Nighttime Israeli Arrests Haunt Palestinian Kids, Families 

Pro-Palestine activists wave flags during a protest at Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, January 13, 2023. (Reuters)
Pro-Palestine activists wave flags during a protest at Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, January 13, 2023. (Reuters)
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Nighttime Israeli Arrests Haunt Palestinian Kids, Families 

Pro-Palestine activists wave flags during a protest at Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, January 13, 2023. (Reuters)
Pro-Palestine activists wave flags during a protest at Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, January 13, 2023. (Reuters)

Yousef Mesheh was sleeping in his bunk bed when Israeli forces stormed into his home at 3 a.m. 

Within moments, the 15-year-old Palestinian said he was lying on the floor as troops punched him, shouting insults. A soldier struck his mother’s chest with his rifle butt and locked her in the bedroom, where she screamed for her sons. 

Yousef and his 16-year-old brother, Wael, were hauled out of their home in Balata refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Yousef was in a sleeveless undershirt and couldn’t see without his glasses. 

“I can’t forget that night,” Yousef told The Associated Press from his living room, decorated with photos of Wael, who remains in detention. “When I go to sleep I still hear the shooting and screaming.” 

The Israeli military arrested and interrogated hundreds of Palestinian teenagers in 2022 in the occupied West Bank, without ever issuing a summons or notifying their families, according to an upcoming report by the Israeli human rights organization HaMoked. 

The charges against those being arrested ranged from being in Israel without a permit to throwing stones or Molotov cocktails. Some teens say they were arrested to obtain information about neighbors or family members. 

In the vast majority of the military's pre-planned arrests of minors last year, children were taken from their homes in the dead of the night, HaMoked said. After being yanked out of bed, children as young as 14 were interrogated while sleep-deprived and disoriented. Water, food and access to toilets were often withheld. Yousef said soldiers beat him when he asked to relieve himself during his seven-hour journey to the detention center. 

The Israeli army argues it has the legal authority to arrest minors at its discretion during late-night raids. 

Lawyers and advocates say the tactic runs counter to Israel’s legal promises to alert parents about their children’s alleged offenses. 

In response to a petition to the Supreme Court by HaMoked two years ago, there had been some small improvement when Israel asked the military to first summon Palestinian parents about their accused children. But the progress was short-lived. Last year, the Israeli military rounded up hundreds of Palestinians in the West Bank ages 12-17 in late-night arrests, according to HaMoked. Rights activists say they believe such tactics are meant to create fear. 

“The fact that the military is making no effort to reduce these traumatic night arrests indicates to us that the trauma is part of the point,” said Jessica Montell, director of HaMoked. “This intimidation and terrorizing of communities seems actually part of the policy.” 

According to figures reported to the Supreme Court, the army summoned Palestinian parents to question their children only a handful of times in 2021. Last year, not a single family received a summons in nearly 300 cases HaMoked tracked in the West Bank. 

Petty offenses and cases where children were released without charge — as happened to Yousef — were no exception. HaMoked said the numbers are incomplete because it believes scores of similar cases are never reported. 

“They are not implementing the procedure they created themselves,” said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, accountability program director for Defense for Children International in the Palestinian territories. “The beating and mistreatment of children during night arrests is really what we’re concerned about.” 

In response to a request for comment, the Israeli military said it tries to summon Palestinian children suspected of minor offenses who have no history of serious criminal convictions. But, the army argued, this policy does not apply to serious offenses or “when a summons to an investigation would harm its purpose.” 

The army would not comment on Yousef's arrest, but said his brother, Wael, faces charges related to “serious financial crimes,” including “contacting the enemy,” “illegally bringing in money” and helping “an illegal organization.” These charges typically reflect cases of Palestinians communicating with people in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. 

Although HaMoked found most cases were soon dropped, the late-night arrests haunted children long after. 

Since his Nov. 7 arrest, Yousef “is not like he was before,” said his mother, Hanadi Mesheh, who also recounted her ordeal to the AP. He can’t focus in school. He no longer plays soccer. She sleeps beside him some nights, holding him during his nightmares. 

“I feel like I’m always being watched,” Yousef said. “I'm frightened when my mother wakes me in the morning for school.” 

Similar stories abound in the area. The northern city of Nablus emerged as a major flashpoint for violence last year after Israel began a crackdown in the West Bank in response to a spate of Palestinian attacks in Israel. 

Last year Israeli forces killed at least 146 Palestinians, including 34 children, the Israeli rights group B'Tselem reported, making 2022 the deadliest for Palestinians in the West Bank in 18 years. According to the Israeli army, most of the Palestinians killed have been gunmen. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in confrontations have also been killed. Palestinian attacks, meanwhile, killed at least 31 Israelis last year. 

Israel says the operations are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart future attacks. The Palestinians have decried the raids as collective punishment aimed at cementing Israel’s open-ended 55-year-old occupation of lands they want for a future state. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. 

Nighttime arrest raids are not limited to the West Bank. Israeli police also carry out regular raids in Palestinian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. 

Last fall in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Rania Elias heard pounding on the door before dawn. Her youngest son, 16-year-old Shadi Khoury, was sleeping in his underwear. Israeli police burst into their home, shoved Khoury to the floor and pummeled his face. Blood was everywhere, she said, as police dragged him to a Jerusalem detention center for interrogation. 

“You can’t imagine what it’s like to feel helpless to save your child,” Elias said. 

In response to a request for comment, the Israeli police said they charged Khoury with being part of a group that threw stones at a Jewish family's car on Oct. 12, wounding a passenger. 

Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new ultra-nationalist government, parents say they fear for their children more than ever. Some of the most powerful ministers are Israeli settlers who promise a hard-line stance against the Palestinians. 

“This is the darkest moment,” said activist Murad Shitawi, whose 17-year-old son Khaled was arrested last March in a night raid on their home in the West Bank town of Kfar Qaddum. “I’m worried for my sons.” 



