• If You Were a Sack of Cumin

    Hussein soon suggested that they toss the body out on the roadside, asking his brother and sister how confident they were that they would pass other checkpoints without trouble. They would be right back where they started if the next checkpoint agents discovered that their father was a wanted man. He added that the dogs were eating plenty of bodies nowadays, so what difference did it make? Why didn’t they just leave it or bury it anywhere and go back to Damascus?

    Read more. 


  • Russia’s Playbook for Middle East Energy Security

    Nuclear energy diplomacy is a game of relationships. This is especially true in the Middle East, where governments face water scarcity, political and economic challenges but increasingly underreported energy scarcity. Civil nuclear offers Middle East governments an avenue to solving energy insecurity through new geopolitical partnerships that will change the political dynamics of the region for decades to come.


  • A duty to inform, as well as Entertain: The BBC on the Edge of an Abyss

    There were promising signs at the beginning of this year that BBC News and Current Affairs were preparing to rescue their reputation after a torrid time during the EU referendum. Their coverage in 2016 was widely panned by senior insiders like John Simpson and Justin Webb for not checking the factual claims made during Brexit debates, and putting too much weight on ‘balancing’ opinions rather than some more objective test of accuracy and truth.

    But behind the scenes something big was stirring. For nearly two months in early 2018 BBC One’s flagship documentary programme, Panorama, was looking at a stunning set of revelations from two whistle-blowers.

    There were promising signs at the beginning of this year that the BBC News and Current Affairs were preparing to rescue their reputation.
    The first was the testimony of Chris Wylie, the former head of research at Cambridge Analytica. Founded by Alexander Nix, Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon in 2013, the data-based electioneering company would deploy military-grade propaganda tools and weaponise the hacked information of 170 million Facebook users, both in the 2016 UK EU referendum and the US presidential election of Donald Trump.

    Read more 


  • demopostcheck


  • Main Syria-Jordan Crossing Under Insurgent Assault

    By RANA F. SWEIS APRIL 3, 2015

    AMMAN, Jordan — The main border crossing between Syria and Jordan remained closed and chaotic on Friday, with insurgents — including the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, and Western-backed rebel factions — wrangling for control two days after they seized and looted the crucial gateway.

    The power struggle at the Nasib crossing, coupled with Syrian government airstrikes that hit nearby on Thursday, is the latest cross-border spillover from Syria’s four-year war, and it has led to new tensions between Jordan and Syria.

    Adding to the chaos, at least 10 Lebanese truck drivers were being held by Nusra, Lebanon’s minister for the economy, Alain Hakim, told Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper, and witnesses said as many as 22 were being held either for ransom or as bargaining chips. Jordan’s interior minister, Hussein Majali, said the border would remain closed indefinitely until the authorities could guarantee security there.

    The chaos on the border was a blow to Syria’s government, which lost the last crossing it had still controlled along the 230-mile border. But it could also be embarrassing for Jordan, the United States and other allies involved in a covert program to train insurgents who, they insist, are relatively nationalist and moderate.

    Those fighters, calling themselves the Free Syrian Army, work out of an operations room in Jordan and receive some assistance from the United States, which lists Nusra as a terrorist organization. But in practice, they often cooperate on the battlefield.

    Asaad al-Zoubi, a former Syrian Army officer and the Free Syrian Army’s coordinator for the southern front, admitted in an interview that some members of army-affiliated battalions had taken part in the looting, but he insisted that they had not coordinated with Nusra.

    “I admit there was chaos and looting even by members of the Free Syrian Army, but we are working on returning some of the stolen goods and equipment,” Mr. Zoubi said Friday.

    He said that factions linked to the Free Syrian Army had seized the border crossing without Nusra fighters, who rushed in later to take credit. Antigovernment activists in the area have said that a deal was made with Nusra to remain in the background.

    Videos on social media sites showed various groups celebrating the crossing’s seizure, including Nusra as well as groups linked to the Free Syrian Army. Other videos showed men unloading trucks and cars and speeding away with goods.

    “I was shocked — the building is completely empty,” said Ammar, an antigovernment activist, after visiting the area. “There are no more tables, computers, cables. They even looted the tiles and the plugs. This is the people’s property.”

    He added: “After the liberation I was so happy, but after I saw this I wish the place were still with the regime. The building was like a pretty woman who suddenly aged.”

    After a second visit on Friday, he said Nusra and Free Syrian Army groups were controlling different parts of the complex, with a Free Syrian Army group called the Southern Falcons objecting to Nusra’s efforts to seize control of the crossing and its spoils. He said a Nusra fighter told him they were holding 22 drivers, not for ransom, but as a way to put pressure on the Free Syrian Army “to let Nusra run the whole place.”

    Hwaida Saad, Maher Samaan and Anne Barnard contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.

    Read in the NYTIMES


  • In Jordan, Keen Interest in Outcome of Israeli Elections

    By Rana F. Sweis Mar 17, 2015

    AMMAN, Jordan — Roya news channel, an independent Jordanian television broadcaster, was live-tweeting the Israeli elections on Tuesday.

    The editors at Roya provided a brief take on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu’s efforts to garner support and quoted him as saying, “What is important is to go out and vote for the Zionist parties because it’s important for the preservation of Jewish and Zionist identity of the state of Israel.”

    The station promoted its political panel discussing the vote in neighboring Israel.

    The television station’s morning show mocked the advice with this cartoon equating the “Zionist left” with what it sees as the equally distasteful “Zionist right.”

    The Al Rai newspaper, a government-owned paper, noted that “Arab Israelis are coming out to vote in high numbers to end Netanyahu’s rule.”

    Al Ghad, an independent daily newspaper, featured a photograph this morning from the elections campaign and the headline, “Israel on the verge of a more fragmented Parliament.”

