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Iraq holding 1,400 Isis women and children but does not know what to do with them

- 1505141333 hammam al alil camp - Iraq holding 1,400 Isis women and children but does not know what to do with them


Iraqi authorities are holding 1,400 foreign wives and children of suspected Isis fighters after government forces expelled the jihadi group from one of its last remaining strongholds in Iraq, security and aid officials said.

Most came from Turkey. Many others were from former Soviet states such as Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Russia, Iraqi army and intelligence officers said. Other Asians and a “very few” French and Germans were also among them.

The wives and children are being held at an Iraqi camp south of Mosul. Most had arrived since 30 August, when troops drove Isis out of Mosul.

One intelligence officer said that they were still verifying their nationalities with their home countries, since many of the women no longer had their original documents.

It is the largest group of foreigners linked to Isis to be held by Iraqi forces since they began driving the militants from Mosul and other areas in northern Iraq last year, an aid official said. Thousands of foreigners have been fighting for Isis, or Daesh, in Iraq and Syria.

“We are holding the Daesh families under tight security measures and waiting for government orders on how to deal with them,” said Army Colonel Ahmed al-Taie from Mosul’s Nineveh operation command.

“We treat them well. They are families of tough criminals who killed innocents in cold blood, but when we interrogated them we discovered that almost all of them were mislead by a vicious Daesh propaganda,” he said.

Reuters reporters saw hundreds of the women and children sitting on mattresses crawling with bugs in tents without air-conditioning in what aid workers called a “militarised site”. Turkish, French and Russian were among the languages spoken.

“I want to go back (to France) but don’t know how,” said a French-speaking veiled woman of Chechen origin who said she had lived in Paris before. She said she did not know what had happened to her husband, who had brought her to Iraq when he joined Isis.

A security officer said the women and children had mostly surrendered to the Kurdish peshmerga near the northern city of Tal Afar, along with their husbands. The Kurds handed the women and children over to Iraqi forces but kept the men – all presumed to be fighters – in their custody.

Many of the families had fled to Tal Afar after Iraqi troops pushed Isis out of Mosul.

Iraqi forces retook Tal Afar, a city of predominantly ethnic Turkmen that produced some of Isis’ senior commanders, last month. Most of its pre-war population of 200,000 have fled.

An interior ministry official said Iraq wanted to negotiate with embassies the return of the women and children. “We can’t keep this number in our custody for a long time,” he said.

Officials had counted so far at least 13 nationalities, said Army Lieutenant Colonel Salah Kareem.

Aid workers and the authorities are worried about tensions between Iraqis, who lost their homes and are also living in the camp, and the new arrivals.

Many Iraqis want revenge for the harsh treatment they received under the extremists’ interpretation of Sunni Islam, which they imposed in Mosul and the other areas they seized in 2014.

“The families are being kept to one side (of the camp) for their own safety,” an Iraqi military intelligence officer said.

An airstrike by US-led international coalition forces targeting Isis in Mosul (AFP/Getty)

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which is supporting the 541 women and their children, said Iraq “must swiftly move to clarify its future plans for these individuals”.

“Like all those fleeing conflict, it is imperative that these individuals are able to access protection, assistance, and information,” NRC said in a statement. “They are in de-facto detention.”

Western officials are worried about radicalised fighters and their relatives coming home after the collapse of Isis’ “caliphate”.

French officials have indicated a preference for citizens found to be affiliated with Isis to be prosecuted in Iraq.

“The general philosophy is that adults should go on trial in Iraq,” a French diplomatic source told Reuters last month, of those found to have been fighters. “We think children would benefit from judicial and social services in France.”

The women in the camp were cooking noodles or lying on mattresses with their babies in the hot tents. Many were still wearing the black abayas and face veils, which were mandatory in areas the militants controlled.

“My mother doesn’t even know where I am,” said a 27-year-old French woman of Algerian descent. She said she had been tricked by her husband into coming with him through Turkey into Syria and then Iraq when he joined Isis last year.

“I had just given birth to this little girl three months before,” she said, holding the infant and asking not to be named.

“He said ‘let’s go for a week’s holiday in Turkey.’ He had already bought the plane tickets and the hotel.”

