French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Syria's President Bashar Assad, the Emir of Qatar Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, from right, walk together at the end of a summit in Damascus, Thursday, Sept. 4, 2008. Sarkozy encouraged Syria to pursue face-to-face peace talks with Israel during his first trip  to the Arab nation. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)  *** Local Caption ***  PAR102_Syria_France.jpg
From right, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the Syrian president Bashar Assad, the Emir of Qatar Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Damascus Show more

Prison riot undermines Syrian gain



DAMASCUS // Bashar Assad, the Syria president, was in Paris for a headline-grabbing summit when he last met Nicolas Sarkozy, his French counterpart. That was in July and amounted to a diplomatic coup for Damascus. All the American attempts to isolate and weaken Syria had failed, and Europe was finally re-engaging. Syria had, for the time being at least, triumphed.

While the president was away dealing with matters of international importance, a few kilometres north of Damascus a deadly prison riot was entering its second week. Months later, with Mr Sarkozy in Syria on a reciprocal visit, little is publicly known about what happened in Saydnaya prison. But a few details that can be pieced together give an insight into the various internal tensions pulling at Syria.

According to human rights groups, at least 25 inmates were shot and killed by government troops after staging a rebellion in which they took control of the detention centre. In the only official comment on the matter, the Syrian Arab News Agency (Sana) noted that, "a number of prisoners convicted of extremism and terrorism crimes raised chaos, disturbing the public order during the prison administration's inspection tour".

When the riot started, on July 5, inmates were able to use mobile phones - routinely smuggled into the jail - and revealed some of what was happening. One political detainee reported that Muslim inmates had started a rebellion and taken 400 prison guards hostage, who they were using as bargaining chips in negotiations with the Syrian authorities. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, close to the banned Muslim Brotherhood opposition, said there had been shooting at the prison and helicopters flying over the area as Syrian forces moved in to retake it.

Those early attempts to restore authority apparently failed, because a fortnight after the riots began it was still under way, according to Ammar Qurabi, head of the National Organisation for Human Rights, an independent Syrian advocacy group. Interviewed at the time in the Syrian capital, he said the inmates were protesting against being held without trial. "We don't have any real information as to what's happening," he said. "There is a sit in, there are guards being held hostage. The mobile phone coverage has now been cut off.

"It's not the first problem in Saydnaya. The prisoners started fires, they burned part of the prison a while back. That shows the reasons behind this are the lack of services. There are many prisoners who have been in there for a year or two years without any trial - they have no rights." Saydnaya is one of Syria's largest internment facilities. It was built in 1987 to replace the squalor of various crumbling old prisons. It was designed to hold up to 5,000 people, mainly those convicted of crimes while serving in the military. However, it sometimes holds more, human rights groups said, and while a majority of inmates are thought to be soldiers, there are also political prisoners, detained as part of a campaign against dissidents.

Some of those dissidents are advocates of peaceful reform, but not all. The Syrian authorities said militants, including al Qa'eda fighters, are being held there. While opposition figures do not believe all prisoners convicted of terrorism in Syria are really guilty - the justice system is widely criticised - independent sources here said Saydnaya did house some militants who returned to Syria after fighting the Americans in Iraq.

"There are political prisoners, but there are also hundreds - perhaps 200 or 300 - Salafists [Sunni extremists] and al Qa'eda fighters," Mr Qurabi said. He said six prison guards and 15 inmates were killed in the riot, with many more injured receiving treatment at a military hospital. No numbers have been released and the names of those who died or were wounded have not been revealed. Abdul Aziz al Kheir, a former political prisoner, spent more than a decade in Syrian jails, including time in Saydnaya. He said there was discontent about the lack of trials, caused in part because of a big backlog of cases in national courts. But he said he did not believe the conditions inside the prison provoked the riot. "In the past, Syrian prisons were very bad, and prisoners would get beaten," he said.

"But that stopped years ago. Now, once you're in prison, it's not as difficult. The punishment is the loss of liberty. The cells are really rooms, and you can choose which one you live in. There are books - the political prisoners have collected perhaps the best library in all of Syria there." Inside the prison, inmates are left largely to decide how to run their daily affairs - some even have computers and internet access to carry on businesses, while others bribe their way into having conjugal visits with their spouses. They can move around freely inside the prison. It was these freedoms that Mr Kheir said had probably allowed the rioters to plan and carry out their revolt.

Someone who was in direct contact with prison guards provided The National with a detailed account of the riot, on condition of anonymity. According to this information - which is unconfirmed - the prison authorities were tipped off that a riot was planned by a group of militants. Hundreds of police were brought in to carry out a surprise inspection and foil the plot, but they were new recruits and, when the search began, the militants - some hardened in combat against the US military - simply brought their plan into effect.