    Read in the NYTIMES


  • Vacancies in Refugee Camp in Jordan for Syrians

    By RANA F. SWEIS MARCH 15, 2015

    AL AZRAQ REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan — Here in Jordan’s vast northeastern desert, row after row of white steel shelters built specially for Syrian refugees sit empty.

    Storefronts lining a street designed to mimic an urban souk are shuttered, the silence broken only by the punishing wind that is infamous here. Layers of sand coat the windows and floors.

    Syrian families live in other parts of the camp, one of the only places left in Jordan where most new refugees are allowed to settle. But nearly 11 months after the camp opened, there are many areas that are deserted.
    It was not supposed to be this way.

    Built with tens of millions of dollars of international donor money, Azraq was meant to solve myriad problems for both Jordan and the Syrians who have flooded over the border since civil war began to tear apart their country in 2011.

    For Jordan, the camp was expected to relieve the burden that hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians are placing on the country’s fragile economy and crowded cities. For the refugees, Azraq was expected to be something of a step up despite its remoteness, a better-planned camp designed around “villages” where people from the same Syrian towns and cities could cluster near shared schools and playgrounds.

    More troubling for Jordan, aid agencies say the vast majority of those who left the camp settled illegally in the very cities and towns the camp was built to relieve. (At least 625,000 Syrians have settled in Jordan since the war started, and only about 100,000 are in camps, according to the United Nations refugee agency.)

    At least in public, donors who poured money into the camp are not pushing Jordan — an active ally in the military fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL — to change its policies. Money spent on Azraq, they say, is part of a broader policy of supporting Jordan as it struggles to maintain its security in a turbulent region.
    “There are hard choices to be made by the Jordanian government, and we understand,” Mr. Terzi said in an interview. “National security is paramount.”

    When Azraq opened, it was one of four camps housing displaced Syrians. The largest camp, Zaatari, opened in 2012 and was initially known for its crime and chaos. Azraq was, in some ways, envisioned as the anti-Zaatari, a better-designed camp meant to build a cohesive community.

    To avoid Zaatari’s cramped quarters, Azraq is four times the size and was designed with precision, rather than piecemeal as Zaatari was at a time when Jordan was scrambling to house the early flood of refugees.

    Azraq’s designers have succeeded in some ways. Security has never been a big issue here, as it was at Zaatari, in part because of more policing.

    Azraq also has a well-equipped hospital and a well-stocked supermarket, where refugees can spend food coupons provided by the World Food Program to buy hunks of cheese, olive oil, rice and nuts, reminders of home. And rather than the tents used at Zaatari, small shelters designed to better withstand heat and wind house Azraq’s residents.
    Still, life in the camp is routinely harsh. There is electricity provided by generators only in very limited areas. Refugees, many of them former city dwellers, worry about the scorpions, and about snakes they fear will be attracted by the mice that have already overrun the camp.

    But perhaps the biggest complaint is the lack of bustle that would naturally accompany a larger population.
    “Azraq still needs to get that sense of community,” said Andrew Harper, the top official with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan.

    In addition to the more than 80,000 Syrians at Zaatari, a bustling street market created and run by the refugees has contributed to what aid officials and refugees call a sense of “dignity.”

    “The market is where people meet and drink tea,” said Jina Krause-Vilmar, director at the Near East Foundation, a nonprofit organization helping vulnerable communities. “It’s where a sense of community is established.”

    The street market at Azraq would go a long way toward relieving the bleakness, but it remains unopened, according to the United Nations and the spokesman for the Jordanian government, Mohammad Momani, because the government wants to impose taxes and possibly other fees on those who set up businesses. (Mr. Momani said he expected the market to open soon.)

    A man who would identify himself only as Abu Eiad, 51, is one of those who left the camp, in his case for a northern Jordanian town. He arrived last June from Damascus after a grueling journey with two of his remaining three children. A son who joined the Free Syrian Army, an armed group fighting the Syrian government, had already been killed, and his wife died during fierce clashes on a visit to her family’s hometown, Dara’a.

    But after living in the camp for one month, he could not take the rough conditions. He said he left legally through a temporary travel permit, but never returned.

    “My health was deteriorating,” he said. “I couldn’t take my kids out of the shelter at night because I was afraid they would be bitten by hyenas or vicious animals in the desert.”

    Aid workers said the tide might be turning somewhat at Azraq, with a small number of refugees recently leaving cities and towns for the camp, but only because they are desperate. Living outside the camp, they receive considerably less international help than they do inside, where they are entitled to free health care and larger food rations.

    Abu Eiad said he would not be moving to the camp.

    “It’s true that I am living in poverty here and my son is not attending school,” he said, referring to the town where he has been living, “but if I was forced to leave this place, I would return to Syria, not to the camp.”

    Correction: March 18, 2015

    An article on Monday about the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, which currently houses only 14,500 of the 60,000 Syrian refugees expected by the end of last year, misidentified the United Nations agency that warned in December, after a drop in donor funding, that it would have to cut off food aid for Syrian refugees living outside refugee camps. It is the World Food Program, not the World Health Organization.

    Read in the NYTIMES


  • Jordanian City Votes to Avoid ISIS Aesthetic

    By RANA F. SWEIS MARCH 10, 2015

    AMMAN, Jordan — Push brooms in hand, the sanitation workers who clean the streets of this capital could be easily recognized by their bright orange work suits. The city’s mayor, Aqel Biltaji, even donned the municipal uniform in 2013 to help show Jordanians that there was no shame in a job that requires “dedication and loyalty.”

    But that uniform has become more closely associated with Islamic State militants who force their captives to wear orange jumpsuits in videos that show grisly deaths, including beheadings and the recent immolation of a Jordanian fighter pilot.

    A video released on Tuesday purportedly shows the killing of a Palestinian man by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, wearing the orange outfit.

    In an effort to erase what has become a daily reminder of the militants’ violent crusade, the brother of First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, the fighter pilot burned alive inside a cage by ISIS militants, has led a campaign to change the color of the uniform worn by nearly 4,600 sanitation workers here.

