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Posts tagged ‘Protests in Syria’

Hope lost in Greece, some Syrians pay smugglers to get home

June 11, 2016

DIDIMOTICHO, Greece (AP) — Europe seemed like the promised land, worth risking their lives to reach. But in a muddy field on the northern edge of Greece, their dreams died. Now, dozens of Syrian refugees are risking their lives again but in the opposite direction — paying smugglers to take them back to Turkey, and heading home.

Rather than brave the often treacherous waves of the Aegean again, they face the dangerous currents of the Evros River, which runs along the Greek-Turkish border. Each night, groups of migrants and refugees huddle at the railway station of the small border town of Didimoticho, about 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the frontier, setting up small tents and waiting for their chance to cross.

Among them is Atia Al Jassem, a 27-year-old Syrian barber from Damascus who is heading east with his wife and 1-year-old daughter after spending months stuck on the Greek-Macedonian border, watching his hopes of reaching Europe ebb away.

“I am going to Turkey, I do not want Europe any more. Finished,” he said, sitting in a small park near the railway station in Thessaloniki, Greece’s main northern city, where he, his 20-year-old wife Yasmine Ramadan and their daughter Legine, who they call Loulou, spent what they hoped would be their last night in the country.

“We are really tired. We’re destroyed and I have a baby. I ask God to help me get back to Turkey,” he said. “In Syria under the bombs we would be better off than here.” The family arrived in Greece on Feb. 24, crossing the Aegean and then making their way north. But their journey to Germany was cut short at the Greek-Macedonian border.

The European Union and Turkey since agreed on a deal which returns migrants who arrived on the Greek islands after March 20 to Turkey — but it doesn’t affect earlier arrivals trapped on the Greek mainland.

Balkan and European countries increasingly tightened entry restrictions at the start of the year, before shutting their land borders to refugees completely in March. That trapped about 57,000 people in Greece, a country enduring a six-year financial crisis and with unemployment running at around 24 percent. Few refugees want to settle here.

Al Jassem and his family stayed for months in Idomeni, a sprawling impromptu refugee camp that sprang up on the Greek-Macedonian border. Authorities evacuated the camp last month, and the family were moved to an official camp with thousands of others.

But months of living rough had sapped their morale and their resolve. They gave up the dream of a life in Germany. “We did not expect we were going to be treated as such in Europe,” said Al Jassem. “We thought they will be humane, looking after us and after our children, protect our children. We though we will be helped, but we found the opposite. Europe has no feeling for us at all.”

They decided to head to Turkey, where Al Jassem’s brother lives. But like many others, they found there was no easy way back. Syrians cannot be officially returned to their war-ravaged country, and the legal path to Turkey would be lengthy and bureaucratic. So many opt for smugglers, who migrants say now charge cut-price rates of just a few hundred euros instead of thousands to be taken in the opposite direction.

“Recently we have observed a reverse flow of migrants and refugees coming from Idomeni toward our northern borders,” said Ilias Akidis, head of the police union of Didimoticho. “From what they tell us, they are trying to cross to Turkey … because they have relatives there or because they want to head back to their country.”

Didimoticho deputy mayor Ioannis Topaloudis said authorities have been seeing around 20-40 people heading toward the Turkish border each day. With a fence sealing the small section of land border, the ONLY OPTION to those without the correct documentation is to take their chances across the river. Over the years, the Evros’ current has claimed many migrant lives.

Authorities stop those they find. Police say they have detained about 150 migrants trying to cross illegally into Turkey over the past two months. In mid-May, police caught five Syrians aged between 23 and 52 trying to row across the river in a dinghy.

“This season the Evros (river) is very dangerous. Because of the rains, the water level is very high,” said Akidis. “They are always trying to go back. It is very dangerous. They don’t succeed because we also are preventing them from crossing, but for their own reasons they keep trying.”

Among those giving up on hopes of a life in Europe was Majd Hamed, a 21-year-old fine arts student also from Damascus. After three months in Idomeni, he decided in mid-May to head home. “I want to go to Syria and continue my studies in the Fine Arts School. Even if the (European) borders open, I’m going back. I’m very angry with the Europeans for this situation we’ve been living here,” he said, sitting outside the train carriages where he had been sleeping in Idomeni before the camp was evacuated.

