Posts Tagged ‘Syrians’

Opinion: Hezbollah majority means Lebanon now has the fox guarding the henhouse

May 8, 2018

Hezbollah emerged alarmingly strong from Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, writes Kersten Knipp. The party is likely to aggravate tensions in the Middle East and take a whole country hostage with its policies.

Supporters of Hezbollah drive in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon (Getty Images/AFP/M. Zayyat)Supporters of Hezbollah drive in the city of Nabatieh in southern Lebanon on Monday’s election day

Life is strange sometimes. The war in Syria, in which Lebanon’s political and paramilitary party Hezbollah has a hand, affects Lebanon as well. And yet voters there expect Hezbollah – of all groups – to be able to deal with the consequences.

According to preliminary results, Hezbollah and its allies won more than half of the seats in Lebanese parliament.

It looks like the “Party of Allah,” as Hezbollah translates in English, is now supposed to clear up the chaos that it had a large part in creating in the first place. The party is expected to find solutions for the problems that Lebanon faces mostly because of the 1.5 million Syrian refugees it now houses.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

On issues as diverse as housing, food, and the labor market, Lebanon – with its population of roughly six million people – is in no way equipped to deal with such a large number of refugees. By now tens of thousands of Syrians have left Lebanon again, but the UN Refugee Agency recently expressed doubt that they did so voluntarily.

Sure, many people probably voted for Hezbollah hoping the group could put a damper on the corruption that is running rampant in their country. But the main problem is the refugee influx. But in that respect, the Lebanese have put the fox in charge of guarding the henhouse. Most Syrians haven’t left their country primarily because of jihadist terror militias like the “Islamic State.” They fled the Assad regime, which Hezbollah is supporting with thousands of fighters.

Comrades bearing the image of Hezbollah party leader Hassan Nasrallah stand by the coffin of a fallen Hezbollah soldier killed during battle in Syria (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Zaatari)Comrades bearing the image of Hezbollah party leader Hassan Nasrallah stand by the coffin of a fallen Hezbollah soldier killed during battle in Syria in 2016

Iran’s protege

Hezbollah also stands for another dark development in the Middle East. The party is beholden to Iran, from which it receives up to 800 million dollars (€671 million) every year. Obviously Iran isn’t spending that much money for nothing. Hezbollah has to deliver – by making headway in Israel’s direction for the mullah regime.

DW's Kersten KnippDW’s Kersten Knipp

Iran has gotten stronger again because of the nuclear deal. The country invests its power in imperial projects in the Middle East – first and foremost in the fight against Israel, together with Hezbollah.

A large number of Lebanese voters sided with a party that – to put it mildly – hasn’t exactly been famous for constructive foreign policy. On the contrary: the party’s marches in its strongholds, featuring many children participating in uniform, give you the impression that Hezbollah is advancing a giant ideological project. And there’s good reason to doubt that it’ll have a happy ending.

Some Israeli politicians have already declared they consider Hezbollah and Lebanon as one and the same from now on. You could say that the Lebanese turned themselves into hostages of their biggest militia, whose triumph is bad news for the region.

Read more: Hezbollah’s new ‘power’ threatens Israel



King says Jordanians ‘let down’ by international community

February 14, 2018

Jordan’s King Abdullah II said: Jordanians have paid a high price for shouldering a heavy refugee burden and he wished ‘the world was more sympathetic to their plight.’ (AFP)
AMMAN, Jordan: Jordan’s King Abdullah II says that “life for Jordanians today is very, very tough” as a result of a large refugee influx and that he feels the international community has “let down our people.”
He spoke to Russia’s TASS news agency in comments published Tuesday, ahead of a trip to Russia.
Abdullah praised “the work that Russia and Jordan have done in southern Syria to bring stability” to the area bordering the kingdom and said it’s now time to push for a political solution to Syria’s seven-year-old civil war. The fighting has displaced millions of Syrians, including many who fled to Jordan.
The king says Jordanians have paid a high price for shouldering a heavy refugee burden and that he wished “the world was more sympathetic to their plight.”

German city of Cottbus grapples with violence between locals and refugees — “I certainly don’t feel safe here anymore.” — “Send them back to where they came from.”

January 26, 2018

Knife attacks and violent assaults between refugees and locals have become a common occurrence in the eastern German city of Cottbus, where anti-migrant sentiment is reaching a boiling point. DW’s Kate Brady reports.