    “It’s the right of our children not to see this color in the streets,” said the pilot’s brother, Jawad al-Kasasbeh. “Our workers and our people deserve not to have to see this color, which reminds them of the evil actions of Islamic State.”

    Mr. Kasasbeh’s initiative gained momentum online, and the city responded by forming a committee to consider changing the uniform and conducting a public poll to choose a new color.

    “My message spread, and citizens responded positively, and the municipality took action quickly,” Mr. Kasasbeh said.
    Visitors to the city’s website were asked whether they favored changing the color and, if so, their preference among eight options, including bright green, fuchsia and turquoise.

    Mr. Kasasbeh said in a telephone interview that he did not want Jordanian citizens to think about “revenge” when they see sanitation workers. City workers have the right to do their jobs without wearing “this ugly color” that ISIS hostages are forced to wear, he added.

    Instead, sanitation workers will wear turquoise uniforms printed with the city’s emblem starting on March 21, Mother’s Day here in Jordan.

    The new color, Mr. Kasasbeh said, is “beautiful and signifies life and energy, everything that is the opposite of Daesh,” another name for ISIS.

    Since the immolation of Lieutenant Kasasbeh, Jordan has increased its participation in the American-led assault against the Islamic State.

    Read in the NYTIMES


  • Jordan Gives Prison Term for Criticism on Facebook

    By RANA F. SWEIS FEB. 15, 2015

    AMMAN, Jordan — The deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan was sentenced on Sunday to 18 months in prison for criticizing the United Arab Emirates in a Facebook post.

    The state security court, a special body that has jurisdiction over Jordan’s internal and external threats, found the Brotherhood leader, Zaki Bani Rushaid, guilty of “acts harmful to the country’s relations with a friendly nation.”

    On his personal Facebook page, Mr. Bani Rushaid wrote on Nov. 17 that the Emirates, an important ally of Jordan and one of several countries in the region, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that have engaged in a campaign to wipe out the Brotherhood, plays the role of the “American cop in the region, supports coups and is a cancer in the body of the Arab world.”

    The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan condemned the verdict in a statement released on Sunday. The arrest of Mr. Bani Rushaid, under a recently strengthened antiterrorism law, was “politically motivated and demonstrates a deliberate escalation by the state against the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan,” the statement said. “It is a blow to freedom of speech and the rights of citizens.”

    Standing inside a black cage in the courtroom, Mr. Bani Rushaid reacted stoically to the verdict. His lawyer, Saleh Armouti, looked at his client and said, “May God bring you no harm.” Mr. Armouti added that he planned to appeal. Mr. Bani Rushaid has been detained since November, and the time he has served will be deducted from his sentence.

    “This is a shame, a shame,” shouted a small crowd outside the court after hearing the verdict. Some held posters of Mr. Bani Rushaid. Mr. Armouti angrily pointed his finger in the air and, referring to King Abdullah II of Jordan, said: “Where is justice, your majesty? This is death for freedom of expression. The government is to blame. Where is the government?”

    Ali Abul Sukkar, a Brotherhood member who was among the protesters, said, “This court is a military court for the most heinous crimes against the country, not for a well-known figure who expresses an opinion on Facebook.”

    “There is no logical and just decision to this,” he added. “It is purely political.”

    It was the first arrest and conviction of an opposition leader in recent years, although a Brotherhood member, Mohammad Said Bakr, was taken into custody in September and given a six-month sentence after he harshly criticized the Jordanian authorities for what he suggested was a tepid response to the Israeli military campaign in the Gaza Strip last summer.

    The Muslim Brotherhood is Jordan’s main opposition party, but unlike Egypt, Jordan has long tolerated the organization’s presence. In recent months, the Brotherhood movement here has had its own internal disputes, chiefly between the moderate and conservative factions. The movement’s more liberal wing has called for internal reform and changes in policies.

    The movement is known for its passionate advocacy of diminishing the relatively unchecked power of the king. Yet it has never called for the overthrow of the monarchy, even during the headiest days of the Arab Spring.

    After Mr. Bani Rushaid’s arrest, the government noted the importance of the country’s relations with the United Arab Emirates, where about 250,000 Jordanians work and which have provided considerable financial aid to Jordan. The Emirates have also used Jordan as a base to conduct airstrikes against the Islamic State.

    Read in the NYTIMES


  • Reporting Bias in Coverage of Student Killings

    By RANA F. SWEIS FEB. 13, 2015

    AMMAN, Jordan — Whether three young students were shot and killed in North Carolina this week in a parking dispute or, as their families believe, because they were Muslims, online commentators here and outside the Middle East say the victims’ religion makes it a hate crime.

    Failing to treat it as such, the commentators say on social media, indicates that Americans and the Western news media just do not understand the region.

    Even before learning that two of the three victims — Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 — were Jordanian citizens, their compatriots on social media called for wider coverage of the killings.

    The shooting occurred Tuesday afternoon in Chapel Hill, N.C., but most news media outlets in the United States and abroad did not report on it until later the next day. This led some on social networks to suggest that the news media was slow to cover the story because the victims were Muslims.

    Jordanians on social media added that the reluctance to report the story as a hate crime was evidence of Western bias.

    The front page Friday of Al Ghad, an independent daily newspaper, read: “Two Jordanians victims of hate crime in the U.S.”

    The police initially described the shooting as stemming from a parking dispute with a white middle-aged neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, who later turned himself in and was charged in the killings. Late on Thursday, the F.B.I. said it would look into whether the shooting was a hate crime.

    Still, Mahmoud Shabeeb expressed his outrage on Twitter at what he perceived to be inconsistent standards when either the suspects or the victims of a crime were Muslim.

