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Friday, September 14, 2007 

No visas required for Iraqis

Another change of heart.

Syria imposed a visa restriction on Iraqis for the first time just three days ago, on September 10. Reporters said the border was empty for the first time in years.

Now, for the whole of Ramadan (which has just started), Syria says it will not require visas.

Syria has been the only country allowing Iraqis in without restriction. Jordan puts limits on the entry of refugees. Iran, Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi have completely blocked entry for all Iraqis.

There are at least 1.2 million Iraqis in Syria, and 800,000 in Jordan. Both countries have been promised help by the UN and even the US. So far, nothing has been given.

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Murky Raid Heats Up Syria-Israel Tension

DAMASCUS, Syria, Sep. 13, 2007
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(AP) Syria and Israel last turned their guns on each other in all-out war a quarter century ago, but tensions are sky high after a mysterious Israeli airstrike deep into Syrian territory last week.

America says the target was Iranian missiles, while others have raised questions of possible North Korean links. Israel, however, hasn't even acknowledged anything happened, and Syria has said very little beyond announcing the incursion and complaining to the United Nations.

Still, neither side appears eager for an escalation. Israel put its troops on high alert along the Golan Heights frontier and Syria discreetly called up some air defense reservists, but the crisis has seemed more a war of nerves than preparation for hostilities.

"The picture is still foggy," said Christopher Pang, head of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Most information has come from outside: A U.S. official confirmed this week that Israeli warplanes had staged a strike. The official, who would not speak publicly, said the target was Iranian-made weapons stored in northeastern Syria and destined for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

The Washington Post reported Thursday, however, that Israel had gathered satellite imagery showing possible North Korean cooperation with Syria on a nuclear facility. It cited an unidentified former Israeli official as saying the airstrike was aimed at a site capable of making unconventional weapons.

Syrian's U.N. envoy denied the country had weapons for Hezbollah. And its information minister, Mohsen Bilal, told the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on Thursday that the accusations of North Korean nuclear help were a "new American spin to cover up" for Israel.

Other theories abound.

One possibility is the Israeli planes simply made an intelligence-gathering reconnaissance flight, said David Hartwell, Middle East and North Africa editor for Jane's Country Risk.

Others speculate Israel's military was testing Syrian air defenses or perhaps scouting an air corridor for a possible strike against Iran.

Either way, the incursion probably served at least one main purpose _ as a warning, experts said.

"In terms of deterrence, the effect was clear, by invading Syrian airspace, by showing that Israel is not only able, but willing, to still launch strikes against Syrian targets," Pang said.

North Korea piqued interest when it condemned the Israeli air incursion.

The communist state has a long alliance with Syria, and Israeli experts say North Korea and Iran both have been major suppliers of missiles to Syria. But many experts, including Hartwell, said they found the idea of North Korean nuclear help to Syria unlikely, in part because Syria's weak economy leaves it hard-pressed to afford nuclear technology.

Israel's silence has been among the most curious things about the incident.

In the past, Israel often was swift to announce such operations, while Syria was slow to comment. This time, Israel has said nothing and Syria was the one to announce that its air space had been entered and that Israeli aircraft had "dropped munitions."

Despite that, Syria didn't ask the U.N. Security Council to meet over the incident or to condemn the act. It merely asked for its complaint to be circulated.

The location and timing of the strike also are puzzling.

Some experts think it unlikely that Syria would put sensitive projects in its northeast near the border with Turkey, which is friendly with Israel as well as with Syria. Syria's main strategic military installations are believed to be in its central desert.

Others note Syria has long been thought to be a transit point for moving weapons to Hezbollah, with which Israel fought an inclusive war last year, and question why Israel would strike now.

"My assessment is that there is a very complex security picture that I think i potentially driving these events," said Pang, but he added: "If I had to pin down to the most likely ... to me the Hezbollah-Iranian connection seems the most plausible."

Syria and Israel fought each other during both the 1967 and 1973 Mideast wars. Their last military confrontation was in neighboring Lebanon in 1982, when Israel's air force shot down dozens of Syrian warplanes and Israeli forces destroyed Syrian tanks.

That history of conflict keeps the region jittery about the possibility of a new war, and Syria's deputy foreign minister, Faysal Mekdad, made clear Thursday that the latest faceoff has the potential for a new blowup.

"Syria will respond to any Israeli acts, now and in the future," he said.




Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Hi Sasa,

The situation seems to be a bit confused. My understanding is that:

1) Irakis who were at the border already waiting to cross were let in. - This was on the 10th.

2) Additionally as a gesture of kindness for Ramadan that the visa requirment was relaxed for the duration of Ramadan.

Does No: 1 account for the emptiness at the border the journalists mentioned do you think?

I agree with you about the complete lack of aid given to Syria - it's shameful.

What i understood was that anyone trying to enter after the 10th had to get a visa at the border.

I don't know if they made an exception for people who had been queueing since before the 10th.

And then since the start of Ramadan, the visa requirement was scrapped, taking us back to the original situation, where anyone with an Iraqi passport could enter freely.

At the moment, the plan seems to be to impose the new short-lived visa requirement at the end of Ramadan.

The way I read the emptiness at the border was just that no one was attempting to queue because they knew they wouldn't get in.

