Posts Tagged ‘Syrians’

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.

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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.

http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/32475/Default.aspx

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)

http://www.dw.com/en/asylum-seekers-in-europe-left-waiting-says-study/a-40613486

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.

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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.”

Migrant boats in Black Sea spark fears of new route

August 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A boat carrying Iraqis and Syrians, including 23 children, was intercepted late Sunday in the Black Sea in Romania’s southeastern Constanta region, officials said
BUCHAREST (AFP) – Romanian authorities said Monday that they had caught a fishing boat with 68 asylum seekers off Romania’s coast, the second such incident in a week, raising fears that a new migrant route to Europe is opening up.

The boat carrying Iraqis and Syrians, including 23 children, was intercepted late Sunday in the Black Sea in Romania’s southeastern Constanta region, officials said.

“They were accompanied by two Turkish traffickers,” Ionela Pasat, a spokeswoman for the Constanta coastguard, told AFP.

The group was brought to the port of Mangalia for medical examinations on Monday before being handed over to the immigration authorities, she said.

On August 13, coastguards discovered a boat with 69 Iraqi migrants in Romanian waters. One Bulgarian and one Cypriot were taken into custody on suspicion of human trafficking.

EU member Romania, which is not part of the bloc’s passport-free Schengen zone, has largely been spared the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.

But Bucharest worries that the Black Sea could become an alternative route to the dangerous Mediterranean crossing.

More than 111,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea so far this year, most of them arriving in Italy from Libya, according to the most recent figures.

Over 2,300 have died attempting the crossing.

This month, NGO rescue ships were banned from patrolling waters off Libya where hundreds of thousands of people have been rescued in recent years and brought to Italy.

Greek police evacuate Athens migrant camp

June 2, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Children play in a corridor at the former Hellinikon airport turned into a refugee camp, near Athens, on March 30, 2017

ATHENS (AFP) – 

Greek police early Friday began evacuating the last remaining migrants and refugees from a makeshift camp at Hellinikon, a disused former airport and ex-Olympic facility south of Athens, officials said.

“About 450-500 people are in the camp,” police spokesman Theodoros Chronopoulos told AFP.

“The operation is underway without incident as they had been informed beforehand,” he added.

The mainly Afghan refugees were living at the camp at Hellinikon — which until 2001 was the Athens airport — in crumbling flight lounges and abandoned sports facilities built for the 2004 Olympics.

Rights groups have repeatedly labelled the makeshift camp on Athens’ coastal front unsuitable for long-term accommodation and called on the government to find alternative arrangements for the refugees.

In February, some of the refugees went on hunger strike to protest the lack of hot water and suitable food.

Families will be relocated to another camp near the town of Thiva, and solitary adults will be taken to police headquarters for an identity check, Chronopoulos said.

The refugees were initially deposited at Hellinikon from late 2015 onwards as a temporary measure, as Greece’s leftist government scrambled to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people of all ages landing on Europe’s doorstep to escape war and poverty.

Many of them slept at the port of Piraeus, at Hellinikon and at another improvised camp on the northern Greek border for months before organised camps could be created with the help of volunteer groups and EU funds.

Overall, some 60,000 people including many young Syrians, Afghans and Pakistanis, have been stuck in Greece for the past year after neighbouring countries along the migrant route into Europe shut their borders.

At the start of the 2015 influx, Afghans were originally viewed as refugees and allowed to continue their journey from Greece to other countries in Europe.

But many now face deportation — despite growing insecurity that saw civilian casualties in Afghanistan hit a record high in 2016 — after a disputed deal between EU and Kabul to send migrants back.

Philippines puts city on lockdown over fears of militant infiltration

May 29, 2017

Reuters

A Philippine Air Force attack helicopter fires a rocket as they continue to assault the Maute group in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
By Tom Allard | MARAWI, PHILIPPINES

The Philippine city of Iligan was overflowing with evacuees and on lockdown on Monday over fears Islamist militants had sneaked out of nearby Marawi, where troops were battling to drive out gunmen holed up in buildings for a seventh day.

