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Syria Today – American Who Disappeared 7 Years Ago Presumed Dead

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – American Who Disappeared 7 Years Ago Presumed Dead

An American citizen who disappeared seven years ago while travelling in Syria is presumed dead, the man’s daughter said Saturday.

Maryam Kamalmaz told the Associated Press that eight senior U.S. officials revealed earlier this month that they have specific and highly credible intelligence about the presumed death of her father, Majd, a psychotherapist from Texas.

During the meeting, held in Washington, the officials told her that on a scale of one to 10, their confidence level about her father’s death was a “high nine.” She said she asked whether other detained Americans had ever been successfully recovered in the face of such credible information, and was told no.

“What more do I need? That was a lot of high-level officials that we needed to confirm to us that he’s really gone. There was no way to beat around the bush,” Maryam Kamalmaz said.

Maryam Kamalmaz holds a photo of her father with some of his 14 grandchildren in Grand Prairie, Texas, on Jan. 17, 2024. U.S. officials have developed specific and highly credible intelligence suggesting that Majd Kamalmaz, an American citizen who disappeared seven years ago while travelling in Syria has died, Maryam Kamalmaz said on May 18.

Turkey sends Syrian mercenaries to Niger to secure strategic interests

Hundreds of Syrian mercenaries have been sent by Turkey to Niger in recent months to protect Ankara’s economic and military interests in the West African nation, a rights group and experts said, according to VoA.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has researchers throughout Syria, reports that recruitment of Syrian fighters for deployment to Niger has been going on for several months.

“We have confirmed that about 1,100 Syrian fighters have already been deployed to Niger since September of last year,” said Rami Abdulrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory.

Syrian nationals are being recruited from areas under the control of Turkey and Turkish-backed Syrian armed groups in northwest Syria, Abdulrahman told VOA.

Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ), a France-based advocacy group, said it has also documented such recruitments.

“These Syrian fighters are being transported from Syria into Turkey, and then using Turkish airports, they are sent [to Niger] by Turkish military airplanes,” Bassam Alahmad, executive director of STJ, told VOA.

IDF strike kills Hamas-linked senior operative near Lebanon’s border with Syria

The Israeli military on Friday confirmed carrying out an airstrike in eastern Lebanon’s Majdal Anjar, close to the border with Syria, killing a top al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya operative who worked alongside Hamas, The Times of Israel reported.

The IDF said the drone strike targeted and killed Sharhabil Sayed.

Sayed according to the IDF, was a senior member of al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya who “led and advanced numerous terror attacks from Lebanese territory against Israel in [Lebanon’s] eastern region in the recent period… in cooperation with the Lebanon branch of the Hamas terrorist organization.”

Hamas in an official statement claimed Sayed as a commander in the terror group.

The IDF said the strike was aimed at “causing a blow to the organization’s abilities to advance and carry out terror operations that it had planned in the recent period and in the near future against the State of Israel on the northern border.”

Assad officials face landmark Paris trial over killing of student and father

At midnight on 3 November 2013, five Syrian officials dragged arts and humanities student Patrick Dabbagh from his home in the Mezzeh district of Damascus, according to The Guardia.

The following day, at the same hour, the same men, including a representative of the Syrian Airforce’s intelligence unit, returned with a dozen soldiers to arrest the 20-year-old’s father Mazzen.

They accused the 48-year-old education counsellor at the city’s French lycée of failing to raise his son properly. “We’ll teach you to educate him,” they said, but no specific reason was given for their arrest.

It would be the last time anyone in their family would see them. For almost five years after their arrest, nothing was heard of the men, both Franco-Syrian, until July 2018, when the authorities issued certificates stating Patrick Dabbagh had died in January 2014 and Mazzen Dabbagh in November 2017. No cause of death was given and the bodies were not returned to the family.

On Tuesday, three high-ranking Syrian officials will go on trial in Paris accused of involvement in crimes against humanity and war crimes linked to their disappearance and death.

Ali Mamlouk, 78, head of the Syrian secret services and security adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, Jamil Hassan, 72, head of the Syrian air force intelligence unit until 2019 and a member of Assad’s entourage, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, in his early 60s, intelligence director at the notorious Mezzeh detention centre where father and son are believed to have been held, are accused of complicity in their arrest, torture and deaths.

Trials of Syrians have taken place in the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden, but it is the first time such high-ranking figures close to Assad will be held to account.

The accused will not be in court but campaigners say the case bolsters calls for universal justice and gives hope to the families of more than 111,000 people who have disappeared in Syria since 2011.

Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Romanian rescue teams on Saturday were scouring the Black Sea for three Syrian sailors who went missing when their cargo ship sank off the coast, the naval authority said, Arab News reported.

The Mohammed Z sank with 11 crew on board, 26 nautical miles off the Romanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube delta in the Black Sea on Saturday morning, officials said in a statement.

The ship sailing under the Tanzanian flag was carrying nine Syrian and two Egyptian nationals, it said.

After receiving an alert at “around 4:00 am,” naval authorities and border police were dispatched, with two nearby commercial vessels also joining the search and rescue operation.

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said.

The cause of the accident was unclear.

According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, the ship departed from the Turkish port of Mersin and was heading to the Romanian port of Sulina.

Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, drifting sea mines have posed a constant threat to ships in the Black Sea, with countries bordering it doubling down on demining efforts.

Ensuring safe passage through the Black Sea has gained particular importance since Romania’s Danube ports became hubs for the transit of grain following the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.

8 EU members say conditions in Syria should be reassessed to allow voluntary 

The governments of eight European Union member states said Friday the situation in Syria should be re-evaluated to allow for the voluntary return of Syrian refugees back to their homeland, AP reported.

In a joint statement, officials from Austria, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland said they agreed on a re-assessment that would lead to “more effective ways of handling” Syrian refugees trying to reach the European Union countries.

The eight countries, which held talks during a summit meeting in the Cypriot capital, said the situation in Syria has “considerably evolved,” even though complete political stability hasn’t been achieved.

Cyprus has in recent months seen an upsurge of Syrian refugees reaching the island nation primarily from Lebanon aboard rickety boats.

Earlier this month, the EU announced a 1 billion euro ($1.06 billion) aid package for Lebanon aimed at boosting border controls to halt the flow of asylum seekers and migrants to Cyprus and Italy.

The eight countries said the EU should further boost support for Lebanon to “mitigate the risk of even greater flows from Lebanon to the EU.”

“Decisions as to who has the right to cross a member state’s borders should be taken by the government of the relevant member state and not by criminal networks engaged in migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings,” the joint statement said.

The call comes a day after 15 EU member countries publicly called for the bloc to boost partnerships with countries along migratory routes in hopes of heading off attempts to reach EU countries.

The countries said that while they “fully embrace” the need to support Syrian refugees in line with international law, they hoped their talks could open a wider debate within the 27-member bloc on the process of granting the migrants international protection.

“What European citizens want from us … are solutions, practical, realistic solutions that can be implemented,” said Greek Migration Minister Dimitris Kairidis.

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