Syrians Vital in Turkish Local Elections

Syrian-owned shops in Türkiye were subjected to acts of vandalism by Turkish nationals due to incitement by the opposition during the May elections (Archive Photo)
Syrian-owned shops in Türkiye were subjected to acts of vandalism by Turkish nationals due to incitement by the opposition during the May elections (Archive Photo)
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Syrians Vital in Turkish Local Elections

Syrian-owned shops in Türkiye were subjected to acts of vandalism by Turkish nationals due to incitement by the opposition during the May elections (Archive Photo)
Syrian-owned shops in Türkiye were subjected to acts of vandalism by Turkish nationals due to incitement by the opposition during the May elections (Archive Photo)

As Türkiye gears up for local elections on March 31, Syrians living in the country are making their mark in the political scene.

Since last year’s elections, where they played a significant role, they’ve become essential in shaping political strategies.

This phenomenon, which initially gained traction during the previous local elections in 2019 when the opposition successfully seized key strongholds of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), continues to shape Türkiye’s political discourse and strategy.

On the government’s side, plans are underway to employ migrants, particularly Syrians, in sectors facing labor shortages.

According to reports from the pro-government newspaper “Sabah,” this initiative draws inspiration from the “guest worker” model previously implemented, benefiting primarily Turkish interests.

This move aims to tackle illegal migration and meet workforce demands. Inspired by past initiatives, this plan involves cooperation with migrants’ home countries under Türkiye’s supervision.

Türkiye’s 2024 budget has stirred controversy with its inclusion of measures concerning foreign employment, particularly targeting Syrians. This move has drawn criticism from the opposition, who view it as entrenching the presence of Syrians in Türkiye and preventing their return home.

Meanwhile, right-wing parties have intensified their rhetoric against Syrians.

Meral Akşener, leader of the nationalist Good Party, pledged tough actions in neighborhoods with large numbers of refugees, including removing non-Turkish signs.

At a rally for her party’s local election campaign, Akşener also announced plans to carry out urban transformation projects in refugee-inhabited neighborhoods, which would involve demolishing their homes and relocating them elsewhere.

Akşener's comments come after previous remarks by Ümit Özdağ, leader of the Victory Party, who is known for his anti-foreigner stance, especially targeting Syrians.

Özdağ promised tough measures against Syrians, including treating them as “guests” in municipalities won by his party, imposing special rates for utilities, and closing down Syrian businesses.

Despite opposition efforts focusing on the Syrian refugee issue in recent elections, they didn't achieve the desired results, leading to tensions in Turkish society.

Syrians, however, are aware of the situation. Mohammed, who runs a bakery in the Syrian-populated “Esenyurt” area, said they’ve faced increased hostility during elections but are abiding by government decisions to avoid trouble.

Despite the political rhetoric, statistics show Syrian integration into Turkish society is progressing, with more Syrians marrying Turkish nationals in recent years.


Woman Killings Surge in Lebanon: 21 Wives Killed by Husbands in 2023

An initiative by women’s rights organizations in Lebanon titled ‘Enough is Enough’ (KAFA Society)
An initiative by women’s rights organizations in Lebanon titled ‘Enough is Enough’ (KAFA Society)
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Woman Killings Surge in Lebanon: 21 Wives Killed by Husbands in 2023

An initiative by women’s rights organizations in Lebanon titled ‘Enough is Enough’ (KAFA Society)
An initiative by women’s rights organizations in Lebanon titled ‘Enough is Enough’ (KAFA Society)

“After enduring a decade of suffering with her husband, my sister decided to leave him - and he killed her,” Umm Ali told Asharq Al-Awsat, encapsulating the tragic story of Lebanese national Amira Moughnieh, who was murdered by her husband in Australia last June.

“My sister got married at 19 and moved to Australia with her husband. For years, she faced various pressures, including being isolated at home. When she asked for a divorce, he refused, and even mediation failed,” Umm Ali added.

“Finally, when she decided to leave and live elsewhere with her kids, he became threatening and refused to support them. But we never imagined it would end in murder,” she explained.

After Moughnieh initiated divorce proceedings, her husband killed her upon receiving a court notification. Now, he’s in custody awaiting investigation, still denying his actions.

This story, however, is sadly not unique.

In 2023, 21 Lebanese women were killed by their husbands, with more cases reported this year.

This violence against women is exacerbated by societal reactions, often minimizing crimes committed by men while sensationalizing those by women.

Zoya Jreidini, director of anti-violence organization “KAFA”, attributed the rise in such crimes to economic and social instability, compounded by laws that favor male dominance in families.

She emphasized the need for greater awareness and attention to these crimes, which are now being discussed more openly in society and on social media.

Jreidini highlighted the troubling cases of suicide among women in Lebanon, often attributed solely to mental health issues.

However, she noted a positive shift in Lebanese society, with more women seeking help from organizations after experiencing abuse.

Jreidini pointed out a problem in the legal system, where cases of violence against women face delays. She insisted on the need for specialized family courts to deter such crimes.

Regarding legal representation, Jreidini explains that it varies depending on the victim’s family’s choice. Some opt to work with KAFA’s lawyers, while others prefer private attorneys, and some decide not to pursue further legal action.


Dead Horses, Scraps, Leaves: Gaza’s Hungry Get Desperate

A Palestinian girl carrying a plate of lentil soup provided by volunteers in Rafah. (AFP)
A Palestinian girl carrying a plate of lentil soup provided by volunteers in Rafah. (AFP)
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Dead Horses, Scraps, Leaves: Gaza’s Hungry Get Desperate

A Palestinian girl carrying a plate of lentil soup provided by volunteers in Rafah. (AFP)
A Palestinian girl carrying a plate of lentil soup provided by volunteers in Rafah. (AFP)

At the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Abu Gibril was so desperate for food to feed his family that he slaughtered two of his horses.