Using sharpened metal bed posts as improvised weapons, they killed some of the young police officers, who were armed with wooden sticks, not firearms, and captured 400. As the riot spread to the roof, sentries opened fire, killing some of the prisoners. But they were unable to hold them back and had to flee. At least one guard, according to this account, died after falling from the roof while trying to escape.

Before the prison was overrun, the guards managed to snatch Samir al Bahar, a wheelchair-bound senior Islamist imprisoned on terrorist charges. They would later use him as a mediator to try to negotiate a settlement, apparently without success. Three weeks after the riot began, there was still a stand-off between the authorities and the inmates, according to the source. The Syrian security services had managed to retake the first floor, but the third floor remained under the control of the inmates, with between 600 and 1,200 inside.

"They have been trying to negotiate, but I don't know what they are thinking," the source said in July. "The Syrians want to get the hostages out safely if they can, but what are the inmates thinking? You can't kill prison guards and then expect to talk your way out of that kind of situation. I don't know what they want; there was a suggestion they asked to be taken to Iraq and left there, to fight the Americans."

psands@thenational.ae

Herc's Adventures

Developer: Big Ape Productions
Publisher: LucasArts
Console: PlayStation 1 & 5, Sega Saturn
Rating: 4/5

RESULT

Brazil 2 Croatia 0
Brazil: 
Neymar (69'), Firmino (90'+3)    

Fixtures (6pm UAE unless stated)

Saturday Bournemouth v Leicester City, Chelsea v Manchester City (8.30pm), Huddersfield v Tottenham Hotspur (3.30pm), Manchester United v Crystal Palace, Stoke City v Southampton, West Bromwich Albion v Watford, West Ham United v Swansea City

Sunday Arsenal v Brighton (3pm), Everton v Burnley (5.15pm), Newcastle United v Liverpool (6.30pm)

Another way to earn air miles

In addition to the Emirates and Etihad programmes, there is the Air Miles Middle East card, which offers members the ability to choose any airline, has no black-out dates and no restrictions on seat availability. Air Miles is linked up to HSBC credit cards and can also be earned through retail partners such as Spinneys, Sharaf DG and The Toy Store.

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Squads

Sri Lanka Tharanga (c), Mathews, Dickwella (wk), Gunathilaka, Mendis, Kapugedera, Siriwardana, Pushpakumara, Dananjaya, Sandakan, Perera, Hasaranga, Malinga, Chameera, Fernando.

India Kohli (c), Dhawan, Rohit, Rahul, Pandey, Rahane, Jadhav, Dhoni (wk), Pandya, Axar, Kuldeep, Chahal, Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar, Thakur.

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Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
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Industry: Sustainability & Environment
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Sector: Microfinance
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Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

In 2018, the ICRC received 27,756 trace requests in the Middle East alone. The global total was 45,507.

 

There are 139,018 global trace requests that have not been resolved yet, 55,672 of these are in the Middle East region.

 

More than 540,000 individuals approached the ICRC in the Middle East asking to be reunited with missing loved ones in 2018.

 

The total figure for the entire world was 654,000 in 2018.

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Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

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Wimbledon order of play on Saturday, July 8
All times UAE (+4 GMT)

Centre Court (4pm)
Agnieszka Radwanska (9) v Timea Bacsinszky (19)
Ernests Gulbis v Novak Djokovic (2)
Mischa Zverev (27) v Roger Federer (3)

Court 1 (4pm)
Milos Raonic (6) v Albert Ramos-Vinolas (25)
Anett Kontaveit v Caroline Wozniacki (5)
Dominic Thiem (8) v Jared Donaldson

Court 2 (2.30pm)
Sorana Cirstea v Garbine Muguruza (14)
To finish: Sam Querrey (24) leads Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (12) 6-2, 3-6, 7-6, 1-6, 6-5
Angelique Kerber (1) v Shelby Rogers
Sebastian Ofner v Alexander Zverev (10)

Court 3 (2.30pm)
Grigor Dimitrov (13) v Dudi Sela
Alison Riske v Coco Vandeweghe (24)
David Ferrer v Tomas Berdych (11)

Court 12 (2.30pm)
Polona Hercog v Svetlana Kuznetsova (7)
Gael Monfils (15) v Adrian Mannarino

Court 18 (2.30pm)
Magdalena Rybarikova v Lesia Tsurenko
Petra Martic v Zarina Diyas

TALE OF THE TAPE

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Record: 59-6-2 (38 KOs)
Age: 38
Weight: 146lbs
Height: 166cm
Reach: 170cm

Jeff Horn
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Age: 29
Weight: 146.2lbs
Height: 175cm
Reach: 173cm

THE FLASH

Director: Andy Muschietti
Stars: Sasha Calle, Ben Affleck, Ezra Miller
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RESULT

Everton 2 Huddersfield Town 0
Everton: 
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Man of the Match: Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)

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Name: Mamo

Year it started: 2019 Founders: Imad Gharazeddine, Asim Janjua

Based: Dubai, UAE

Number of employees: 28

Sector: Financial services

Investment: $9.5m

Funding stage: Pre-Series A Investors: Global Ventures, GFC, 4DX Ventures, AlRajhi Partners, Olive Tree Capital, and prominent Silicon Valley investors.