    The satirical Jordanian website Kharabeesh posted angry expressions from across the Arab world, and included a translation of a Twitter message by the CNN political commentator Sally Kohn with a hashtag, in Arabic, “#Western_Media_Standards.”

    A comment to the post by Kharabeesh alleged “hypocrisy, media that sees with one eye only.”

    A cartoonist for Al Ghad, Naser Al-Jafari, posted on Facebook a cartoon of Mr. Hicks, the suspect, standing beside a militant of the Islamic State who is dressed in black with his face covered. It is titled, in English, “The Visible & Invisible Face of Terror.”

    Another popular Jordanian cartoonist, Osama Hajjaj, posted on Twitter a menacing depiction of Mr. Hicks in the colors of the American flag — red hair and ears, white eyes and a blue nose. His black beard and mouth resemble an Islamic State militant dressed in black. Many social media posts attempted to liken Mr. Hicks, 46, a former auto parts dealer who had been studying to become a paralegal, with Islamic extremists accused of killing Americans.

    Dr. Mohammad Yousif Abu-Salha, the father of the two slain women, also questioned the attention his daughter’s killing had received in comparison with crimes committed by Muslims.

    “If a Muslim commits a crime, it’s on the news 24/7 for two months,” Dr. Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist in Clayton, N.C., told The Associated Press. “When we are executed in numbers, it’s on the news for seconds.”

    On Friday, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling on all Jordanians in the United States to be cautious and on alert after the shooting.

    Queen Rania of Jordan, using the popular hashtag #muslimlivesmatter, sent her condolences to the victims’ families to her 3.6 million followers on Twitter.

    And Natasha Tynes, a Jordanian-American media consultant, wrote on Facebook, “I guess there is no ‘Je Suis’ hashtag for the three Muslims gunned down in Chapel Hill,” and wondered if world leaders would march in the streets to condemn the killings as they did after the attacks in Paris on the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery store last month.

    Some Jordanian social media activists have called for a rally in Amman on Saturday, declaring: “Charlie is not more valuable than them.”

    Read in the NYTIMES


  • Nima Habashneh: A Woman Who Fought for Equal Rights in Jordan

    “It’s easier to fight cancer than to fight an archaic mindset.” Those were Nima Habashneh’s last words on camera before she passed away this week. The 55-year-old Jordanian spent her last decade fighting for the rights of Jordanian women to pass on their citizenship to their spouses and children.

    Around 84,000 Jordanian women are married to foreign citizens in Jordan with some 340,000 children from these marriages unable, until recently, to access the same basic rights of children with Jordanian nationality. Nima’s campaign achieved victory in November last year when the government finally approved to grant certain rights to children of Jordanian women married to foreigners.

    In 2011, I began following her activism work, saw her at protests and read her petitions. When I began researching more about the struggle of children who felt Jordanian but were alienated legally because their father was a foreigner, I decided to meet Nima and learn about her story.

    We met on a cold November evening. She was a few minutes late to the interview and when I called her, I suddenly saw her hurrying up the escalator carrying a black bag with her two daughters walking behind her. She wore a beige sweater and a brown hijab and when she saw me, she quickly embraced me even though I had never met her.

    I remember how she often walked in a hurry and spoke quickly, as if time was never on her side. She was excitable and optimistic even when she spoke about so many obstacles and failures. She told me about her family, how she fell in love with a Moroccan man, and how she refused to move to any other country other than her own. When she had her six children, she never thought that her struggle for their basic rights would become her life-long cause.

    Like the majority of Jordanian women, she didn’t work. All her children began attending school but she found herself having opinions and ideas but not knowing where to express them. She began posting comments in an online chat forum, and then she created a blog.

    In 2011, when the Arab Spring fever spread across the region and protests were a more common sight, Nima took her online opinions offline and into the streets.

    She reached out to many women to encourage them to join her in her first protest. She spoke to women like her, who were living in Jordan and also struggling because they were married to foreigners and their children lacked basic rights as non-citizens. None of the women showed up. When she called them, some turned off their cellphones, she told me during the interview. Her Facebook Page called ‘My Mother is Jordanian and Her Citizenship is My Right” was hacked. She received threatening messages.

    Still it didn’t take others much time to understand that her campaign was, as she called it, “a national cause”. More women began showing up at protests, signed petitions and met regularly. Almost 10,000 people joined her new Facebook page. Nima began appearing on radio stations, demanding she meet with politicians and decision-makers until she eventually found herself at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland speaking about her cause and representing a nation.

    Nima shared with her online followers the story I wrote about the struggle for gender equality in Jordan. She would call me often to invite me to press conferences or events or she would ask me if I listened to her interview on the radio or her appearance on a television show. As always, she was excitable, warm and busy.

    Nima was bigger than her cause. For ordinary Jordanian women, they could identify with her — she did not have a long career, she was not famous or rich. What made her succeed were her acts every single day. It was her focus and determination that became an inspiration and why cartoonists and columnists have eulogized her in newspapers here this week.

    In some ways she didn’t choose her cause, it chose her. It’s often said it’s a struggle that actually ends up defining a person. Nima took that struggle and she owned it, she squeezed it and carried it proudly on the streets and online where her followers posted today that if one thing is for sure, it is that Nima began this campaign and it will live on.

    Read in Huffington Post


  • Jordan: Jihadist Cleric Freed From Jail

    By RANA F. SWEIS FEB. 5, 2015

    Jordan released Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, a leading jihadist cleric, from prison on Thursday, according to the official Petra news agency. Mr. Maqdisi, who was arrested in October, was accused of “using the Internet to promote and incite views of jihadist terrorist organizations.” It is unclear why he was released. Considered a spiritual mentor to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq until his death in 2006, Mr. Maqdisi later renounced the killing of civilians and has spoken out against the Islamic State group, calling it “deviant.”

    Read in the NYTIMES


  • Interview with LBC radio

    Spoke from Amman on the latest regarding the hostages taken by ISIS and the reaction in Jordan.