“We had no other choice but to slaughter the horses to feed the children. Hunger is killing us,” he said.

Jabalia was the biggest camp in the Palestinian territories before the war, which began after Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, leaving some 1,160 dead, based on Israeli figures.

Gibril, 60, fled there from nearby Beit Hanun when the conflict erupted. Home for him and his family is now a tent near what was a UN-run school.

Contaminated water, power cuts and overcrowding were already a problem in the densely populated camp, which was set up in 1948 and covers just 1.4 square kilometers.

Poverty, from high unemployment, was also an issue among its more than 100,000 people.

Now food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get in to the area because of the bombing — and the frenzied looting of the few trucks that try to get through.

The World Food Program this week said its teams reported “unprecedented levels of desperation” while the UN warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.

On Friday, the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said a two-month-old baby died of malnutrition in hospital in Gaza City, 7 km away from Jabalia.

In the camp, bedraggled children wait expectantly, holding plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food is available.

With supplies dwindling, costs are rising. A kilo of rice, for example, has shot up from seven shekels ($1.90) to 55 shekels, complains one man.

“We the grown-ups can still make it but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?” he said angrily.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that the alarming lack of food, surging malnutrition and disease could lead to an “explosion” in child deaths in Gaza.

One in six children aged under two in Gaza was acutely malnourished, it estimated on Feb. 19.

Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves to try to stave off the growing hunger pangs.

“There is no food, no wheat, no drinking water,” said one woman.

“We have started begging neighbors for money. We don’t have one shekel at home. We knock on doors and no one is giving us money.”

Tempers are rising in Jabalia about the lack of food and the consequences. On Friday, an impromptu protest was held involving dozens of people.

One child held up a sign reading: “We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger.”

Another held aloft a placard warning “Famine eats away at our flesh,” while protesters chanted “No to starvation. No to genocide. No to blockade.”

Over the weeks and months, Israel’s relentless bombardment has left Gaza largely a place of shattered concrete and lives.

Gibril kept the radical decision to slaughter his horses to himself, boiling the meat with rice, and giving it to his unwitting family and neighbors.

Despite the necessity, he said he was still wary of their reaction. “No one knows they were in fact eating a horse.”


Economy Another Victim of War in Impoverished Sudan

Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
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Economy Another Victim of War in Impoverished Sudan

Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)
Destruction in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes (AP)

Before the Sudanese army and paramilitary fighters turned their guns on each other last year, Ahmed used to sell one of Sudan's main exports: gum arabic, a vital ingredient for global industry.

Now he's out of business, and his story encapsulates the broader economic collapse of Sudan during 10 months of war.

Since combat between two rival generals began on April 15, Ahmed has been at the fighters' mercy.

"When the war began, I had a stock of gum arabic in a warehouse south of Khartoum that was intended for export," Ahmed told AFP, asking to use only his first name for fear of retaliation.

"To get it out I had to pay huge sums to the Rapid Support Forces," the paramilitaries commanded by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo who are at war with the Sudanese Armed Forces led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

"I had to pay multiple times in areas under their control, before my cargo got to areas controlled by the government," Ahmed said.

But the government -- loyal to the army -- "then demanded I pay taxes" on the product, an emulsifying agent used in everything from soft drinks to chewing gum.

When the trucks finally made it to Port Sudan for export on the Red Sea, "authorities again asked for new taxes, and I had to pay storage fees six times more than before the war", Ahmed said.

His gum arabic -- like many other Sudanese products -- never made it onto a ship. According to Sudan's port authorities, international trade fell 23 percent last year.

The finance ministry, which didn't set a national budget for 2023 or 2024 and has foregone quarterly reports, recently raised the exchange rate for imports and exports from 650 Sudanese pounds to 950.

But that is still far below the currency's real value.

With most banks out of service, the only exchange rate that matters to ordinary Sudanese is on the black market, where the dollar currently goes for around 1,200 Sudanese pounds.

"It's a sign of the destruction of the Sudanese economy," former Sudanese Chamber of Commerce head al-Sadiq Jalal told AFP.

To make matters worse, a communications blackout since early February has hampered online transactions -- which Sudanese relied on to survive.

The war has led industries to cease production. Others were destroyed. Businesses and food stocks have been looted.

The World Bank in September said "widespread destruction of Sudan's economic foundations has set the country's development back by several decades".

The International Monetary Fund has predicted that even after the fighting ends, "years of reconstruction" await the northeast African country.

Sudan suffered under a crippled economy for decades and was already one of the world's poorest countries before the war.

Under the regime of strongman Omar al-Bashir, international sanctions throttled development, corruption was rampant, and South Sudan split in 2011 with most of the country's oil production.

Bashir's ouster by the military in 2019 following mass protests led to a fragile transition to civilian rule accompanied by signs of economic renewal and international acceptance.

A 2021 coup by Burhan and Daglo, before they turned on each other, began a new economic collapse when the World Bank and the United States suspended vital international aid.

More than six million of Sudan's 48 million people have been internally displaced by the war, and more than half the population needs humanitarian aid to survive, according to the United Nations.

Thousands of people have been killed, including between 10,000 and 15,000 in a single city in the western Darfur region, according to UN experts.

Now the indirect death toll is also rising.

Aid agencies have long warned of impending famine, and the UN's World Food Program is "already receiving reports of people dying of starvation", the agency's Sudan director Eddie Rowe said in early February.

The Sudanese state "is completely absent from the scene" in all sectors, economist Haitham Fathy told AFP.

Chief among those is agriculture, which could have helped stave off hunger.

Before the war, agriculture generated 35-40 percent of Sudan's gross domestic product, according to the World Bank, and employed 70-80 percent of the workforce in rural areas, the International Fund for Agricultural Development said.

But the war has left more than 60 percent of the nation's agricultural land out of commission, according to Sudanese research organization Fikra for Studies and Development.

