During a press trip organised by the Iranian-backed militia after a face-off with Jabhat Al Nusra in north Lebanon, Hizbollah highlighted its commitment in the "fight against terrorism". Al Manar TV / AFP
During a press trip organised by the Iranian-backed militia after a face-off with Jabhat Al Nusra in north Lebanon, Hizbollah highlighted its commitment in the "fight against terrorism". Al Manar TV /

Hizbollah, Assad and his Iranian masters: what the returning refugees deal tells us about the Syrian conflict



One of the most dramatic Middle East press trips in recent years was organised by Hizbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia militia, to show off the site of its victory against Syrian opposition forces this week in the barren hills of north-east Lebanon, known as Juroud Arsal. According to participants, some 40 vehicles struggled up the mountains so that Hizbollah spokesmen could show reporters the complex of caves and tunnels where the anti-Assad fighters had operated.

Never backward in seizing a PR opportunity, spokesmen were keen to point out that Hizbollah was at the forefront of fighting “terrorism” by crushing the fighters of Hayat Tahrir Al Sham, as the former Al Qaeda franchise in Syria is now known.

As a result of the two-week battle, some 10,000 fighters, their families and Syrian refugees are to be returned to Syria, most to Idlib province in the north of the country where the armed opposition to president Bashar Al Assad is being corralled.

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The press trip served multiple purposes. The first was to correct US president Donald Trump, who had said that the Lebanese government was on “the front line” in the fight against the terrorists of Al Qaeda and Hizbollah. In fact, the government of prime minister Saad Hariri exists thanks to support from Hizbollah. The concept of “terrorism” may be clear in the White House, but it crumbles when it meets the reality of Lebanese politics.

The second was to show that Hizbollah was defending the state against jihadist infiltrators, who it claims are responsible for a series of deadly car-bomb attacks on Shias in Lebanon. This charge is probably true. But the deeper truth is that the security organs of the Lebanese state cannot operate when Hizbollah is at the same time the most powerful armed force in the land and a significant political party. This was clearly apparent when the Lebanese army played only rear-guard role in the Arsal battle.

The third is to show that Hizbollah is reversing the flow of refugees into Lebanon. In all, 17 of every hundred residents of Lebanon are Syrian refugees, and a further eight are refugees from elsewhere, mainly Palestinians, adding up to a quarter of the population. The country’s sewage and rubbish collection services cannot cope with the population before the Syrian war, let alone the 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

These are three reasons for Hizbollah to use as a platform for rehabilitation. When in 2012 the Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah transformed the organisation from an anti-Israel resistance force into Iran’s mailed fist in Syria, it lost a lot of support. The Future Movement of prime minister Hariri accused Hizbollah of using the battle in Arsal as a way to legitimise its participation in the Syrian civil war. “We will not be party to this national sin,” it said.

While its credibility as a Lebanese institution - rather than a key element of the Iran's foreign legion – is in doubt, there is no question that Hizbollah will emerge from the battlefield stronger, no longer just a paramilitary force.

To the outside world, this battle may seem like a side show when the American focus is on destroying the ISIL “caliphate” in Raqqa, in eastern Syria. Far from it. Having driven out the Hayat Tahrir Al Sham fighters from Arsal, Hizbollah is now in control of the Lebanon-Syrian border from Qusayr in the north to Zabadani. This is a key element of the Assad regime’s plan to control so-called “useful Syria” – the most populated parts from the Mediterranean coast to Damascus.

The confidence of the regime and its Iranian allies is shown by the fact that it is ready to accept the return of some 10,000 Sunni Muslims. One often overlooked fact about the conflict is that, for years the regime was happy for huge numbers of Syrians to flee the country on the grounds that the war would be won more easily if disaffected Sunnis were absent. At the same time, an overt policy of sectarian cleansing was in force, moving Sunni populations away from Damascus.

The opposition forces are so weak and now cut off from the CIA’s covert support programme that the regime believes the opposition forces will go where they are told. The pressure to keep the refugees out of the country is no longer so strong.

The regime has invited the 4.8 million Syrian refugees back, as a way of keeping up the pretense that life has returned to normal, but it would require great bravery for them to pass through the ranks of Syrian intelligence to return to their homes.

None of this offers much hope for a new start for Syria or would guarantee peace and reconstruction. Nor is there any sign of the Trump administration being able to drive a wedge between Russia and Iran. In fact, relying on Washington in its current state to halt the advance of Iranian power would be optimistic to a fault.

One hopeful sign is the visit to Saudi Arabia of Moqtada Al Sadr, a powerful Iraqi cleric, whose relations with Iran have been ambiguous, leading some to view him as more of an Iraqi nationalist. That proposition is yet to be proved and Mr Al Sadr is a fragile vessel to carry the hopes of an Iraq less in thrall to Iran.

