0396-Syria

Hasan (21) fled from Syria to the Netherlands and invites you for a cup of coffee.

h“All the unknown is exciting, that is why it is so important that refugees and Dutch people come into contact with each other”, says Hasan. He fled from Syria to the Netherlands. On June 20, World Refugee Day, he serves coffee with other refugees and the Dutch Council for Refugees between 8:00 am and 1:00 pm at the station in Nimwegen.

Studying or the army

You would not say it if you heard him speak Dutch, but Hasan is only 2,5 years in the Netherlands. At the age of 18 he fled to the Netherlands with his uncle to escape the dangerous military service. His father, mother, brother and sister stayed behind. “It is war in Syria. That’s why many boys who turn 18 have to go into the army. I did not want to go into the army, but to study. That is why I decided to leave Syria. “

Take the initiative yourself

KhoseMeanwhile Hasan is following a transition year at HAN (University Arnheim Nimwegen), so that he can then start his study Civil Engineering. When he asks if he feels at home in the Netherlands, a smile appears from ear to ear. “The Netherlands is really my home! The Dutch generally take little initiative to get to know you, but if you take a step yourself, almost everyone reacts positively. That’s why I like to hand out coffee on June 20: then I just come to the people myself! I hope people do not think it’s weird that I just want to drink a cup of coffee. Probably they think that I am very different, because I come from a different country. But I really do not think so. For me, everyone is just the same.”

People of the hour

Yet Hasan has already found a few differences between Dutch and Syrians. Hasan: “Time for example! Everyone is always on time. If you have to go to work I understand that, but even if I have a meeting with friends and I am 5 minutes late I get to hear that already. Recently I got a message from a friend, if I wanted to come and eat with her in three months. That’s really going too far for me, haha! In Syria we did everything much more spontaneously, then we often called the same day if it came true. That is really a big difference with how it goes in the Netherlands.”

We do not know our neighbors

Another difference, according to Hasan, is the low level of contact with the neighbors. “I knew everyone in my village in Syria. Here I literally know only one neighbor in the flat where I live.” Yet Hasan is far from lonely. He quickly made friends: both people of Dutch descent and people with a foreign background. “I have left some contacts with my time at the asylum seekers’ center. People came by to meet us. I also met people at school. And I do volunteer work at a foundation that organizes fun activities for children and young people in asylum seekers’ centers. My colleagues there are now also really good friends. “

0373-Syria

Judge views withdrawal of Dutch citizenship jihadists.

Foto ter illustratie.The administrative judge will test whether Dutch citizenship has been correctly withdrawn from four jihadists convicted in absentia. The previous Minister of Justice and Security, Stef Blok, took the Dutch citizenship of these men last September. Minister Blok did so on the basis of a new law with a view to national security. It is the first time this happened. However, the lawyers of the men find this law discriminatory, because it only applies to persons who, besides the Dutch, also have another nationality. The administrative judge must therefore judge it. The case at the court in The Hague is scheduled for 15 May, the treatment is at the extra secured location at Schiphol.

Undesirable aliens
The four were convicted in absentia a number of years ago to punish up to six years in prison for terrorist crimes. It concerns the ‘known’ Syrian people Anis Z., Driss D., Hatim R. and Noureddin B., who, besides the Dutch, also have Moroccan nationality. They have also been declared undesirable aliens. This means they can no longer legally come to the Netherlands or travel to other Schengen countries. It is not certain whether Driss D. is still alive.

0365-Syria

Bodies of Douma gas victims secretly buried in desperate bid to preserve chemical evidence

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It took the men most of the night to bury the bodies. They dug the dry earth with whatever they had to hand – mostly small tools which made for a laborious task. But it was no ordinary burial and when they were done, instead of marking the site with headstones and flowers they covered it over with weeds and dirt. The bodies were some of the 48 victims of a suspected chemical attack on the Syrian town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta. The diggers were local residents and members of the Jaish al-Islam rebel group attempting to preserve what could become the most important evidence from the night of April 7. They hope the corpses will help the UN-backed Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) establish whether, and which, chemicals were used. “Only three or four men know where the site is,” Brigadier General Zaher al-Sakat, Syria’s former chemical weapons chief who defected several years ago, told the Telegraph. “They were buried just as they were found. It will be easy to get samples from the hair and clothes and eventually prove what was used.”

