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Can a Heart Surgeon Resuscitate Syrian Revolution? Here is what Jawad Abu Hatab has to say on War-torn Context!

Five months ago, Jawad Abu Hatab was elected prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government

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Dr. Jawad Abu Hatab, prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government. VOA

Some would describe it as mission impossible.

Trying to run a government is challenging enough, but when you are coming under round-the-clock airstrikes, seeing members of your Cabinet killed and having to shift your location frequently to escape death in a scorched-earth war zone where you command no fighters, the odds of success would seem to be heavily stacked against you.

That isn’t a view held by politically independent heart surgeon Jawad Abu Hatab. Five months ago, he was elected prime minister of the Syrian Interim Government, or SIG, by an overwhelming majority of members of a general assembly of the war-wracked country’s main exiled political opposition groups.

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Since his election, airstrikes have killed 10 members of Syria’s little-known “alternative government” — two of them ministers; but, the 54-year-old cardiologist from rural Damascus remains — outwardly anyway — undaunted. Hatab smiles when he explains how he and his wife, also a doctor, handled 26 births in a makeshift clinic one night as fighting raged around them.

A Syrian Army modified T-72 tank drives during Syrian forces' assault to capture the rebel-held village of Hawsh Nasri, which is located near the rebel-held town of Douma on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, Nov. 22, 2016. VOA
A Syrian Army modified T-72 tank drives during Syrian forces’ assault to capture the rebel-held village of Hawsh Nasri, which is located near the rebel-held town of Douma on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus, Nov. 22, 2016. VOA

“Twelve of them were by Cesarean Section,” he told VOA in an interview in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep. He had just come from northern Syria — a perilous journey in itself — for a 24-hour visit to Turkey to meet with non-governmental organizations.

Legitimate alternative?

The interim government has struggled to not only be relevant, but to be accepted as a legitimate alternative to the regime of Syrian President Bashar-al Assad. The interim government was formed in 2013 by an opposition umbrella alliance now known as the Syrian National Coalition.

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Rebel commanders, whether aligned to the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) or running hardline Islamist brigades, have paid neither it nor the Syrian National Coalition much heed. Local councils in rebel-controlled areas have gone their own way and without any grassroots organizational structure inside Syria, and starved of funds, the interim government has been little more than a talking shop of political exiles or a stage for factional squabbles.

In a poll last year conducted in Syria by the NGO the Day After Association, only 6.5 percent of respondents said the interim government represented their interests. That was a lower percentage than what the armed factions or even the Assad government received at 14.5 percent and 16.1 percent respectively. The Western- and Gulf-backed Syrian National Coalition received the support of 16.8 percent. A quarter of respondents said no one represented them.

Helping those in need

Hatab, the interim government’s third prime minister, wants to change that and is determined to make his alternative government relevant to the more than five million Syrians living in rebel-controlled areas. His focus is on practical steps, including having all ministers based inside Syria and working on establishing education and health care services. He and his ministers are based in Aleppo and Idlib provinces but often move their locations because of fighting or airstrikes.

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Injured boys react at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA
Injured boys react at a field hospital after airstrikes on the rebel held areas of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 18, 2016. VOA

He lists statistics, saying 28,000 children have been killed in the nearly-six-year-long conflict and 120,000 injured. Of the 1.5 million children in opposition-held areas, there are facilities left only to teach 700,000. He says 2,400 schools have been destroyed. Under Hatab’s plan, he needs 30,000 teachers, but only 8,000 are now teaching on salaries of $100 a month. He needs 5 million school books and the interim government is now busy recycling old textbooks and photocopying others for distribution.

Hatab and his ministers are busy negotiating with the European Union — he is asking Brussels for $88 million for various projects. He wants to rotate doctors and medical staff in and out of Syria and says the clinics left need more drugs and equipment.

Hatab says trying to exert influence over the armed factions at this stage as his predecessors attempted is a waste of time and will merely get the SIG bogged down in fruitless negotiations. “We will try to negotiate with all the militias after we have established services for the civilians,” he says, arguing then he will have more leverage, if he has popular support.