Hamed says he sought help from U.N. agencies to return home, but was told it wasn’t possible. “They told me that it’s not safe for me to go back to Syria,” he said. So he sought out the alternative. Armed with a map with Didimoticho marked out, he was heading to Thessaloniki to catch a train to the border. “From there I’m going to cross the river, as others from Syria have told me,” he said. He aimed to fly from Turkey to Lebanon and make his way home to Damascus.

“I never tried to cross the border with Macedonia illegally,” he says. “I wanted to get to Germany legally, but now I’m forced to try to return to my country in this way.” Some lucky few do manage to take a legal route. Alia Mohamad, a 21-year-old from Aleppo, was heading with her husband and barely 2-month-old son Uday to Thessaloniki to catch a flight to Turkey with tickets sent by her sister, who was getting married in Turkey and had officially invited them over.

The young family had spent three months in Idomeni. “It is not possible to continue like this and I see it is impossible to get to Europe,” Mohamad said. After the wedding, they aim to return to Syria.

“We have no more money, and the situation here is bad also for the baby,” said her 23-year-old husband Mahmud Kusa Ali. “We have decided to return to our country.” They will settle down about 70 kilometers from their hometown of Aleppo. “It is safer there,” he said.

Druze youths protest in Syria’s Suweida

14/04/2016

BEIRUT – Students have been at the forefront of a recent protest movement in Syria’s Druze-populated Suweida province calling for comprehensive reforms in the regime-controlled region.

The newly-formed “You Broke Us” campaign called for Suweida residents to hit the streets early Thursday afternoon, the latest protest organized by the movement making a raft of social and economic demands that implicitly blame the government with mismanaging the province.

“You Broke Us” announced its public presence on March 13 in an opening statement in which it vowed to organize a “long-term protest” until its demands to help “build a better future for the province” were met.

The organization’s manifesto is not overly political and does not take any firm stance on the regime’s presence in Suweida, similar to a previous grassroots movement that briefly held a series of protests in the fall of 2015.

Instead, “You Broke Us” lists eight main problems it says are blighting the lives of the province’s residents: rampant corruption, poor electrical services, declining provision of fuel and heating gas, the firing of state employees who refuse military service, the fixed salary of state employees amid the inflation wracking the country, high prices for basic commodities, increased lawlessness, and poor healthcare.

Although the campaign has avoided anti-regime rhetoric, it launched an implicit broadside against local government figures in a March 22 post, saying: “We send a message to the concerned dirty and corrupt authorities that the people soon will direct their judgments against you, O criminals.”

So far, the student-led civil society movement’s protests have focused on the dismissal of public teachers who refused to sign-up for state military reserve service, a heavy-handed regime move that ran contrary to Suweida residents’ long-running opposition to conscription in the Syrian army to potentially fight in far-off battlefronts.

The first student protest over the matter was held on March 1 in front of Suweida’s Department of Education amid a heavy presence of security forces. Although the sit-in came over a week before the official launch of “You Broke Us,” the group has since claimed it organized the demonstration.

In the ensuing weeks, “You Broke Us,” dozens of students have gathered five subsequent times for marches and sit-ins, all of which were peaceful in nature and were not brutally suppressed by regime forces, as other protests in the early days of the Syrian uprising were.

Their latest protest on April 12 went beyond the local situation, with “You Broke Us” organizers saying the rally was in response to the situation in not only Suweida, but the country as whole. The call for action for the sit-in railed against “injustice, corruption and the violation of the rights of young people.”

Although Suweida is under regime control, a number of grassroots movements have sprung up in the past two years to protest decreasing living standards in the Druze-populated province.

In the fall of 2015, the short-lived “We Are Being Strangled” movement organized a series of protests, one of which turned into an unprecedented show of anger on September 2 when demonstrators went as far as storming the provincial government’s local HQ in Suweida.

Two days after the protest, the leader of the fiercely independent Sheikhs of Dignity Movement—the most powerful group challenging regime authority in Suweida—was assassinated by a massive car bombing in the provincial capital.

The Sheikhs of Dignity never made any official statement of support for the “We Are Being Strangled” movement, and the group has also remained mum on the recently-formed student protest group.

Although the Sheikhs of Dignity and its armed affiliates insist they are neutral, they have struck increasingly challenging positions against the Syrian government, and have announced they seek self-security.

Source: NOW.

Link: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566869-druze-youths-protest-in-syrias-suweida.