The fighting in the city of Marawi with pro-Islamic State militants of the Maute group is the biggest security challenges of Rodrigo Duterte’s 11-month presidency, with gunmen still holding parts of the city and fending off helicopter air strikes and ground attacks by commandos.

Members of Philippine Marines cross a road as they reinforce government soldiers fighting the Maute group in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Most of Marawi’s 200,000 people have left, many pouring into Iligan, some 38 km (24 miles) away, where authorities said they were stretched to the limit and worried that Maute fighters were blending in with the displaced and could launch attacks.

“We don’t want what’s happening in Marawi to spill over in Iligan,” said Colonel Alex Aduca, chief of the Fourth Mechanized Infantry Battalion.

“We want to ensure the safety of people here, to prevent elements from entering and conducting terroristic activities,” he told DZMM radio.

He said some rebels had been caught trying to get into Iligan, but did not give details.

Sixty-one militants, 20 members of the security forces and 19 civilians have been killed since Tuesday, when Maute rebels went on the rampage in Marawi after a botched attempt by the military to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, who the government believes is a point man for Islamic State in the Philippines.

The ability of the Maute group to fight off the military for so long will add to fears that Islamic State’s radical ideology is spreading in the southern Philippines, and it could become a haven for militants from Indonesia, Malaysia and beyond.

The military believes the Maute carried out their assault before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to capture the attention of Islamic State and earn its recognition as a Southeast Asian affiliate.

Members of Philippine Marines are pictured aboard a vehicle as more soldiers reinforce to fight the Maute group in Marawi City in southern Philippines May 29, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
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Witnesses in Marawi said they had seen militants flying the Islamic State flag and wearing black outfits and headbands typical of the group.

CIVILIANS STRANDED

Troops on the streets of Marawi fired at Maute snipers as smoke poured out of several buildings.

Trucks loaded with marines arrived to reinforce soldiers guarding deserted streets as helicopters circulated above the lakeside city surrounded by jungle-clad hills.

The military said the Maute group was still present in nine of the city’s 96 Barangays, or communities. Thousands of people were stranded, worried they could be intercepted by militants that have set up checkpoints on routes out of the city.

Civilians stuck in Marawi were without food and were as anxious about rocket strikes as much as they were the militants, said Zia Alonto Adiong, a politician coordinating efforts to evacuate civilians.

He said there were still dead bodies in Marawi and civilians wanted the military to stop air strikes.

“The anticipation of death is worse than death itself,” he said in a television interview. “We appeal to our military forces to do a different approach.”

Bodies of what appeared to be executed civilians were found in a ravine outside a Marawi on Sunday as the crisis took a more sinister turn. Most of the eight men were shot in the head and some had bound hands.

The army said it was possible more “atrocities” had taken place.

Duterte imposed martial law last week on Mindanao, an island of 22 million people where both Marawi and Iligan are located, to quell the unrest and wipe out militancy.

Some rights activists and lawmakers say martial law across the island is an overreaction that will increase the risk of human rights abuses by security forces.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the imposition of martial law was necessary, and constitutional.

“It started flying the flag of the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria in several areas, thereby openly attempting to remove from the allegiance to the Philippine government this part of Mindanao,” Abella told reporters.

“This constitutes the crime of rebellion.”

For graphic on Islamic State-linked groups in Philippine south, click: tmsnrt.rs/2rYIHTj

(Additional reporting by Erik de Castro in MARAWI and Neil Jerome Morales, Karen Lema and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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 (Contains links to several other related articles)

Friday, May 26, 2017

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Thursday, May 25, 2017 and Earlier
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Lorenzana said the confrontation opened Tuesday afternoon, when government forces attempted to arrest a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, an extremist organization with ties to the Islamic State. They had learned Isnilon Hapilon was in the area, but according to Lorenzana, the military had not expected him to be backed up by “more or less 100 fighters” — many of whom were members of another ISIS-linked organization, the Maute Group.

