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Resources updated between Monday, April 13, 2015 and Saturday, April 18, 2015
April 17, 2015
"Horrors and chaos in the Arab world never cease. The continuing catastrophe of the brutal civil war in Syria has so far led to 210,000 deaths and 11 million driven from their homes. The latest horror is the siege and battle between Islamic groups taking place within that country in the Yarmouk refugee camp, a few miles from the center of Damascus, Syria...
For more than three years, Yarmouk has been under siege by a blockade of the Syrian Assad regime, which conducted an initial assault on the camp in December 2012. More than 200 people died of hunger, malnutrition, and dehydration. The regime then fought against armed forces of the Free Syrian Army and the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaeda affiliate. As a result many of the inhabitants were forced to flee.
No condemnation of that brutality came from the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Security Council, or any other international organization, or from any Arab country. Noticeably, the Palestinian Authority failed to protect the Palestinians in Syria during the ongoing fighting.
On April 1, 2015, Yarmouk was invaded by 600 fighters of the Islamic Republic of Iraq and Syria (IS), apparently allied with fighters from some brigades of the al-Nusra Front, which led to violence, looting, beheading of civilians, and destruction of much of the facilities of the camp. The situation is close to a humanitarian disaster. Insufficient food is entering the camp to meet the minimum requirements for the inhabitants...
In the midst of the Yarmouk disaster, a number of questions can be raised. The first is essential: why are Palestinians still in a camp that has existed for 58 years, and why have they not been integrated into Syrian society? The comparison is startling between this Arab apathy and the resourcefulness of the State of Israel that has absorbed millions of refugees, including more than 750,000 from Arab countries. Moreover, why have the Palestinians, grandchildren of those who claim to be refugees, been persecuted by fellow Arabs, first by the Assad regime and then by IS?
The hypocrisy on Middle East issues of supposedly humanitarian groups has long been notorious and remains appalling. Even now, the United Church of Christ, a Protestant denomination that claims 900,000 members, is planning to consider at its General Synod in June 2015 two resolutions calling on the Church to divest from Israel, and another Israeli actions towards Palestinians as apartheid. No resolutions are proposed by the Church on the 'apartheid' of Palestinians in Syria, or elsewhere in the Arab world, or the inhumane suffering and violent removal of 90 per cent of them from their Yarmouk camp by fellow Muslims...
Today, for IS, the capture of Yarmouk, so close to Damascus, is a major victory, militarily and symbolically. The Western democratic world, including the United Church of Christ, would do well to preoccupy itself with countering that victory, rather than squander its time and resources in pointless anti-Israeli resolutions in international organizations."
"A Monday night in March, at 8:30. The sound of helicopters, then a thud, then the smell of bleach, overpowering, followed by a surge of wounded to the local hospital. They were all short of breath. Some vomited. All reeked of bleach.
This is what Dr. Mohamed Tennari, 35, from the Syrian town of Sarmeen, told diplomats on the United Nations Security Council on Thursday in a closed-door meeting called by the United States to draw attention to suspicions of the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon in the war in Syria.
Dr. Tennari showed a video taken at the hospital that he ran. In it, two children are piled on their grandmother's body. A third, a baby, is on the next bed. Their mouths are open. Gloved hands give them oxygen, then an injection. Dr. Tennari says later that all three children, ages 1 to 3, died. Their parents, too. And their grandmother.
Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters after the session that there were few 'dry eyes in the room,' and that the Council would seek to determine who was responsible and hold them accountable...
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in late March that it was monitoring reports of chlorine use in aerial bombardments in Syria. The agency confirmed in September that chlorine had been used 'repeatedly and systematically' in bombing three villages in northern Syria, but its report stopped short of saying who used it.
The Security Council passed a binding resolution in early March prohibiting the use of toxic chemicals like chlorine as weapons of war in Syria. It did not assign blame either."