But still, engaging with Iraqi politicians - rather than treating them as pariahs as was the case until as recently as 2015 - is a signal of a more dynamic regional policy by Saudi Arabia. Iraq is at a crossroads and the reconstruction of Mosul will require huge injections of capital, which is an opportunity for outside powers.

But there can be no quick wins. It should be recalled that it has taken 35 years for Iran to nurture Hizbollah from a nucleus of Revolutionary Guards in Baalbek to a military force that is now the leading power broker in Lebanon.

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: DarDoc
Based: Abu Dhabi
Founders: Samer Masri, Keswin Suresh
Sector: HealthTech
Total funding: $800,000
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Dengue fever symptoms

High fever (40°C/104°F)
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Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 with 48V mild hybrid system
Power: 544hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 750Nm at 1,800-5,000rpm
Transmission: 8-speed auto
Price: from Dh700,000 (estimate)
On sale: late November

RESULT

Norway 1 Spain 1
Norway: King (90+4')
Spain: Niguez (47')

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

Where to donate in the UAE

The Emirates Charity Portal

You can donate to several registered charities through a “donation catalogue”. The use of the donation is quite specific, such as buying a fan for a poor family in Niger for Dh130.

The General Authority of Islamic Affairs & Endowments

The site has an e-donation service accepting debit card, credit card or e-Dirham, an electronic payment tool developed by the Ministry of Finance and First Abu Dhabi Bank.

Al Noor Special Needs Centre

You can donate online or order Smiles n’ Stuff products handcrafted by Al Noor students. The centre publishes a wish list of extras needed, starting at Dh500.

Beit Al Khair Society

Beit Al Khair Society has the motto “From – and to – the UAE,” with donations going towards the neediest in the country. Its website has a list of physical donation sites, but people can also contribute money by SMS, bank transfer and through the hotline 800-22554.

Dar Al Ber Society

Dar Al Ber Society, which has charity projects in 39 countries, accept cash payments, money transfers or SMS donations. Its donation hotline is 800-79.

Dubai Cares

Dubai Cares provides several options for individuals and companies to donate, including online, through banks, at retail outlets, via phone and by purchasing Dubai Cares branded merchandise. It is currently running a campaign called Bookings 2030, which allows people to help change the future of six underprivileged children and young people.

Emirates Airline Foundation

Those who travel on Emirates have undoubtedly seen the little donation envelopes in the seat pockets. But the foundation also accepts donations online and in the form of Skywards Miles. Donated miles are used to sponsor travel for doctors, surgeons, engineers and other professionals volunteering on humanitarian missions around the world.

Emirates Red Crescent

On the Emirates Red Crescent website you can choose between 35 different purposes for your donation, such as providing food for fasters, supporting debtors and contributing to a refugee women fund. It also has a list of bank accounts for each donation type.

Gulf for Good

Gulf for Good raises funds for partner charity projects through challenges, like climbing Kilimanjaro and cycling through Thailand. This year’s projects are in partnership with Street Child Nepal, Larchfield Kids, the Foundation for African Empowerment and SOS Children's Villages. Since 2001, the organisation has raised more than $3.5 million (Dh12.8m) in support of over 50 children’s charities.

Noor Dubai Foundation

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum launched the Noor Dubai Foundation a decade ago with the aim of eliminating all forms of preventable blindness globally. You can donate Dh50 to support mobile eye camps by texting the word “Noor” to 4565 (Etisalat) or 4849 (du).

Our legal consultant

Name: Hassan Mohsen Elhais

Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants

The specs

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo

Power: 178hp at 5,500rpm

Torque: 280Nm at 1,350-4,200rpm

Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch auto

Price: from Dh209,000 

On sale: now

Fireball

Moscow claimed it hit the largest military fuel storage facility in Ukraine, triggering a huge fireball at the site.

A plume of black smoke rose from a fuel storage facility in the village of Kalynivka outside Kyiv on Friday after Russia said it had destroyed the military site with Kalibr cruise missiles.

"On the evening of March 24, Kalibr high-precision sea-based cruise missiles attacked a fuel base in the village of Kalynivka near Kyiv," the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.

Ukraine confirmed the strike, saying the village some 40 kilometres south-west of Kyiv was targeted.