d4On Saturday, after waiting for a week for clearance from Damascus, chemical weapons inspectors finally entered Douma. The nine-strong team from the OPCW were able to collect samples from the town two weeks after the attack. Syria and Russia, which backs the regime and has military police controlling the three-storey house in Douma where the victims died, have been accused by the US of deliberately obstructing the inspectors, giving themselves time to potentially tamper with the evidence. The diggers this week gave the coordinates of the burial site to Raed Saleh, the head of the White Helmets, a group of civil defence rescuers who operate in opposition areas. Mr Saleh has since passed them to the OPCW. But the site of the bodies, which had been under Jaish al-Islam’s control, has now fallen into government hands. And while the regime does not yet know the location, the OPCW is dependent on it for access. Jerry Smith, a former OPCW weapons inspector who worked in Syria in 2013, told the Sunday Telegraph the watchdog has no choice but to wait for the approval of host states. “In cases like this there could be stakeholders who don’t want the truth to come out, or want their truth to come out,” said Mr Smith, who is now managing director of RameHead Consulting International in Salisbury. “They have the ability to exert that influence on the investigation.” He said that while the delay was a concern it was “almost impossible” to completely destroy all traces of a chemical attack involving nerve agent, which doctors suspect was mixed with less toxic chlorine. Nerve agents like sarin rapidly degrade in normal environmental conditions, however he said they can “hang around for some time.” “There are examples of samples being taken in Halabja several years after the Saddam (Hussein) attacks which showed nerve agents”, he said, adding that “micro quantities” smaller than a pinhead can become trapped in soil and clay. “They have key markers which have no alternative explanation.” However, the presence of chlorine can be more difficult to establish, particularly after such a long period of time, and it is difficult to prove whether it was administered in weaponised form because it is used for many other purposes. He said the OPCW will be looking to gather three types of evidence: biological and environmental samples, statements from survivors, and documentary evidence such as videos and pictures.

d3A number of survivors fled to rebel-held Idlib in northern Syria near the Turkish border and will likely be questioned. Eastern Ghouta saw an even deadlier chemical attack in 2013, when more than 1,200 people died and thousands more were injured. The OPCW later confirmed in its report that sarin had been used. The government, under pressure from Russia, subsequently agreed to hand over its entire stockpile in 2014. However, Brig Gen Sakat and others believe they did not declare a substantial amount of sarin and other precursor chemicals, which they still possess. The US and its allies have said they hold both the regime and Russia responsible for the Douma attack, and Moscow has since launched a considerable disinformation campaign to deflect blame. Russian officials have offered contradictory explanations for what happened on April 7. Theories propagated include that there was no chemical attack, then that there in fact had been a chemical attack but it was carried out by rebels, and lastly that it was a “false flag” operation by the UK and White Helmets. Influential social media activists and bloggers have seized on the theory that it was carried out by jihadist groups or spies in order to put the blame on the Bashar al-Assad government and provide a justification for Western intervention. The swirl of disinformation has not been helped by the silence of many of the key witnesses, who have found themselves at the centre of an escalating international conflict.

According to organisations supporting hospitals in Syria, many of their medics who treated patients that night have since left Eastern Ghouta for rebel-held areas elsewhere in the country. Dr Ghanem Tayara, Birmingham GP and director of the d2Union of Medical Care and Relief Organisations (UOSSM) – the largest medical relief agency in Syria – claims they were searched for samples and potential evidence before they did. Many are too scared to speak out publicly because they have family members in government-held areas. Meanwhile some of those who decided to stay in Douma have since recanted accounts they gave to UOSSM at the time. After Russia took control of Eastern Ghouta on April 12 – days after the attack pushed Jaish al-Islam to agree a surrender deal – interviews with doctors, nurses and medical students who treated the patients were broadcast. Some 13 appeared on a pro-government TV channel saying they had not seen any cases of chemical exposure, but had seen many suffering asthma attacks prompted by the dust from an airstrike and the panic that followed. Some the Telegraph spoke to who know the medics say they believe they were speaking under duress. Zaher al-Sahloul, a Syrian-American doctor and adviser to the UOSSM, said: “We know these people very well, they were our physicians. “At least half of those appearing in these interviews communicated with our teams (in Turkey and the US) about the chemical attack and what symptoms they saw in the patients. They changed their statements after the Russians took over. “I’m sure they are not just fearing for their lives but the lives of their relatives too, that is to be expected.”

Dr Sahloul said one senior doctor in Douma made contact with a Russian official while the town was still under opposition control, asking to be allowed to stay and not be sent to Idlib. “Part of the deal they agreed was for him to convince the other doctors to stay under certain terms, but I don’t think the doctors expected to be put A Syrian girl holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a make-shift hospital following a reported gas attack on the town of Doumaunder this much pressure,” he said. Asked if he considered it a betrayal, he said: “Of course not, they are under unbelievable stress. I would have done the same myself to protect my family.” Dr Sahloul is confident, however, that eventually “the truth will out”, as too are the chemical weapons experts. “The science always beats the politics,” said Mr Smith. “And when you get the science right, it’s irrefutable, whatever the crazies might say.”