"The U.N. nuclear watchdog said it had a 'constructive exchange' with Iran this week but there was no sign of a breakthrough on aspects of its nuclear program that the agency says Tehran has failed to fully address.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is investigating Iran's nuclear program in parallel to talks between Tehran and six world powers that aim to broker a deal by the end of June to scale down the program in exchange for sanctions relief.
In any final deal, the IAEA would play a major role in monitoring Iran's compliance...
The IAEA on Thursday issued a short statement saying it had technical talks with Iranian officials in Tehran on Wednesday, making no mention of major developments."
April 16, 2015
Suhail Gabriel was in bed when Islamic State militants stormed his village in eastern Syria, firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Gabriel rushed his wife and daughter onto his motorcycle and sped through the early morning darkness, he later recalled.
"We left in our pajamas," Gabriel said. "We didn't even have time to put on clothes."
He was among the thousands of people from an ancient community of Christians, known as Assyrians, who fled 35 farming villages in Syria's Khabur River area in February because of attacks by the extremist Sunni Muslim group. The militants desecrated churches and religious symbols during the offensive and kidnapped about 250 of the Assyrians, including women and children.
Over the last decade, Assyrians have joined waves of Christians who have fled Syria and Iraq because of war and persecution by extremist Muslims. But the latest attacks have added to concerns that this unique Mesopotamian people are in danger of disappearing from the region.
Assyrians in Iraq and Syria belong to the last communities of significant size to speak the language of Jesus - Aramaic. Many of them are being forced to move outside the Middle East, where it becomes less likely the tongue will be maintained, said Eden Naby, a Middle East historian and expert on Assyrian culture.
Aramaic is the oldest continuously written and spoken language in the Middle East, she said. It was once also used by some other religious communities, including Jews. Now, "Assyrians remain the last Aramaic-speaking of people of the world. So the disappearance and displacement of these people pretty much spells the closing chapter of Aramaic use in the world," Naby said.
Assyrians, also referred to as Chaldeans or Syriacs, consider themselves ethnically distinct from Arabs and Kurds, tracing back their roots in the region 6,500 years. They speak a modern dialect of what was the lingua franca of the Assyrian Empire.
Among the earliest people to convert to Christianity, Assyrians mostly belong to four Eastern Rite churches, whose founders are said to have included the 1st century apostles Thomas, Thaddeus and Bartholomew.
Though there are groups of Assyrians scattered around Lebanon and Turkey, the core of their community has lived in Iraq and Syria. The number of Assyrians in Iraq has plunged from about 1.4 million in the late 1980s to an estimated 400,000, with many migrating abroad because of the unrest produced by the U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. In Syria, Assyrians are estimated to total less than 40,000 people. Many of them have been forced by the Islamic State to flee to Kurdish-controlled areas in the eastern part of the country.
"What we have faced is atrocity after atrocity," said Habib Afram, head of the Syriac League in Lebanon, which represents regional Assyrian issues.
He referred to scores of attacks perpetrated against Assyrians in recent years, including the murder of an archbishop in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in 2008; the bombing of an Assyrian church in Baghdad in 2010 that killed nearly 60 people; and the recent kidnapping of two bishops in Aleppo, Syria's largest city.
"They don't want to just take your land or kick you out of your villages - they want to erase your past, your heritage," he said.
When Islamic State militants swept through northern Iraq in June, thousands of Assyrians were pushed out of Mosul and other areas.
A history of hardship
Long before Syria's civil war and the rise of the Islamic State, Assyrians faced persecution. At least a half a million Assyrians perished during the slaughter by Ottoman Turks of Armenians and other minorities during World War I, a massacre that many historians consider a genocide.
Nowadays, more than two-thirds of Assyrians are believed to live in countries like the United States, Sweden and Australia. Few schools teach Aramaic in these places, contributing to the language's disappearance, said Naby, the expert on Assyrian culture.
She noted that a similar loss of Aramaic happened when thousands of Jews left northern Iraq around the time of Israel's creation in 1948. Many of them moved to Israel, where Hebrew became their language.