Ramez Gab Min El Akher

Creator: Ramez Galal

Starring: Ramez Galal

Streaming on: MBC Shahid

Rating: 2.5/5

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Consoles: PC, PlayStation
Rating: 2/5

Museum of the Future in numbers
  • 78 metres is the height of the museum
  • 30,000 square metres is its total area
  • 17,000 square metres is the length of the stainless steel facade
  • 14 kilometres is the length of LED lights used on the facade
  • 1,024 individual pieces make up the exterior 
  • 7 floors in all, with one for administrative offices
  • 2,400 diagonally intersecting steel members frame the torus shape
  • 100 species of trees and plants dot the gardens
  • Dh145 is the price of a ticket
UAE squad

Humaira Tasneem (c), Chamani Senevirathne (vc), Subha Srinivasan, NIsha Ali, Udeni Kuruppuarachchi, Chaya Mughal, Roopa Nagraj, Esha Oza, Ishani Senevirathne, Heena Hotchandani, Keveesha Kumari, Judith Cleetus, Chavi Bhatt, Namita D’Souza.

If you go

The flights
Emirates (www.emirates.com) and Etihad (www.etihad.com) both fly direct to Bengaluru, with return fares from Dh 1240. From Bengaluru airport, Coorg is a five-hour drive by car.

The hotels
The Tamara (www.thetamara.com) is located inside a working coffee plantation and offers individual villas with sprawling views of the hills (tariff from Dh1,300, including taxes and breakfast).

When to go
Coorg is an all-year destination, with the peak season for travel extending from the cooler months between October and March.

Inside Out 2

Director: Kelsey Mann

Starring: Amy Poehler, Maya Hawke, Ayo Edebiri

Rating: 4.5/5

UAE athletes heading to Paris 2024

Equestrian
Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi, Abdullah Al Marri, Omar Al Marzooqi, Salem Al Suwaidi, and Ali Al Karbi (four to be selected).
Judo
Men: Narmandakh Bayanmunkh (66kg), Nugzari Tatalashvili (81kg), Aram Grigorian (90kg), Dzhafar Kostoev (100kg), Magomedomar Magomedomarov (+100kg); women's Khorloodoi Bishrelt (52kg).

Cycling
Safia Al Sayegh (women's road race).

Swimming
Men: Yousef Rashid Al Matroushi (100m freestyle); women: Maha Abdullah Al Shehi (200m freestyle).

Athletics
Maryam Mohammed Al Farsi (women's 100 metres).

MATCH INFO

Uefa Champions League semi-final, first leg
Bayern Munich v Real Madrid

When: April 25, 10.45pm kick-off (UAE)
Where: Allianz Arena, Munich
Live: BeIN Sports HD
Second leg: May 1, Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid

57 Seconds

Director: Rusty Cundieff
Stars: Josh Hutcherson, Morgan Freeman, Greg Germann, Lovie Simone
Rating: 2/5

McLaren GT specs

Engine: 4-litre twin-turbo V8

Transmission: seven-speed

Power: 620bhp

Torque: 630Nm

Price: Dh875,000

On sale: now

The Bio

Ram Buxani earned a salary of 125 rupees per month in 1959

Indian currency was then legal tender in the Trucial States.

He received the wages plus food, accommodation, a haircut and cinema ticket twice a month and actuals for shaving and laundry expenses

Buxani followed in his father’s footsteps when he applied for a job overseas

His father Jivat Ram worked in general merchandize store in Gibraltar and the Canary Islands in the early 1930s

Buxani grew the UAE business over several sectors from retail to financial services but is attached to the original textile business

He talks in detail about natural fibres, the texture of cloth, mirrorwork and embroidery 

Buxani lives by a simple philosophy – do good to all

BAD BOYS: RIDE OR DIE

Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano

Rating: 3.5/5

SPEC SHEET: SAMSUNG GALAXY Z FLIP5

Display: Main – 6.7" FHD+ Dynamic Amoled 2X, 2640 x 1080, 22:9, 425ppi, HDR10+, up to 120Hz; cover – 3/4" Super Amoled, 720 x 748, 306ppi

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, 4nm, octa-core; Adreno 740 GPU

Memory: 8GB

Capacity: 256/512GB

Platform: Android 13, One UI 5.1.1

Main camera: Dual 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) + 12MP wide (f/1.8), OIS

Video: 4K@30/60fps, full-HD@60/240fps, HD@960fps

Front camera: 10MP (f/2.2)

Battery: 3700mAh, 25W fast charging, 15W wireless, 4.5W reverse wireless

Connectivity: 5G; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Samsung Pay)

I/O: USB-C

Cards: Nano-SIM + eSIM; no microSD slot

Colours: Cream, graphite, lavender, mint; Samsung.com exclusives – blue, grey, green, yellow

In the box: Flip 4, USB-C-to-USB-C cable

Price: Dh3,899 / Dh4,349

GOODBYE JULIA

Director: Mohamed Kordofani

Starring: Siran Riak, Eiman Yousif, Nazar Goma

Rating: 5/5

SHAITTAN

Director: Vikas Bahl
Starring: Ajay Devgn, R. Madhavan, Jyothika, Janaki Bodiwala
Rating: 3/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

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Position: legal consultant with Al Rowaad Advocates and Legal Consultants.

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices


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