In the wheat-growing state of al-Jazira, where RSF fighters took over swathes of farmland south of Khartoum, farmers have been unable to tend their crops. They saw their livelihoods wither away.

From the wheat fields to Ahmed's gum arabic warehouse, the story is the same.

His savings spent, his stock gone and his future bleak, Ahmed -- like much of Sudan's business class -- has closed up shop.


In Third Year of War, Why Ukraine’s Fate Hinges on West

People stand at the memorial site for those killed during the war, near Maidan Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
People stand at the memorial site for those killed during the war, near Maidan Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
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In Third Year of War, Why Ukraine’s Fate Hinges on West

People stand at the memorial site for those killed during the war, near Maidan Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)
People stand at the memorial site for those killed during the war, near Maidan Square in central Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024. (AP)

As the war in Ukraine enters its third year, the conflict will be determined not just on the battlefield but also in Western capitals and other places far from the front lines.

With Ukrainian forces on the back foot, short of ammunition and forced to retreat in some areas, Kyiv's ability to repel Russia's invasion depends heavily on Western military, financial and political backing.

Here are some of the factors that may influence Western support for Ukraine in the year ahead:

US aid package in Congress

A bill stuck in the US Congress that includes some $60 billion in aid for Ukraine - much of it military - is vital for Kyiv's forces, Western and Ukrainian officials say.

"Every week we wait means that there will be more people killed on the frontline in Ukraine," NATO boss Jens Stoltenberg told a major security conference in Munich last weekend.

The US Senate passed the bill, which also includes aid for Israel and Taiwan, on Feb. 13. But it faces strong resistance from Republicans close to ex-President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives. House Speaker Mike Johnson has resisted pressure from the White House to call a vote on the bill.

European officials said they were somewhat more positive about the legislation's prospects after discussions with US lawmakers at the Munich conference but expected it would still take some time before the measure passes, if it does at all.

Ammunition supply

Much of the war has descended into grinding artillery battles, with both sides firing thousands of shells every day.

Ukraine could fire more shells than Russia for much of 2023 but the tables have turned as Moscow has ramped up production and imported rounds from North Korea and Iran, analysts say.

Michael Kofman, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think-tank, estimates Russian artillery is firing at five times the rate of Ukraine's.

A vital factor for Kyiv this year will be "whether Western partners can catch up to Russian artillery production and supply Ukraine with the shells and barrels they need", said Professor Justin Bronk, a researcher at British defense think tank RUSI.

Weapons decisions

Ukrainian leaders have also been pushing their Western counterparts to deliver new weapons systems, above all longer-range missiles to strike further behind Russian lines, such as US ATACMS and Germany's Taurus.

"We can't increase the production of ammunition overnight. But we can take decisions immediately to deliver to the Ukrainians weapons they really need," said former NATO boss Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a close ally of the Ukrainian government.

The US has supplied only older, medium-range ATACMS but the Biden administration is now working towards delivering newer longer-range weaponry. However, any such move may depend on approval of the aid bill currently held up by the House.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has resisted entreaties from Kyiv and some NATO allies to supply the highly advanced Taurus system. German officials have cited concerns that the missiles could escalate the war inside Russian territory and could be seen as more direct German involvement in the conflict.

War in the Middle East

The war in Gaza, triggered by the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, means Western leaders have had less time and political energy to devote to Ukraine. If it deteriorates further or escalates into a regional war, that will be even more the case.

Also, leaders in the Global South have accused the West of double standards over its attitudes to the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, making it more difficult for Kyiv and its allies to rally support for a summit in support of Ukraine's peace blueprint.

"Russia is definitely benefiting from those developments," said Vsevolod Chentsov, Ukraine's ambassador to the European Union.

"We work with the Global South, we try to engage them as much as possible in our efforts ... We keep working on that, it's a difficult issue."

NATO summit, Washington July 9-11

The summit may not directly affect the battlefield but could affect the political mood and morale in Ukraine.

Ukraine and some of its supporters continue to push NATO to invite Kyiv to join the military alliance - whose members pledge to treat an attack on one of them as an attack on all - or at least bring the country closer to membership.

But the United States, NATO's predominant power, and Germany are among those resisting such a step, arguing it could draw the alliance closer to a direct conflict with Russia, diplomats say.

Rasmussen, the former NATO boss, is working with the Ukrainian government and a group of international figures on a proposal that would set out a clear path to membership, with the aim of influencing the outcome of the Washington summit.

US presidential election

Trump was a fierce critic of NATO as president, repeatedly threatening to pull out of the alliance. He cut defense funding to NATO and frequently said that the United States was paying more than its fair share.

On Russia's war in Ukraine, Trump has called for de-escalation and complained about the billions spent so far, although he has put forward few tangible policy proposals.

President Joe Biden, 81, made the controversial decision to run for a second term in large part because he was convinced he would face Trump, 77, and because he thinks he is the Democrat who can beat him in the November election.

But public opinion polls show him tied with Trump and Americans continue to worry about high prices and question his age, his economic plans and his policies on the border and in the Middle East.

Trump has held a commanding lead against his rivals for the Republican nomination despite his mounting legal troubles. However, a Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this month showed that one in four self-identified Republicans and about half of independents responding said they would not vote for Trump if he was convicted of a felony crime by a jury.


What Are the Security Deals Ukraine Is Discussing with Allies?

Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen (S), the Prime Minister's husband Bo Tengberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend a memorial ceremony at the Field of Mars at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, Friday 23 February 2024. (Ritzau Scanpix/via Reuters)
Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen (S), the Prime Minister's husband Bo Tengberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend a memorial ceremony at the Field of Mars at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, Friday 23 February 2024. (Ritzau Scanpix/via Reuters)
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What Are the Security Deals Ukraine Is Discussing with Allies?

Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen (S), the Prime Minister's husband Bo Tengberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend a memorial ceremony at the Field of Mars at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, Friday 23 February 2024. (Ritzau Scanpix/via Reuters)
Prime Minister of Denmark Mette Frederiksen (S), the Prime Minister's husband Bo Tengberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend a memorial ceremony at the Field of Mars at Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv, Friday 23 February 2024. (Ritzau Scanpix/via Reuters)

Denmark became the latest NATO member to sign a 10-year agreement on security cooperation with Ukraine on Friday, the eve of the second anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion.

Italy and the Netherlands said they were planning to sign soon.

WHAT ARE THESE SECURITY ARRANGEMENTS?

The Group of Seven wealthy nations signed a joint declaration at the NATO summit in Vilnius in July last year committing to establish "long-term security commitments and arrangements" with Ukraine that would be negotiated bilaterally.

The deals would promise continued provision of military and security aid, support to develop Ukraine's defense industrial base, training Ukrainian soldiers, intelligence-sharing and cooperation, and support for cyber defense.

The sides would also immediately hold consultations with Kyiv to determine "appropriate next steps" in the event of a "future Russian armed attack".

More than 30 countries have since signed the declaration.

WOULD THIS BE A SUBSTITUTE FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP?

Kyiv says the arrangements should contain important and concrete security commitments, but that the agreements would in no way to replace its strategic goal of joining NATO. The Western alliance regards any attack launched on one of its 31 members as an attack on all under its Article Five clause.

"There has been speculation that by concluding enough of these agreements, we do not need membership. False. We need NATO membership," said Ihor Zhovkva, the Ukrainian president's foreign affairs adviser.

WHO HAS SIGNED DEALS SO FAR?

Germany and France signed agreements on security commitments with Ukraine when President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited Berlin and Paris earlier this month.

Britain in January became the first country to sign one of the security agreements with Ukraine for a term of 10 years, by which time Kyiv hopes to be inside NATO.

London said the deal formalized a range of support that it "has been and will continue to provide for Ukraine's security, including intelligence-sharing, cyber security, medical and military training, and defense industrial cooperation".

WHICH OTHER COUNTRIES ARE SET TO SIGN DEALS?

Ukraine has held at least two rounds of talks on the agreements with all the G7 countries, Zhovkva said.

More than 10 countries are in the active stage of talks or potentially starting soon, he added. The additional countries include Romania, Poland and the Netherlands.

The Netherlands said on Friday it would soon sign a 10-year security deal with Ukraine for continued military support, help in reconstruction and the improvement of its cyberdefenses.

"Without Western support, Ukraine as we know it will cease to exist," Foreign Minister Hanke Bruins Slot said. "The Russian threat will move closer, putting pressure on the stability and safety of our continent."

WHAT DOES UKRAINE WANT FROM THE DEALS?

Ukraine's Zhovkva singled out as "very important" the provision in the British deal under which consultations could be held within 24 hours to provide swift and sustained aid.

This, he said, went beyond the "infamous" 1994 Budapest Memorandum under which Ukraine was provided with security "assurances" by Britain, Russia and the United States in return for relinquishing nuclear weapons from its territory.

"We do not want to repeat the infamous experience of the Budapest declaration, which remained just a declaration," he said.

Zhovkva said there was no need for Ukraine to rush to agree deals. "I don't need 10 or 15 agreements concluded within one week. Rather, I would have this same 10 or 15 agreements deeply thought over, well-negotiated and with concrete signs of long-term and varied support for Ukraine."


Tunisia Farmer Turns to Old Wheat Varieties as Climate Change Bites

Tunisian wheat farmer Hasan Chetoui, who is sowing old wheat varieties that he hopes will produce crops throughout the year, sifts wheat at his farm in Manouba, Tunisia February 15, 2024. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/ File photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Tunisian wheat farmer Hasan Chetoui, who is sowing old wheat varieties that he hopes will produce crops throughout the year, sifts wheat at his farm in Manouba, Tunisia February 15, 2024. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/ File photo Purchase Licensing Rights
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Tunisia Farmer Turns to Old Wheat Varieties as Climate Change Bites

Tunisian wheat farmer Hasan Chetoui, who is sowing old wheat varieties that he hopes will produce crops throughout the year, sifts wheat at his farm in Manouba, Tunisia February 15, 2024. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/ File photo Purchase Licensing Rights
Tunisian wheat farmer Hasan Chetoui, who is sowing old wheat varieties that he hopes will produce crops throughout the year, sifts wheat at his farm in Manouba, Tunisia February 15, 2024. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/ File photo Purchase Licensing Rights

Tunisian wheat farmer Hasan Chetoui is seeking inspiration from the deep past as he tries to adapt to drought caused by climate change, sowing old wheat varieties that he hopes will produce crops throughout the year.

Chetoui does not believe his experiment with alternative types of wheat is likely to work everywhere, but he thinks it may help him cope after years of scant rains and heatwaves that destroyed much of his crop last year.

"We obtain an old Tunisian type of wheat, cultivated in the field, capable of producing multiple times a season, providing us with strategic solutions," he said.

Chetoui's farm is located in the Borj Al-Amri area of northern Tunisia, a region that was a bread basket for Mediterranean civilizations stretching back to ancient Rome and Carthage, though Tunisia is now a net wheat importer.

Years of drought affecting much of North Africa have emptied Tunisian reservoirs and dried up crops, while a succession of scorching summers have seared some of those that remain.

Chetoui hopes that by avoiding reliance on a single summer harvest, he may be able to produce at least some wheat even in bad years. He and agricultural union officials said other farmers have resorted to traditional seeds, but had only anecdotal accounts of their experience.

Agricultural experts in Tunisia are sceptical that old wheat varieties will succeed in protecting farmers from the impact of climate change, and point out that modern wheats produce far higher yields.

However, they also say older varieties may work better in certain areas or under specific conditions, and that Chetoui's experiments are worth under taking.

