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SANAA

8 soldiers killed in suicide car bombing

Yemeni security officials say a suicide car bomber has struck a security

camp in a southern Yemeni city, killing eight soldiers. The officials say

the bomber, who was disguised as a driver carrying a load of fire wood

for cooking, failed to get inside the camp after soldiers stopped him. So

he blew himself up at the gates instead. The explosion took place on

Friday in the city of Jaar, a militant hotbed. No group immediately claimed

responsibility. Southern Yemen has seen a spate of suicide bombings

by extremist groups as the weak, internationally recognized government

has failed to restore security after forcing Houthi Shiite militias and allied

forces out of the south in 2015.

— AP

EL-ARISH

Christians flee Sinai as kin killed

Suspected militants gunned down a Coptic Christian inside his home

in northern Sinai, the sixth such killing in a month’s time in the restive

region, officials said Friday, prompting some Christian families to flee

from the area for fear of being targeted next. The militants stormed the

home of Kamel Youssef, a plumber, on Thursday and shot him to death

in front of his wife and children in the town of El-Arish, said two officials.

No militant group has claimed responsibility for the attack but earlier

this week, Egypt’s Daesh (the so-called IS) affiliate, which is based in

the Sinai Peninsula, vowed in a video to step up attacks against the

embattled Christian minority. A spate of killings by suspected militants

have spread fears among the Coptic community in El-Arish as families left

their homes after reportedly receiving threats on their cellphones. A day

before Youssef’s killings, militants killed a Coptic Christian man and burned

his son alive, then dumped their bodies on a roadside in El-Arish. Three

others Christians in Sinai were killed earlier, either in drive-by shooting or

with militants storming their homes and shops.

— AP

IN BRIEF

N

E

W

S

4

Saudi Gazette, Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mideast

About 1.5 million Syrians have sought refuge

in Lebanon, making up about a quarter of the

population, according to officials and relief

groups, and there is a widely held belief in

Lebanon that refugees are a burden on the

country’s economy and social structure.

s

s

For

SYRIAN REFUGEES,

there is no going home

By Anne Barnard

I

N the makeshift tent

settlements that dot fields

and villages in the Bekaa

Valley of Lebanon, Syrian

refugees are digging in,

pouring concrete floors,

installing underground sewerage

and electric wires, and starting

businesses and families.

What they are not doing is

packing up en masse to leave,

despite exhortations from Syrian

and Lebanese officials, who have

declared that safety and security

are on the march in neighboring

Syria and that it is time for refu-

gees to go home.

But as a new round of peace

talks convened Thursday in

Geneva, Syrians interviewed at

a randomly selected camp in the

Bekaa Valley this week offered

a unanimous reality check. Their

old homes are either destroyed or

unsafe, they fear arrest by security

forces and they know that despite

recent victories by pro-govern-

ment forces, the fighting and

bombing are far from over. They

are not going anywhere.

About 1.5 million Syrians

have sought refuge in Lebanon,

making up about a quarter of the

population, according to officials

and relief groups, and there is a

widely held belief in Lebanon

that refugees are a burden on the

country’s economy and social

structure.

Nearly six years into a war

that began with a security crack-

down on protests against Presi-

dent Bashar Al-Assad, countries

once eager to see him ousted are

now more focused on containing

the migrant crisis and defeating

the Daesh (the so-called IS), and

are willing to consider a settle-

ment that allows Assad to remain

in power.

That leaves many govern-

ments invested in vague hopes

that such a settlement, how-

ever rickety or superficial, will

somehow stop the metastasis of

the Syrian crisis and ease fears

of Daesh terrorism — often

conflated with concerns about

ordinary Syrian refugees — that

have fueled the rise of right-wing

politicians.

And it gives many coun-

tries a strong stake in declaring

Syria safe for return, even without

A refugee at his temporary home in Anjar. Some refugees are digging in, pouring concrete floors, installing

underground sewerage and electric wires and starting businesses.