Deutschland Cottbus Polizisten (DW/K. Brady)

It’s market day in Cottbus, some 120 kilometers (75 miles) southeast of Berlin, and alongside the chalkboards advertising Thursday’s fruit and vegetables stands a regional newspaper sandwich board reading “Yet more clashes in Cottbus.”

In the new year, violent crime in Cottbus between locals and refugees has become a familiar occurrence, with perpetrators on both sides of the conflict.

‘I don’t feel safe here’

Last week, a German teen was left with facial injuries after reportedly being attacked by a Syrian teenager in a fight. In a separate incident on Saturday, an 18-year-old woman who allegedly shouted “Foreigners out!” was taken into police custody after an altercation with a Syrian man at a party – before attacking the officer who arrived at the scene.

Just hours later, authorities were called again after five German men attacked two men of “foreign appearance.”

The worst of the violence has been taking place outside Blechen Carre, the city’s largest shopping center.

“It’s gotten worse since the refugees arrived,” says 32-year-old Stefanie, outside the mall. “My son saw the clashes going on before that boy was injured. And I certainly don’t feel safe here anymore — especially at night.”

Read more: Are refugees more criminal than the average German citizen?

Cottbus MarketCottbus Market

Drinking a coffee nearby is 30-year-old Saleh. He fled Syria for Germany two years ago. “I haven’t been targeted myself, but the mood has definitely worsened,” he says in near-perfect German. He’s on his way to college where he’s training to be a child care worker.

“There’s just not enough contact between locals and refugees,” he says. “A lot of locals don’t want to know.”

The city has long had its fair share of problems, particularly with the right-wing scene. In the early 1990s, neo-Nazis blockaded an asylum-seeker shelter for three nights before police could get control of the situation. Last weekend, the anti-immigration organization “Zukunft Heimat” (Future Homeland) pulled some 1,500 people onto Cottbus’ streets for a demonstration. The group was originally founded in nearby Spreewald to protest against a refugee shelter.

Read more: German police chief concerned at growing anti-refugee violence

Anti-migrant protest in Cottbus‘Fed up!’ — Anti-migrant sentiment is growing in Cottbus

No more refugees arriving

In response to the violent crime, Cottbus Mayor Holger Kelch and Brandenburg Interior Minister Karl-Heinz Schroeter announced late last week that no more refugees would be arriving from the asylum-seeker reception center in nearby Eisenhüttenstadt.

“You could say there was too much change, too fast,” says Jens Glossmann, spokesman for the city government.

In the last two years, the number of refugees in the city of 100,000 inhabitants has almost doubled, from 4.5 to 8.5 percent.

A map of Germany showing Cottbus

“I’ll admit, more could have been done to better inform locals,” he says, adding that the lack of experience with immigration, compared to larger, western cities, fueled the cold welcome to what he describes as “unfamiliar faces.”

Read more: Right-wing party makes gains with those who feel forgotten and frustrated

Fears over jobs

The city’s sluggish economy has also exacerbated tensions. According to the Federal Employment Agency, unemployment in Cottbus in December 2017 was at 6.9 percent, down 1 percent on the previous year — but above the national average of approximately 5.6 percent.

“We need the capacity to get locals and refugees into work, so that they have something to do. So that they don’t fall into crime,” Glossmann says, adding that the lack of jobs opens the door to comments that “refugees are stealing our jobs.”

“This simply isn’t the case,” he says.

An impending closure of the city’s brown coal power station could also prove to be a further setback to the Cottbus labor market, with 8,000 jobs likely to be directly affected.

Cottbus newspaper‘Cottbus breaks off from coal’ — The impending closure puts thousands of jobs in danger

Day care and school placements are also thin on the ground. Without the capacity and resources, it’s even more difficult to integrate new refugees.

The solution, Glossmann says, is money. “Either we need more money to deal with this on a local level or action needs to be taken on a national level. People need to know that their city is there for them.”

But 52-year-old Christa believes Berlin has stopped caring. “We’re just left here to carry on. That’s why so many people voted for the AfD.”

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which entered German parliament for the first time in September, garnered 24 percent of the Cottbus popular vote in the recent national elections after leading with an anti-immigration campaign.

