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Labeling the Jihadists as “reckless,” UN Official Jan Egeland lashes out at al-Qaida-aligned rebel Fighters for upending a fragile evacuation deal for civilians in Aleppo

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Buses drive through the Syrian government-controlled crossing of Ramoussa, on the southern outskirts of Aleppo, on Dec. 18, 2016, during an evacuation operation of rebel fighters and civilians from rebel-held areas. VOA

Dec 18, 2016: The United Nations humanitarian adviser for Syria, Jan Egeland, lashed out Sunday at al-Qaida-aligned rebel fighters for upending a fragile evacuation deal for civilians in Aleppo, labeling the jihadists as “reckless.”

Egeland warned their burning earlier in the day of buses that were meant to evacuate Shi’ites from two small towns neighboring Aleppo risked imperiling all relief efforts.

“Reckless armed men burning buses for Foua and Kefraya undermine evacuation and relief for all civilians in besieged areas in Syria,” he complained in a Twitter post.

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Buses headed to evacuate Foua and Kefraya, two Shi’ite towns that have been besieged for months by rebel fighters, were attacked and burned Sunday, Syrian state media and an independent monitoring group reported.

Buses headed to evacuate Foua and Kefraya, two Shi’ite towns that have been besieged for months by rebel fighters, were attacked and burned Sunday, Syrian state media and an independent monitoring group reported.

A wounded Syrian, who was evacuated from rebel-held neighborhoods in the embattled city of Aleppo, is carried upon his arrival in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Aassal region, west of the city, on Dec. 15, 2016.
A wounded Syrian, who was evacuated from rebel-held neighborhoods in the embattled city of Aleppo, is carried upon his arrival in the opposition-controlled Khan al-Aassal region, west of the city, on Dec. 15, 2016.

The vehicles were en route to transport more than 2,000 sick and injured people from the towns in northwest Idlib province, as part of a deal to resume the evacuation of eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 40,000 civilians and rebel fighters have remain trapped in a small enclave since Friday.

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Forces fighting for the government of President Bashar al-Assad are demanding that people be allowed to leave Foua and Kefraya in exchange for allowing rebels and civilians to leave eastern Aleppo. The London-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday that the rebel group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, was behind the bus burnings.

Map
Map of Syria

Reuters news agency reported that other buses and Syrian Red Crescent vehicles reached the entrance to the towns as hope mounted that the people-swap plan would be resumed. But by early evening there had been no resumption of evacuations, condemning those trapped in eastern Aleppo to yet another night of sub-freezing temperatures.

In the last remaining hospital in the enclave, doctors struggled Sunday to save the life of a pregnant mother and her baby by performing a cesarian section. “We tried to evacuate her but we couldn’t,” said a medic. “We were able to get the baby out but both are dead,” he added.

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Security Council

The U.N. Security Council was expected to vote Sunday on whether to send observers to the war-ravaged Syrian city to oversee evacuations and to help provide protection for the civilians who remain. But that vote was postponed until Monday.

Buses sent to evacuate residents from al-Foua and Kafraya arrive at a rebel-held checkpoint on the outskirts of the two Syrian villages under rebel siege, Dec. 18, 2016.
Buses sent to evacuate residents from al-Foua and Kafraya arrive at a rebel-held checkpoint on the outskirts of the two Syrian villages under rebel siege, Dec. 18, 2016.

The Security Council will consider a French proposal that expresses alarm at the worsening humanitarian crisis, and for the “tens of thousands of besieged Aleppo inhabitants” in need of evacuation. But Western diplomats told VOA they hold out little hope that the proposal will be approved by Russia, an ally of Syria’s president and a veto wielding member of the council. Moscow has vetoed six resolutions on Syria since the conflict began in 2011.

Evacuations were suspend from eastern Aleppo Friday by the government in Damascus as rebel groups, international organizations and the Assad regime traded accusations about who was to blame.

Russia said the operation to evacuate civilians and insurgents from eastern Aleppo was complete, but opposition leaders said thousands still want to flee and accused Iranian militias and Hezbollah of executing several men in the last convoy to leave the city.

In this still image taken from video from Syria TV vehicles wait to cross into east Aleppo at Ramouseh crossing point, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016. Dozens of vehicles were on standby at the Ramouseh crossing point near Aleppo on Sunday morning. VOA
In this still image taken from video from Syria TV vehicles wait to cross into east Aleppo at Ramouseh crossing point, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016. Dozens of vehicles were on standby at the Ramouseh crossing point near Aleppo on Sunday morning. VOA

According to Syrian opposition leaders, the convoy carrying 800 people, including rebel fighters, was stopped by Iranian commanded militiamen in the Jisr al-Haj district. They forcibly disarmed the insurgents in breach of an agreement and seized a team of civil defense workers overseeing the convoy evacuation, killing three of them.