After four months in Mosul she ran away from her husband to Tal Afar in February. She was hoping to make it back to France but he found her and would not let her leave.

She tearfully recounted how her five-year-old son was killed in June by a rocket while playing in the streets.

“I don’t understand why he did this to us,” she said of her husband, who she said was killed fighting in Mosul. “Dead or alive – I couldn’t care less about him.”

She and a few other families had walked for days to surrender at a Kurdish peshmerga checkpoint beyond al-Ayadiyah, a town near Tal Afar where the militants made their last stand.

“We were getting bombed, shelled and shot at,” she said.

Kurdish officials said dozens of fighters surrendered after the fall of Tal Afar but gave no details. One Tal Afar resident said he had seen between 70 and 80 fighters fleeing the town in the final days of the battle.

Reuters

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Middle East

Manbij becomes key as US looks to rein in Turkey’s Syrian offensive

- 1516747391 tirkey syria tank - Manbij becomes key as US looks to rein in Turkey’s Syrian offensive


The US is trying to prevent the fighting in Afrin between Turkish forces and Syrian Kurds spreading east into the main Kurdish enclave in Syria where US troops are based. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to drive the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters not just from Afrin, but from Manbij, a strategic town west of the Euphrates.

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. “If the US does not stop this, we will stop it.”

Some 6,000 Turkish troops backed by 10,000 Free Syrian Army fighters controlled by Turkey are seeking to fight their way into the isolated Kurdish canton of Afrin in northern Syria. Their progress has so far been slow, with thick cloud hindering air strikes in the hilly terrain. The YPG and Turkish-led forces have been fighting for the Bursaya Hill, with the summit, which overlooks the eastern side of Afrin town, changing hands several times.

The US has so far given muted support to its Kurdish allies in Syria, who provided the ground troops for the successful campaign against Isis. The US has supported the YPG during the war against Isis with massive air power, military equipment and some 2,000 specialised US troops.

The US is hoping to keep the present fighting confined to Afrin, which is separate from the bulk of Kurdish territory. There have never been any US military forces in this enclave, though there were Russian observers that have now been withdrawn. But if Turkey attacks Manbij then the US will have to decide if it is going to be seen as betraying its Kurdish ally or risk a military confrontation with its Nato partner Turkey.  

The Kurdish authorities in north-east Syria are calling for a mass mobilisation in defence of Afrin. But they already have large numbers of experienced combat troops previously fighting Isis that they can deploy if they wish. “The Turkish state has been trying to enter north Syria for days, but it will not be able to,” said Siyamund Walat, a YPG general. “We have forces in Afrin, thousands… they are protecting the border and the people. If necessary all the soldiers will go to Afrin.”

It may be in the interests of the Syrian Kurds to prolong the fighting in Afrin so international diplomatic pressure increases on Turkey to end Operation Olive Branch, as it calls its campaign. On the other hand, Afrin is cut off from the rest of the Kurdish-held area and the one supply road to the south is held by the Syrian Army. Syrian soldiers have been refusing to allow refugees from Afrin through their checkpoints to reach Kurdish areas in Aleppo city 25 miles away.

Explosions as Turkey confirms airstrikes on Afrin, Syria

The Turkish campaign only became possible when Russia agreed not to oppose it and, above all, allowed Turkish jets to operate in Syrian airspace. This is under Russian control west of the Euphrates. The long-contemplated Turkish assault was finally provoked by the US announcement last week that its forces would be staying in Syrian Kurdish territory for the foreseeable future. This de facto guarantee of the Kurdish statelet, directed against the Syrian government and Iran by the US, radically changed the strategic balance in Syria. The US had assured the Turks since the end of 2014 that its military cooperation with the YPG was purely tactical, directed against Isis and would end when Isis was defeated.

Mr Erdogan is taking advantage of a wave of patriotic support in Turkey for the Afrin operation to arrest dozens of politicians, journalists and activists who are accused of criticising the offensive. Many of those arrested, often for critical media posts, belong to the pro-Kurdish HDP party. “Journalists are having their doors rammed down without anybody knocking,” said HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen. “People are [becoming] afraid of keyboards, pens, words and writing”

Independent

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Middle East

Syrian Kurds Refuse to Participate in Sochi Talks

- acdbaa5482f0c834200ff60cc8e9a0ad L - Syrian Kurds Refuse to Participate in Sochi Talks


ERBIL — Syrian Kurds will under no circumstances attend the Syrian National dialogue Congress in Sochi, said Aldar Khalil, the co-chairperson of the Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM).

