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Syria Today – France Top Court to Examine Assad Arrest Warrant; Turkish Officials Call for Calm After Anti-Syria Riots

Your daily brief of the English-speaking press on Syria.
Syria Today – France Top Court to Examine Assad Arrest Warrant; Turkish Officials Call for Calm After Anti-Syria Riots

The Syrian political spectrum witnessed in the past 24 hours pivotal developments, from France’s top court reviewing an arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over deadly chemical attacks, to escalating anti-Syrian riots in Turkey fueled by social media hysteria. We also cover Turkey’s response to the unrest by closing its main border crossings into Syria, and a landmark lawsuit filed in the U.S. against Iran, Syria, and North Korea for supporting Hamas. Additionally, we spotlight the touching story of Ruba, an 11-year-old girl in a Syrian refugee camp, whose journey through trauma and recovery exemplifies the critical need for mental health support in conflict zones. Join us as we delve into these significant issues impacting Syria and its people.

France’s Top Court To Examine Arrest Warrant For Syria’s Assad

Prosecutors said Tuesday they had asked France’s highest court to review the legality of a French arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over deadly chemical attacks on Syrian soil in 2013, AFP reported.

The Syrian opposition say one of those attacks in August 2013 on the rebel-held suburbs of Damascus killed around 1,400 people, including more than 400 children, in one of the many horrors of the 13-year civil war.

Prosecutors said they had made the request to the Paris Court of Cassation on Friday on judicial grounds, two days after another appeals court upheld the arrest order issued in November.

“This decision is by no means political. It is about having a legal question resolved,” the prosecutor’s office at the court said in a statement.

France is the first country to issue an arrest warrant for a sitting foreign head of state.

Investigative magistrates specialized in cases of crimes against humanity issued the warrant after several rights groups filed a complaint against Assad for his role in the chain of command for the alleged chemical attacks on August 4, 5 and 21, 2013.

But prosecutors from a unit specializing in investigating “terrorist” attacks have sought to annul it, although they do not question the grounds for such an arrest.

They argue that immunity for foreign heads of state should only be lifted for international prosecutions, such as ones at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the lawyers’ association Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Syrian Archive, an organization documenting human rights violations in Syria, filed the initial complaint.

SCM head Mazen Darwish criticized Tuesday’s move.

“We view (the) filing of the appeal as a political manoeuvre aimed at protecting dictators and war criminals,” he told AFP.

Lawyers Jeanne Sulzer and Clemence Witt, who are representing the plaintiffs, said the appeal to the Court of Cassation “again threatens the efforts of victims to have Bashar al-Assad judged in an independent jurisdiction”.

Turkish officials call for calm as social media hysteria fuels anti-Syrian riots

Allegations of sexual abuse against a child by a Syrian man in Kayseri, Turkey, have sparked overnight riots that targeted Syrian businesses and cars in the city, CNN reported.

According to Turkish state news agency Anadolu, a Syrian man was arrested on allegations that he sexually abused his seven-year-old female cousin, who is also Syrian, in a public bathroom at a market.

Reports of the purported abuse quickly spread across social media, prompting outraged local residents to riot — setting fire to cars and Syrian-run businesses in the central Anatolian city.

“An investigation was immediately launched on the issue. However, later our citizens gathered in this region, acted illegally in an attitude that does not suit our human values, and damaged houses, workplaces, and vehicles belonging to Syrian nationals,” Turkish Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said. He said that dozens of people were detained, and the crowd was only dispersed in the early morning hours.

The local governor of Kayseri called on people “to act calmly, with moderation and common sense.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed opposition parties, some of which have taken a hard line on removing the estimated 3.6 million Syrians from the country, for stoking “hatred politics.”

Erdogan himself has pledged to create the conditions for large numbers of Syrians to voluntarily return to Syria.

“Xenophobia and hatred towards refugees in our country should not be ignited because this does not give any positive results,” he said in a speech on Monday.

Protests and arrests as anti-Syrian riots rock Turkey

On Tuesday, Yerlikaya said “474 people were detained after the provocative actions” carried out against Syrians, in a post on X.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the violence, which he blamed opposition parties for stoking.

“It is unacceptable to burn houses, vandalize and set streets on fire,” he said on Monday of the violence. “Nothing can be achieved by fuelling xenophobia and hatred of refugees in society.”