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Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
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Investment stage: Seed

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Housed on the same site as the original Africa Hall, which first hosted an Arab-African Symposium in 1976, the newly renovated building will be home to a think tank and postgraduate studies hub (it will offer master’s and PhD programmes). The centre will focus on both the historical and contemporary links between Africa and the Gulf, and will serve as a meeting place for conferences, symposia, lectures, film screenings, plays, musical performances and more. In fact, today it is hosting a symposium – 5-plus-1: Rethinking Abstraction that will look at the six decades of Frank Bowling’s career, as well as those of his contemporaries that invested social, cultural and personal meaning into abstraction. 

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Engine: 5.0-litre V8

Power: 480hp at 7,250rpm

Torque: 566Nm at 4,600rpm

Transmission: 10-speed auto

Fuel consumption: L/100km

Price: Dh306,495

On sale: now

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Price: Dh5,099 / Dh5,949 / Dh6,799

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Directors: Various

Starring: Nicola Coughlan, Luke Newton, Jonathan Bailey

Rating: 3/5

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2002 Giselle Khoury (Colombia)

2004 Nathalie Nasralla (France)

2005 Catherine Abboud (Oceania)

2007 Grace Bijjani  (Mexico)

2008 Carina El-Keddissi (Brazil)

2009 Sara Mansour (Brazil)

2010 Daniella Rahme (Australia)

2011 Maria Farah (Canada)

2012 Cynthia Moukarzel (Kuwait)

2013 Layla Yarak (Australia)              

2014 Lia Saad  (UAE)

2015 Cynthia Farah (Australia)

2016 Yosmely Massaad (Venezuela)

2017 Dima Safi (Ivory Coast)

2018 Rachel Younan (Australia)

Match info:

Portugal 1
Ronaldo (4')

Morocco 0

Fast X

Director: Louis Leterrier

Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jason Momoa, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Brie Larson, Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron

Rating: 3/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Clinicy
Started: 2017
Founders: Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman, Abdullah bin Sulaiman Alobaid and Saud bin Sulaiman Alobaid
Based: Riyadh
Number of staff: 25
Sector: HealthTech
Total funding raised: More than $10 million
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If you go

The flights Etihad (www.etihad.com) and Spice Jet (www.spicejet.com) fly direct from Abu Dhabi and Dubai to Pune respectively from Dh1,000 return including taxes. Pune airport is 90 minutes away by road. 

The hotels A stay at Atmantan Wellness Resort (www.atmantan.com) costs from Rs24,000 (Dh1,235) per night, including taxes, consultations, meals and a treatment package.
 

Match info

What: Fifa Club World Cup play-off
Who: Al Ain v Team Wellington
Where: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain
When: Wednesday, kick off 7.30pm

What went into the film

25 visual effects (VFX) studios

2,150 VFX shots in a film with 2,500 shots

1,000 VFX artists

3,000 technicians

10 Concept artists, 25 3D designers

New sound technology, named 4D SRL

 

What is Bitcoin?

Bitcoin is the most popular virtual currency in the world. It was created in 2009 as a new way of paying for things that would not be subject to central banks that are capable of devaluing currency. A Bitcoin itself is essentially a line of computer code. It's signed digitally when it goes from one owner to another. There are sustainability concerns around the cryptocurrency, which stem from the process of "mining" that is central to its existence.

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The specs: 2024 Mercedes E200

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cyl turbo + mild hybrid
Power: 204hp at 5,800rpm +23hp hybrid boost
Torque: 320Nm at 1,800rpm +205Nm hybrid boost
Transmission: 9-speed auto
Fuel consumption: 7.3L/100km
On sale: November/December
Price: From Dh205,000 (estimate)

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).

UNpaid bills:

Countries with largest unpaid bill for UN budget in 2019

USA – $1.055 billion

Brazil – $143 million

Argentina – $52 million

Mexico – $36 million

Iran – $27 million

Israel – $18 million

Venezuela – $17 million

Korea – $10 million

Countries with largest unpaid bill for UN peacekeeping operations in 2019

USA – $2.38 billion

Brazil – $287 million

Spain – $110 million

France – $103 million

Ukraine – $100 million