More than 100,000 protest against Assad during funeral of Kurdish opposition figure

Saturday, 08 October 2011

By AL ARABIYA AND AGENCIES

More than 100,000 Syrians rallied against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday during the funeral of Mishaal Tammo, a Kurdish opposition figure slain the previous day, Abdessalam Othman, of the Kurdish Future Movement in Syria, told Al Arabiya.

Othman said security forces in civilian clothing randomly opened fire on demonstrators, killing five and wounding dozens.

Earlier, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more 50,000 people were participating in the Tammo’s funeral.

Protesters also took on the streets in the northern eastern cities of Amouda and al-Dirbasiya.

In the central city of Homs, roads were blocked to prevent protesters from demonstrating and communication was cut.

Gunmen shot dead Tammo on Friday in his home in the east of the country, activists said.

Rami Abdel-Rahman, head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said four gunmen entered the house in Qamishli, shooting Tammo dead and wounding his brother, Reuters reported.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees said Tammo “was killed on Friday at his home by unidentified men. His son as well as female activist Zahida Rashkilo were wounded.”

The official SANA news agency reported “the assassination,” but gave a different account of Tammo’s death. It said he was killed “by gunmen in a black car who fired at his car.”

Tammo founded the liberal Kurdish Future Party, which considers the Kurds to be an integral part of Syria.

He was a member of the newly formed opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) and had been released recently after spending three and a half years in prison.

Tammo’s killing sparked indignation at home and abroad.

The United States said Assad’s regime is escalating its tactics against the opposition with bold, daylight attacks on its leaders, while France said it was “shocked” by the news of the murder.

“This is a clear escalation of regime tactics,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters, referring to reports of Tammo’s murder, as well as the beating on Friday of former MP Riad Seif.

Nuland said both opposition leaders were attacked in broad daylight.

France condemned the regime’s “brutal violence” in its crackdown on the opposition.

“We are shocked by the assassination of opposition figure Mishaal Tammo… and by the attack on opposition figure Riad Seif,” a foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement.

Seif, a former lawmaker, had to be given hospital treatment after being beaten outside a mosque in the capital’s commercial neighborhood of Medan.

Before the news of Tammo’s killing, a prominent Sheikh from the opposition was killed.

Source: al-Arabiya.

Link: http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/10/08/170791.html.

French direct aid a dubious break for Syria rebels

September 07, 2012

PARIS (AP) — France’s decision to send direct aid to Syria’s opposition represents a break for the rebels after months of Western hesitation over fears that costly equipment intended for Syria’s opposition could get lost or fall into the wrong hands. But even the French action, rebels and activists say, amounts to so little that it’s all but useless.

France, Syria’s one-time colonial ruler, began sending the aid without intermediaries last week to three regions of Syria where the regime of President Bashar Assad has lost control, in the first such move by a Western power, a diplomat said Wednesday. But it remains limited, primarily repairing bakeries, water systems and schools. And while apparently more than the indirect assistance extended by other Western countries, it’s still far from the magnitude needed to make a difference, Syrian opposition activists said.

In the province of Aleppo, which includes Syria’s largest city, and in the southern province of Daraa, activists said even the new French aid hadn’t helped. When something is broken, it’s locals who must fix it or just make do, said Mohammed Saeed, an activist in the Aleppo area.

“Instead of fixing water systems,” Saeed said, “they should go and give food to 5,000 refugees stuck on the border with Turkey.” France has pushed to secure “liberated zones” in Syria amid mounting calls for the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed. It has increased contact with armed rebel groups and started direct aid deliveries last Friday to local citizens’ councils in five cities outside the government’s control, the diplomatic source said, without disclosing the value of the assistance. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the French actions amid Syria’s violence.

Britain has offered a total of $10 million in non-lethal aid to Syria’s opposition, including medical supplies, communications gear and generators, intended to reach Syria through a small number of trusted intermediaries. Foreign Secretary William Hague says the supplies are for opposition activists — not fighters. U.S. and French officials have made similar comments about the destination of their aid.

“The amounts that have been delivered are even laughable,” said Ausama Monajed, spokesman for the Syrian National Council, one of several groups of Syrians outside their homeland trying to win over Western backing.