    LBC radio is the London-based leading national talk and phone-in radio station.


  • Jordan Hangs Two Terrorists, HuffPost Live Interview

    Watch HuffPostLive interview where I discuss the latest from #Jordan on #ISIS murder of #MoathAlKasasbeh & reactions.


  • Interview with LBC Radio

    Spoke on LBC’s morning show on the latest hostage situation and reaction from #Jordan. #JordanianPilot #Amman #KenjiGoto

    Visit LBC Radio website


  • Jordan Offers to Trade Terrorist for ISIS Hostage, Take Away Interview

    An update I reported on with John Hockenberry of the TakeAway on  the hostage exchange standoff between Jordan and ISIS . Listen to the interview.



  • U.S. ISIS Hostage Kayla Mueller Confirmed Dead, TakeAway Interview

    My interview with John Hockenberry about the American aid worker that was held hostage by the Islamic State.  
    Listen to the interview on The TakeAway


  • Jordan Warns Militants Against Harming Pilot

    By BEN HUBBARD and RANA F. SWEIS DEC. 25, 2014

    BEIRUT, Lebanon — Jordan threatened the militants of the Islamic State on Thursday with “grave consequences” if they harmed a Jordanian pilot captured after his F-16 crashed in northern Syria.

    The warning, issued by Jordan’s Parliament, came as members of the pilot’s family appealed to his captors to welcome him as a “guest” and to show him mercy as a fellow Muslim.

    But no new information on the fate of the pilot, First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh, has emerged since his jet went down on Wednesday and supporters of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, distributed photos online that showed him in his underwear and with a bloody mouth as bearded gunmen led him away.

    His plane was the first to crash since an American-led coalition of countries, including the Arab nations of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, began bombing Islamic State targets this year in an attempt to weaken the group’s hold of territory in Syria and Iraq.

    Lieutenant Kasasbeh is also the first military member of the coalition to be captured by the militants, raising the prospect that the group could use him for propaganda purposes or kill him for revenge.

    The Islamic State often distributes videos of its fighters executing captured Syrian and Iraqi soldiers and has beheaded two American and two British civilians in what it called revenge for their countries’ war against it.

    The pilot’s capture has shocked Jordan, one of the United States’ closest Arab allies. Like all of the coalition’s member nations, Jordan has spoken generally about its participation in the campaign but has not elaborated on its role for fear of retribution by the Islamic State and to avoid provoking the jihadists’ domestic sympathizers.

    It remains unclear whether the pilot’s aircraft had a mechanical failure or, as the Islamic State militants have claimed, was shot down with an antiaircraft missile. American military officials said Wednesday there was no indication a missile had felled the plane.

    The Jordanian warning was issued by the lower house of Parliament, which said in a statement carried by the state-run Petra news agency that the Islamic State and its supporters would face “grave consequences if pilot First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbeh is harmed.”

    The statement voiced continued support for Jordan’s role in the coalition and urged the government of King Abdullah II to “do its utmost to ensure a safe return of the pilot.”

    The king met with the pilot’s family on Wednesday, and his wife, Queen Rania, posted on Instagram an image of a Jordanian flag in the shape of a fighter jet with the hashtag “We are all Moaz.”

    Images of the captive posted on the Internet by the group showed him appearing traumatized and disoriented as he was surrounded by triumphal militants. Some wore their customary face hoods, but others were clearly recognizable.

    Lieutenant Kasasbeh’s father, Safi, said in an interview with Reuters Television on Thursday that he did not consider his son to be a hostage of the militants.

    “I don’t call him a prisoner,” he said, asking the militants to treat his son well. “I call him a guest of our brothers in Syria, of the Islamic State group.”

    The pilot’s uncle, Fahed al-Kasasbeh, a retired major general from Jordan’s armed forces, said by phone Thursday that the family had received no new information on Lieutenant Kasasbeh’s fate and appealed to the jihadists to welcome him as a fellow Muslim.

    “We expect him to be treated the way the Prophet Muhammad treated his captives, with mercy and generosity,” he said.

    That prospect was unclear at best. Supporters of the Islamic State have been taking to social media to suggest ways to kill Lieutenant Kasasbeh. The Raqqa Media Center, a pro-Islamic State group that distributed early photos of the captured pilot, posted a poll on its Facebook page asking what the militants should do with him. The options: negotiate for him, slaughter him with a knife, shoot him.

    Read in the NYTIMES


  • Jordan Executes 11 After 8-Year Moratorium

    By RANA F. SWEIS DEC. 21, 2014

    AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan ended an eight-year moratorium on executions on Sunday when 11 men were hanged at dawn.

    The men had been convicted of murder charges from 2002 to 2004, according to a statement released by the Interior Ministry.

    The government carried out the executions at the Swaqa corrections and rehabilitation center, 60 miles south of Amman, the capital, “after taking all required legal measures,” according to the ministry’s spokesman, Ziad Zubi.

    Jordan’s last previous execution, in March 2006, was carried out for a man convicted of killing his wife and baby.

    Last month, the interior minister, Hussein Majali, announced that a committee had been formed to examine whether to reinstate the death penalty. Mr. Majali said members of the public believed that a rise in crime was related to the absence of executions.

    The number of felonies and other crimes in the country increased to 33,800 last year from 24,700 in 2009, according to Jordan’s Department of Statistics, but the kingdom is generally seen as one of the safest in the region.

    Since 2006, more than 100 people have been sentenced to death for crimes like murder, rape and treason, but until Sunday, none of the sentences had been carried out.

    Jordanian and international human rights organizations heavily criticized the government on Sunday.

    “Reinstatement of the death penalty is a major blow to Jordan’s official rhetoric in support of human rights,” said Adam Coogle, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should immediately reverse course and instead take prompt and decisive action toward a total abolition of this inherently cruel punishment.”