More than 100 gunmen responded to the raid by burning buildings and conducting other diversionary tactics, officials said, adding that thousands of residents have fled Marawi.

 (with links to related reports)

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ISIS in Southeast Asia: Philippines battles growing threat — Over 100 killed in fighting or by Execution

May 29, 2017

Updated 0601 GMT (1401 HKT) May 29, 2017

(CNN)The black flag of ISIS has been raised in the Philippines.

At least 103 people have died in the city of Marawi on the southern island of Mindanao in less than a week as fighters affiliated with the so-called Islamic State engaged in violent clashes with government forces, and martial law was declared over the entire island.
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Local resident Chico Usman said the militants had entered the predominantly Muslim city of some 200,000 suddenly, on the afternoon of May 24, wearing masks and carrying assault rifles. “Everybody was shocked and ran into their houses,” he said, adding they could hear gunfire and fighting until the following morning.
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Black ISIS flags emblazoned in white with the words “There is no god but God” were flying from “every corner in the city,” said Usman, who spoke to CNN from near Saguiaran, a town outside Marawi, where thousands of fleeing residents had taken temporary shelter.
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Photos showed long queues of cars piled with people and belongings, as tanks and armored troop vehicles headed in the opposite direction.
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An ISIS fighter erects the flag of the so-called Islamic State atop a school near a mosque in Marawi, southern  Philippines on May 24, 2017.

Clashes between government forces and militants had claimed the lives of 19 civilians, 11 military and four policemen, as of Sunday afternoon, according to a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). The AFP confirmed 61 militants had also been killed.

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In a separate incident, eight other people — thought to be fleeing the city — were found dead in a ravine. Witnesses said the victims were asked to recite Muslim prayers, according to CNN Philippines. Those who failed were taken by the armed men. The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country but Mindanao has a significant Muslim population.
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The latest violence flared up on May 23, after the military launched an operation targeting Isnilon Hapilon, a Filipino militant leader, who was last year designated ISIS emir for Southeast Asia.
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Surrounded and fearing capture, Hapilon is thought to have issued an emergency call for reinforcements from members of the Maute group, a local Islamist militant organization that’s pledged allegiance to ISIS, who poured into Marawi by the hundreds, setting fire to buildings, taking hostages and entering into running street-battles with government forces as they came.
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While Islamist and criminal groups have been active in the lawless tri-border area between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia for years, such an audacious and aggressive attack on government troops by fighters loyal to ISIS has shocked many observers — and increased fears the group is succeeding in extending its influence into Southeast Asia.
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A Philippine Air Force helicopter gunship fires a rocket at Maute positions in the continuing assault to retake control of some areas of Marawi City, May 27, 2017. AP
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An Asian caliphate?

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“What’s happening in Mindanao is no longer a rebellion of Filipino citizens. It has transmogrified into invasion by foreign terrorists,” said Philippines Solicitor General Jose Calida during a press briefing last week. .
“They want to create Mindanao as part of the caliphate.”
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While ISIS has yet to declare a wilayah — or state — of the caliphate in Southeast Asia as it has done in Libya and Saudi Arabia, many analysts believe it is merely a matter of time.
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The influence of ISIS has spread throughout Southeast Asia in recent years, with more than 60 groups in the region pledging allegiance to self-declared caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to Rohan Gunaratna, head of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR).
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Last week’s suicide attacks in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, which claimed the lives of three police officers, is a case in point. Though carried out by Indonesian nationals, Jakarta police suspect the attacks are linked to ISIS.
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Philippine marines aboard their vehicles maneuver through a street on their way to an assault on the hide out of Muslim militants near the town center in Marawi, in southern island of Mindanao on May 28, 2017.

