TIME Iraq

Kurdish Fighters Regain Territory from ISIS in Most Successful Offensive Yet

The two-day offensive was the largest to date in the war against ISIS in Iraq

Backed by a recent urge in U.S. airstrikes, Kurdish forces recaptured a large area of territory from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militants on Thursday, the New York Times reports.

It was described as “the single biggest military offensive against ISIS, and the most successful” in a statement on Thursday night from the office of Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council. The offensive involved 8,000 local troops and was backed by 53 airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition.

The offensive has allowed for the opening of a path from the autonomous Kurdish region to Mount Sinjar in the west, near the Syrian border. Mount Sinjar came under siege in August, when thousands of Yazidis were persecuted by ISIS, prompting the start of U.S. airstrikes.

Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, overall commander of the campaign against ISIS, told Pentagon reporters: “We will relentless pursue Daesh in order to degrade and destroy its capabilities and defeat their efforts,” using an Arabic word for ISIS.

[NYT]

Read more: The fight against ISIS on the border between Turkey and Syria

TIME Middle East

Syrian War Refugees Born Across the Middle East Risk Statelessness

In this Tuesday, March 11, 2014 file photo, two aid workers measure 1-year-old Syrian refugee Jawad al-Abbas at a medical clinic in the town of Kab Elias in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Bilal Hussein—AP

In Lebanon, nearly 30,000 children risk a life deprived of basic rights

(BEIRUT) — Nearly 30,000 Syrian children born as refugees in Lebanon are in a legal limbo, not registered with any government, exposing them to the risk of a life of statelessness deprived of basic rights.

It is a problem that is replicated, to varying degrees, in nations across the Middle East where more than 3.3 million Syrians have found safe haven from the intractable civil war in their homeland.

The life of a stateless person is a life without a nationality, without citizenship, without the basic documents that establish an individual’s identity and give him the rights accorded everyone else. Without a birth certificate, identity papers or other documents, even basic things like getting married, going to school or finding a job can be next to impossible.

“If you can’t prove your nationality, it means you can’t get legal documentation, can’t cross borders legally, can’t enjoy any other basic rights that citizens of a country are entitled too,” said Isabella Castrogiovanni, a senior child protection specialist with UNICEF. “So the consequences are obviously huge.”

The United Nations launched a major campaign last month to try to end statelessness for an estimated 10 million people around the world within 10 years.

Syria’s civil war is one of the major trouble spots, with more than 3 million people fleeing to neighboring countries to escape the bloodshed. For Syrian refugee women who give birth, acquiring the legal documentation with the local government is a chief concern. And yet, an estimated 70 percent of the 42,000 children born to Syrian parents in Lebanon since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March 2011 remain off the books, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

That figure only relates to the 1.1 million refugees registered with UNHCR. Lebanese officials estimate there are another 500,000 unregistered Syrians in the country. It is not known how many children have been born among that population, but whatever the number, they likely have an even lower rate of registration.

The daily hardships of life as a refugee keep many Syrian parents from registering their newborns: no money, no documents, little time off from work. The process is complicated, with multiple steps that require travel from one government office to another, money for fees and, most importantly, a slew of documents. Without the parents’ marriage license, for example, the birth of a child cannot be registered. But many Syrians had to flee their homeland on short notice and so left legal papers behind, or their papers were destroyed along with their homes.

At a natal clinic in a run-down neighborhood in south Beirut on a recent dreary December morning, around a dozen Syrian mothers with children in tow sat on green plastic chairs waiting for a checkup with the resident midwife. Most of the women said they were aware of the need to register their newborn, but only around half of them had.

Outside, one mother named Khawla from the city of Idlib in northwestern Syria cradled her newborn son in her arms as her curly-haired two-year-old, Mohammed, stomped around the damp pavement.

“It took us eight months to register Mohammed. We’re thinking we may not register him,” she said, nodding at her baby boy, Yousef, asleep in a bundle of clothing in her arms. “My husband works from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day in a grocery store, so he doesn’t have time to go through the whole process. We’re waiting for a miracle to register Yousef.”

For another young mother, who gave her name as Zeinab, the barrier to registering was with the paperwork required by Lebanese authorities.

“I want to register my two youngest,” she said. “The problem is they asked for documents from Syria, but we can’t go back.”

Both women declined to give their last names out of fear of causing trouble with Lebanese authorities.

In Lebanon, the process begins when the child is born and new parents receive a birth notification from an authorized doctor or midwife. The parents must then take that, along with their own identification cards, to the local mayor to get a birth certificate for a small fee.