    In a statement released on Sunday by Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of the Middle East program, said, “Reviving this inherently cruel form of punishment is another way Jordan is backsliding on human rights.”

    The European Union has been pushing Jordan to make the moratorium permanent. The Swedish ambassador to Jordan, Helena Rietz, expressed her concern over the executions on Twitter, saying that the European Union and Sweden urged Jordan to abolish the death penalty.

    In a news release on Sunday, the British ambassador to Jordan, Peter Millett, also expressed his regret over the executions. “We urge Jordan to put in place a moratorium on any further use of the death penalty,” Mr. Millett said. “We consider that its use undermines human dignity, that there is no conclusive evidence that it has any value as a deterrent.”

    In Jordan, no death sentence may be carried out unless the king approves it.

    “I met with the family of a son who was murdered in cold blood more than a year ago,” said Adeeb Akroosh, 67, a Jordanian activist. “There were many Jordanians there who wrote a letter to His Majesty asking him to reinstate the death penalty.”

    By Sunday afternoon, the names of the 11 men were published in the Jordanian news media.

    On Thursday, a record number of countries threw their weight behind a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions: 117 of the 193 member states voted in favor of the resolution, 38 voted against it, and 34 abstained.

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  • Syrian Refugees, Once Stuck, Enter Jordan

    By RANA F. SWEIS Dec 12, 2014

    AMMAN, Jordan — Hundreds of Syrian refugees, including women and children, who had been stranded for months in a buffer zone along the Jordanian border were allowed to enter Jordan on Thursday, according to the United Nations refugee agency and Syrians who were reunited with family members.

    “The refugees stranded in no man’s land have crossed into Jordan and are being assessed by security authorities,” said Andrew Harper, the top official with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan. He referred to a stretch of land between the border posts of Jordan and Syria.

    The number of Syrians entering Jordan has risen sharply in the last few days, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration, the agency responsible for the transfer of refugees from the border area to refugee camps. Before that, the flow had slowed markedly in recent months.

    It was not clear how many of the newly admitted refugees will be allowed to remain in Jordan. The United Nations refugee agency and Human Rights Watch have indicated that the number of refugees sent back to Syria by Jordan had been rising in recent months.

    More than 600,000 Syrians have fled to Jordan over the four years of the Syrian civil war so far, straining the ability of Jordan, which has a population of 7.5 million, according to the World Population Review, to deal with them.

    The Jordanian government spokesman, Mohammad Momani, said on Friday that Jordan has not been excluding women, elderly men or disabled men from entering. He said that all arriving refugees were “medically checked, given food, and their papers are examined to register them and make sure that none of them is affiliated with terrorist groups.”

    Farouk Shahdat, a Syrian refugee living in the Azraq camp in a remote, dusty expanse of Jordan 60 miles east of Amman, said that 10 members of his family, most of them women and children, were stranded on the border for two and a half months. They finally got across the border and joined him at the camp on Thursday.

    “We were desperately waiting and waiting for my family, and my elderly mother, too, not knowing what will happen to them,” he said. “But today they are here.”

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  • Brotherhood Arrest Seen as Warning


  • Syrians Stranded

    By RANA F. SWEIS NOV. 19, 2014

    AMMAN, Jordan — Thousands of Syrians, mostly women and children, have been stranded for weeks on Jordan’s border, according to international aid agencies who say Jordan appears to be increasingly turning away Syrians fleeing war at home.

    “We’ve received reports there’s a large group of Syrians near the Jordanian border,” said Andrew Harper, the top official with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan, which has been one of the countries most open to Syrians in the past. “What we’re calling for is that all vulnerable persons are provided access to asylum.”

    Mr. Harper and other aid officials say that the flow of Syrians into Jordan has slowed substantially in recent weeks as domestic tension has risen over the growing refugee population from Syria and Iraq. Fears about terrorist infiltrators have also increased.

    The Syrians stuck at the border have presumably been turned away by border guards, the aid workers say, and have built makeshift shelters in a desolate stretch of desert north of Mafraq, Jordan, in an apparent hope that the country will eventually allow them in.

    A satellite image published this month by the United Nations showed around 155 shelters. The International Organization for Migration has estimated that about 2,700 people were waiting there, but a document circulated among countries contributing money for the refugees and obtained by The New York Times put the number at up to 4,000.

    The situation has contributed to a growing alarm among aid agencies over what they see as the decreasing options for Syrians seeking refuge from the war tearing their country apart. A recent report by two aid groups showed the number of Syrians accepted as refugees in the region declined by 88 percent last month as nations like Jordan that already host many refugees are becoming overwhelmed.

    The Jordanian government, which limits access by journalists to the border, would not discuss the aid agencies’ claims about the people waiting just over the border.

    “We cannot attest to something outside our border,” said Mohammad Momani, a government spokesman, adding that all those arriving at border crossings were being screened according to the procedures agreed on with the United Nations.

    In an interview, Mr. Harper of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (U.N.H.C.R.) said that the numbers of refugees crossing into Jordan had decreased sharply since September.

    “In September, we’ve had around 6,000 people cross into Jordan; in October, we’ve had around 500 people; and in November, we’ve had very very few people cross the border,” Mr. Harper said. The International Organization for Migration figures also attest to the drop in numbers.

    The Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year, has caused an influx of more than 600,000 refugees to Jordan, which has a population of 6.5 million. Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey have been among other countries taking in some of the more than three million Syrians who have fled the fighting.

    But the joint report by the Norwegian Refugee Council and the International Rescue Committee released last week suggested that many civilians who were fleeing were finding it more difficult to find refuge, leading to “a new level of hopelessness.”

    On average, more than 150,000 Syrians were able to cross into neighboring countries each month in 2013, the report said. Last month, the number of new refugees declined to 18,453.

    Lebanon last month announced it was denying entry to all but “exceptional” refugee cases.