Many Assyrians who recently fled their homes in Syria are hoping to go abroad.
"None of us will ever be able to return to Syria. We know that, and so we know that our lives will have to built in other countries," said Gabriel, a 47-year-old English teacher who made his way to Lebanon with his family and dozens of other Assyrians shortly after the attacks.
He fled his village of Tal Jomaa as Islamic State militants were battling Kurdish forces in the area.
Gabriel and many other new arrivals from the Khabur River villages attend Mass at the St. George Cathedral of the Assyrian Church in Beirut. They share news about loved ones who have emigrated or discuss the fate of those who were not so lucky, such as people taken prisoner by Islamic State militants.
On a recent Sunday at the church, Samir Khizan, 49, who came to Beirut from Syria over a year ago, said that the militants agreed not to kidnap her 70-year-old brother when they attacked the family's village of Abu Tireh in February. But they forced him to destroy the crosses and shrines to the Virgin Mary at his home, she said.
"They told him to crush them with his feet, so he closed his eyes and quietly asked God for forgiveness before he did," she said.
Andre Hermes, 60, said that he has not heard from his brother, Awiyeh, since the February attacks. Awiyeh, he said, refused to leave his property, where he farmed cotton, wheat and tomatoes.
"He loved that home," said Hermes, who thinks his brother was among the roughly 250 people taken by the Islamic State from the Khabur River area. He suspects that the militants want to exchange the captives for their own fighters, who are being held as prisoners by Kurdish militias in the area. There are also rumors that the militants want hefty ransoms for the victims' release.
For their part, families fear that loved ones could be executed like scores of other Islamic State captives.
"They treat us like we're animals," said Hermes, who left his village over a year ago to attempt to move to Sweden. He has stayed in Beirut since then, receiving support from the local Assyrian community until he can emigrate.
Nuri Kino, founder of A Demand For Action, a group that raises awareness of persecuted minorities in Iraq and Syria, said that despite their mass displacement, Assyrians have managed to maintain cultural cohesiveness in some countries like Sweden, which has taken in as many as 150,000 of them. But he expressed doubt they will continue using Aramaic as they did in the Middle East.
Back in Beirut, Gabriel said his foremost concern is finding a new home for his family, as well as a job.
"Our people have been forced from our homeland," he said. "Of course we want to preserve our culture, but we need to find a new life for ourselves.
"Our lives in Syria are over."
"Students in the West would be appalled if they learned a little about the rights of women under the Palestinian Authority (PA). Some of the truth is available even in the official daily paper of the PA, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, published in Ramallah. The position of women today in the West Bank and Gaza provides chilling insight into what life in a Palestinian state will be like if that state ever becomes a reality.
About half of Palestinian women have been exposed to domestic violence, according to Al-Hayat al-Jadida. In 2014 a senior official in the PA Ministry of Women's Affairs reported a 100 per cent recent increase in 'family honour' killings. No one was particularly surprised. Zainab Al-Ghneimi, who runs the Women's Legal Counselling Centre, says that this is a product of the entire society's culture...
Palestinian Media Watch, an independent online service, says Palestinian laws have been interpreted as allowing violence against women. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA chairman, has been criticized by women's rights groups for failing to revise the legislation...
Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab reporter with the Jerusalem Post, has recently written an account of how women are treated in Gaza. Hamas imposed strict rules on women after taking control in 2007. Women are required to wear veils, especially in offices and on college campuses. They can't walk in public except with a male relative. They can't smoke in a café. They are not allowed to use hairdressing salons owned by men. If mannequins displayed by retailers are shaped like women, they must be dressed modestly."
April 14, 2015
Militants fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq have savagely executed 10 doctors who refused to treat wounded members of the terrorist organisation.
Eight prisoners were hanged in Alborz province (west of Tehran) this morning, reported the Iranian state media.
