone from being held by ISIS to being held by the northeast Syrian authorities and now, they are caught in the crossfire from both sides.”

When the so-called ISIS caliphate fell in 2019, the US-led coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces rounded up ISIS suspects and put them in camps — where they have remained ever since.

Adolescent boys are separated from their mothers in camps and transferred to different locations, including Al-Sina’a prison.

Related: Syrian refugees and migrants in Turkey face a difficult decision to return home 

This practice is against international law, Tayler said, adding that “none of these boys [have] been brought before a judge. None of these boys [have] been charged with any crime.”

The Kurdish authorities who control northeastern Syria have not released a list of the detainees’ nationalities. This is a highly political issue. Often the prisoners’ home countries don’t want them back. In some cases, they have stripped them of their citizenship.

“These children never should have been detained in this prison in the first place. Shame on their home countries for leaving them. For abandoning them,” Taylor said.

The situation is not too different for Iraqi or Syrian minors, said Nicholas Heras, with the Newlines Institute.

“They have nowhere else to go,” he said. “Either their tribe, clan or family hasn’t taken them back yet or, alternatively, they are so committed to ISIS’ ideology that there’s a process of deradicalization that has to occur.”

But so far, that hasn’t happened, or the process has been extremely slow. These children, along with their family members, remain stuck in camps or prisons in Syria’s northeast.

“Most countries are worried that you have highly radicalized young men who, if they go back to their countries of origin, could, in fact, become part of a terrorist cell and could cause problems and conduct attacks and support ISIS in their country’s border,” Heras explained.

The attack on the prison, he said, shows that the international community needs to take concrete steps to deal with hundreds of detainees still being held in northeastern Syria.

Russia and Syria begin joint air patrols near the Golan Heights

Military pilots of Russia and Syria conducted the first joint air patrol along the Golan Heights and the Euphrates, TASS reports with reference to the Russian Ministry of Defense.

The ministry clarified that the patrol route ran along the Golan heights, then along the southern border, up along the Euphrates and over the northern territory of the SAR.  

The Russian military took off from the Khmeimim air base, the Syrian pilots – from the Seikal and Dumayr airfields.

The Russian Aerospace Forces were represented by the crews of the Su-34, Su-35 and early warning radar A -50, MiG-23 and MiG-29 took part in the patrol from the SAR.

During the patrol, training missile launches were carried out at air targets, ground targets were hit at one of the training grounds located in the central part of the republic.

“Pilots of the two friendly countries have gained skills in interaction in various situations,” summed up the Defense Ministry. The military department added that such joint flights will now become regular.

Meanwhile, in December it became known that the restoration of the triumphal arch destroyed by terrorists in Syrian Palmyra will begin in 2022. At the same time, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation will take over air transportation, transport support, as well as a number of logistics and security measures.

Источник aif.ru

The United States decided to impose an embargo on Russia by analogy with Cuba, North Korea and Syria

If Moscow shows aggression against Ukraine, then the United States can add Russia to the list of countries that are subject to severe export restrictions. Now the group of such states includes Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria

The United States may add Russia to the list of countries subject to the most stringent export restrictions if Moscow imposes troops into Ukraine, the Associated Press (AP) reports, citing senior US officials. This is also reported by Bloomberg, citing a source familiar with the negotiations in the White House.

This list now includes Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Syria.

According to AP interlocutors, Russia will be hit hard by economic sanctions if it intervenes in Ukraine's affairs. They noted that, in addition to direct sanctions against Russian entities, these sanctions may include significant restrictions on goods exported from the United States to Russia, and possibly some foreign-made goods “ created under U.S. jurisdiction. ''

On the evening of January 8, The New York Times (NYT), citing American officials, announced details of Washington's plan to impose sanctions on Russia. According to the newspaper, the restrictions will take effect a few hours after the “ invasion '' Russian military to Ukraine. In addition to sanctions on energy and consumer goods, the United States and its allies are considering a ban on the export of advanced electronic components and software to Russia. In addition, Washington's sanctions could target critical Russian industries, including its defense and civil aviation sectors.