Read more: Far-right AfD’s surge worries Muslim refugees in Germany

‘Send them all back’

In a bid to curb the violence, the city has increased video surveillance. More uniformed and plainclothes police officers have also been deployed. But Christina isn’t convinced it will help.

“Send them all back,” she says. “All the bad ones. Send them back to where they came from.”

And the “bad locals?” No answer.

Twenty-nine-year-old Omar says he understands the concerns of some locals but says he experiences xenophobic behavior on a regular basis.

“Not everyone who arrives here is a good person. But neither are the locals,” he says. After fleeing Syria for Germany three years ago, he now works full-time in a kebab shop.

“Sometimes they come here, shouting, ‘Foreigners out!’ I’ve even had letters arrive in the post and someone has written ‘Go home!’ on the envelope.”

“Some of us try to integrate,” he adds. “But the work has to come from both sides.”

Turkey seeks no clash with Russia, Syria, U.S., but will pursue Syria goals — “If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop it,” Turkey says

January 23, 2018


ANKARA: Turkey seeks to avoid any clash with Syrian, Russian or U.S. forces during its operation in northern Syria but will take whatever steps it needs for its security, Turkey’s foreign minister was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

The United States and Russia have both urged Turkey to show restraint in its military campaign, Operation Olive Branch, to crush Kurdish YPG control over the Afrin district on its southern border. Syria has condemned the incursion.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who says the YPG is an extension of a Kurdish group waging a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey’s borders, has also pledged to drive Kurdish fighters out of the mainly Arab town of Manbij.

Manbij, to the east of the Afrin region, is part of a far larger area of northern Syria controlled by mainly Kurdish forces. Any attack there would raise the prospect of protracted conflict between Turkey and allied Free Syrian Army factions against the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

Image result for Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, photos

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu

“Terrorists in Manbij are constantly firing provocation shots. If the United States doesn’t stop this, we will stop it,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

“Our goal is not to clash with Russians, the Syrian regime or the United States, it is to battle the terrorist organisation,” broadcaster Haberturk quoted him as saying.

“I must take whatever step I have to. If not, our future as a country is in jeopardy tomorrow. We are not afraid of anyone on this, we are determined… We will not live with fear and threats,” Cavusoglu said.

Preventing Turkey from driving Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the U.S.-backed umbrella group dominated by the YPG, out of Manbij is a central goal for Washington, U.S. officials say.

The United States hopes to use the YPG’s control in northern Syria to give it the diplomatic muscle it needs to revive U.N.-led talks in Geneva on a deal that would end Syria’s civil war.

Ankara has been infuriated by U.S. support for the YPG, which it sees as a domestic security threat, one of several issues that have brought relations between the United States and its Muslim NATO ally close to breaking point.

“The future of our relations depends on the step the United States will take next,” Cavusoglu said.

He said Turkey, which carried out a seven-month military operation in northern Syria two years ago to push back Islamic State and YPG fighters, would continue to act where it thought necessary.

“Whether it is Manbij, Afrin, the east of the Euphrates or even threats from northern Iraq, it doesn’t matter,” Cavusoglu said. “If there are terrorists on the other side of our borders, this is a threat for us.”

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Ralph Boulton)

Source: Reuters
Read more at–syria–us—but-will-pursue-syria-goals—minister-9887664

Opposition: World’s Silence is Killing Syrians — Bashar al-Assad and Putin Permitted To Kill Without Consequences — “Russia is perpetrating war crimes in Syria.”

January 5, 2018

A Syrian man walks amid ruins following bombardment a day earlier in the opposition-controlled town of Misraba in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus. (AFP)
JEDDAH: The world’s silence regarding atrocities committed by Damascus and Moscow is killing Syrians, opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi said Thursday.
He was reacting to reports that at least 30 civilians were killed Thursday when Russian jets bombed a residential area in a besieged opposition-held enclave of Damascus.
Image may contain: 1 person, hat, closeup and outdoor
“This stain of shame has been on the world’s forehead for seven continuous, painful years,” he told Arab News.
At least four bombs flattened two buildings in the Eastern Ghouta town of Misraba, killing around 20 people and wounding more than 40, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters.
Elsewhere in Eastern Ghouta, the last major opposition-held enclave in Damascus, at least 10 people were killed by airstrikes in other towns, rescuers and residents said.
Video footage posted by activists on social media showed rescue workers pulling women and children from rubble.
“If Russia’s actions aren’t war crimes, what can they be called?” said Al-Aridi. “Russia has used its UN Security Council veto 11 times to protect the criminal Assad regime, because Russia itself is perpetrating war crimes in Syria.”
Image may contain: sky
A Syrian opposition delegation “will head to the UN soon” to discuss the issue with the secretary-general and see what the Security Council and the world in general can do about it, Al-Aridi added.
Regime forces on Thursday battled to reach troops trapped in Eastern Ghouta, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
State television said army units had launched an assault to break the siege of the Armoured Vehicle Base, where some 250 soldiers are believed to be cut off.