    In Jordan, analysts and aid workers say the refugees appear, in part, to be caught in a struggle over who will take care of them in the long term.

    “Jordan is saying we cannot bear this responsibility alone anymore,” said Oraib al-Rantawi, director of Al Quds Center for Political Studies, a Jordanian research institute. “The international community and the Arab countries need to contribute and find a solution to the refugee crisis whether it’s through direct aid and support to Jordan or through safe areas or havens inside Syria.”

    Petra, the official Jordanian news agency, on Wednesday picked up a news report from Japan in which the king, who is visiting, thanked the country for its aid but also spoke of the continuing challenges for his country.

    “Foreign aid to Jordan and to the U.N. refugee agency reached only 29 percent of what is needed this year, and the rest of burden will fall onto our shoulders,” King Abdullah II is quoted saying.

    In addition, fears of infiltration rose after Jordan in September joined the United States-led military campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group operating in Syria and Iraq.

    As winter approaches, aid agencies worry conditions will further deteriorate for the refugees stranded on Jordan’s border. The aid agencies say they have been allowed to provide basic aid such as food and blankets through the Jordanian military and border guards. But they have not been allowed to visit the refugees.

    “We’re calling on all the countries in the region to allow those refugees who are fleeing the conflict to enter and calling on the international community to do more,” Mr. Harper said.

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  • Kerry Is Optimistic After Meeting Over Holy Site in Jerusalem


    AMMAN, Jordan — Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians were committed to taking “concrete steps” to ease strife over a volatile holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem.

    Speaking at a news conference after a summit meeting here with King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, and after a separate meeting in Amman with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Kerry refused to elaborate on the nature of the steps. But he said that Mr. Netanyahu had shown his concern by coming to Jordan and that Mr. Abbas had pledged to prevent incitement to violence and to try to change the climate.

    “The proof will not be in the words but in the actions,” Mr. Kerry added.

    Mr. Abbas and Mr. Netanyahu, who have not met in years, did not meet in Amman or attend the news conference, which was held at the Foreign Ministry. The meeting of Mr. Kerry, King Abdullah and Mr. Netanyahu took place at the royal palace.

    Nasser Judeh, Jordan’s foreign minister, who joined Mr. Kerry at the news conference, said King Abdullah had impressed upon Mr. Kerry how important the issue was for Jordan, the official custodian of the holy site revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, the location of Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and by Jews as Temple Mount, where their ancient temples once stood.

    The recent tensions have strained Israel’s alliance with neighboring Jordan and have fueled clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces inside the compound and around East Jerusalem. They also helped spur a series of deadly Palestinian knife and vehicular attacks against Israelis.

    The friction has been brewing for months, with Israeli nationalist activists and some right-wing politicians pushing for increased Jewish access and prayer rights at the site and Palestinian activists responding with increasingly noisy and violent protests.

    The attempted assassination, by a Palestinian man, of a prominent Jewish activist who had pressed for Jewish prayer rights in the compound led to a rare closing of the site for one day in late October. Last week, Jordan withdrew its ambassador from Israel, citing Israeli violations.

    Regarding any possible return of the ambassador, Mr. Judeh said Jordan would wait to see if Israel made good on its commitment to ease the tensions.

    Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly pledged that he will maintain the status quo at the site, which allows Jews to visit but bars non-Muslim prayer there. He has also emphasized respect for Jordan’s special role, enshrined in the peace treaty that Israel and Jordan signed two decades ago.

    But the Palestinians and Israelis have accused each other of provocations.

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  • Christians of Mosul Find Haven in Jordan

    By RANA F. SWEIS OCT. 26, 2014

    AMMAN, Jordan — They were among the final holdouts. Even as many of their neighbors fled the violence that engulfed Iraq after the American invasion, the three men stayed put, refusing to give up on their country or their centuries-old Christian community.

    Maythim Najib, 37, stayed despite being kidnapped and stabbed 12 times in what he believed was a random attack. Radwan Shamra, 35, continued to hope he could survive the sectarian war between his Sunni and Shiite countrymen even after losing two friends shot by an unknown gunman who left their bodies sprawled in a Mosul street. And a 74-year-old too frightened to give his name said he remained despite the trauma of spending three anguished days in 2007 waiting to learn if his kidnapped 17-year-old son was dead or alive.

    Iraqis attending Mass in June at a church in Al Qosh, where many Christians have fled after being intimidated into leaving their homes in Mosul.

    Now all three men from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and its environs have fled with their families to Jordan, forced out by Islamic State fighters who left them little choice. After capturing the city in June, the Sunni militant group gave Christians a day to make up their minds: convert, pay a tax, or be killed.

    It was “the last breath,” said Mr. Shamra, one of 4,000 Iraqi Christians from Mosul who have come to Jordan in the past three months and one of more than 50 people sheltering in St. Ephraim Syrian Orthodox Church in Amman. “We waited as long as possible until we knew we would die if we remained.”

    Their flight is part of a larger exodus of Christians leaving those Arab lands where religious intolerance is on the rise, a trend that has caused concern among Christians outside the region — including the pope. It has also captured the attention of King Abdullah II of Jordan, a close American ally who has made the need for the continued presence of multiple religions in the Middle East a major talking point in recent years.

    So when fighters from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, stormed into Mosul, the Jordanian government threw open the country to Iraq’s Christians despite rising tensions in Jordan over waves of Syrian refugees whose presence has increasingly burdened ill-prepared communities.

    Hasan Abu Hanieh, a Jordanian political analyst, said the government’s decision was both humanitarian and strategic, at a time when Jordan is edgy over Islamist militants on its borders and anxious to keep its bonds with the West strong.

    “The government can show the world that Jordan has a policy that seeks to protect minorities, unlike its neighbors,” he said.