In Anjar, Lebanon, near the Syrian border.

Syrian and Lebanese officials have declared

that safety and security are on the march in

Syria and that it is time for refugees to go

home. — New York Times photos

Anti-Trump protest

Palestinian demonstrators step on a poster depicting US President

Donald Trump during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron,

Friday. — Reuters

resolving the political issues that

started the conflict, including hu-

man rights abuses by the Syrian

government.

Assad, Syrian officials and

their allies in Lebanon are reading

that mood. The Hezbollah leader,

Hassan Nasrallah, has called for

the return of migrants, and Leba-

non’s President, Michel Aoun,

has called on global powers to

facilitate it.

But in a tent settlement in the

village of Souairi, Syrians made

clear that neither a fig-leaf deal nor

an outright government victory

would send many of them home.

Every family interviewed

had at least one member who had

disappeared after being arrested

or forcibly drafted by the govern-

ment. The refugees said they cared

less about whether Assad stayed

or went than about reforms of the

security system. Without an end to

torture, disappearances and arbi-

trary arrests, they said, they would

remain wary of going back.

Virtually all said that they

dreamed of going back, but that it

was increasingly a dream for the

next generation.

“If the Lebanese president

would offer me the choice of

staying in prison forever here

and going back to Syria now, I

would choose prison,” said Khaled

Khodor, 23, who spent four days

in a Lebanese jail for sneaking

across the border.

“They didn’t torture me or beat

me,” he explained. “It was fine. In

Syria, if you’re taken, you’re gone

forever.”

Khodor is wanted by the Syr-

ian authorities because he defected

from the Syrian Army in 2012. He

had two reasons, he said: his own

horror at taking part in shelling

the rebellious neighborhood of

Baba Amr in the city of Homs and

threats from rebels in his home-

town.

Assad has promised am-

nesty to soldiers who defected.

But Khodor said a cousin of his

who believed the offer had been

detained in Syria five months ago

and had not been heard from since.

The only way he would go

back, he said, is if there were inter-

national guarantees of his safety.

Asked how that would work, he

smiled and said: “I don’t know.

That’s why I lost hope.”

This camp near the Syrian

border is more pleasant than many,

without the open sewers or trash

heaps that blight many others.

About 40 families rent patches of

land from Mahmoud Hussein Al-

Tahan, who said the money was

about the same as what he used

to make growing eggplants and

tomatoes.

Work is scarce, and most

families are in debt to Tahan. A

relief worker familiar with the

camp said that only a small frac-

tion of the children there were

in school, and that parents said

Tahan had made some of them

work in his fields.

Khodor’s tent, which he

shares with eight relatives,

including his wife and three chil-

dren, had a television, a stove and

a concrete floor. Back home, his

house has been destroyed.

“But I don’t care about the

house,” he said, adding that if he

trusted that his family would be

secure, “we could live in a tent

like this in Syria.”

Instead, new refugees are still

arriving.

Mustafa Selim, 19, fled Syria

with his mother and siblings just

last fall. Battles had erupted near

their house, and one brother had

been arrested and forcibly drafted

as he was traveling to his univer-

sity. They do not know if he is

still alive.

“The regime is lying when

they say it’s safe and secure,” he

said. “To survive in Syria, you

have to be a soldier. It’s impos-

sible to live as a civilian. And if

you go to the army, it’s kill or be

killed.”

Some refugees are manag-

ing to build new lives. Naumi

Qassim, 38, rents a truck and

drives from camp to camp selling

vegetables and yogurt to those

who cannot reach markets. He

makes enough money to rent a

room within walking distance of

a school.

Still, his son, at 9, cannot read,

he said. He said he believed that

overwhelmed Lebanese schools

shunted the worst teachers to the

evening shift of classes packed

with Syrians.

