US Should Use its Influence to Help Win Freedom of Scholar Missing in Iraq, her Sister Says

This picture provided late on July 5, 2023 by Syrian citizen journalist Ahmad Mohamad who took the photo in Istanbul on May 26, 2017, shows Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov. (Ahmad Mohamad / AFP)
This picture provided late on July 5, 2023 by Syrian citizen journalist Ahmad Mohamad who took the photo in Istanbul on May 26, 2017, shows Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov. (Ahmad Mohamad / AFP)
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US Should Use its Influence to Help Win Freedom of Scholar Missing in Iraq, her Sister Says

This picture provided late on July 5, 2023 by Syrian citizen journalist Ahmad Mohamad who took the photo in Istanbul on May 26, 2017, shows Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov. (Ahmad Mohamad / AFP)
This picture provided late on July 5, 2023 by Syrian citizen journalist Ahmad Mohamad who took the photo in Istanbul on May 26, 2017, shows Israeli-Russian academic Elizabeth Tsurkov. (Ahmad Mohamad / AFP)

The United States should use its influence to help win the freedom of a Russian-Israeli academic at Princeton University who went missing in Iraq nearly six months ago and is believed to be held by an Iran-backed group, her sister said Wednesday.

“The current level of pressure is unsatisfactory. It’s just not enough,” Emma Tsurkov said in an interview with The Associated Press. “My sister is languishing at the hands of this terror organization. And it’s been almost six months.”

Elizabeth Tsurkov, a 36-year-old doctoral student whose work focuses on the Middle East and specifically Syria and Iraq, disappeared in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, in March while doing research.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has said she is being held by Kataeb Hezbollah or Hezbollah Brigades.

Emma Tsurkov is working to draw attention to her sister's fate, meeting in Washington this week with the State Department and Israeli and Russian government officials.

“I really never wanted to do any of this. But I realized that everyone is interested but no one is going to do anything to actually bring her home,” said Emma Tsurkov, 35, a sociology researcher at Stanford University. “And everyone is just hoping that someone else does, passing the buck. But at the end of the day, I don’t see anything being done to bring my sister back.”

Elizabeth Tsurkov is not a US citizen, limiting the tools at the American government's disposal and the direct ability of Washington officials to secure her release. But Emma Tsurkov contends that the US government still has substantial influence given that her sister has significant US ties as a “graduate student in an American institution that is approved and funded for research."

She said she made the case to a State Department official during a meeting on Monday that the US government's massive financial support to Iraq gives it leverage it should use.

She is also set to meet this week with officials at Princeton, which she says has not been vocal enough in its support of her sister.



UN Rights Office: 'Anarchy' Spreading in Gaza

Displaced Palestinians wait to receive food at a food distribution point, set up by young men from the Madhoun family in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2024. (Photo by Omar AL-QATTAA / AFP)
Displaced Palestinians wait to receive food at a food distribution point, set up by young men from the Madhoun family in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2024. (Photo by Omar AL-QATTAA / AFP)
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UN Rights Office: 'Anarchy' Spreading in Gaza

Displaced Palestinians wait to receive food at a food distribution point, set up by young men from the Madhoun family in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2024. (Photo by Omar AL-QATTAA / AFP)
Displaced Palestinians wait to receive food at a food distribution point, set up by young men from the Madhoun family in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip on July 18, 2024. (Photo by Omar AL-QATTAA / AFP)

The United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) on Friday warned that "anarchy" was spreading in the Gaza Strip, with rampant looting, unlawful killings and shootings as the population faces an acute humanitarian crisis.
According to Reuters, Ajith Sunghay, head of OHCHR for Gaza and the West Bank, described unlawful killings and looting in the absence of law enforcement linked to "Israel's dismantling of local capacity to maintain public order and safety in Gaza".
"Our office has documented alleged unlawful killings of local police and humanitarian workers, and the strangulation of supplies indispensable to the survival of the civilian population. Anarchy is spreading," said Sunghay, who returned from a visit to Gaza on Thursday.
Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson for OHCHR, said the conditions in Gaza had "led to the predictable and entirely foreseeable unravelling of the fabric of society in Gaza, setting people against one another in a fight for survival and tearing communities apart."
"There is looting, mob justice, extortion of money, family disputes, random shootings, fighting for space and resources, and we see youths armed with sticks manning barricades," he said.