0349-Syria

Hackers ‘led warplanes to Syrian hospital’ after targeting British surgeon’s computer

A British surgeon who helped carry out operations in Aleppo fears that the hacking of his computer led to a hospital being bombed by suspected Russian warplanes. In a world first, renowned consultant David Nott gave remote instructions via Skype and WhatsApp which allowed doctors to carry out surgery in an underground hospital. But, after footage was broadcast by the BBC, Mr Nott believes his computer was targeted, allowing hackers to gain the coordinates of the M10 hospital. Weeks later a “bunker buster” bomb destroyed the M10 when warplanes, believed to be Russian, delivered a direct hit to the operating theatre, killing two patients and permanently closing the hospital. Mr Nott believes that the timing of the attack and the precise nature of the target could only have been gleaned from the coordinates on his computer. Mr Nott, who has carried out dozens of operations in Syria but only one via his computer from the UK, said that following advice from those working on the ground he will not work in this way any more. Now the International Committee of the Red Cross is to hold a meeting with staff to warn David Nottabout the dangers of hacking, using Mr Nott’s fears as an example, it is understood. Mr Nott said on Tuesday: “The thing that gets me is that we now cannot help doctors in war zones, if somebody is watching what we are doing and blows up the hospital then that is a war crime. “It is a crime against humanity that you can’t even help a doctor in another country carry out an operation. It is a travesty.” Whitehall sources told the Telegraph that technical experts believe that pinpointing a location by carrying out such a hack is plausible. Aid workers and international watch groups have warned that hospitals have become a target in Syria, with some estimates suggesting that there have been 450 attacks since 2011. Priti Patel, the Tory MP and former Cabinet minister who sits on the Commons foreign affairs select committee, said: “It’s a huge, huge issue. We should all pay an enormous tribute to David Nott. He is an amazing individual who in the most difficult circumstances has been saving lives in Syria while the bombs of Assad have been falling down. “It would hardly be surprising if Russian interference was behind the bombing of this hospital. It speaks of the appalling regime and the lack of respect for human life. We need to put pressure on Russia and ask what has happened here.” Mr Nott has been dubbed the “Indiana Jones of Surgery” for his work in war zones. He has trained surgeons in Syria and has been given an OBE for his efforts. His claims come at a time of heightened tensions between Russia and No 10 after the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, Aleppo bombedWilts. Vladimir Putin’s government has long been at loggerheads with the West over his support for Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Experts believe that the sophistication of the bomb – dubbed a “bunker buster” because of its ability to hit underground targets – used to target the M10 suggests that it was dropped by Russian jets. The operation carried out by Mr Nott was first broadcast by BBC Newsnight on Sept 13 2016, just days after it took place with Mr Nott watching the surgeons’ every move on WhatsApp and Skype from his London office. A selfie stick was used to allow Mr Nott to watch closely as his former students carried out jaw reconstruction surgery on Mohammed, a father of three, and a shopkeeper alleged to have been hit by a Russian bomb in Aleppo. On Oct 3 the hospital was bombed, hitting the operating theatre first. Two patients were killed and several medical staff injured and the hospital could not be rebuilt. The hospital had been bombed at least 17 times, but Mr Nott believes that the only way that they could have got the precise co-ordinates of the operating theatre was through his method of directing the operation. Mr Nott said: “The operation was the only time co-ordinates came out of that operating theatre.” It is unclear when the hacking took place, but Mr Nott believes that somebody may have watched the programme, which was also uploaded to Newsnight’s YouTube channel, and then targeted his computer rather than hack him during the operation. The consultant, who has received an OBE for his work in war zones, has changed his computer and his phone since, but does not feel it is safe to link up to operating theatres remotely. He would not speculate on who had targeted his computer, or dropped the bomb. Prof Alan Woodward, from the Surrey Centre for Cyber Security, said Mr Nott’s computer or phone could have been hacked during the operation, but it would have been far easier to gain access at a later date to find out who he had been talking to. It is a method that has been used by governments and law enforcement agencies for a number of years, he said, adding: “It is a fairly classic way of getting information. You don’t need to do it at the time, you can break in at your leisure.” There Operationhave long been fears over the security of online video messaging forums such as Skype, which has been hit by a number of hacks including those that allow accounts to be taken over remotely. Zaher Sahloul, who at the time of the bombing was the president of the Syrian American Medical Society, which was running the hospital, said that they were careful with the information that they published as they know hospitals and doctors are watched so that they can be attacked. He said: “Hospitals are targeted so that people cannot live in that area as there is no health care, it is a tactic that the regime and Russia have been using since the beginning. “The bunker-busting missile is so advanced that it is believed that the Syrian regime would not have them, that is why many people believe that it was the Russians who dropped that bomb.” The deliberate targeting of hospitals, doctors and even aid workers has become a major concern for global health security and is not confined to Syria.