Kilis, Turkey — Just as international efforts to reach a ceasefire in Syria intensify, the long-running crisis appears to be growing even bloodier. On Monday, the violence spilled over into both Turkey and Lebanon: A Lebanese cameraman was killed while filming from the northern town of Wadi Khaled, while two Syrians were killed and more were wounded when they were fired upon at a refugee camp inside Turkey. Two Turkish nationals attempting to help the fleeing Syrians were also injured in the crossfire.
The clash at the Turkish-Syrian border began when Syrian regime troops launched an offensive in the town of Azaz, on the Syrian side of the border, in the dawn hours of Monday morning. Syrians who lay wounded in the hospital in Kilis said that violence began when Syrian soldiers opened fire on refugees who walked to the border to protest the attack on Azaz.
The camp, which lies about a fifth of a mile from the border, was established to provide aid to the thousands of Syrians who have fled President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown. Over 9,000 refugees are living in the Kilis camp, and more are expected to arrive to alleviate overcrowding in other camps. As we drove from the Turkish province of Hatay to Kilis, five buses filled with Syrian refugees traveled ahead of us, making their way to a new place of supposed refuge.
In Kilis, we walked into a ward where three Syrian men lay sprawled on hospital beds, blood seeping from fresh wounds where bullets had just been removed. "We were watching the attack over the border," explained Betar, a Syrian man who was shot twice in the leg while inside the Kilis refugee camp. As Syrian forces attacked Azaz, refugees across the border in the camp looked on helplessly and began to protest the violence. "When [the Syrian Armed Forces] heard us say ‘Allahu Akbar' they started to shoot at us," he said.
Betar, who lives in the Kilis refugee camp with his family, thinks the Syrian regime is following them into Turkey to kill them. Snipers fired on the camp from less than 500 meters away, noted his friend, who recounted how he picked up bullets from rooms within the camp. Around 21 Syrians have been wounded and three have died, according to wounded Syrians within the Kilis hospital. (Other reports said that two Syrians had died).
Turkish officials, eager to prevent the cross-border violence from spiraling out of control, are limiting access to information for inquiring journalists. Police stopped us while we were interviewing a badly injured Syrian man and directed us to a small room, where we were questioned for two hours. They interrogated our Syrian translator on his opinions of the Assad regime. Two other French-speaking journalists were being questioned as well.
The Kilis refugee camp has become an easy target for Syrian forces, and eye-witnesses within the camp say the Turkish police did not fire back when the attack began. Betar described how Turkish police in the camp fell to the ground to protect themselves, but did not retaliate.
With the end to the conflict nowhere in sight, Syria's refugees have found little comfort in escaping Assad's brutal crackdown. They left Syria in the hope of finding safety and peace, but violence still seems to follow them wherever they go.
Sophia Jones, a former editorial assistant at Foreign Policy, is an Overseas Press Club fellow and freelance journalist based out of Cairo. Erin Banco is a Cairo-based freelance journalist.
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GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney told an audience at a South Carolina military college this morning that his presidency would herald "an American century," calling for an additional 100,000 active duty personnel, an increased defense budget, and stronger U.S.-Israeli relations. While many of the GOP Tea Party views align with Romney's presidential campaign, a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center points to some glaring discrepancies within the Tea Party that may prove deadly for Romney next November.
In many areas, to be sure, Romney fulfills his reputation as a weathervane for Republican politics. In his speech, Romney raised the specter that Israel will feel "isolated by a hostile international community," and that "those who seek Israel's destruction [will] feel emboldened by American ambivalence." Pew found that 68 percent of Tea Party voters feel Obama favors the Palestinians too much, and that over half consider government stability in Middle Eastern countries of the utmost importance, even if it means less democracy.