    The Iraqi Christians also benefited from the fact that Jordan’s small Christian community maintains good relations with its majority Sunni neighbors and mobilized quickly to help the refugees, many of whom were crammed into camps in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

    Also crucial was the intervention of Caritas, an international Christian charity that has spent years in Jordan serving displaced Palestinians, poor Jordanians and others. The group worked to let Iraq’s Christians know that Jordan was opening up to them. Payment for visas was waived, and Caritas and Jordan’s churches said they would provide for refugees’ basic needs.

    Refugees did, however, have to pay for their own flights on Royal Jordanian Airlines from Erbil, in Iraq, to Amman.

    About 500 of the new and often traumatized Christian refugees now live in community halls in seven churches in Amman and nearby Zarqa, trying hard to make do in places with little privacy or even enough basic necessities like toilets. Many of the other refugees are living several families to an apartment or house, paying the rent with their own money or with aid from Caritas.

    Still, they are relatively lucky, aid workers say. One of the lures to come here was the promise of being able to more quickly obtain refugee status that might allow them to leave the region.

    At the Mary, Mother of the Church in Amman, where dozens of the Christian refugees reside, suitcases lay on top of each other to save space. Thin mattresses with floral designs are spread across the floor and wet garments hang from windows to dry. The children, still afraid of their new surroundings, rarely wander off without their parents, even to play.

    “I ask them to tell me what they saw, how they feel now,” said Khalil Jaar, a priest in the parish. “I try to give them hope by telling them about the resilience of refugees in the past.”

    Besides providing shelter, the church feeds the refugees, doling out hearty portions of rice and vegetables paid for by charities or from donations from Jordanians.

    Like the approximately 620,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan and more than 30,000 other Iraqi refugees, the latest arrivals are not allowed to work — an attempt to ensure they do not stay forever in a country that previously granted citizenship to a large population of displaced Palestinians. To while away the time, the men play backgammon, drink tea together or help with chores at the church’s school. The women spend their time mainly caring for their children and helping prepare meals.

    Mostly, they are haunted by the abrupt end to their lives in Iraq, and to a Christian tradition that had survived in Mosul for more than 1,700 years.

    Saif Jebrita, a photographer, said he knew it was time to leave when he went to open his shop days after ISIS declared victory and found a notice from the militants demanding that he abandon his profession. The group claims that images are against Islam.

    “It’s the only thing I know how to do, and they wanted to destroy it,” he said recently as his two young sons stood next to him, fidgeting with broken toy dinosaurs.

    At St. Ephraim, the 74-year-old who was too anxious to give his name said his greatest worry was the safety of his older son, who remains in Erbil, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. A younger son, the one who had been kidnapped, is with him, having survived that earlier ordeal.

    To show what the family had been through, the elderly man carefully laid out photos of his old home on one of the only flat surfaces he has, next to the toothpaste and a small broken mirror. A neighbor sent the photos after the family fled.

    A letter N for Nazrene, a term used for Christians in the Quran, is spray painted twice on the stone wall surrounding the home, which also is now marked Property of the Islamic State.

    Mr. Najib, the man who survived the stabbing, said his 8-year-old daughter did not understand that there was nothing to go back to, and had been crying a lot recently, asking to go home. He bemoaned the loss of Mosul’s Christian community.

    Under the Islamic State, “diversity is dead or at least dying,” he said.

    Mr. Jebrita, the photographer, shared his despair. “We are very much part of the Arab culture, we are citizens of Iraq,” he said. “What do we go back to? There is no home, and if this continues, there will be no country.”

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  • No Syrians Are Allowed Into Jordan, Agencies Say

    By RANA F. SWEIS OCT. 8, 2014

    AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan is refusing to let Syrian refugees cross the border, international refugee agencies said on Wednesday, expressing fear that thousands have been left stranded with limited access to food and other supplies.

    “We have not recorded any Syrian refugees crossing into Jordan in the past week,” said Andrew Harper, the top official with the United Nations refugee agency in Jordan.

    The International Organization for Migration concurred, saying that no Syrians had been taken from the border area to refugee camps in Jordan since Oct. 1, when 44 crossed over.

    However, the Jordanian government denied that the border had been closed to anyone other than those deemed a security risk. “There is no change on our open-border policy,” said a government spokesman, Mohammad Momani. “Those who are injured, women and children continue to cross, but the numbers of those entering are subject to the security assessment in the field.”

    Jordan is one of the Middle Eastern countries that have joined the United States-led military campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. Last month, it sent warplanes to strike the militants in Syria, prompting fears of terrorist reprisals. Analysts said the threat from the Islamic State and allied groups might have prompted stricter border controls.

    “Tightening the border is a logical reaction from the government’s perspective,” said Manar Rachwani, a columnist and op-ed editor at Al Ghad, an independent daily newspaper, “especially because the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s wing in Syria, is on its border, and they are being targeted by the U.S./Arab-led coalition.”

    More than three million Syrians, half of them children, have fled the country’s civil war to neighboring countries, including Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. Until mid-2013, the flow of refugees from Syria to Jordan exceeded 2,000 per day. This rate then dropped to several hundred until last week’s sudden halt, refugee agencies said.

    As of early October, 1.15 million Syrians had registered with the United Nations refugee agency in Lebanon, it said, and Turkey had absorbed 1.03 million as of late September.

    Jordan, with a population of 6.5 million, has drawn waves of refugees in the past, but the crisis in Syria is particularly severe and is straining the country’s limited resources. The Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year, has caused an influx of more than 600,000 refugees to Jordan.

    Jordan’s official news agency, Petra, reported last month that the authorities had arrested several supporters of the Islamic State who were accused of recruiting for the group.

    In the sprawling border refugee camp in Zaatari, which shelters some 80,000 Syrians, one refugee, Mohamad al-Ghazawi, said aid workers and Syrians in the camp who spoke to relatives this week said refugees were not being allowed to enter. “We heard the severely injured are barely being allowed to cross inside,” he said.

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