According to the official website of the Judiciary in Alborz Province, the prisoners who were executed this morning were all convicted of drug-related charges.
Haji Reza Shah Karami, the prosecutor of the Revolution Court of Karaj said: These eight prisoners were involved in manufacturing and selling narcotic drugs such as crystal.
Non of the prisoners were identified by name.
According to reports by Iran Human Rights (IHR), at least 2052 prisoners have been executed between 2010 and 2014. Drug convicts are tried by the Revolution Courts behind the closed doors and many of the prisoners are sentenced to death based on the confessions they have given under torture.
Iran Human Rights, April 13: Six prisoners have been hanged in two different prisons according to the official Iranian sources.
Official website of the Iranian Judiciary in Hormozgan province (southern Iran) reported that two prisoners identified as "M. Gh." and "A. A." were hanged in the prison of Bandar Abbas on Thursday April 9. The prisoners were charged with murder in two separate cases said the report.
The judiciary in Markazi province (central Iran) reported about the execution of four prisoners convicted of drug-related charges on April 12. These prisoners were identified as "Nematollah N." charged with possession and trafficking of 6950 grams of heroin, "Mohammad L." for possession of 667 grams of heroin, "Mahmood S." for trafficking of 20 grams and possession of 880 grams of heroin and "Hamed N." for possession of 536 grams of the narcotic substance crystal, said the report.
Six Prisoners Hanged in Iran Document
Although UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon failed to condemn Hamas's use of Palestinian civilians as human shields in the 2014 Gaza war, the Secretary General had no problem condemning the use of Palestinians as human shields in a conflict not involving Israel. At a press conference on April 9, 2015, the Secretary General denounced ISIS's use of human shields in Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus. In his words: "The residents of Yarmouk – including 3,500 children -- are being turned into human shields."
For the young victims of the jihadist group's systematic campaign of rape and imprisonment, the ordeal is far from over.
The nightmare of 12-year-old "Jalila" began when Islamic State fighters abducted her, along with her family, in northern Iraq. They separated her from her family and imprisoned her in a house in northeastern Syria with other abducted Yazidi women and girls. Then the jihadi fighters came, one after another, to inspect them. One singled Jalila out, took her home, and proceeded to rape her for three days. Six other Islamic State fighters eventually took possession of Jalila during her captivity, she told me recently - three of them raped her. This was not an isolated act. When the Islamic State attacked towns in northwestern Iraq in August and abducted thousands of fleeing Yazidis, its forces systematically separated young women and girls from their families and other captives. They then moved the women and girls from place to place inside Iraq and Syria, raping and beating many of them, and forcing them into sexual slavery.
Jalila eventually escaped, but her ordeal is far from over. When I visited Iraq in January and February to interview Yazidi women and girls about their experiences, I found that many of them desperately need psychological counseling and other medical care, which is often unavailable or inaccessible.
"I can't sleep at night because I remember how they were raping me," Jalila told me in the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk. "I want to do something to forget about my psychological problems. I want to leave Iraq until things get better; I don't want to be captured again." As an investigator of human rights violations, I have documented many atrocious acts of sectarian violence and wanton bloodshed over the last decade. But the Islamic State's targeting of Yazidi women and girls is unique in its ferociousness. This apparently systematic abuse constitutes war crimes, and may well amount to crimes against humanity. Islamic State leaders have attempted to use religion to legitimize the enslavement and rape of Yazidi women. In a document apparently issued by its Research and Fatwa Department, the group puts forward its extreme interpretation of Islamic law, saying it permits sex with non-Muslim "slaves" - including young girls who have yet to reach puberty - as long as they are "fit" for intercourse. The same document refers to female slaves as property, thus sanctioning their sale and disciplinary beating.
Former captives told me that Islamic State fighters had sold girls and women to one another for as much as $2,000.