"We cannot determine whether they will succeed or fail because we cannot assess the effectiveness until it is implemented on a large scale," said Mohamed Rajaibia of the Tunisian Agricultural Union.

Chetoui began working on farms at the age of 12. Now 64, he still seeks seeds for old grain varieties including corn and barley as well as wheat, for use in his fields.

For years he has been sowing harvests with seeds that he says were used in his family for generations and were handed down to him by his father.

He has also used some old varieties from the Tunisian seed gene bank, he said, and has collected seeds from other farmers who said they were family inheritances including some that are not registered with the gene bank.

"We must rely on our original Tunisian seeds because, through experience and knowledge, these seeds hold the solution and can contribute to many strategic solutions in addressing food crises," he said, AFP reported.

Not all experts disagree with this notion.

"Original seeds are rooted in nature, rooted in the quality of the soil and rooted according to the location, and they have the ability to adapt," said Hussein al-Rhaili, an agriculture policy expert in Tunisia.


Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu tour an Iranian missile and drone display on September 20. (IRNA)
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu tour an Iranian missile and drone display on September 20. (IRNA)
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Iran Sends Russia Hundreds of Ballistic Missiles, Sources Say

Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu tour an Iranian missile and drone display on September 20. (IRNA)
Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of Aerospace Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu tour an Iranian missile and drone display on September 20. (IRNA)

Iran has provided Russia with a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, six sources told Reuters, deepening the military cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries.

Iran's provision of around 400 missiles includes many from the Fateh-110 family of short-range ballistic weapons, such as the Zolfaghar, three Iranian sources said. This road-mobile missile is capable of striking targets at a distance of between 300 and 700 km (186 and 435 miles), experts say.

Iran's defense ministry and the Revolutionary Guards - an elite force that oversees Iran's ballistic missile program - declined to comment. Russia's defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The shipments began in early January after a deal was finalized in meetings late last year between Iranian and Russian military and security officials that took place in Tehran and Moscow, one of the Iranian sources said.

An Iranian military official - who, like the other sources, asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information - said there had been at least four shipments of missiles and there would be more in the coming weeks. He declined to provide further details.

Another senior Iranian official said some of the missiles were sent to Russia by ship via the Caspian Sea, while others were transported by plane.

"There will be more shipments," the second Iranian official said. "There is no reason to hide it. We are allowed to export weapons to any country that we wish to."

UN Security Council restrictions on Iran's export of some missiles, drones and other technologies expired in October. However, the United States and European Union retained sanctions on Iran's ballistic missile program amid concerns over exports of weapons to its proxies in the Middle East and to Russia.

A fourth source, familiar with the matter, confirmed that Russia had received a large number of missiles from Iran recently, without providing further details.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said in early January the United States was concerned that Russia was close to acquiring short-range ballistic weapons from Iran, in addition to missiles already sourced from North Korea.

A US official told Reuters that Washington had seen evidence of talks actively advancing but no indication yet of deliveries having taken place.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the missile deliveries.

Ukraine's top prosecutor said on Friday the ballistic missiles supplied by North Korea to Russia had proven unreliable on the battlefield, with only two of 24 hitting their targets. Moscow and Pyongyang have both denied that North Korea has provided Russia with munitions used in Ukraine.

By contrast, Jeffrey Lewis, an expert with the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, said the Fateh-110 family of missiles and the Zolfaghar were precision weapons.

"They are used to point at things that are high value and need precise damage," said Lewis, adding that 400 munitions could inflict considerable harm if used in Ukraine. He noted, however, that Russian bombardments were already "pretty brutal".

US AID DELAY WEAKENS UKRAINE'S DEFENSES

A Ukrainian military source told Reuters that Kyiv had not registered any use of Iranian ballistic missiles by Russian forces in the conflict. The Ukrainian defense ministry did not immediately reply to Reuters' request for comment.

Following the publication of this story, a spokesperson for Ukraine's Air Force told national television that it had no official information on Russia obtaining such missiles. He said that ballistic missiles would pose a serious threat to Ukraine.

Former Ukrainian defense minister Andriy Zagorodnyuk said that Russia wanted to supplement its missile arsenal at a time when delays in approving a major package of US military aid in Congress has left Ukraine short of ammunition and other material.

"The lack of US support means shortages of ground-based air defense in Ukraine. So they want to accumulate a mass of rockets and break through Ukrainian air defense," said Zagorodnyuk, who chairs the Kyiv-based Center for Defense Strategies, a security think tank, and advises the government.

Kyiv has repeatedly asked Tehran to stop supplying Shahed drones to Russia, which have become a staple of Moscow's long-range assaults on Ukrainian cities and infrastructure, alongside an array of missiles.

Ukraine's air force said in December that Russia had launched 3,700 Shahed drones during the war, which can fly hundreds of kilometers and explode on impact. Ukrainians call them "mopeds" because of the distinctive sound of their engines; air defenses down dozens of them each week.

Iran initially denied supplying drones to Russia but months later said it had provided a small number before Moscow launched the war on Ukraine in 2022.

"Those who accuse Iran of providing weapons to one of the sides in the Ukraine war are doing so for political purposes," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said on Monday, when asked about Tehran's delivery of drones to Russia. "We have not given any drones to take part in that war."

Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a Philadelphia-based think tank, said a supply of Fateh-100 and Zolfaghar missiles from Iran would hand Russia an even greater advantage on the battlefield.

"They could be used to strike military targets at operational depths, and ballistic missiles are more difficult for Ukrainian air defenses to intercept," Lee said.

DEEPENING TIES WITH MOSCOW

Iran's hardline clerical rulers have steadily sought to deepen ties with Russia and China, betting that would help Tehran to resist US sanctions and to end its political isolation.

Defense cooperation between Iran and Russia has intensified since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu met the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Force, Amirali Hajizadeh, in Tehran in September, when Iran's drones, missiles and air defense systems were displayed for him, Iranian state media reported.