Jordan says aid for stranded Syrians must come via Syria

October 8, 2017
© AFP | A Syrian refugee living in the remote Rukban camp in no-man’s-land on the border between Syria and Jordan, shelters in the rain during a visit to a medical clinic in Jordan on March 1, 2017
AMMAN (AFP) – Aid deliveries to thousands of Syrians stranded on their war-torn country’s desert border with Jordan must pass through Syria, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Sunday.

“They are Syrian citizens on Syrian territory. Syria must therefore assume this responsibility and not Jordan,” Safadi said during a meeting with ambassadors from European Union countries.

Aid to them “must pass through Syrian territory”, he said.

Some 45,000 displaced Syrians, mostly women and children, have been stuck for months on the Syrian side of the frontier near the Rukban border crossing.

“Conditions on the ground now make it possible to send aid to the Rukban camp via Syria,” Safadi said.

His comments came as Syrian government forces have made major advances against the Islamic State group, regaining swathes of the country with Russian air support.

Jordan, which shares a 370-kilometre (230-mile) border with Syria, is part of the US-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq.

A suicide bombing claimed by IS in June last year killed seven Jordanian soldiers in no-man’s land near the Rukban crossing.

Soon afterwards, the army declared Jordan’s desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones”.

United Nations agencies in August expressed “deep concern” for the safety of camp residents.

The UN refugee agency says it has registered more than 650,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan since the conflict began.

However, Amman says it is hosting 1.3 million Syrian refugees, and has repeatedly called for more assistance to do so.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria and millions displaced since the country’s conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

Killing of the Innocents — Many have lost sight of “moral obligations”

October 5, 2017

By Charles Gardner

Israel Today

As the earth is ravaged by an unprecedented series of natural disasters, accompanied with threats of war and terror, world leaders have been presented with a heavenly vision.

In challenging the “fake history” of those who deny Jewish links with Israel’s holiest sites, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu has sounded a clarion call for the United Nations to acknowledge the divine authority of the world’s greatest book – the Bible.

Three times he referenced the Bible in a powerful speech to the UN in which he claimed that Israel’s right to exist and prosper as a nation rooted in God’s Word.

Referring to July’s declaration of Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs as a Palestinian World Heritage site, he said you won’t read the true facts of its history in the latest UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) report.

“But you can read about it in a somewhat weightier publication – it’s called the Bible,” he mocked, adding that it was “a great read”, that he read it every week, and that they could purchase it from Amazon.

How refreshing that at least one nation’s leader takes his stand on the Bible, though it is entirely appropriate as Bibi leads the people who gave it to us! As well as a sacred book written by divine authority, it is also an historical record which validates Israel’s claim to the Promised Land they now occupy.

But in making such a divine claim for the territory, Bibi must also seek to apply the Law – that is, the Lord’s teaching on ethical matters – to his domain.

He is right in saying that the words of the prophet Isaiah – that God called Israel to be a light to the nations – is being fulfilled as the tiny Jewish state becomes a rising power. But their call “to bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49.6) must mean more than hi-tech innovation and being good neighbours through their search-and-rescue teams sent to disaster areas and medics tending to wounded Syrians on their northern border, though we praise God for all that.

Israel is nevertheless rife with immorality – and I am thinking particularly about abortion, a killing of innocents that echoes previous turning points in Israel’s (and the world’s) history at the time of Moses and of Jesus. I appreciate that its practice in modern Israel is less prevalent than in most parts of the West, but some 650,000 children have nevertheless been denied life in a country that gave God’s law to the world, including the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’.