At the end of last year, a number of Western media wrote that the United States and its allies intend to impose sanctions against Russia in the event of aggression against Ukraine. This included, among other things, sanctions against the largest Russian banks and the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF). Restrictions on the conversion of rubles into other currencies were mentioned as one of the most likely measures. In addition, it was reported about possible sanctions against the sovereign debt of Russia and the disconnection of the country from the interbank SWIFT system.

At the same time, the White House did not rule out that the sanctions, which would have the most disastrous consequences for Russia in the event of a possible escalation of the situation around Ukraine, including against Gazprom or the central bank could harm the global economy. 'These negative consequences' can “ boomerang come back '' The United States in the year of the presidential election, to damage the country's economy and allies of the United States, they said in the White House.

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Источник rbc.ru

NYT: Pentagon underestimated the number of civilians killed in Syria

Photo: pixabay.com

The New York Times writes that the Pentagon underestimated the number of Syrian civilians killed in airstrikes. The newspaper made such a conclusion after examining more than a thousand documents of the US Department of Defense.

At the same time, the newspaper cannot name the exact number of victims. According to official US statistics, 1,417 Syrian civilians were killed in the airstrikes. Another 188 people became victims of attacks in Afghanistan.

The newspaper points out the mistakes made in counting the victims. It is also said that this was often done by stakeholders who authorized the airstrikes.

Источник www.mk.ru

UAE authorities ban Belavia from transporting citizens of Syria and Iraq

The airline said it has tightened visa controls on all flights. Earlier, against the background of the migration crisis on the border of Belarus and Poland, the Turkish authorities banned Belavia from transporting Iraqis and Syrians

Belarusian airline Belavia will not accept citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Syria on board aircraft flying from Dubai to Belarus, according to a statement published on the company's website.

Belavia; notes that such a measure was taken “ in accordance with the decision of the competent authorities of the UAE '', the ban is in effect from November 14.

In this regard, Belavia strengthens control over the verification of documents during check-in of passengers for flights from Dubai. Passengers subject to this prohibition will be able to refund the full cost of air tickets at the place of purchase '', & mdash; the statement reads.

Belavia performs regular flights Minsk & mdash; Dubai from February 2021. In the summertime, when Dubai was 'low' the tourist season, the airline operated three flights a week, and since October, after the growth in demand for travel to the UAE, & mdash; five flights a week.

The company explains that most of the seats on flights Minsk & mdash; Dubai is sold in blocks to tour operators, the number of tickets sold with the starting point of the trip is “ Dubai '' was minimal.

Belavia also stated that she did not perform regular or charter flights to Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and “ never facilitated the transportation of illegal migrants to the Republic of Belarus. ''

Earlier, on November 12, the airline said that the Turkish authorities had forbidden it to take on board the aircraft traveling to Belarus, citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Belavia operates flights to Minsk from Istanbul, which is considered one of the largest transfer hubs in Europe and the Middle East.

The Turkish airline Turkish also announced its refusal to carry citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen to Minsk Airlines, and the authorities of Turkey and Poland agreed to cooperate in solving the problem of the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border.

The crisis on the border of the two countries began in early November. The situation escalated on November 8, when several thousand migrants approached the border with Poland in Belarus, wishing to enter the EU. Migrants, mostly from the Middle East, attempted to cross the border and set up camp in the border zone.

Poland mobilized additional military units to guard the border and increased the number of border guards in the area where migrants gather. President of the country Andrzej Duda accused the Belarusian authorities of deliberately sending migrants to the border.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, in response, said that migrants were deliberately brought into Belarus by some transit countries. “ There are dozens of transients who throw people up, & mdash; these are Germans and, first of all, Poles, also Ukrainians, Lithuanians. That is, it has its own mafia structure, which provides transit '', & mdash; said Lukashenko.

Last week, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said that in response to the migration crisis, the EU and the US are preparing a new package of sanctions against Belarus. Bloomberg reported that the sanctions may include airlines that facilitate the transport of migrants to Belarus, as well as the insurance sector of Belarus. The agency's source said that the Russian Aeroflot may also be on the sanctions list. Later at Aeroflot denied accusations of involvement in the transport of migrants and declared their readiness to defend their position in court.