“For years the fighters have referred to the interim government as the ‘hotel government,’ saying that all the opposition politicians just live comfortably in hotels in Turkey. With me they can’t do that — I am inside Syria,” he says. The heart surgeon has been from the very start of the conflict. Hatab estimates he has carried out more than 5,000 operations in the past five years as he has moved around the country to where the need is most.

A damaged operation room is pictured after an airstrike on the rebel-held town of Atareb, in the countryside west of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 15, 2016. VOA
A damaged operation room is pictured after an airstrike on the rebel-held town of Atareb, in the countryside west of Aleppo, Syria, Nov. 15, 2016. VOA

Hatab acknowledges not having command of the armed factions does pose challenges but says the militias are giving him the political space to get on with what he wants to do, including Ahrar al-Sham, a hardline Islamist militia that’s been in alliance with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the al-Qaida-linked group once known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The latter, he says, is unable to confront him currently because that will bring them into confrontation with other militias that are supportive of what the SIG under his leadership is trying to do — namely, benefit civilians in ways that may improve their lives even in the midst of a war.

“Others, too, working with more than 400 local councils in Syria’s opposition areas also report that militias have become easier to work with and that many armed factions are backing off insisting that they have control over civilian as well as military affairs.”

More resources needed

For Hatab’s approach to work — for him to be able to bring more political coherence to an uprising that’s been marked by disunity and factional and ideological disputes and was quickly dominated by militias and the emergence of toxic jihadist groups — he will need more resources from Western powers and a willingness to back a revolution that is in its darkest and possibly final days.

The question is, has he come too late?

“He has good ideas,” says a Western diplomat. “But he has no traction and we are probably now in the end game,” added the diplomat, who asked not to be identified in this article. Much will depend on President-elect Donald Trump. Shortly after his election earlier this month, Trump told The Wall Street Journalthat, once in office, he would consider cutting off funding for the Syrian rebels and that the priority in Syria should be to defeat the Islamic State terror group rather than oust Assad.

“I think Trump doesn’t know a lot about what is going on in Syria,” says Hatab. “Once he’s in office and understands what’s happening here, that Russian and Assad warplanes have bombed more than 200 hospitals, once he has accurate information, I hope he will change his mind.”

What does Hatab want from a Trump presidency? “At the very least, to stop the airstrikes on us and impose a no-fly zone,” he says. Whether he will get to make a face-to-face plea to Trump or top level administration officials remains unclear. Hatab hopes to be in the United States by November 29 for a private donor conference but so far, has received no reply to a visa application he filed more than two weeks ago. (VOA)

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New York terror attack: 8 dead, suspect in custody (Third Lead)

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New York, 1st November’2017: At least eight persons have been killed and 12 seriously injured in New York after a driver of a truck mowed down people on a cycle path in Lower Manhattan in US.

The attack happened on Tuesday, when the city was celebrating Halloween, one of the most festive days in the New York calendar.

The pavements were crowded with kids in costumes and there were still children trick-or-treating just yards away, the BBC reported.

The spot is also just yards away from Ground Zero, a site which reminds all New Yorkers of the 9/11 attack in 2001. It did not take police long to confirm that the city had once again been the target of terror.

Five of these victims were Argentine nationals, Efe news quoted a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Buenos Aires as saying.

The 29-year-old man who emerged from the white pick-up truck was shot by a police officer and arrested.

The media named him as Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant who came to the US in 2010 and settled in Florida, a CNN report said.

A note was found in the truck that referred to the Islamic State (IS), a law enforcement source told CBS News.

Around 3.05 p.m., Saipov drove a truck onto the West Side Highway bike path.

The truck entered near Houston Street. It was a rental from Home Depot, the home improvement chain said.

The driver continued down the path, hitting bicyclists and pedestrians.

Further down the path, the truck collided with a school bus at Chambers Street.

After the collision, the driver exited the truck with a pellet gun and a paintball gun. Witnesses said the suspect yelled “Allahu Akbar”, law enforcement sources told CNN.

A note found in the truck claimed the attack was carried out in the name of IS, a senior law enforcement official confirmed to CNN. The note was in English.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said it was a “cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians”.

de Blasio added: “We know that this action was intended to break our spirit. But we also know that New Yorkers are strong, New Yorkers are resilient and our spirit will never be moved by an act of violence and an act meant to intimidate us.”