Sasa: I wrote this letter to one of my country's newspapers (The Independent) today. They won't publish it, I've no doubt, but your blog is very interesting, so I thought I'd spam it here. It's on topic, hope you don't mind too much! Please accept my humble apologies for leaving your country in the lurch; it isn't for want of me trying that we give nothing to help you and your fellow Syrians cope with those poor Iraqis =(

Anonymous Londoner



Sir:

The Prime Minister's article on 20 September, detailing his concern for the millions of suffering Zimbabweans, is no doubt genuine and sincere. After reeling off a few terrible statistics, he states that he is "determined that Britain continues to do everything it can to help the Zimbabwean people." He is to be applauded for giving the UK a leading and visible role in opposing Robert Mugabe.

Nevertheless, might I draw the Prime Minister's attention to another group of people suffering by the million?

Way back on 25 March this year, in a letter to The Times, Human Rights Watch pointed out that "Britain has done almost nothing to help or relieve the burden on Iraq’s neighbours; in the past four years it has had no programme of resettlement nor has it earmarked significant humanitarian aid for Iraqi refugees."

No support was forthcoming.

On 28 June, the UNOCHA's IRIN warned of a "looming crisis [in Syria] as [the] Iraqi refugee influx continues." It reported a study by Syria's National Organisation for Human Rights which had "estimated that the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Damascus had risen from $160 in 2005 to $400 today. In a country where an average state wage in the bloated public sector economy remains little more than $120, many Syrians are forced to do two jobs, and still struggle to pay rent." Additionally, since the Iraqi influx began in early 2005, the demand for bread in Damascus - home to the majority of the refugees - "has increased by 35 percent, electricity by 27 percent, water by 20 percent and kerosene by 17 percent."

The IRIN report goes on to mention that Syria's social services "are under intense strain." Syrian economist Nabil Sukkar is quoted pointing out that Iraqi refugees "are increasing the claims on all of the subsidised services, particularly our education and health systems which Iraqis have free [sic] access to.” There are "an estimated 75,000 Iraqi children registered in Syrian schools, with many class sizes doubled to 60 students and schools working double shifts to cope."

No support was forthcoming.

On 6 July, a Reuters report contained the words of the UNHCR's spokesperson: "It is unconscionable that generous host countries be left on their own to deal with such a huge crisis." The report also warned that "the UNCHR needs hundreds of millions of dollars to help the host countries cope or risk seeing them grow reluctant to accept new refugees."

No support was forthcoming.

On the 30 July, the UNOCHA's IRIN reported that "Syria’s minister of health said providing free medical care to the over 1.5 million Iraqi refugees in Syria is costing the country around US$60 million a year, a burden he criticised the international community for failing to take responsibility for." The minister was speaking at the end of the conference on Iraqi refugees - but, of course, the conference did nothing to meet refugee or Syrian needs.

On 13 August, in its most recent report, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee wrote that it was "concerned that the Government does not appear to have provided any [sic] financial support to the UNHCR to assist the plight of [Iraqi] refugees between 2004 and 2006." It went on to "recommend that the Government provide financial assistance to Syria and Jordan to help them cope with Iraqi refugees."

Still no support has been forthcoming.

On 4 September, the The Financial Times revealed that, as predicted back in July, Syria would be tightening entry rules for would-be Iraqi refugees. The FT article pointed out that "a recent Syrian government report estimated the economic burden from the refugees at £495m per year." It went on to quote the despair of a senior Syrian government official: "No one in the international community is helping us and the Syrian government can no longer shoulder the responsibility alone.”

Still nothing.

To bring us right up to date, on 20 September an Associated Press report revealed that in response to the tightened visa restrictions, "[m]ore then 20,000 Iraqis were pouring across the [Syrian] border every day, compared to 2,000 a day normally." In response to the massive deluge, the Syrians announced that the postponement of the new restrictions until the end of Ramadan. The massive deluge then returned to its previous state of deluge.

The AP report carried part of an interview with Samira Ali Hassan who had crossed the Iraq-Syria border clutching a picture of her son who had been murdered by militants on 17 September. "I came to Syria to save my other son after he was threatened," she said.

Mr. Brown's government can find an average £40m a year to give to Zimbabweans, with an additional £8m this year, and yet can find literally nothing to give to help the more than 2 million Iraqi refugees precipitated by our illegal invasion.

DFID's line to me in their latest e-mail response is that "[t]he Iraqi Government has the primary responsibility for providing funding from its own resources to meet the needs of its people." Sickening.

When will the Prime Minister and the rest of our politicians show the same concern for Iraqis, people whose lives we have trashed and terminated with our illegal invasion, and their "generous host countries" as they do for suffering Zimbabweans?

Yours sincerely,

Anon.

www.arabwomanblues.blogspot.com seems to paint quite a bleak picture of Iraqi's trying to leave Iraq into Syria.

Peace

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  • Written by sasa
  • From Damascus, Syria
  • From Damascus to London via Beirut. Based in and out of the central Damascene hamlet of Saroujah. News and feelings from the streets every day. I'm talking rubbish? Leave a comment. Welcome to the information democracy. See below for info about this site.
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