Khalil said in an interview with Reuters that on one hand Russia consented Turkey’s attack on Afrin and on the other hand also invited the Syrian Kurds to participate in Sochi. 

“It is  contradictory,” he said, arguing that in such a situation, taking part in a Russian-brokered talk is of no significance.

He pointed out that the Kurdish participation in the congress is a weak possibility.

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Middle East

Israeli pilots say they would refuse to fly deported asylum seekers back to Africa: ‘I will not be a partner to this barbarity’

- 1514968731 israel african migrants - Israeli pilots say they would refuse to fly deported asylum seekers back to Africa: ‘I will not be a partner to this barbarity’


Three Israeli pilots have spoken out against the forced deportations of asylum seekers back to Africa, saying they would refuse to take control of planes involved the practice.

“There is no way that I, as an air crew member, will take part in flying refugees/asylum seekers on their way to a destination whose chances of survival after reaching it… are close to zero,” wrote pilot Shaul Betzer in a Facebook post and later on Twitter.

“Not much courage is required for such a mission, but I will not be able to do what is required of me in such a mission. As a pilot and as a human being.”

Pilot Iddo Elad posted a statement on his Facebook page a few hours later, declaring: “I will not be a partner to this barbarity.”

Both Facebook posts have been shared hundreds of times and attracted many comments, most of which support the men’s stance.

The public refusals come three weeks after the Israeli government ordered thousands of African refugees and migrants to leave the country within three months or face prison.

Thousands of Africans – many from Eritrea and Sudan – crossed from Egypt into Israel before it erected a fence along the border in 2013.

Many have fled conflict and persecution, but Israel’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu has called them “infiltrators” and said they are mostly economic migrants whose numbers threaten the nation’s Jewish character.

According to Israeli charity Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an average of just 0.15 per cent of people who file asylum claims in Israel are ultimately recognised as refugees.

Under the new proposals, “infiltrators” will be offered $3,500 (£2,500) and a plane ticket to their home country or “a third country” – likely to be Rwanda or Uganda.

Israeli media has reported that some asylum seekers have faced torture or human trafficking after being sent to Rwanda and Uganda by the Israeli government.

Yoel Piterbarg, a former combat helicopter pilot in the Israeli Air Force, was the first of the three men to speak out.

“The state of Israel is populated mainly by Jews who, in the near and distant past, were refugees in countries around the world,” he wrote on Facebook.

“Most went through the Holocaust, many were forcefully expelled from their countries, and many others emigrated out of a desire to improve their lives in better countries that agreed to accept them.”

He continued: “Out of all people we, the Jews, must be attentive, empathetic, moral, and leaders of public opinion in the world in how we treat the migration of refugees, who have suffered and continue to suffer in their countries of origin.”

Mr Piterbarg has spoken out on human rights issues before in his role as a pilot.

In 2003, he was one of 27 Israeli air force pilots who refused to take part in further operations inside the Palestinian territories, describing the military’s actions in the occupied areas as “illegal and immoral”.

The statements published by the three men regarding the deportation of migrants are largely symbolic as El Al – the airline all three men are understood to work for – does not currently operate any routes to the countries in question.

“El Al does not fly any immigrants to Africa,” a spokesperson for El Al told The Independent.

“El Al has absolutely nothing at all to do with these flights. El Al pilots won’t be flying these immigrants.”

The airline does however have a code share agreement with Ethiopian Airlines, allowing passengers to book flights via El Al’s website from Tel Aviv to destinations across sub-Saharan Africa with a stop-off in Addis Ababa.

According to the spokesperson, no El Al crew are involved on any of those flights.

A petition calling on the Israel Airline Pilots Association and ground services staff at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv to refuse to participate in the deportation of migrants and refugees has gathered more than 8,000 signatures.

The petition was partly inspired by news from Germany, where pilots stopped 222 deportations of asylum seekers between January and September last year.



Independent

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