US President Donald Trump tweeted: “My thoughts, condolences and prayers to the victims and families of the New York City terrorist attack. God and your country are with you!”

Former US President Barack Obama tweeted: “Michelle and I are thinking of the victims of today’s attack in NYC and everyone who keeps us safe. New Yorkers are as tough as they come.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday condemned the attack in a tweet: “Strongly condemn the terror attack in New York City. My thoughts are with the families of the deceased and prayers with those injured.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “appalled by the cowardly attack”. “My thoughts are with all affected,” she said.

“Together we will defeat the evil of terrorism” and the “UK stands with NYC”, Xinhua news agency quoted May as saying.

Five of the eight killed in the attack were identified as Argentine nationals, who were celebrating their 30th graduation anniversary at the Argentine Polytechnic School of Rosario, Efe news reported.

The statement released by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, identified the five as Hernan Diego Mendoza, Diego Enrique Angelini, Alejandro Damian Pagnucco, Ariel Erlij and Hernan Ferruchi.

The New York authorities said that it was a lone wolf attack. It was not part of a wider conspiracy or plot, BBC reported. But this is an active crime scene at the moment. They are still trying to piece together precisely what happened.(IANS)

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Islamic Terrorism Strikes New York Again: #NYCStrong But Who will Bell the Cat of Islamists?

The suspect was is a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Saipov, who entered the U.S. in 2010.

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Islamic Terrorism in NYC
Bicycles and debris lay on a bike path after a motorist drove onto the path near the World Trade Center memorial, striking and killing several people, Oct. 31, 2017, in New York. VOA

At least eight people were killed Tuesday and more than a dozen others were injured when a man drove a rented truck onto a busy bike path in New York City.

“Based on information we have at this moment, this was an act of terror, and a particularly cowardly act of terror aimed at innocent civilians,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called it a “lone wolf” attack, saying there’s no evidence to suggest it was part of a wider plot. The incident took place near the World Trade Center memorial in lower Manhattan.

Islamic Terrorism hits New York City again
A Home Depot truck which struck down multiple people on a bike path, killing several and injuring numerous others is seen as New York City first responders are at the crime scene in lower Manhattan in New York, NY, Oct. 31, 2017.VOA

New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said around 3:05 p.m., a man driving a rented Home Depot pickup truck entered the bike path, striking riders and pedestrians. The truck also struck a school bus, injuring two adults and two children.

The man then “exited the vehicle brandishing two handguns,” O’Neill said.

A paintball gun and a pellet gun were later found at the scene. He was shot in the abdomen by police and taken into custody.

He underwent surgery and is expected to survive.

Police said the driver shouted “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great” when he got out of the truck. But when O’Neill was asked whether the suspect shouted the phrase, he replied: “Yeah. He did make a statement when he exited the vehicle,” though he declined to elaborate.

The New York Police Department said they will increase the number of police throughout the city “out of an abundance of caution.”

Law enforcement officials, who refused to be identified, told media outlets the suspect was was a 29-year-old immigrant from Uzbekistan named Sayfullo Saipov, who entered the U.S. in 2010.

The Cato Institute told VOA only about 40,000 Uzbeks have entered the United States as migrants in the last 20 years, of those only 2 percent arrived as refugees.

David Bier, a policy analyst at the Washington-based think tank, said he believed this is the first time an Uzbek national has killed anyone on U.S. soil in a terrorist attack.

As of March 2017, three Uzbek nationals had been convicted of terrorism offenses. Ulugbek Kodirov who entered as student visa holder in 2008 and later radicalized on the Internet was convicted of threatening to kill President Obama in 2011. Fazliddin Kurbanov who entered as refugee in 2009 attempted to build bombs for an attack in 2013. Abdurasul Juraboev who immigrated after winning the green card lottery in 2011 was convicted of attempting to join ISIS in Syria in 2015.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the incident and will be continually updated as more details are known. “Our Thoughts and prayers are with all those affected,” she said.

Trump later tweeted, “We must not allow ISIS to return, or enter, our country after defeating them in the Middle East and elsewhere. Enough!” Followed by: “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program. Being politically correct is fine, but not for this!”

Department of Homeland Security said Acting Secretary Elaine Duke had been briefed and the department was “closely monitoring the situation.”