In the UK, shockingly, nine million babies have been murdered in the 50 years since the passing of the Abortion Act, originally designed to prevent backstreet abortions and meant to apply only where a mother’s life was threatened. Now it is virtually a case of abortion on demand as further calls are made for relaxing the law. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Lesley Regan believes terminations should be the same as any other medical procedure, requiring consent from only one doctor, just as if they were having a bunion removed. But the fact that 650 doctors have signed a petition against it is very encouraging.

Paradoxically, the killing of innocents has accompanied the greatest rescues mankind has witnessed. Moses survived the edict of the Egyptian Pharaoh calling for the slaughter of all Hebrew babies to lead his people out of slavery to the Promised Land. Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, survived King Herod’s massacre of infants – ironically by fleeing with his family to Egypt in response to God’s warning – to bring salvation to the world through his sacrificial death on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem.

Moses also received the Law of God; now Jesus writes the Law on our hearts (Ezekiel 36.26, Jeremiah 31.33). Moses was hidden among the bulrushes of the Nile and became the saviour of his people; Jesus was raised in the backwaters of Nazareth but became the Saviour of the world as he brought true freedom to all who would trust in his redeeming blood (John 8.36).

My colleague, Clifford Denton, tells me of a conference held in Israel in 1996 at which Messianic leaders gathered to discuss the Jewish roots of Christianity. “Unknown to me until afterwards,” he said, “it turned out that the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) was voting on an abortion law at the very same time that we were discussing Torah (the Law of Moses). In fact the Knesset was struck by lightning at that very time.”

With innocents around the world being butchered as never before, the Messiah is about to be revealed to the nations. Jesus indicated that his coming again would be as in the days of Noah (Luke 17.26) when the world was full of violence (Genesis 6.13). Terrorism stalks the planet as unbelievable cruelty mars even supposedly enlightened societies while nuclear holocausts have become a distinct possibility, with both North Korea and Iran making ominous noises. And all this while nations reel under the ferocious effects of earthquakes and hurricanes – also spoken of as signs of the Messiah’s imminent return (Luke 21.25-28), especially when they follow in rapid succession and increasing severity, as on a woman with labour pains. (Matthew 24.8)

Of the three major Jewish feasts, Jesus has fulfilled both Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost). Many Bible commentators believe he will soon fulfill the Feast of Tabernacles (shortly to be celebrated throughout the Jewish world) when he returns to reign from Jerusalem. The One who protects his people, and provides for them, as he did in the wilderness so long ago, will finally bring in the harvest of those who believe in him as he comes to ‘tabernacle’ (or live/make his dwelling) among us. (See John 1.14)

The day is coming – very soon, it seems – when the killing of the innocents will give way to the glorious return of the Son of Man “coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21.27) to avenge every wrong as he passes judgment on a cruel world.

Israel – you are truly called to be a light to the nations, and indeed you have impressed so far with many marvellous inventions. But the brightest light is the fulfillment of the Law through Yeshua HaMashiach, who brings hope, not despair; and life, not death.

Asylum seekers in Europe left waiting, says study — Even after they live through Mediterranean journey

September 21, 2017

By the start of this year, more than half of Europe’s asylum-seeker arrivals over a two-year period had yet to be processed, a study shows. For many, the pace hinged on which nation was handling their applications.

Griechenland Lesbos Ankunft von Flüchtlingen an der Küste (DW/Diego Cupolo)

The Washington-based Pew Research Center said that permits to stay – at least temporarily – had been granted to some 40 percent of the 2.2 million who had arrived in 2015 and 2016.

By the begining of 2017, 52 percent of those who entered in the previous two years were still waiting for decisions. Only three percent had been ejected from the European country in which they had applied for protection.

Afghanistan abgeschobene Asylbewerber kehren zurück (Getty Images/AFP/W. Kohsar)An Afghan deported from Germany arriving in Kabul

Wednesday’s look at past data, based on information from the EU’s statistical agency (Eurostat) and sourced from all 28 EU members plus Switzerland and Norway, found that Germany had been relatively quick in processing applications.

Germany’s adjudication period for applicants from war-torn Syria was about three months. Belgium managed waiting times of only one month. By contrast the average Syrian waiting time in Norway had been more than a year.

Among the 650,000 Syrians who arrived in Europe over the period, only 130,000 had not received decisions by late 2016.