Tea Party Republicans also appear receptive to Romney's calls for a strong military, with 60 percent stating military strength as the best way to ensure peace. But while Tea Partiers want to maintain U.S. military strength, they don't want to pay for it: 78 percent of Tea Party Republicans want to keep spending at current levels, or cut it back. On this issue, Romney -- who seeks to increase defense spending to 4 percent of GDP -- appears out of tune with the GOP base.
Romney also made clear his skepticism about Obama's planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, indicating his intention to consult military officials who have voiced concern over the rate of U.S. troop pullout. While 66 percent of GOP Tea Party voters feel it is unlikely that Afghanistan can maintain a stable government after U.S. troops leave, they appear to be split on the issue of whether to keep troops in Afghanistan until the situation has stabilized: 55 percent agree with staying, and 42 percent lean toward leaving as soon as possible. A similar split exists on the issue of reducing military commitments overseas: 55 percent of Tea Partiers approve of reducing troops overseas to help lower the national debt, and 44 percent disagree.
As Romney made clear today, his presidency would eschew the isolationist inclinations of some in the Tea Party in favor of the muscular interventionism of the George W. Bush era. But whether that's what Americans will vote for come November 2012 is another story.
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Over the past six months, Syria has erupted into chaos. As protesters took to the streets to demand the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian army and police responded with deadly force: The United Nations now estimates 2,600 people have perished in the violence.
But what the protest movement has lacked so far is a unified front that could express the Syrian opposition's vision for the country's future, and press for international action against the Assad regime. While Syria's historically fractious opposition groups have been unsuccessful in overcoming their differences, a new coalition has an opportunity to establish a united front. On Thursday, a group of 140 dissidents announced the establishment of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the first organized effort to challenge the ferocity of Assad's "killing machine."
Foreign Policy exclusively obtained a document that lays out the SNC's structure, membership, and goals. It also received the SNC's "National Consensus Charter," which describes the principles that will guide the council's actions.
The first document says that the council is currently made up of 140 members. It provides the name of 71 members, but states that the rest have been kept secret "for security reasons." 60 percent of the SNC's membership resides inside Syria, while 40 percent lives abroad. A slim majority -- 52 percent -- of the council's membership is made up of representatives of the grassroots movements that have driven the recent protests, while the rest includes members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, the Kurdish National Bloc, the Damascus Declaration group, and other prominent opposition figures. The SNC will be divided into eight main offices, including bureaus to undertake tasks such as media relations, policy planning, and legal affairs and human rights.
SNC's charter describes the formation of an anti-Assad umbrella coalition as "a pressing necessity and its absence is an offense against the revolution." It details three main principles: a unified effort to overthrow Assad's regime, the desire to maintain the peaceful nature of the revolution, and a national initiative to create a democratic state that respects the equality of Syria's diverse ethnic and religious groups. The council also asserted its aim to develop a roadmap for democratic change within Syria.
Ausama Monajed, a member of the newly created council and the executive director of the Strategic Research and Communication Centre, detailed what the council hopes to accomplish in a conversation with FP.
Foreign Policy: What message do you want to send the Syrian people, and the rest of the international community?
Ausama Monajed: The Syrian National Council aims to present the reality of Syria to international media outlets and policy makers, to be able to have an impact on global policies by providing governments with the right information and analysis; to draft roadmaps for a just Syria; and to boost the morale of Syrian demonstrators by presenting them with a unified body that will support their activities.
FP: Why does the council oppose military and foreign intervention in Syria?
AM: Syrians oppose military intervention because of the negative experience countries in the region have had. The council only reflects the demands of the Syrian street.
Assad's regime is built on self-interest, not on a minority, as perceived. Alawites [Assad's religious sect] are starting to peel away from the regime and many are starting to oppose it, realizing that Assad will flee, leaving them to deal with the aftermath of his sectarian actions. A coup is a possible scenario, a sudden collapse is also a possibility.
FP: What groups are represented in the council? How will the council, made up of so many voices, effectively form a united oppositional front to Assad?