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Источник rbc.ru

Remembering Sarah Hegazi, the Egyptian LGBTQ activist arrested for unfurling the rainbow flag

Remembering Sarah Hegazi, the Egyptian LGBTQ activist arrested for unfurling the rainbow flag

Sarah Hegazi will be remembered as someone who just wanted to be herself — and was imprisoned and tortured for doing so. On Saturday, the Egyptian LGBTQ activist died by suicide in exile in Canada. She was 30 years old. 

By
The World staff

Producer
Joyce Hackel

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Crowds listening to Mashrou Leila concert in Cairo in 2017. 

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Sarah Hegazi will be remembered as someone who just wanted to be herself — and was imprisoned and tortured for doing so. On Saturday, the Egyptian LGBTQ activist died by suicide in exile in Canada. She was 30 years old. 

Hegazi’s friends trace the lead-up to her death to a moment in 2017 during a music festival in Cairo. As the Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila played, Hegazi hoisted a rainbow flag above the crowd — a daring move in a country where homosexuality is taboo. A friend took her photo, and Hegazi became famous after the image spread across on social media.

But Hegazi’s friend, Aya Hijazi, says that moment came back to haunt her. The two women are both activists who have spent time in Egyptian prisons.

Hegazi was arrested after her photo spread on social media. Upon her release, she fled to Canada, where she was granted asylum.

“She told us, I always felt depressed and not able to express myself, and I wasn’t trying to make any political statements, I wasn’t being courageous, I was joyous,” Hijazi told The World.
 

    View this post on Instagram         

السما احلى من الارض! وانا عاوزه السما مش الارض.

A post shared by Sarah Hegazi (@sarahhegazi89) on Jun 12, 2020 at 10:57am PDT

Today, activists in Lebanon, Egypt and Syria are remembering Hegazi. Upon learning of her death, Hamid Sinno, the openly gay lead singer of Mashrou’ Leila, sang a few stanzas in her honor — taken from Hegazi’s own last words.

Hegazi posted these lines online before her death: The sky is more beautiful than the Earth. And I want the sky, not the earth.

The World’s Marco Werman spoke with Hijazi about how people Hegazi is being remembered and the consequences of her decision to wave the rainbow flag.

Related: Egypt is raiding its LGBTQ community after rainbow flags flew at a concert. The West is silent.

Marco Werman: Aya, take us back to 2017, if you would, and that moment when a friend of Sarah’s snapped that picture and what became an iconic photograph. The Lebanese pop band Mashrou’ Leila just taken the stage at a festival in Cairo. What happened? 

Aya Hijazi: Right. She raised that flag and then some people put it on social media. It wasn’t her. And then after that, people posted it, it was a week later that she was arrested. She was sexually harassed by the authorities. And she was asked very private questions. She was electrocuted and she was tortured just because of raising the flag, nothing else. 

Which was a horrible experience and a complete 180 from the kind of jubilation that she was feeling at that concert, right?

I think that was the last moment of joy she ever felt. She was taken afterwards to solitary confinement as well. And then she was placed with two women in a cell, and they were forbidden from talking to her. And then ultimately, of course, she was deported and made to leave Egypt. And her mother died, as well. And so she just felt depressed afterwards.

How did Sarah get out of prison in Cairo? 

There was advocacy for her case, and then she was just released. She wasn’t acquitted. And then she was basically deported, never allowed to go back home. And I want to say that she never felt comfortable living in exile. She told us repeatedly that she wants to go back home, even if she’s going to go back to prison.

Related: Egypt is ramping up its harsh crackdown on the LGBTQ community

She then struggled with depression and she took her life this past Saturday, what’s been the reaction in Cairo to her death? 