Tahan, a gregarious man who

sought to portray himself as the

refugees’ benefactor, dismissed

the idea that they are harming the

country’s economy and strain-

ing social services. He said the

government pushed that view to

get more money from the United

Nations.

Refugees, he said, benefit

the Lebanese, from the generator

operators providing them with

electricity, to the owners of shops

where they spend their United Na-

tions food vouchers, to landown-

ers who benefit from their cheap

labor. It is an argument often

heard from international orga-

nizations, which say the burden

of hosting the refugees is largely

offset by the economic stimulus

they provide, not to mention $1.9

billion in international aid in 2016

alone, the United Nations says.

Tahan said he expected the

Syrians to stay for years, based on

his experience in Lebanon’s civil

war.

“We had hundreds of Geneva

conferences before the war ended,

and years later, things are still not

good,” he said.

In the camp, the new Geneva

round inspired little hope. The

refugees said neither the govern-

ment nor the opposition negotia-

tors represented them.

Qassim, the vegetable seller,

summed it up: “The opposition

wants Assad to go. The regime

wants to keep him. All their lives,

they will never agree.”

Still, he hopes to return. “For

us, it’s too late, but we want our

children to have a future in Syria,”

he said. “There is no future here.”

Khodor was more pessimistic.

After so much killing, revenge

will go on for generations, he said.

“Syria is finished.”

At that, a neighbor who had

just stopped in loudly objected.

“Why? We want to go back!”

“This lady will take you

back,” Khodor joked, pointing at

me.

“But on the condition that no

one will hurt me?” he asked.

Khodor laughed. “We need

a miracle,” he said. “We need to

make Syria vanish, and then make

a new Syria.”

— The New York

Times

GENEVA

Israeli’s ‘lenient’ sentence slammed

The UN human rights office says it’s “deeply disturbed” by the “lenient”

18-month prison sentence handed down by a Tel Aviv military court

against an Israeli soldier who killed a badly wounded Palestinian

assailant as he lay on the ground. Spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani of

the rights office decried a “chronic culture of impunity” in Israel when

it comes to soldiers involved in the conflict with Palestinians. Sgt. Elor

Azaria was sentenced Tuesday for manslaughter in the March shooting

death in the West Bank city of Hebron of Adbelfattah Al-Sharif, who

had been injured after stabbing a soldier. Shamdasani said over 200

Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank

violence since September 2015, and Azaria was the only soldier brought

to trial for such a killing.

— AP

BERLIN

Turkish diplomats seek asylum in Germany

Germany is continuing to receive requests for asylum from Turks with

diplomatic passports in the wake of a crackdown on the opposition

following the July 15 failed coup. A research group of broadcasters WDR,

NDR and the Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported Friday that 136 people with

Turkish diplomatic passports applied for asylum between August 2016 and

January 2017, according to the Interior Ministry. In November the group

reported 53 such applications. It wasn’t clear how many were diplomats

and how many family members, and there was no indication how many

applications had been processed. The situation has caused diplomatic

tension between the countries, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip

Erdogan pressing Chancellor Angela Merkel at a meeting this month to

reject asylum requests and extradite 40 soldiers allegedly involved in the

coup.

— AP

BEIRUT

Car bomb near Al-Bab kills 50

A car bombing north of a Syrian town just captured by Turkish forces and

Syrian opposition fighters from the Daesh (the so-called IS) group killed

at least 50 people on Friday, mostly civilians who had gathered trying to

go back home, Turkey’s news agency and Syrian activists said. According

to Mohammed Al-Tawil, a leading Syrian opposition fighter in the area, a

suicide attacker blew his small pick-up truck outside a security office in

Sousian village, about 8 km north of Al-Bab. The explosion went off as the

opposition fighters were organizing the return of civilians from Al-Bab who

had been displaced by the fighting for their town, he said. Al-Bab, which

had been controlled by Daesh since late 2013, was captured on Thursday,

after more than two months of fighting led by Turkish troops supporting

Syrian opposition fighters.

— AFP