Reporting from Istanbul, Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu said, “This is not the first time that xenophobic protests targeting Syrians has happened in the last three years,” as Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) began to lose popularity amid the dire state of the economy and rising nationalistic sentiment.

Umit Ozdag, the leader of Turkey’s anti-migration Victory Party, blamed the violence on the government’s allegedly “privileged” treatment of Syrian refugees.

Anti-Syrian riots broke out in Turkey in 2021, after a Turkish teenager was stabbed to death in a fight with a group of young Syrians in the capital, Ankara.

Turkey closes Syria border after violence flares in both countries

In another development, Reuters reported that Turkey closed its main border crossings into northwest Syria on Tuesday after Turkish troops came under fire from Syrians angered by violence against their compatriots in Turkey, a Syrian opposition source and residents said.

In Turkey, police detained 474 people involved in attacks targeting the Syrian community across the country overnight, Interior Minister Ali Yerlikaya said, in spreading unrest that began late on Sunday.

Properties and vehicles owned by Syrians were vandalized and set on fire in the central city of Kayseri, stoked by social media reports that a Syrian man had sexually abused a female child relative. Yerlikaya said the incident was being investigated.

The violence spread to the provinces of Hatay, Gaziantep, Konya, Bursa and an Istanbul district, Turkey’s MIT intelligence agency said in a statement. There were social media reports of some injuries among Syrians.

Subsequently, hundreds of angry Syrians took to the streets in several towns in the rebel-held northwest Syria, an area where Turkey maintains thousands of troops and has carved out a sphere of influence that has stopped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from regaining control.

Late on Monday, Turkey responded to the unrest by closing until further notice the Bab al Hawa border crossing, a main trade and passenger conduit for more than 3 million inhabitants, along with Bab al-Salam and other smaller crossings, a border official told Reuters.

The Syrian border city of Afrin was the scene of the most violent clashes, with at least four people killed in an exchange of fire between armed protesters and Turkish troops.

Elsewhere, there were skirmishes and armed clashes, with civilians hurling stones at Turkish convoys in several towns, and tearing down the Turkish flag on some offices.

Victims of Hamas attack sue Iran, Syria, North Korea in U.S. court

Reuters reported that more than 100 victims and relatives of victims of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants in Israel sued Iran, Syria and North Korea on Monday, accusing the countries of providing Hamas support and demanding at least $4 billion in damages.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., by the Anti-Defamation League is the largest case against foreign countries in connection with the attack, and the first backed by a Jewish organization, the ADL said in a press release.

It accuses the three countries of providing financial, military and tactical support to Hamas. The U.S. government has designed Iran, Syria and North Korea as state sponsors of terrorism.

More than 1,200 people were killed in the attack and 250 others were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. The plaintiffs in the case include U.S. citizens injured on Oct. 7, as well as relatives and the estates of victims killed in the attack.

Israel’s offensive in Gaza in response has killed nearly 38,000 people, according to Gazan health officials, and left the enclave in ruins.

“Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of antisemitism and terror – along with Syria and North Korea, they must be held responsible for their roles in the largest antisemitic attack since the Holocaust,” ADL Chief Executive Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

The Iran, North Korea and Syria missions to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This 11-year old girl in Syria hopes to give back mental health support to those in need

Rescue.org published a capturing report on Ruba, an 11-year-old girl displaced from Iraq’s Anbar province, who lives in an overcrowded refugee camp in northeast Syria facing a mental health crisis. With over 41,000 residents, 93% of whom are women and children, the camp lacks basic necessities and adequate healthcare. 

Rania, a psychological counsellor at the camp’s IRC Health Care Centre, notes widespread depression, anxiety, and trauma among residents. Dr. Rateb, the IRC’s health officer, highlights the high demand for mental health services, stressing the strain on the limited resources available.

Ruba, suffering from crippling anxiety due to a traumatic incident, received counselling at the IRC care center, which helped her regain confidence and improve her mental health. The center offers activities like art therapy to support children. 

Despite the challenges, the IRC, with EU support, strives to provide essential mental health services, conducting up to 150 consultations daily. Ruba, inspired by her therapist Rania, dreams of becoming a psychological therapist to help others in need, demonstrating the profound impact of such services on young lives.


This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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