AM: All Syrian groups. The differences in views of the council members are insignificant at this time, as all parties involved - or actually all Syrians -- agree on certain principles, such as that the Syrian revolution should remain peaceful, national unity is to be stressed and all sectarian or exceptionalist tendencies are to be extricated, while foreign military intervention will be rejected.
The charter added that all minorities and parties in Syria will have their rights guaranteed without any discrimination -- and that includes recognition of the Kurdish identity, and reaching a fair solution to Kurdish issues within the scope of national unity.
FP: Who will lead the council? Will the names of the council members still within Syria be released? Is there a formal list of the dissident members residing outside of Syria? Will more members be chosen in the near future?
AM: Leadership elections will take place in a few days. While the names of some of the members have been revealed, we did not reveal the rest of the names for security reasons.
FP: Ahmed Ramadan, a council member, has spoken of the possibility of a TV channel being launched to address the demands of the Syrian people. Is this true?
AM: Everything is possible.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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Masked youth wander the streets armed with Molotov cocktails, families flee as their homes erupt in flames, medics tend to the bloodied and bruised as armored vehicles patrol the streets -- a scene fit for a war zone. The world has been capitaved by the scenes emerging from London, Manchester, and Birmingham in recent days while the British public has searched for explanations for what set off this wave of anarchy.
But shocking as the violence has been, this isn't the first time England has been paralyzed by riots -- history seems to be repeating itself with terrifying accuracy.
St. Pauls Riot
In April of 1980, the Black and White Café, a famous drug den in Bristol, was raided by officers. High unemployment, poor living conditions and a general feeling of discrimination by the police force proved a deadly combination as over a hundred youth battled with officers, destroying police cars and fire trucks as well as local buildings.
In total twenty-five people were hospitalized, including 19 officers, and 130 were arrested. While the numbers were relatively low compared to later riots, St. Pauls would seen as a turning point.
1981 Summer Riots
The "sus" law -- short for suspected person -- was a police method that allowed individuals to be stopped and searched without just cause, generating a harsh division between the police and minority communities in the late 1970s and early 1980s. April marked the introduction of a new tactic, called Operation Swamp, where police patrolled the streets in large groups, arresting thousands of suspected criminals in order to slash the crime rate.
On the evening of April 10 in Brixton, as officers led a young black man suffering from stab wounds to a police car to take him to a hospital, he broke free, fearing he was actually being arrested. A crowd began to form around the scene, throwing bottles and bricks at the policemen. As the night went on, rumors spread like wildfire throughout Brixton that the injured man had actually been stabbed by the White officers.
Operation Swamp searches ensued and when officers attempt to search a man suspected of carrying drugs, a full-fledged riot broke with Molotov cocktails being thrown for the first time on the mainland in British history. Hundreds of homes and buildings were looted and torched. 300 officers were injured, along with 60 civilians. Riots spread to areas of Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool in the later months.
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On July 22, Savita and Beena stood before a court in Gurgaon, India, and became the first lesbian couple to be legally married, defying their disapproving families and strict laws banning same-sex marriage. Now, the newlyweds seek police protection following death threats from 14 of their family members and local villagers.
Savita, 25, and Beena, 20, met 15 years ago as children in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Savita had been forced into an arranged marriage last year with a man from her village, but she ran away five months later. She was granted a divorce by a court near New Delhi, which also approved her wish to marry Beena. Savita was deemed the husband, and Beena, her wife. Though India bans same-sex marriage, the Gurgaon court recognized their union after the couple signed an affidavit asserting that they meet all of the requirements of a legal marriage.
But following the ceremony, the young couple soon returned asking for asylum after an open declaration was made in their village to kill the women. Now, the judges in the Gurgaon court are granting the couple police protection, upholding a 2009 ruling from the Punjab and Haryana High Court to "ensure help and [give] assistance to runaway couples."