And last month, Russia's foreign ministry said it expected President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi to sign a broad new cooperation treaty soon, following talks in Moscow in December.

"This military partnership with Russia has shown the world Iran's defense capabilities," said the military official. "It does not mean we are taking sides with Russia in the Ukraine conflict."

The stakes are high for Iran's clerical rulers amid the war between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas that erupted after Oct. 7. They also face growing dissent at home over economic woes and social restrictions.

While Tehran tries to avoid a direct confrontation with Israel that could draw in the United States, its Axis of Resistance allies - including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen - have attacked Israeli and US targets.

A Western diplomat briefed on the matter confirmed the delivery of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia in the recent weeks, without providing more details.

He said Western nations were concerned that Russia's reciprocal transfer of weapons to Iran could strengthen its position in any possible conflict with the United States and Israel.

Iran said in November it had finalized arrangements for Russia to provide it with Su-35 fighter jets, Mi-28 attack helicopters and Yak-130 pilot training aircraft.

Analyst Gregory Brew at Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Russia is an ally of convenience for Iran.

"The relationship is transactional: in exchange for drones, Iran expects more security cooperation and advanced weaponry, particularly modern aircraft," he said.


Rampant Water Pollution Threatens Iraq’s Shrinking Rivers 

A boat cruises along the Tigris river in the center of Baghdad on December 24, 2023. (AFP)
A boat cruises along the Tigris river in the center of Baghdad on December 24, 2023. (AFP)
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Rampant Water Pollution Threatens Iraq’s Shrinking Rivers 

A boat cruises along the Tigris river in the center of Baghdad on December 24, 2023. (AFP)
A boat cruises along the Tigris river in the center of Baghdad on December 24, 2023. (AFP)

Stricken by drought and depleted by upstream dams, Iraq's once mighty rivers the Tigris and Euphrates are suffocating under pollutants from sewage to medical waste.

In a country where half the population lacks access to safe drinking water, according to UN figures, state institutions are to blame for a man-made disaster which is turning rivers into waste dumps.

"What is strange about water pollution in Iraq is that most government institutions are responsible for it," Khaled Shamal, the ministry of water resources spokesman, told AFP.

He warned that Iraq's sewage network dumps "large quantities" of wastewater into the two major waterways, after superficial treatment or none at all.

"Most hospitals near a river dump their medical waste and sewage straight into it," Shamal added. "It is dangerous and catastrophic."

Dirty and unsafe water is a prime health threat in Iraq, where decades of conflict, mismanagement and corruption have taken a toll on infrastructure, including the water system.

Petrochemical factories, power plants and agricultural drainage that carries fertilizers and other toxins further pollute Iraq's water.

Overloaded with toxins

In the country known as "the land of two rivers", water pollution has become so severe that it is now visible to the naked eye.

In Baghdad's eastern suburbs, AFP filmed a pipe discharging green-colored water with a foul odor into the Diyala river.

Ali Ayoub, a water specialist from the UN children's agency UNICEF, warned that Baghdad's two main water treatment plants are overloaded with twice their intended capacity.

The treatment facilities were built for a population of three to four million, but at least nine million live in Baghdad today.

"Inadequate infrastructure, limited regulations and poor public awareness are the main factors contributing to the significant deterioration of water quality in Iraq", Ayoub said.

"Two-thirds of industrial and household wastewater are discharged untreated into the rivers," amounting to six million cubic meters a day.

But Iraq's government is taking steps to improve water quality, he said.

The government has said it no longer approves projects that could be a source of pollution unless they provide water treatment.

It has developed a three-year plan to "strengthen the water and sanitation system" to provide "safe drinking water, especially to the most vulnerable communities", Ayoub said.

In partnership with UNICEF, Baghdad's Medical City -- a complex of hospitals with 3,000 beds, on the banks of the Tigris -- has recently inaugurated a water treatment plant, Akil Salman, the complex's projects manager, told AFP.

The facility has started operating with three units, each capable of treating 200 cubic meters of waste a day. Four additional units with a capacity of 400 cubic meters each are expected to be completed "within two months".

Instead of directing its wastewater to Baghdad's overburdened treatment facilities, the Medical City can use the treated water for the hospitals' gardens and to fill the firefighters' tanks, Salman said.

'We have to buy water'

Iraq, which endures blistering summer heat and regular sandstorms, is one of the five countries most impacted by some effects of climate change, says the United Nations.

The country of 43 million people has suffered four consecutive years of withering drought, and water scarcity has become extreme.

It is worsened, according to authorities, by upstream dams built by Iraq's neighbors Iran and Türkiye, lowering water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates, which have irrigated Iraq for millennia.

The water flow to Iraq "has declined significantly, leading to an increase in the concentration of pollutants in the water", environment ministry spokesperson Amir Ali Hassoun said.

Previously, authorities routinely opened valves to increase the river flow and dilute pollutants, but this strategy has become impossible due to a shortage of water which has forced them to look for other options.

In addition to "raising awareness" among the population, Iraqi officials say they are closely monitoring wastewater management.

"Hospitals are required to install wastewater treatment facilities," Hassoun said.

"We hope that 2024 will be the year we eliminate all violations," referring to hospitals dumping untreated sewage and medical waste into the rivers.

In Iraq's south, water pollution is much worse.

"Wastewater from other areas is discharged into the river, polluting the water that reaches us," said 65-year-old Hassan Zouri from the southern province of Dhi Qar.

"The water carries diseases. We cannot drink it or use it at all," added the father of eight.

"We used to rely on the river for drinking, washing, and irrigation, but now we have to buy water."