Overwhelmed Kurdish officials and community groups have made valiant efforts to provide health services to the Yazidi women and girls, but major gaps in the available programs remain. Some women received treatment immediately after returning, while others were only able to obtain essential medical care weeks after escaping from captivity. Some women who received treatment and tests for pregnancy and infections were neither aware of the purpose of those tests nor informed of the results.
Some women became pregnant. Their access to reproductive health services - including safe abortion - is crucial, but it is provided inconsistently. International organizations and nongovernmental groups have told me that there is not only a lack of psychosocial support, but also reluctance by the women and girls to accept such help. Even when help was available, therapists and organizations were often not adequately trained or equipped to assess the psychological needs of former captives.
The Kurdistan Regional Government - with assistance from Iraq's central government, the United Nations, and international donors - should ensure these women and girls have access to necessary medical and psychosocial services, including trauma support and ongoing counseling. This should include immediate treatment for injuries sustained during attacks, access to emergency contraception and safe and legal abortion services where medically appropriate, preventive measures and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, prenatal and maternal health services, financial assistance, education, and employment-skills training to help reintegrate them into the broader community.
However the conflict against the Islamic State plays out, the needs of the survivors and their communities should be addressed. While, in many ways, Jalila is lucky to have escaped captivity, her family is still missing and she is ensnared by her harrowing past. By ensuring that girls like Jalila receive the psychological help that they need, the world can rehabilitate former captives, restore broken communities, and prevent the Islamic State's misogynist cruelties from ruining lives forever.
Boko Haram has kidnapped at least 2,000 women and girls since the beginning of last year, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, a year on from the mass abduction of 219 Nigerian schoolgirls.
The kidnapping of the teenagers from Chibok, in the northeastern state of Borno, on April 14 last year brought unprecedented world attention to the brutality of the insurgency. But the human rights group said it had documented 38 cases of abduction by the Islamists, based on testimony of dozens of eyewitnesses as well as women and girls who eventually escaped.
"It is difficult to estimate how many people have been abducted by Boko Haram," Amnesty said in the report, "'Our job is to shoot, slaughter and kill': Boko Haram's reign of terror". "The number of women and girls is likely to be higher than 2,000."
On the Chibok girls, Amnesty quoted a senior military source as saying they had been split into three or four groups and held at different Boko Haram camps.
Some were in its Sambisa Forest stronghold in Borno state, others around Lake Chad, in the Gorsi mountains in Cameroon while about 70 girls were thought to be in Chad.
Nigeria's military has previously said it knows where the girls are but ruled out a rescue operation as too dangerous.
The 219 teenagers have not been seen since Boko Haram released a video message in May last year, showing about 100 of the girls in Muslim dress and reciting verses of the Koran. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said all of the teenagers had converted to Islam and been "married off".
Amnesty reports provides fresh testimony to Boko Haram's use of mass kidnapping, cataloguing the frequent abduction of young women and girls, as well as the forced conscription of men and boys.
Women and girls interviewed recounted being held in atrocious conditions, including in overcrowded prisons, being forced to cook and clean for as well as marry Islamist fighters. One human rights activist who interviewed more than 80 abducted women and girls after their escape said in 23 cases, they had been raped either before arrival at camps or after forced marriage.
One 19-year-old woman who was abducted in September 2014 said: "I was raped several times when I was in the camp. Sometimes five of them. Sometimes three, sometimes six. "It went on for all the time I was there. It always happened in the night... Some were even my classmates from my village. Those who knew me were even more brutal to me."
One woman said Boko Haram fighters came to her house in the border town of Gamboru to rape her lodger, a woman in her late 20s, and that fear of HIV was widespread.
Elsewhere others spoke of being forced to train to shoot guns and make bombs, while one said she was sent on operations, including to her own village.
Amnesty, which wants Boko Haram investigated for war crimes and crimes against humanity, estimates that more than 4,000 people were killed in 2014.
At least 1,500 civilians lost their lives in the first three months of this year, it added.