Longest wait for Albanians

Across the EU-plus group as a whole, Germany and Sweden had processed about half of their arrivals. The applicants who were left waiting the longest overall were Albanians.

The variations meant that asylum seekers’ prospects “largely” depended on where their applications were submitted, said Pew, intimating that Europe was far from fulfilling equal protection under UN conventions.

Also left waiting for a long time were applicants from Afghanistan and Iraq, despite conflicts in both those countries.

By late 2016, 77 percent of Afghans were waiting for first-time or final decisions on appeal; likewise 66 percent from Iraq and 77 percent from Iran.

Also left waiting were people from Kosovo (77 percent), Serbia (74 percent) Russia (72 percent), Pakistan (67 percent), Somalia (56 percent) and Nigeria (55 percent).

Half arrived in Germany

Of the 2.2 million, Germany received 1,090,000 applicants over the two years, Pew concluded. By late 2016, 49 percent of its intake was waiting for decisions.

Other nations with better than average decision rates were Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy, Pew said.

Hungary, whose government remains anti-immigrant, had the worst rate, with 94 percent of its 70,000 applicants still awaiting asylum rulings by late 2016.

Serbien Kelebija Fotoreportage Diego Cupolo an ungarischer Grenze (DW/D. Cupolo)Languishing on the Serbian-Hungarian border in 2016

ipj/rc (AP, KNA)

Denmark Doesn’t Want UN Quota Refugees This Year — Danish municipalities should have “a little breathing room to better take care of those who have already arrived.”

September 9, 2017

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark’s minority center-right government doesn’t want to accept any refugees this year that come into the country under a U.N. quota system, an official said Saturday.

The U.N. refugee agency has made deals with countries, including Denmark, to take in a number of refugees each year. Since 1989, Denmark has accepted about 500 such refugees every year.

But now Denmark “doesn’t want to commit ourselves,” said Integration Minister Inger Stoejberg, considered an immigration hardliner. “I don’t believe we have room for quota refugees this year.”

Stoejberg said Denmark had received about 56,000 spontaneous asylum-seekers since 2012 and many of them are expected to try to bring relatives. She said that those already in Denmark should be integrated first.

Image result for denmark, Integration Minister Inger Stojberg, photos

Denmark’s  Integration Minister Inger Stoejberg. Credit Linda Kastrup/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, which backs the government, supports the law proposal.

Holger K. Nielsen, a senior member of the small opposition Socialist People’s Party, said it was “totally wrong of Stoejberg to close the door to quota refugees,” adding she was letting down “the weakest refugees in the world.”

No date for a vote in the 179-seat Parliament was set.

Denmark received about 20,000 asylum-seekers in 2015, a small number compared with its Swedish and German neighbors.

Last year, Stoejberg said the reception of refugees through the UNHCR program had been postponed, saying Danish municipalities should have “a little breathing room to better take care of those who have already arrived.”

In Turkey, authorities say 40 Syrian migrants were stopped Friday from illegally crossing to Greece. The migrants, among them 18 children, were stopped off the western province of Izmir.

In footage filmed from a coast guard boat, the group is seen in a rubber dinghy. As the coast guard vessel approaches, one man lifts and then briefly lowers a small child toward the sea, while another man raises his arms in prayer. The coast guard then pulls in the dinghy and transfers the migrants to its boat.

Turkey and the European Union signed a deal last year to curb the illegal flow of migrants to Greece. Turkey is host to more than 3 million Syrians who have fled the ongoing civil war in their country.


Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.

Hajj pilgrimage entangled in web of Saudi politics

August 29, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — More than 1.7 million Muslims from around the world have arrived in Saudi Arabia for the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage this week. Once in Mecca — the site of Islam’s holiest place of worship— they will be reminded that the ruling Al Saud family is the only custodian of this place.

Large portraits of the king and the country’s founder hang in hotel lobbies across the city. A massive clock tower bearing the name of King Salman’s predecessor flashes fluorescent green lights at worshippers below. A large new wing of the Grand Mosque in Mecca is named after a former Saudi king, and one of the mosque’s entrances is named after another.

It’s just one of the many ways that Saudi Arabia uses its oversight of the hajj to bolster its standing in the Muslim world — and to spite its foes, from Iran and Syria to Qatar. Its archrival, the Shiite power Iran, has in turn tried to utilize the hajj to undermine the kingdom.