Details on their current situation are cloudy. Some reports claim that the two women attempted suicide by jumping in front of a moving train. But Dr. Abhe Singh, the Gurgaon deputy commissioner of police, told the Daily Telegraph that the young women are currently safe under 24-hour protection.
In the past year alone, two lesbian couples have committed suicide in India. Others have fallen victim to honor killings at the hands of disapproving family members. Homosexuality is still widely frowned upon in India, with the health minister recently speaking out at a national HIV/AIDS convention against the "MSM disease" -- men who have sex with men. But beneath a traditional blanket of conservatism, an outspoken LGBT community is emerging, and not just in India.
Neighboring Nepal, the first South Asian country to decriminalize homosexuality, has been called the next potential gay wedding destination for foreigners. Same-sex marriage was recently approved by the Nepalese Supreme Court, which is also pushing for the new constitution to include gay rights. Third gender ID cards are now issued to Nepali citizens who do not identify as male or female. And, in 2010, operation Pink Mountain was launched, the nation's first travel agency for gay tourists. Sharad Pradhan, the Nepal Tourism Board spokesman, stresses that Nepal is "more liberal than other countries" and that "all the tourist sites are open for everyone, including gays and lesbians." An American lesbian couple recently took advantage of Nepal's gay-friendly stance on tourism, becoming the first same-sex couple to publicly marry there.
Following Nepal's lead, India decriminalized homosexuality in 2009, and since then, a ripple of change has pulsed through the country. Once taboo, Bollywood now no longer shies away from films with homosexual characters. In 2008, the first large-scale gay pride parade hit New Delhi, with some protesters calling it a national coming-out party. Now, India's annual parade celebrating gay rights attract thousands -- complete with drums, masks, and rainbow flags.
Meanwhile Savita and Beena are putting on their own show of strength. "If they want to take any steps against us, they should not hesitate to do so," said the couple. "Don't fear anything, just follow your heart."
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A deep freight train rumble struck South Korea's capital as a series of landslides engulfed entire villages. Screams resounded from buildings as they were dragged down mud rivers. Drivers scrambled to their car roofs as entire portions of the highway were swept away.
Relentless rains have crippled the region, with some reports placing the death toll at 67. Thousands of police officers, firefighters and soldiers are scrambling to aid victims and search for potential survivors. But in some areas, rescue missions have been stalled due to another potential disaster: landmines. Between 1999 and 2006, the South Korean military dug up mines from the Korean War on Wumyeon Mountain in southern Seoul, but ten could not be located. Residents have been warned that these land mines could have been knocked loose by floods and debris. Authorities hope that a concrete wall resting near the mountain will hold back the missing mines.
While an army official told reporters that the lost ammunition posed no real danger, as the grenades are stored in wooden boxes and the mines are detached from their fuses, similar instances have resulted in deaths in the region. In 2010, floods carried a North Korean landmine into a river close to the border. Two South Korean men, who were fishing in the area, came across the mine. One instantly died, the other was wounded. Officials reported more than 30 mines had been swept into South Korea. The Demilitarized Zone -- the two and a half miles dividing North and South Korea -- is littered with mines. Many unsuspecting villagers have come across the deadly weapons, losing arms, legs and, sometimes, their lives.
Both North and South Korea experience an annual rainy season, but this year's rains have proven to be the worst in a century. North Korea's widespread deforestation makes it even more vulnerable, with few trees to stop the powerful landslides. Aid and supplies have been distributed quickly around Seoul, but rescuers expressed concern over potential electrocution in flooded parking lots and construction sites. Over 4,500 people have been driven from their homes.
The water bombs, as some are calling the pounding rain storms, have stopped for now, but here's hoping the real explosives won't bear their ugly heads.
YANG HOE-SEONG/AFP/Getty Images; PARK JI-HWAN/AFP/Getty Images; JANG SEUNG-YOON/AFP/Getty Images; Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images; JANG SEUNG-YOON/AFP/Getty Images
In al-Shabab-controlled regions of Somalia, anything deemed un-Islamic is outlawed. This includes mustaches, the World Cup, wearing bras, and dancing at weddings. The militant Islamist group recently added something new to that list: Samosas.
