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Syria: Militia leader accused of war crimes attended Special Olympics committee meeting in Paris

A Syrian militia leader suspected of war crimes and close to President Bashar al-Assad attended a meeting of the Special Olympics committee in Paris during August 2023.

Omar al-Aroub, second-in-command of the Ba'ath Brigades, posted a photo of himself in Paris on social media on 31 August, which he visited as head of the Syrian Paralympic Committee.

Between 24 and 29 August 2023, the heads of national Paralympic committees held a meeting in the French capital.

Officials from Paris 2024 - the name of the upcoming games - confirmed to French media outlet TF1 Info that Aroub had attended the meeting.

Aroub's presence in the country has provoked outrage among many Syrians who pointed out that the Ba'ath Brigades - the armed wing of Syria's ruling Ba'ath Party - were responsible for helping violently repress anti-government protesters.

“Omar Aroub is one of the leaders of Assad’s [Ba'ath Brigades] accused of war crimes, and he is travelling in Paris as part of the preparation for the 2024 Olympics,” tweeted the France-based Syrian activist Firas Kontar on 5 September.

“How is this possible and how did he obtain his visa?”

Syria's ongoing conflict has raged since 2011 when security forces loyal to Assad opened fire on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, eventually sparking a civil war and foreign interventions that ultimately ensured Assad's survival.

The war has killed more than 500,000 people and driven millions from the country, turning them into refugees. 

In recent years, a number of Syrians have been prosecuted for war crimes in Europe.  

Last year, a former senior Syrian government security official was sentenced to life in prison in Germany, accused of overseeing dozens of murders at an interrogation facility early in the war.

In spring this year, France issued an order to prosecute a range of senior Assad government officials for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Among those targeted were Ali Mamlouk, head of the National Security Bureau of the Ba'ath party, Jamil Hassan, former head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, another air force intelligence officer.

The indictment is, however, unlikely to see any of the accused appear for trial.

 Mixing politics with sports

In every sporting event in which representatives of the regime participate, the voices of those separated from reality rise calling for not to “mix politics with sports,” ignoring the fact that in “Al-Assad’s Syria” one does not reach any sporting position, whether in the sports federation or elsewhere, except by passing through political and partisan positions and the military.

Aroub holds the position of Vice President of the General Sports Federation, in addition to dozens of positions he previously held, including membership in the People’s Assembly, head of the leadership of the “National Union of Syrian Students” branch in Aleppo, and head of the National and Voluntary Work Office.

In the Syrian case, politics is the engine of all aspects of life, including sports, and it is not any political as some people think. Rather, politics in Assad’s custom and his theoretical principles means loyalty to the core and defending the leader and his seat of rule until death.

This is what Aroub, the guest of Paris, embodied. With every picture of him, there are scenes of victims, horrific genocide massacres, and the color of blood that stained the lives of Syrians from one end to the other.

(MEE/Zaman al-Wasl)

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