Then they have to register the birth certificate with a local government department handling family status records. Finally, they must register it again at another office, the provincial personal status department. Each of those steps has its own fees.

The haphazard conditions of refugee life add complications. If the parents married as refugees in Lebanon without getting the proper papers, the process hits a dead end. If a woman gives birth without an authorized midwife or doctor, she can’t even get the birth notification that starts the process.

“We’re getting to the stage where awareness about it is more widespread, but the procedures are a bit difficult to understand … and there are barriers that cause people problems,” said Jocelyn Knight, the protection coordinator for the International Rescue Committee’s office in Beirut.

“I think just because of the number of steps involved, it can be quite daunting for new parents and they’re not really sure what to do.”

The U.N. refugee agency and non-governmental organizations have been pushing to raise awareness among Syrian refugees across the Middle East of the need to register their children.

The situation is markedly better in Jordan than in Lebanon, for example. There, UNHCR says 70 percent of Syrian babies have been registered.

U.N. officials say progress has been made in the past six months to raise awareness in Lebanon.

“If you think in terms of the hope for these children to go back to Syria one day, if and when conditions allow, not having any legal document will make them like ghosts going back to their country,” UNICEF’s Castrogiovanni said.

TIME Middle East

European Union Removes Hamas From Its Terrorist List

Deputy Hamas chief Moussa Abu Marzouk gestures during an interview with Reuters in Gaza City, Dec. 17, 2014.
Deputy Hamas chief Moussa Abu Marzouk gestures during an interview with Reuters in Gaza City, Dec. 17, 2014. Mohammed Salem—Reuters

The Palestinian organisation has been on the list since 2001

A European Union court has removed the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas from its terrorist list, it was announced on Wednesday.

Hamas appealed a 2001 decision by the E.U. to place it on the list which followed similar actions by the United States and Israel.

The E.U’s General Court found the decision was “based not on acts examined and confirmed in decisions of competent authorities but on factual imputations derived from the press and the internet.”

Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in 2006 and has been in control of the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Hamas’ lawyer, Liliane Glock, told the AFP news agency: “Every decision since 2001 imposing restrictive measures, including on the armed wing, have been annulled. I believe that this judgement shows the whole world that it exists and is legal.”

[BBC]

TIME Crime

66 Journalists Killed in 2014: Report

MYANMAR-MEDIA-RIGHTS-POLITICS-COURT
Burmese journalists wear T-shirts that say "Stop Killing Press" during a silent protest for five journalists who were jailed for 10 years on July 10, near the Myanmar Peace Center where Burmese President Thein Sein was scheduled to meet with local artists in Rangoon on July 12, 2014. Soe Than Win—AFP/Getty Images

Media activists say attacks on journalists are becoming increasingly barbaric

At least 66 journalists were killed across the globe this year while another 178 media workers were imprisoned, according to industry monitoring outlet Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

While the number of journalists’ deaths fell slightly when compared to 2013 figures, the high-profile beheadings of Western and Arab reporters by militant Jihadists in the Middle East marked a gruesome escalation in the types of violence employed against the Fourth Estate.

“Rarely have reporters been murdered with such a barbaric sense of propaganda, shocking the entire world,” said the watchdog organization in their annual report published on Tuesday.

RSF also noted that the number of kidnapping cases skyrocketed dramatically in 2014 with 119 journalists reportedly being abducted, a 37% increase year-on-year.

TIME Middle East

Palestinians Will Present a Resolution to the U.N. on Israeli Withdrawal

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Moscow
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks to media about the peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not seen) in Moscow on Aug. 19, 2014 Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

But Israel wants the U.S. to use its veto to block it

The Palestinians are set to present a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, setting out a two-year time frame for ending Israeli control of the West Bank.

Israel wants the U.S. to use its veto power to block the resolution from passing, but Washington remains undecided, Reuters reports.

“We all want to keep open the hope of a two-state solution and we all want to prevent to the best of our abilities an escalation of the violence on the ground,” an unnamed senior U.S. State Department official told Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rome on Monday before flying to Europe to meet with Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, and Nabil al-Arabi, head of the Arab League, to try and work out a compromise.

Read more at Reuters.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 11

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A rule in the Affordable Care Act could make hospitals safer.

By Mike Corones at Reuters

2. As U.S. influence in the Middle East wanes, the United Arab Emirates is stepping up.

By Steven A. Cook in the Octavian Report

3. How do you extend banking services to an industry that’s illegal under federal law? Colorado’s answer is a credit union for pot growers and sellers.