“Militias forced everyone to get off the buses, confiscated all individual weapons, forced men to get undressed to their underwear, killed three men and wounded seven others, then forced the convoy to go back to the besieged area of Aleppo city, and some buses are still missing,” said a witness, Ahmad Abo Al-Nour.

On Saturday, civilians and rebel fighters waiting for buses to evacuate them were shot at by Iranian-led militias loyal to Assad, according to activists.

People warm themselves around a fire while waiting to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Dec. 17, 2016. VOA
People warm themselves around a fire while waiting to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Dec. 17, 2016. VOA

An agreement struck Saturday was to give safe passage to those loyal to Assad’s regime, including Iranian militia groups, from areas held or besieged by rebels, the Aleppo Media Center activist group said.

It was a new demand in exchange for the evacuation of civilians, rebels and others loyal to the opposition from eastern Aleppo, now almost entirely in government control.

Abdulkafi al-Hamdo, a teacher trapped in eastern Aleppo said he has no choice but to try to leave with a young daughter. “The weather is so cold,” he said. “The children are hungry they are crying. They are freezing.” He said people are afraid they will not be able to get out.” (VOA)

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U.S. President Donald Trump Administration Says There Is No Return For US-Born Jihadist

The U.S. decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth. 

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Two women, reportedly wives of IS fighters, wait with others in the internally displaced persons camp of al-Hol in al-Hasakeh governorate, Syria, Feb. 7, 2019. The United States is refusing to take back a U.S.-born IS propagandist, saying she is no longer a citizen. VOA

The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist who wants to return from Syria, arguing that she is no longer a citizen.

The Trump administration’s refusal to admit Hoda Muthana, 24, could set precedent and face legal challenges, because it is generally extremely difficult to lose US citizenship.

“Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States.”

FILE - Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2019. VOA

“We continue to strongly advise all U.S. citizens not to travel to Syria,” he added.

Pompeo did not elaborate on the legal rationale for why the Alabama native, who is believed to have traveled to Syria on her U.S. passport, was not considered a citizen or where she should go instead.

Pompeo’s statement on Muthana — one of the comparatively few U.S.-born jihadists amid the hundreds of Europeans to have joined the ranks of the Islamic State group in Syria — is at odds with his calls on other countries to take back and prosecute their own jihadist nationals.

Just this weekend, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to chastise European allies who have not taken back IS prisoners caught in Syria.

US-born, then radicalized

Muthana was born in the United States to parents from Yemen who became naturalized American citizens, according to the Counter Extremism Project at George Washington University, which has identified 64 Americans who went to join IS in Syria or Iraq.

In late 2014, shortly after moving to Syria, Muthana posted on Twitter a picture of herself and three other women who appeared to torch their Western passports, including an American one.

She went on to write vivid calls over social media to kill Americans, glorifying the ruthless extremist group that for a time ruled vast swaths of Syria and Iraq.

But with IS down to its last stretch of land, Muthana has said she renounced extremism and wanted to return home.

Muthana, who has been detained by U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters, said that she had been brainwashed by reading social media as a closeted teenager in Hoover, Ala.

“To say that I regret my past words, any pain that I caused my family and any concerns I would cause my country would be hard for me to really express properly,” she said in a note to her lawyer reported by The New York Times.

Hassan Shibly, lawyer for 24-year-old Hoda Muthana, 24, is pictured in his office in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back Muthana, a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist, who wants to return from Syria, saying that she is no longer a citizen.
Hassan Shibly, lawyer for 24-year-old Hoda Muthana, 24, is pictured in his office in Tampa, Fla., Feb. 20, 2019. The United States said Wednesday that it would refuse to take back Muthana, a U.S.-born Islamic State propagandist, who wants to return from Syria, saying that she is no longer a citizen. VOA

She was married three times to male jihadists and has a toddler son.

Hard to lose citizenship

The U.S. decision on Muthana comes amid rising debate in Europe on the nationality of extremists. Britain recently revoked the citizenship of Shamina Begum, who similarly traveled to Syria and wants to return to her country of birth.

Britain asserted that she was entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship because of her heritage, but the Dhaka government on Wednesday denied that she was eligible, leading her to become effectively stateless.

U.S. citizenship is significantly more difficult to lose. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868 after the Civil War as slavery was abolished, establishes that anyone born in the country is a citizen with full rights.

In recent years, it has been considered virtually impossible to strip Americans of citizenship, even if they hold dual nationality.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 1967 Afroyim decision rejected the government’s attempt to revoke the nationality of a Polish-born naturalized American after he voted in Israel.

And last year a federal judge rejected a government attempt to strip the nationality of a Pakistani-born naturalized American who was convicted in a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.

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But Trump has campaigned on a hard line over immigration and raised the prospect of ending birthright citizenship ahead of last year’s congressional elections.

In 2011, President Barack Obama ordered drone strikes that killed two Americans in Yemen — prominent al-Qaida preacher Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son — but did not believe it was possible to revoke citizenship. (VOA)