While in Malaysia, six suspected militants — including a alleged ISIS arms smuggler — were picked up in special operation by the country’s Counter Terrorism Division last week. Other recent attacks throughout the region, including last year’s grenade blast in a bar near Kuala Lumpur, have also been attributed to the terror network.
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Unified Islamist front

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Ties between the Philippines-based groups, which have led much of violence in recent years, and their counterparts in Indonesia and Malaysia are also growing. In April this year, a Philippines military strike on suspected ISIS-affiliated Maute militants in the Lanao del Sur province of Mindanao, killed 37, including three Indonesians and one Malaysian who were believed to be members of Jemaah Islamiyah — an Indonesia-based terror group.
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Residents of Marawi in the southern Philippines flee the city as government forces and ISIS militants clash.

According to Otso Iho, a senior analyst at Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center, increased cooperation between groups is a significant step towards “generating a much more unified Islamist front particularly in the southern Philippines.”
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A report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), however, noted that while ISIS “has deepened cooperation among extremist groups in Southeast Asia,” law enforcement and counter terrorist efforts remain largely national.
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“Geographical and sovereignty issues, competing territorial claims and regional politicking … seem to be hindering regional cooperation,” warned analysts Jasminder Singh and Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani in a report last year.
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If action is not taken, they said, the region risks becoming a Southeast Asian version of the tribal areas along the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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Risks to which Mindanao is particularly vulnerable.
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The southernmost island in the Philippines, Mindanao has long been plagued by conflict, with the region experiencing Communist insurgencies, nationalist rebellions, and brutal military crackdowns launched from Manila.
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According to the United Nations World Food Program, outbreaks of conflict in 2000 and 2008 “each led to the displacement of nearly a million individuals.”
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This instability, combined with the porous maritime borders between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia that make it easy for groups to flee any crackdowns, has helped to establish the area an ideal hideout for drug smugglers, pirates, kidnap-for-cash groups, and increasingly, terrorists from across the region.
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ISIS goes east

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In a 2016 video circulated online, armed men — most appearing no older than teenagers — stand holding assault rifles and other weapons, as Arabic music plays in the background. They join their hands and pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-declared caliph of the Islamic State.
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Later in the video, a Malaysian fighter urges viewers who cannot travel to the Middle East to go instead “to the Philippines.” He then joins two other fighters — identified as Filipino and Indonesian — in beheading three Christian captives.
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Philippine marines take their position as they begin an assault on Muslim militants near the city hall in Marawi, in southern island of Mindanao on May 28, 2017.

Bearing the trademark high production values and gruesome executions of the core ISIS propaganda wing, the video represented the growing importance of Southeast Asia to the group’s leaders in Syria. Recent issues of Rumiyah — a monthly propaganda magazine published by ISIS in multiple languages — have also highlighted actions by Islamic State fighters against the “Filipino Crusader army” in the region.
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According to researchers at ICPVTR in Singapore, ISIS has formed Katibah Al-Muhajir — the Brigade of the Migrant — to organize fighters in Southeast Asia.
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“For approximately 500 Malaysian Ringgit, a prospective foreign jihadist can secure his travel arrangements, from Malaysia to the Philippines, and be given a complimentary weapon,” analysts Singh and Bin Jani wrote in their report last year. This brigade is under the command of Hapilon.
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A skinny, baby-faced 51-year-old, Hapilon is originally from Basilan, an island in the southern part of Mindanao in the Sulu archipelago, according to the FBI.
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The militant leader, who first came to prominence as the commander of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group, has a long rap sheet — including a series of high-profile kidnappings-for-ransom of foreign nationals in the southern Philippines.
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He was endorsed by ISIS as the emir for Southeast Asia in 2016, according to IPAC despite the fact he speaks “neither Arabic nor English, and his religious knowledge is limited.”
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His stature — as confirmed by the Maute group’s coming to his aid, along with a $5 million US government bounty for information that would lead to his capture or conviction — is likely based on his ties to foreign jihadis and other ISIS-linked groups in the region, IPAC said in the report last year.
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Members of Philippine police special forces maneuver as they launch an assault on Muslim militants near the city hall in Marawi on May 28, 2017.