April 13, 2015
"Iran's deplorable record on women's rights did not stop the Islamic Republic from winning a seat on UN Women, a United Nations body that was formed in 2010 to promote women's empowerment and gender equality.
'In Iran, women are legally barred from holding some government positions, there are no laws against domestic violence, and adultery is punishable by stoning, making it wholly inappropriate that Iran assume a leadership role on women's rights and welfare at the U.N,' said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, in criticizing the decision to make Iran a member of the women's rights body.
Power added that she was 'extremely disappointed' in the UN group's decision. Iran's three-year term as a UN Women Governing Board member begins January 1, 2016...
A UN body found last month that repression of women in Iran has gotten worse under 'moderate' president Hassan Rouhani.
With the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran came repressive women's rights policies in accordance with Sharia law.
In modern day Iran, women who have exposed any part of their body besides their hands and face can be punished and beaten for 'Bad hijab.'
While a man can marry multiple women and divorce their wives whenever he so chooses, women do not have such rights. In many cases, girls are married off at age 13, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports. In one such example, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani married his cousin when he was 20 and she was 14, according to reports.
Women are also forbidden from leaving Iran or obtaining a passport without the expressed consent of a male guardian, a 2014 HRW report stated.
Several other states that uphold discriminatory policies against women are members of UN Women, including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, Tajikistan, and others."
The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) condemned Israel's practice of administrative detention, in which Israeli intelligence security forces foil terror attacks before they occur. At a press briefing in Geneva, OHCHR spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani ignored Israel's rights under international law - including under the Fourth Geneva Convention - to detain suspects for imperative reasons of security. She stated: "We call, once again, on Israel to end its practice of administrative detention and to either release without delay or to promptly charge all administrative detainees and prosecute them with all the judicial guarantees required by international human rights law and standards."
"Cameroonian refugees displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in northern Cameroon say they are living in desperate conditions - going without food, water and medicine for days at a time. They complain the government and U.N. agencies are focusing solely on Nigerian refugees and ignoring their needs...
The government of Cameroon said at least 70 000 school children and 100 000 people have been displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency. Fekoue Ngaha Joseph, chief of Amang village near Mora, said he has been asking well wishers to contribute and take care of internally displaced persons seeking refuge in his village...
Moussa Ibrahim, whose three wives and 9 children were displaced from Fotokol two months ago after an attack by Boko Haram fighters left at least 500 dead, said the food they received from the chief, Fekoue Ngaha Joseph, was largely insufficient. He said because of acute food shortages, they kept the little they had for the sick and children and that they drank pap without sugar and shared each tablet of soap among many people. He said he was pleading with Cameroon authorities, the international community and United Nations agencies to immediately come to their rescue.
The vice president of Cameroon's national assembly, Joseph Mbah Ndam, said Cameroon has been concentrating on fighting Boko Haram and not taking proper care of internally displaced persons.
'The UN high commissioner for refugees takes care of foreigners who have drifted into Cameroon, but who takes care of Cameroonians who have been displaced. I think that the government is not taking care of the displaced. We are thinking about soldiers and we are not thinking of those who are going hungry, homeless and have been driven from their area of subsistence,' he said."
"Egyptian jihadists who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group have posted a video online appearing to show them shooting dead an Egyptian soldier and beheading another captive.
The video, uploaded overnight on social networks, shows an individual telling the camera that he is an Egyptian soldier who was captured in an ambush on an army outpost in North Sinai on April 2.
Attacks claimed by jihadists that day killed 15 soldiers and two civilians near the regional capital of El-Arish, the deadliest assault for months despite a massive army campaign against insurgents on the Sinai Peninsula.
The video then shows the soldier being shot in the head by a masked militant after another unidentified captive is beheaded.
A security official said the soldier's body was retrieved a day after the El-Arish attack.
The Egyptian IS affiliate Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has in the past carried out similar execution-style killings in Sinai of people it accused of spying for Israel..."
ISIS Beheads Egyptian in Sinai Article