How can a seemingly harmless pastry be un-Islamic? Apparently, it's the shape. Samosas are fried in a triangular shape, which al-Shabab finds to be strikingly similar to the Christian Holy Trinity. Samosas, known as sambusas in the region, are often enjoyed to break the fast during Ramadan. But now, those caught selling, cooking or eating sambusas could face harsh punishment -- if history is any guide. The militant group follows a strict interpretation of Islam, enforcing their moral rulings to the utmost degree. In 2009, al-Shabab gunmen went village to village, rounding up women who were found wearing bras. Traditionally moderate Muslim Somalis were horrified as the women were beaten, their bras forcibly removed, and then told to publicly shake their chests for the men. Al-Shabab's justification for the public humiliation was that the bras promoted deception, a breach of Islam.
Last year, radio stations were shut down for playing music. Men and women who are not related can no longer shake hands, or even speak to one another in public. Women who are found working in public places face execution in some cases. Women and young girls alike have been arrested and flogged for not wearing hijabs. Watching soccer in general has been outlawed, but al-Shabab took a particular disliking to the World Cup since Somali boys and men were watching soccer instead of joining the group's jihad against the government. Cinemas no longer show the matches after numerous theaters were attacked with grenades.
It seems anything remotely enjoyable (and triangular) is prohibited, and now, al-Shabab's control has struck at the core of human survival. As Somalia starves to death, the militant group bans a staple food in East African culture as it is too "Christian." Humanitarian aid from Western organizations has been mostly outlawed, with UN famine reports called "sheer propaganda". Al-Shabab's outlandish rulings may cost millions of lives.
_ubik_ via Flickr Creative Commons
While an increasingly devastating famine continues to drive Somalis from their homes, many families are citing another reason for leaving: the forced recruitment of child soldiers. A recent Amnesty International report revealed that al-Shabab has intensified its recruitment process in order to gain more control of Central and South Somalia.
Primary schools are raided for soon-to-be soldiers and children are abducted from local playgrounds. Some are bribed with money and phones. Those who run away are often shot in the back, deemed traitors.
A Somali woman who lost several young family members at the hands of the armed rebels told Amnesty International:
"Those recruited by al-Shabab do not come back."
Boys, sometimes as young as eight, are given guns and forced to fight alongside grown men. Girls are used as servants for al-Shabab members, and in some instances, even wives. One testimony of a 16-year-old boy described how young girls are charged with adultery if they refuse to comply with the marriages. Floggings are a common punishment, sometimes ending with the death of the child. Girls and women accused of being raped (yes, accused) have been beaten or stoned to death - even though refugees have told Amnesty International that al-Shabab was responsible for the rape themselves.
Interviews with youth in the region have produced evidence that the Islamist militant group may be using children as suicide bombers, although Amnesty International cannot verify this. A 15-year-old boy described al-Shabab's recruitment tactics:
"They have a methodology, they say you will fight a jihad and then go to paradise. One friend was recruited by them and then he came to the village asking us to join...He had an AK47 and he said he was given lots of money."
While al-Shabab has been criticized for using children as weapons of war, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is internationally-backed and U.S.-funded, has been listed on the UN's annual list of parties that recruit children for armed conflict for seven years in a row —although they dispute the accusation. During a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on May 4, 2011, TFG members cited a lack of birth certificates and international financial assistance as the main causes of child recruitment. Human Rights Watch, alongside Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations, have expressed grave concern over TFG training camps that hold refugee children against their will in neighboring Kenya, which has also denied allegations of using child soldiers.
An ex-child soldier who fled to Kenya told Amnesty International:
"I am not feeling safe. I am stressed. I have flashbacks. I am scared that al-Shabab will come here too. I want a better future, better security, further education. I live in fear here."
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