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Lebanon seizes 142 kg of illicit drugs in major bust with help from Saudi authorities

BEIRUT: As Lebanon marks 44 years since the start of its civil war on Saturday, families whose loved ones disappeared during the conflict hope they might finally get some answers.The small multi-confessional country passed a landmark law in November to determine the fate of thousands of Lebanese who went missing in the 1975-1990 war.But political…

Lebanon seizes 142 kg of illicit drugs in major bust with help from Saudi authorities

BEIRUT: As Lebanon marks 44 years since the start of its civil war on Saturday, families whose loved ones disappeared during the conflict hope they might finally get some answers.The small multi-confessional country passed a landmark law in November to determine the fate of thousands of Lebanese who went missing in the 1975-1990 war.But political parties once involved in the fighting must now encourage followers with key data such as the location of mass graves to come forward to help.Wadad Halwani, who heads the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Missing, says the new legislation has given grieving relatives a glimmer of hope.“It’s the first time we commemorate the war with a law to enshrine the right to know… the fate of all the missing, dead or alive,” she said.More than 150,000 people were killed during Lebanon’s civil war and some 17,000 people went missing, according to official figures.Halwani’s husband was among them, abducted, never to return.For more than a decade, she and a dozen other women have regularly protested in the garden outside the UN headquarters in Beirut, clutching faded photographs of their long-gone loved ones.The new law is “crucial to allow relatives of the missing to move on with their lives like everyone else, instead of wasting them waiting,” she said.Law 105 gives families the right to know the place of abduction or detention of their loved one, as well as the whereabouts of their remains and the right to retrieve them.To do this, the Cabinet must set up an official commission of inquiry to gather testimonies and investigate mass graves. But five months on, nothing has been done.Former lawmaker Ghassan Moukheiber, who co-drafted the law, said political will was key to moving forward.The “decision to pass this law now needs to be translated into appointing a commission and facilitating its work,” he said.The probing body is to include, among others, family representatives, lawyers, an academic and a forensic doctor.Once formed, its first task should be to draw up a unified list of all those missing, Moukheiber said.They will have to “track down… those still alive and work toward their return, as well as retrieving the remains of those killed or dead,” he said.The International Committee of the Red Cross has said it is willing to hand over all information and DNA samples it has collected into a database on the missing since 2012.But what Moukheiber describes as the commission’s “purely humanitarian” mission is also a highly sensitive one.After Lebanon’s war ended, Parliament in 1991 passed a general amnesty law that saw former warlords breathe a sigh of relief and move on to politics.Almost three decades later, their parties are still going strong, and persisting differences have repeatedly sparked government deadlocks.“A number of parties that were once militias and have… a past of war crimes have started to at least tentatively fear this commission’s future work,” Moukheiber said.With numerous groups implicated, choosing where to start will also be delicate.“In what mass grave should the inquiry begin?” asked the former lawmaker.“There are burial grounds all over Lebanon, in every area once under control of” an armed group, he said.“Choosing where and how to exhume these graves will require wisdom and courage.”All previous calls to investigate the fate of Lebanon’s missing have come up against uncooperative political parties and inactive governments.Researcher Lokman Slim, who has spent years gathering data on the missing, says there was little chance the commission would produce tangible results.“That a political authority with blood-drenched hands actually voted on this law just means that it doesn’t fear its consequences,” said the head of the Umam Documentation and Research center.“It knows very well that, as with so many issues in Lebanon, the law will simply remain ink on paper.”“In Parliament, in government, in the circles of Lebanese leaders, there are dozens… who have the detailed information we need about the fate of the missing or locations of mass graves,” Slim said.But he says he doubts the law’s ability to spark collective introspection into “what led them into a bloody war” in the first place.Relatives of the missing, however, are determined.“Successive governments have accused us of pouring salt into old wounds,” said Halwani. But “the whole of society needs to know the truth because it’s the only way forward toward real reconciliation,” she added.

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Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone. With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of…

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.

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Kais Saied wins Tunisia presidency by ‘significant margin’

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone. With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of…

Kais Saied wins Tunisia presidency by ‘significant margin’

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.

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Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight. More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17. It could further strain…

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.

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