Syrians Learn Persian, Russian amid Foreign Hegemony over Their Country

Students are seen at the Faculty of Sharia at Damascus University. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)
Students are seen at the Faculty of Sharia at Damascus University. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)
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Syrians Learn Persian, Russian amid Foreign Hegemony over Their Country

Students are seen at the Faculty of Sharia at Damascus University. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)
Students are seen at the Faculty of Sharia at Damascus University. (Asharq Al-Awsat file photo)

“Occupying the language is the shortest way to occupy the mind and consequently, future decision-making. It destroys and erases the identity of societies,” said Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, during a speech to students at a university in Beijing in late summer 2023.

The emphasis she placed on remaining attached to the mother tongue stands in contrast to how Russia has imposed the Russian language in Syrian public schools. The language was introduced nine years ago as Moscow expanded its influence in Syria.

Russian is facing stiff competition from Persian as Iran is the other foreign power vying for influence in the war-torn country. Russia and Iran want to control education in areas held by the regime to create a suitable environment for them to thrive and support their military influence at the expense of teaching the native language, Arabic.

Russian dominates

Even though Tehran was first to intervene in Syria’s war, years before Russia arrived on the scene, Persian has taken a backseat to Russian in public education. Russia succeeded in imposing its language as a third option besides English and French. Russia has managed to make strides in this area in the nine years since its intervention.

The trial period for teaching Russian took off in 2015 and was applied to 400 students living in coastal regions. The experience was then adopted at 217 schools in 12 provinces held by the government. By the seventh year, over 35,000 students had learned Russian with 200 teachers being recruited, revealed Syrian government reports.

Public education

Iran tried to follow in Russia’s footsteps in imposing Persian in state curricula in line with an agreement signed between Tehran and Damascus on exchanging expertise and training in the education, technical and academic fields and in rebuilding schools.

In 2021, Tehran managed to impose Persian only in public schools that it had renovated and helped resume operation. The past five years have witnessed the opening of Persian education centers in universities in Damascus and Homs and the Syrian military academy. They join other centers affiliated with the Khomeini seminary and its various branches in Syria, the al-Mahdi husseiniya in Damascus, Sayyida Ruqayya College and others.

Tehran has also opened branches of several Iranian universities in Syria, such as the al-Mustafa university, Al-Farabi university and others. Iran focused its activities on the Deir Ezzor province, especially in the areas of influence it holds in the cities of Alboukamal and al-Mayadeen bordering Iraq. These areas are Iran’s main political, cultural and social strongholds.

Exploiting poverty

Since 2018 and soon after the expulsion of the ISIS extremist group from the region, Deir Ezzor, Alboukamal and al-Mayadeen witnessed the opening of several schools, daycares and cultural centers that teach Persian and the Iranian religious ideology. They follow the example of the Iranian cultural centers in Damascus, Latakia and coastal cities.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in May 2023 said Tehran succeeded in exploiting the deterioration of the education system due to the war and drop in the number of staff and teachers due to corruption and low salaries in Deir Ezzor to “infiltrate” the education sector.

It said Iranian cultural centers are witnessing an “alarming” surge given their great power in influencing youths. It noted how the war destroyed a large number of schools in Deir Ezzor, while others lack basic facilities, such as appropriate classrooms, libraries and science labs.

Attracting children and youths

Local sources in Deir Ezzor said Iran managed to exploit the poverty and living crisis in regions under its control in eastern Syria to attract children and youths. It has lured them through financial aid, monthly wages, meals, food baskets and recreational trips. It has also provided free cources in vocational training, such as first aid, accounting, electric appliance maintenance and others. It has also held courses on “youth empowerment.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said Iran boasts three schools in Alboukamal and one in al-Mayadeen for nine- to 15-year-olds. The schools include over 500 students. It also boasts Persian language learning centers in government-held areas in the Deir Ezzor and Raqqa countrysides.

Iran has hired Shiite Arab and Iranian teachers, including clerics, who speak Arabic. It also holds training courses to Syrian teachers on how to teach Persian, continued the sources. Russia has also sought to train Syrian teachers on how to teach Russian, dispatching them to Moscow where they are trained.

Iran is ultimately seeking to “form a local social environment that can fuel its need for people to join its militias” in Syria.

Food for education

Members of Arab tribes in Syria’s Deir Ezzor have expressed their concern over Iran’s infiltration of education and its exploitation of poverty to pursue this goal. Mohammed, from Muhasan in Deir Ezzor, said: “Some parents agree to enroll their children in Iranian schools in return for aid, not for the love of Iranian culture.” This opposition will not, however, prevent these institutions from brainwashing children and the youths in Iranian ideology and culture.

Other sources in Damascus said it was unlikely that Iran will succeed in spreading its culture in the eastern provinces given that the environment there is “historically hostile to the Persian culture” since the majority of the residents there are Sunni Arabs. The locals there will not provide a “secure and peaceful social environment to Iran,” especially with Russia competing with it in the education sector.

The sources revealed that Russia had offered at the beginning of the year three tons of aid to teachers in Deir Ezzor. It included stationery and books on teaching Russian that have benefitted 300 teachers.

Russian outpaces Persian

The sources said Iran’s attempts to infiltrate the education system in coastal regions have failed. They added that Tehran opened religious schools during the war, but they were all closed in 2017 after the Syrian Awqaf Ministry demanded that Syrian Sharia be included in official curricula and after parents complained of attempts to spread Shiism.

They noted that Russian is more popular in coastal regions where Russian forces are deployed and have mingled with the locals. The same applies in Aleppo, which is an industrial and business hub. Students who have learned Russian have an advantage and could have the opportunity to travel to Russia to pursue higher studies. Or they could remain in Syria and work at Russian ports, airports and industrial investments.

In the Damascus countryside and southern Sweida region, Russian forces are seen more as occupiers who have not integrated in everyday life even though they are preferred to the Iranians. The suspicions towards the Russians pale in comparison to the animosity towards the Iranians. But regardless, both Moscow and Tehran are applying what Asma al-Assad spoke of in Beijing about “occupying language” to erase societies and their identities.