Returnee fighters

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Regional cooperation in combating militants such as Hapilon may become more important than ever before, as experts predict loss of land in Syria and Iraq will see ISIS leadership turn more attention to the southern Philippines.
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Whether because they are sent there by al Baghdadi, or because they are fleeing Syrians and Kurds and other fronts, there are hundreds of local Southeast Asian fighters poised to bring their expertise and ideological commitment to the region.
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According to a report by the Carnegie Council, up to “1,000 Southeast Asians may have traveled to ISIS-controlled territory in the Middle East.” Though such numbers are unconfirmed, multiple regional officials have expressed alarm at the lack of transnational programs and strategies in place to deal with potential returnees.
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Australian Attorney General George Brandis who is a strong proponent of a more joined-up approach — and who recently labeled the security threat of returning fighters as among the “greatest in the region” — has said the matter would be discussed at an upcoming meeting of Asian security ministers later this year.
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“Governments in the region have to constantly be vigilant against the threat of the returnees,” said Singapore-based analyst Bin Jani.
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Along with the hundreds of fighters in the Middle East known to authorities, there are many more who are not being tracked, Bin Jani said, “militants can be very unassuming when they’re not carrying their guns.”
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Related:
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 (Contains links to several other related articles)

Friday, May 26, 2017

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Thursday, May 25, 2017 and Earlier
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See:

Lorenzana said the confrontation opened Tuesday afternoon, when government forces attempted to arrest a senior leader of the Abu Sayyaf Group, an extremist organization with ties to the Islamic State. They had learned Isnilon Hapilon was in the area, but according to Lorenzana, the military had not expected him to be backed up by “more or less 100 fighters” — many of whom were members of another ISIS-linked organization, the Maute Group.

More than 100 gunmen responded to the raid by burning buildings and conducting other diversionary tactics, officials said, adding that thousands of residents have fled Marawi.

 (with links to related reports)

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Problems with migrant and refugee children on the rise, since U.N. migrant pact with Turkey — “Too many broken promises from Turkey so the children suffer more.”

March 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | UNICEF said there had been an increase in distress among migrant and refugee children since the pact took effect
GENEVA (AFP) – “Broken promises” have plagued the EU’s year-old migrant pact with Turkey, the UN said Friday, indicating the agreement had increased suffering notably among children, despite curbing migrants flows.”We really need to rethink the frame of this agreement,” said Lucio Melandri, senior emergency specialist with the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

Under the accord reached on March 18 of last year, Turkey agreed to crack down on migrant flows, mainly of Syrians, in exchange for more aid, visa-free travel and the speeding up of Ankara’s long-stalled EU accession talks.

But with Turkey now threatening to scrap the deal following a bitter diplomatic spat with several European governments, UNICEF’s remarks came as a warning to those who view the pact as a success.

“While there has been a major decrease in the overall numbers of children on the move into Europe since last March, there has been an increase in the threats and distress refugee and migrant children endure,” UNICEF’s migrant crisis coordinator Afshan Khan said in a statement.

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Newspaper in Turkey hits out at Germany’s Merkel

Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Melandri said a central part of the deal was the relocation within the European Union of at least 120,000 migrants from Greece and Italy.

But so far, only 14,412 people have been relocated, according to figures correct to March 15.

– Refugees as ‘bargaining chips’ –

“We are observing what we call broken promises,” he said, noting that only a few dozen of that number were unaccompanied migrant children.

Children separated from their parents have made up a significant percentage of those heading for Europe to escape conflict, but estimating their numbers has been difficult, the UNICEF official added.

The war of words between the EU and Turkey over the migrant deal has escalated in recent days after Ankara blasted Germany and the Netherlands for preventing Turkish ministers from campaigning ahead of a key April referendum.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he delivers a speech during the mukhtars (local town government heads) meeting at the Presidential Complex in Ankara on March 16, 2016 AFP/Getty Images

The EU said it expects Turkey to honour the deal after Turkey threatened to bin it.

Melandri scolded those seeking to use asylum seekers as “bargaining” chips.

“Refugees and migrants should not be manipulated for political reasons,” he told reporters.