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry said “Argentine citizens died” in the attack, but it hasn’t said how many. (VOA)

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‘World’s Most Dangerous City’ Mogadishu in Somalia Holds Nighttime Soccer Match for the first time in 30 Years

Since the collapse of Somalia's central military government in 1991, Somalia sports have lacked an infrastructure, and athletes have been threatened by radical militants

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People gather for the soccer match between Hodan and Waberi districts, Mogadishu's first night game in 30 years, at Konis Stadium in Modadishu, Somalia (VOA)

Somalia, September 12, 2017 : For the first time in more than 30 years, thousands of residents and fans watched a nighttime soccer match in Mogadishu, often described as the world’s most dangerous capital.

Thousands of fans enjoyed the event at Konis Stadium, which the international soccer organization FIFA recently renovated.

Although the match, the final of a citywide club tournament for 16- to 18-year-olds, took place under tight security, it was historic for the city, which has dealt with terrorist suicide bombings and anarchy.

After the match, in which Waberi beat Hodan 3-0, Mogadishu Mayor Tabit Abdi Mohamed said the city’s residents deserve security — and more than a nighttime soccer game.

“Tonight is clearly a historic night that our people, the people of this city, waited for for more than 30 years. I reaffirm that Mogadishu is secure and people deserve more than this,” Mohamed said. “You deserve every kind of entertainment and sports that people in other world capital cities get.”

Hassan Wish, the chairman of Mogadishu’s sports activities who organized the tournament, said they decided to hold the nighttime game to send a message that Mogadishu is on the road to betterment.

Somalia
Football players from Hodan district (orange) and Waberi district (yellow) play in the first nighttime game in 30 years in Modadishu, Somalia (VOA)

“To publicize and make it a significant signal to the city’s returning security, the match was held at a nighttime. It was broadcast live on several local television channels,” Wish said. “The city is back on its way to good old days.”

Stadium now a military base

The Somali Football Federation said the Friday night game in Mogadishu took the country back to 1988, when night games were played at the city’s main Mogadishu stadium. The stadium has been and remains a military base for African Union peacekeepers, which drove al-Shabab militants out of the city in 2011.

“We hope this will be the first of similar peaceful matches in our city. It is not the first for Mogadishu, but for me, I have never seen in my life a soccer game being played at night in Mogadishu,” said Dahir Osman, a 20-year-old resident. “I was born in a lawless capital and grew up all these years without witnessing such a hope-reviving event.”

The seaside capital is working to lose the label of “the world’s most dangerous city.”

The name was attached to the city after the collapse of the former central government in 1992, when a famine struck Somalia and political jockeying began. That led to a civil war and deadly armed violence spearheaded by clan warlords who entered the city.

Last month, popular Somali referee Osman Jama Dirah was shot to death near his home in the city.

“The city is enjoying a reviving peace, except for the infrequent al-Shabab terrorist attacks. Now, playing a soccer game at night means the city is rearing its beautiful head again,” said Aden Osman, a 58-year-old resident who has never left Mogadishu.

Somalia
Somali security forces patrol during the soccer match between the Hodan and Waberi districts at Konis Stadium, renovated by FIFA, in Modadishu, Somalia, Sept. 8, 2017. It was the city’s first night game in 30 years. (VOA)

“I was born in this city and still live here. I have witnessed the best and the worst times of the city. But now, I see a reviving hope on the horizon,” Osman said.

Residents return

Thousands of Somalis from the diaspora have been returning to Mogadishu over the past three years, opening new, Western-style restaurants along the beach. The buildings that have been destroyed by the bullets and mortars are now being rebuilt.

Many U.N. workers, who had been operating from Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya, are moving back to the city, and some foreign embassies have reopened.

Since the collapse of Somalia’s central military government in 1991, Somalia sports have lacked an infrastructure, and athletes have been threatened by radical militants.

ALSO READ In Somalia, Rape is a Common Sight: Labeled as Worst Country for Women

In 2006, the Islamic Courts Union, which controlled large swaths of the country’s south and central regions, which include Mogadishu, prohibited women from playing sports, especially basketball, labeling it as a “satanic act” against the principles of Islam.

The group also put restrictions on men and banned watching international soccer matches from televisions and designated cinemas, saying the men should spend their time on their religious responsibilities. (VOA)