By David Migoya in the Denver Post

4. A simple step — lighting pathways to latrines and latrines themselves in rural areas — can improve safety for women and girls.

By Dr. Michelle Hynes and Dr. Michelle Dynes at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

5. The International Olympic Committee vote to protect gay athletes is an important first step, but more work remains.

By Laura Clise in the Advocate

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Middle East

Is This the ISIS Executioner Who Beheaded Western Hostages?

British media has called him "Jihadi John" because of his London accent

A fighter in Syria tweeted a photo on Wednesday which appears to give the clearest image yet of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) executioner believed to be responsible for killing several hostages.

“Jihadi John” is the nickname given to the masked militant who has featured in several propaganda videos released by ISIS.

He is believed to be a British national from London and is responsible for the videotaped beheadings of numerous hostages, including two Syrian soldiers, the American journalists James

YE Islamic State Beheadings
The ISIS executioner as seen in the James Foley video. AP

Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning, and most recently U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig.

Intelligence agencies say they have identified Jihadi John but have yet to reveal his name.

Read more: ISIS mass beheading video took up to six hours to film and multiple takes

TIME Middle East

Palestinians and Israelis Disagree Over Cause of Death of Cabinet Minister

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT
Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein, in charge of the issue of Israeli settlements for the Palestinian Authority, argues with Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the village of Turmus Aya near Ramallah, on Dec. 10, 2014. Abbas Momani—AFP/Getty Images

Ziad Abu Ain died after a confrontation with Israeli security forces

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Israeli and Palestinian pathologists disagreed Thursday on whether a blow to the body or a bad heart was the main cause of death of a Palestinian Cabinet minister who collapsed shortly after scuffling with Israeli troops during a West Bank protest.

Palestinian doctors said Ziad Abu Ain died from a blow, not natural causes. Israeli doctors said the 55-year-old died from a blockage of the coronary artery due to arterial bleeding that could have been caused by stress.

Abu Ain’s death, followed by the Palestinian autopsy findings, could further inflame tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said Abu Ain was the victim of a crime and of a “barbaric act” and decreed three days of mourning.

Anticipating Palestinian protests after Abu Ain’s funeral later Thursday, the Israeli military has sent troop reinforcements to the West Bank. Earlier Thursday, several dozen Palestinian stone throwers clashed with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Abu Ain died Wednesday, shortly after a West Bank confrontation between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers that included pushing and shoving. At one point, a member of Israel’s paramilitary border police grabbed Abu Ain by the throat and pushed him. Troops also fired tear gas during the confrontation.

Several minutes after the scuffle, Abu Ain collapsed to the ground, clutching his heart. He received first aid and was evacuated, but died en route to a hospital.

An autopsy was conducted later Wednesday by Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli pathologists.

Palestinian pathologist Saber Aloul said, “the cause of death was a blow, and not natural causes.”

Palestinian Health Minister Jawad Awad said that “the results of the autopsy show that the ones who killed the martyr Ziad Abu Ain are the Israeli occupying forces.”

Awad said two Jordanian pathologists also signed off on those findings, but that the Israeli doctors held off on a signature. The Israeli health ministry said the Israeli doctors didn’t sign because it was a preliminary, not a final report.

Israeli pathologists Chen Kugel and Maya Furman said Abu Ain had a bad heart, including 80-percent blockage by plaque in the blood vessels of his heart, and that this “caused him to be more sensitive to stress.”

They said in a statement that the coronary artery was blocked due to bleeding under a layer of atherosclerotic plaque, and that this bleeding could have been caused by stress. The doctors said light bleeding and localized pressure were found on his neck.

They said they wanted to see the medical treatment report before reaching further conclusions.

Abu Ain’s portfolio included organizing protests against Israeli settlements and the West Bank separation barrier.

A member of Abbas’ Fatah movement, Abu Ain had spent several years in Israeli prisons. He was arrested in the United States in 1979 and extradited to Israel two years later, according to a nephew, Baha Abu Ain. In Israel, he was sentenced to life in prison for being a member of a cell that planted a bomb that killed two Israelis. Abu Ain was released in a 1985 prisoner swap.

During the second Palestinian uprising in 2002, he spent a year in administrative detention without trial or charges.