I mean, it is mixed, an unequal mix, with 90 percent of the people just being vile. [But] fellow activists and friends said if this was 10 or 15 years ago, no one would have been outspoken in her support. But now, even 10 percent are able to be outspoken and really speak their opinion freely about the issue and even changing their profiles to the rainbow flag. It is very taboo. That is change. And we think this change is made by Sarah. So she left, but I think her legacy for rights and freedoms and peace and love will live past her.

We’ve been reflecting on the Supreme Court decision here in the U.S. to support protection for LGBTQ people in the workplace. Clearly, different countries are seeing the urgency for LGBTQ equality and justice through different lenses. When you think about what needs to be accomplished in Egypt, where do you even begin? 

In America, all of this happens, even legislation banning discrimination, it’s because of democracy. It is because there is freedom of speech and you can’t have rights, if you’re ruled by a tank and a government.

Aya, you spoke about the legacy of Sarah. What do activists in the Middle East do with this moment?

So people are arranging vigils for her in Beirut. They’ve already lit candles for her yesterday, even in Syria — it’s war-torn and people are dying. Because she was a strong supporter of Syria, Syrian activists did a vigil for her and raised banners. A lot of people really loved her and came out in support of LGBTQ rights and this was the first time that I seen Egypt people changing their profiles to the rainbow flag.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Hussain Manawer – I’m Ashamed lyrics

I’m ashamed

I’m ashamed to be citizen of this world
Where we breed corruption, deceit, and inequality between boys and girls
I’m ashamed of myself
Indulged in temptation, desire and wealth

I’m so ashamed I don’t cry I laugh
I’m ashamed my grandparents fought for my education whilst I bunked in
The park
I’m ashamed at my work rate, the generation before us kept it together
And worked hard
I’m ashamed we let the smallest things get
Political and tear us apart

I’m ashamed we value success via likes and shares
I’m ashamed we spend our pay cheques dancing to techno sounds, drums and
Snares
House parties, raves, west end bottles and flares
I’m so ashamed that I don’t even care

I’m ashamed we are so connected and equally disconnected similuationaly
I’m ashamed we watch polar ice caps melt and think it’s happened
Spontaneously

I’m ashamed that when I look up to the sky and think of my contribution
Its halfhearted prayers from my attic window and bags full of pollution

I’m ashamed my footprint is made of carbon
I’m ashamed I find more peace and solace with eesa watching in the night
Garden

I’m ashamed I burden my friendships with Ahmed and Sajid
And then send messages in the morning saying sorry about that its cool now
I can manage

I’m ashamed we are looked at by color
I’m ashamed our phones connect quicker to the Internet in someone’s
Home then our hearts do with each other

I’m ashamed the media has become a weapon of mass distraction
I’m ashamed the greatest hero of us all was a man made out of plastic but
We called him action

I’m ashamed that the people of Rohingya are dissolving within our eyes
I’m ashamed to be alive in a time were we are still using words like the
Holocaust and genocide
I’m ashamed it’s even a debate that Sandra Bland committed suicide

I’m ashamed freedom doesn’t come freely
I’m ashamed we don’t know the story of aafia sadiqee

I’m ashamed, that in my throat I feel a lump
And ashamed till the death of me that hundreds of years of slavery is only
Taught in a single month

I’m ashamed we did the mannequin challenge whilst the orphans were
Calling
I’m ashamed that Syria has lost its children and Aleppo has fallen

Im ashamed we didn’t focus in history and ran through our corridors
When we should have been learning about kunte kente, anne frank and how
Much heart it took to escape from sobibor

I’m ashamed our intelligence is artificial and cannot breathe
I’m ashamed we created a virtual world because we destroyed the world we
Can really see,
I’m ashamed we elected world’s leaders that cannot lead

I’m ashamed terror has depressed the planet
I’m ashamed anxiety is imbedding itself in the granite

I’m ashamed we will take this moment for what it is
And in a few hours be even more ashamed because I’ll continue like it
Didn’t exist

We travelled fast
But we moved slow,
We developed quick,
We didn’t grow

I learnt it all on Wanstead Park Bridge, in valentine’s park and belgrave
Road,
One thing I’m not ashamed to say is this, is home sweet home,