Hague said Friday that EU countries can only provide non-lethal aid to Syrian opposition groups because of an EU arms embargo. “At the moment we have a European Union arms embargo on Syria, it’s not possible or legal for any EU nation to send weapons to anybody in Syria and therefore our chosen route and is the same route of France and the United States, is to give non-lethal assistance and we’re doing that,” Hague told reporters in response to a question about whether France may be considering providing arms to the Syrian opposition.

He said Britain is also mulling sending protective clothing that doesn’t fall under the arms ban. Hague has acknowledged that the West is cautious, offering equipment only to a small number of groups and in small batches. He said it had only been possible to send equipment after developing better ties to members of the country’s varied opposition groups, some of whom are directing the deliveries.

The State Department set aside $25 million to supply the political opposition with non-lethal assistance, distributing 900 pieces of equipment through one program called the Conflict Stabilization Office. The gear includes cameras to document atrocities for potential future prosecutions, encrypted radios, phones, laptops and software that can be used to circumvent Internet controls, according to officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the details.

The Assad regime, meanwhile, continues to get assistance from its allies in Russia and Iran. The Kremlin has insisted that the continuing Russian arms sales don’t violate any international agreements and scoffed at Western demands to halt the trade. Syria’s arsenal includes hundreds of Soviet-built combat jets, attack helicopters and missiles, as well as thousands of tanks and artillery systems. Russia also has said it has military advisers in Syria training the Syrians to use Russian weapons, and has helped repair and maintain Syrian weapons.

Iran also has been accused of helping to sustain the regime. The U.S. alleged this week that Tehran is flying weapons to the Assad regime across Iraqi airspace. The rebels have also benefited from weapons flowing to the rebels via Turkey, Iraq and elsewhere, according to activists and diplomats. Some of the arms, activists say, are purchased with Saudi and Qatari funds. Other sources are murkier.

In Istanbul, however, a rebel commander denied that the opposition was receiving arms deliveries via Turkey, dismissing the Assad regime’s claims that foreign powers were stirring up the uprising. “If we were given any weapons assistance, the Syrian regime would not be standing now,” Abdul-Qadir Saleh, the commander of the Tawhid Brigade, the main rebel outfit in Aleppo province, told a press conference. “The weapons we have are either looted from Syrian army depots or came with those who defected.”

Peter Harling, of the think tank International Crisis Group, said Syria’s opposition, although divided, was more than capable of handling aid. He criticized European and American diplomatic hesitancy as “a tendency to posture, to make statements as opposed to actual policy-making.”

Harling said words without action would have long-term consequences among Syrians: “There’s a huge disconnect which is causing a lot of frustration and will cause ultimately hostility on the part of Syrians who hear a lot of empty statements but see very little happening on the ground.”

Associated Press writers Paul Schemm in Azaz, Syria; Greg Keller in Paris; David Stringer in London; Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Lebanon; and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Syria braced for Friday protests as unrest enters 7th month

Sep 16, 2011

Cairo/Beirut – Syria deployed tanks and army units across the country ahead of expected demonstrations on Friday, as the pro-democracy protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad entered their seventh month.

With the slogan ‘we are continuing until we bring down the regime,’ Syrian activists were planning to protest after Friday prayers, a traditional time for demonstrations.

‘We will not stop no matter what kind of brutal means this regime uses against us,’ Omar Idlibi, a spokesman for activist group The Local Coordination Committees, told the German Press Agency dpa.

Meanwhile, Syrian security forces continued large-scale searches for defectors, also in areas around the northern Lebanese-Syrian border.

A Lebanese man was wounded overnight by shots fired across the border in the Akkar region, hours after Syrian troops mistakenly shot at a Lebanese army unit in the area.

The Lebanese National News Agency said Ahmad Zeidan Ahmad was wounded by gunfire that struck homes in the Lebanese village of Kenayseh.

On Thursday, 15 soldiers from the Syrian Army briefly crossed into Lebanon while in pursuit of people ‘fleeing’ into the same area of Akkar.

‘A Syrian Arab Army patrol entered Lebanese territory at Mounseh in the north, crossing 200 meters into Lebanese territory while pursuing people who were fleeing over the border,’ said an army statement.

It added that a military vehicle was damaged by gunfire from inside Syria, and that the two armies were following up the incident.

Several hundred Syrian refugees and defectors have fled to areas in northern Lebanon and especially Akkar since anti-government protests started in mid-March.

An estimated 2,600 people have been killed in Syria during the government crackdown on protesters.