The hajj has long been a part of Saudi Arabia’s politics.

For nearly 100 years, the ruling Al Saud family has decided who gets in and out of Mecca, setting quotas for pilgrims from various countries, facilitating visas through Saudi embassies abroad and providing accommodation for hundreds of thousands of people in and around Mecca.

The kingdom has received credit for its management of the massive crowds that descend upon Mecca each year — and blame when things go wrong at the hajj. All able-bodied Muslims are required to perform the pilgrimage once in a lifetime.

Saudi kings, and the Ottoman rulers of the Hijaz region before them, all adopted the honorary title of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a reference to sites in Mecca and Medina.

“Whoever controls Mecca and Medina has tremendous soft power,” said Ali Shibahi, executive director of the Arabia Foundation, a pro-Saudi center in Washington. “Saudi Arabia has been extremely careful from day one not to restrict any Muslim’s access to hajj so they never get accused of using hajj for political purposes.”

The Syrian government, however, says Saudi authorities continue to place restrictions on Syrian citizens looking to take part in the hajj. Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic ties with President Bashar Assad’s government and since 2012, requires all Syrians seeking to make the hajj to obtain visas in third countries through the “Syrian High Hajj Committee,” which is controlled by the Syrian National Coalition, an opposition political group.

The hajj became further entangled in politics following the fallout between Saudi Arabia and Qatar when the kingdom and three other Arab countries cut all diplomatic and transport links with the small Gulf state this year. In a surprise this month, Saudi Arabia announced it would open its border for Qatari pilgrims seeking to perform the hajj and that King Salman would provide flights and accommodation to Qataris during the hajj.

The Saudis, however, announced the goodwill measures unilaterally and did so after meeting with Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani, a Qatari royal family member who resides outside Qatar and whose branch of the family was ousted in a coup more than four decades ago.

“Bringing out a senior member of the Qatari royal family member was a political coup really,” Shihabi said.

Others have gone further, saying that by promoting Sheikh Abdullah, the Saudis were attempting to delegitimize Qatar’s current emir.

Gerd Nonneman, a professor of International Relations and Gulf Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar, says the Saudi move was “a transparent propaganda stunt”.

“Given that Qatar’s hajj attendance has inevitably been affected by the boycott, the hajj was de facto politicized — there’s no way around it,” he said.

Qatar’s government publicly welcomed the move to facilitate the pilgrimage, but also called on Saudi Arabia to “stay away from exploiting (the hajj) as a tool for political manipulation”.

Qatar’s human rights committee had previously filed a complaint with the U.N. special rapporteur on freedom of belief and religion over restrictions placed on its nationals who wanted to attend the hajj this year. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Qatar’s complaint amounted to a “declaration of war” against the kingdom’s management of the holy sites, and the kingdom accused Qatar of trying to politicize the hajj.

While the hajj is a main pillar of Islam, the custodianship of its holy sites is a pillar of the Al Saud family’s legitimacy and power. Iran has consistently tried to call that into question.

Two years ago, a stampede and crush of pilgrims killed at least 2,426 people, according to an Associated Press count. Iran, which lost 464 pilgrims in the stampede, immediately used the disaster to call for an independent body to take over administering the hajj. Those calls were vehemently rejected by Saudi Arabia, which accused Iran of politicizing the hajj.

The hajj took place last year under the shadow of the two countries’ rivalry. Saudi Arabia and Iran severed ties in 2016, and as a result, no Iranians were at the pilgrimage last year.

It wasn’t the first time Iran and Saudi Arabia sparred over the hajj. In 1987, Saudi police opened fire on Iranian pilgrims protesting during the hajj, killing more than 400 people. For two years after that, Iran did not send pilgrims to the hajj.

Ahead of this year’s hajj, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei essentially called on pilgrims to hold protests again, saying the pilgrimage offers “Muslims with a great opportunity to express their beliefs”.

“Where else, better than Mecca, Medina … can Muslims go to express their concerns regarding Al-Aqsa and Palestine?” Khamenei said, referring to one of Islam’s holiest and most contentious sites in Jerusalem.

Senior Saudi clerics were quick to respond, saying the pilgrimage should not be exploited and reminding worshippers that the ultimate goal of the hajj is “to spend all their time and effort in worshipping Almighty Allah.”