TIME Middle East

ISIS Mass Beheading Video Took 6 Hours to Film and Multiple Takes

An image grab from a propaganda video released on Nov. 16, 2014 shows members of The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, with among them a jihadist believed to be French citizen Maxime Hauchard, also known as Abu Abdallah al-Faransi, before taking part in the beheadings of at least 18 men described as Syrian military personnel.
A frame grab from a propaganda video released on Nov. 16, 2014 shows members of The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, with among them French citizen Maxime Hauchard, before taking part in the beheadings of Syrian soldiers. AFP/Getty Images

Jihadi group has access to expensive equipment and professional film makers

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria’s (ISIS) video of the beheading of 22 Syrian soldiers took between four and six hours to film and used equipment that cost around $200,000, a new analysis has shown.

The video, titled “Though the Unbelievers Despise It”, was released on Nov. 16 and runs for close to 16 minutes. It was choreographed to show the simultaneous beheading of the hostages by 22 ISIS executioners, as well as the murder of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig.

Analysts at the U.S.-based Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium (TRAC) and the U.K.-based Quilliam Foundation discovered lighting and shadows that reveal the video was shot in multiple takes over a period of several hours. The line-up order of the killers and prisoners is switched and in certain frames fighters chat with one another as if idly passing time between takes.

Virtually all the killers — of varying ethnicities and nationalities — are unmasked and potentially identifiable, although only one has been identified: Maxime Hauchard, a French convert to Islam. The killers are led by the figure known as “Jihadi John,” the masked British militant believed to be responsible for the beheadings of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning, Peter Kassig and two unidentified Syrian soldiers.

Veryan Khan, a researcher with TRAC has been analysing the video frame-by-frame. She says the video would have had a director, producer and editor who may even have used storyboards like conventional film-makers. The video was likely produced using Avid Technology, a state-of-the-art program which costs at least $200,000.

Khan says the executioners were chosen for their cinematic qualities, their appearance and their martial ability. She points out that the men represent a certain kind of aesthetic; they are rather good-looking, clean and look as if they’ve done this before. The fact that they come from across the world is intended to convey the broad reach of ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate, Khan adds.

MORE: How to financially starve ISIS

The researchers believe the video was aimed at supporters, potential recruits, enemies and also the ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a statement, the researchers suggested the fighters were probably willing participants because they would “enjoy international infamy, transforming them into social media heroes like ‘Jihadi John’ and rendering them valuable assets for future propaganda. Already countless [ISIS] Twitter supporters are using the executioners’ photos as their avatars.”

The analysts also say the executioners cleaned themselves up between the filming of execution and post-execution scenes, another indication of the work involved in producing the film.

ISIS’s media approach is central to propagating the message that it is unstoppable, Khan says. But while the work is professional, the analysts have noticed tell-tale inconsistencies within the footage that hint at the forensic footprint of a specific editor. Tracing this signature will, they hope, eventually lead to the identification of key figures possibly at the highest levels of the ISIS hierarchy – something which may just prove crucial in the fight still ongoing in Iraq and Syria.

TIME Middle East

Iconic Israeli-Palestinian Friendship Photo was Faked

The famous photo actually shows two Jewish friends embracing rather than an Israeli and a Palestinian

A 1993 photo showing what appears to be an Israeli boy and a Palestinian boy overlooking Jerusalem with their arms around each other is one of the best-known photographs from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tweeted by Rihanna this summer – and retweeted over 46,000 times – the photograph seemed to exemplify hopes for coexistence and peace in the region.

But Rihanna was likely unaware that the photo was staged. American photojournalist Ricki Rosen who took the photo for a story on the Oslo Peace process, told The Forward “it was a symbolic illustration” and was never intended to be a documentary photo.

Despite being reproduced by countless websites, blogs and advocacy groups, it wasn’t until Rihanna’s tweet that Rosen realized how many people were using the image which actually shows two Jewish friends, Zvi Shapiro (then 11, wearing a Jewish skullcap) and Zemer Aloni (then 12, donning a Palestinian keffiyeh).

“It’s not really me in the picture,” Shapiro, now 32, told The Forward, saying he wouldn’t ordinarily wear a skullcap because he isn’t religious. He added that the picture’s lack of authenticity is “probably less acceptable today than it was then” and he feels the racial aspect of the photo — Aloni appearing as a Palestinian — is now “really, really strange.”

Shapiro, who now lives in the U.S., expressed disappointment in the apparent regression in Israeli-Palestinian relations since the image was taken.”There was a brief period where it didn’t seem as far-fetched as it does now,” he told The Forward. “I felt it almost symbolizes something that we have lost and that I hope we can regain.”

Aloni echoed these sentiments, calling it a “wishful thinking picture.” He said: “Then it was almost a reality, and now it is like a vision.”

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