Source: Monsters and Critics.
Link: http://news.monstersandcritics.com/middleeast/news/article_1663317.php/Syria-braced-for-Friday-protests-as-unrest-enters-7th-month.

Gulf states condemn Syria ‘killing machine’

11 Sep 2011

Gulf Co-operation Council calls for “serious reforms” and end to bloodshed as fresh violence and arrests are reported.

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) has called for “an immediate end to the killing machine” in Syria, and reiterated its demand for government reforms.

Ending a meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the six foreign ministers of the Gulf Arab states issued a statement calling for an end to the crackdown on anti-government protesters and urging “the immediate implementation of serious reforms that meet the aspirations of the Syrian” people.

Last month, the GCC called on the Syrian leadership to “resort to wisdom” and stop the bloodshed.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain recalled their envoys from Damascus to protest against President Bashar al-Assad’s use of force in the uprising against his family’s 41-year rule.

Qatar shut its embassy after it was attacked by Assad loyalists in July.

The United Nations estimated on August 22 that more than 2,200 people have been killed since protests began in March. Scores have been reported killed in the following weeks and Syrian activists now put the death toll closer to 3,000.

In the latest reports of bloodshed, activists said a woman was killed near the Iraqi border on Sunday.

“A 40-year-old woman was killed at noon on Sunday by a stray bullet as security forces were tracking wanted people in the town of Albu Kamal,” the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited an activist in Deir al-Zor province as saying.

The Observatory also said a 17-year-old boy died of wounds sustained a day earlier when security forces fired at a funeral for Ghayath Matar, an activist who reportedly died from torture in prison.

Raids ‘intensifying’

Protests were reported in several towns on Sunday and the Local Co-ordination Committees said security forces used gunfire to disperse demonstrations in Albu-Kamal and in Quseir and Talbiseh in the central Homs governorate.

Witnesses and activists also said Syrian forces had stepped up raids across the country to arrest activists.

In the town of Hirak in Deraa province, Ahmad al-Sayyed, a resident, told Reuters that troops had detained at least 250 people in the village of Jeeza, 40 in Museifra, 50 in Busra al-Harir and 30 in Naimeh in the last 48 hours.

“They shoot in the air before they begin raids. They then drag young men and use electric sticks to beat them up and haul them away to detention centers,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, France’s foreign minister said the UN’s failure to condemn the actions of Syrian security forces against protesters was a “scandal”.

Alain Juppe also stepped up pressure on Russia to support a Security Council resolution saying it was too late for political reforms in Syria, as Russia has called for.

“We think the regime has lost its legitimacy, that it’s too late to implement a program of reform,” Juppe told reporters.

“Now we should adopt in New York the resolution condemning the violence and supporting the dialogue with the opposition,” he said.

“It’s a scandal not to have a clearer position of the UN on such a terrible crisis”.

The developments come after Nabil el-Araby, the head of the Arab League, said he had reached an agreement on reforms with Assad during talks in Damascus on Saturday.

Russia, a UN member with veto power, has resisted international attempts to condemn the violence and refused to back Western calls for Assad to quit.

The Syrian authorities blame what they describe as terrorists for the bloodshed and say hundreds of members of the security forces are among the dead. Opposition activists also acknowledge the deaths of of about 500 security personnel.

Source: al-Jazeera.
Link: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/09/2011911192321627917.html.

Syrian expatriates form Europe-wide opposition movement

Sep 10, 2011

Vienna – Syrian expatriate organizations from 15 European countries declared themselves in opposition to President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday and formed a joint movement in Vienna.

The new Union of Syrians Abroad called for the ‘toppling of the Syrian regime and for the creation of a democratic multi-party state’ while stressing the principle of non-violence and its opposition to foreign military intervention.

It also called on Syrian embassies to distance themselves from the current government, Austrian broadcaster ORF reported.

The Union plans to support opposition members in Syria and those who flee abroad.

It represents expatriates in Austria, Britain, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Late last month, some opposition activists founded a National Transitional Council in Turkey, modeled on the one formed by Libyan rebels.

Protests calling for political reforms began in mid-March and developed into calls for the ouster of al-Assad.

The United Nations has estimated that more than 2,200 civilians have been killed in the government’s violent crackdown.

Source: Monsters and Critics.
Link: http://news.monstersandcritics.com/middleeast/news/article_1662138.php/Syrian-expatriates-form-Europe-wide-opposition-movement.

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