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SYRIA

French mum united with ‘kidnapped’ daughter

A young French mother whose daughter had been smuggled out of the country by her father, who is believed to have joined the jihadist cause in Syria, arrived home with the two-year-old girl on Wednesday after they were reunited.

French mum united with 'kidnapped' daughter
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve (C) welcomes Meriam Rhaiem (L) upon her arrival with her daughter. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Meriam Rhaiem, 25, made headlines in March with an emotional appeal to French authorities to recognize her baby girl as "the youngest French hostage".

Mother and daughter arrived at Villacoublay air base outside Paris at 2:15 am Wednesday (0115 GMT) aboard a plane chartered by the French interior ministry.

"It's a moment of great emotion with the arrival of Meriam Rhaiem and her daughter Assia, after months of waiting," said Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve who went out onto the tarmac to meet the plane.

"The trials this young woman has endured, fighting hard for the return of her daughter who was kidnapped in circumstances which we aren't clear," he added.

He thanked the Turkish authorities for their role in the family reunion which led to "the best possible outcome".

Rhaiem, holding her child in a blanket and flanked by her lawyer who was also on the plane from Turkey, made no comment upon her arrival.

Rhaiem, who lives in eastern France, had said she was certain her French husband, who she is divorcing, and who is wanted under an international arrest warrant, was in Syria where he was seeking to join jihadists.

The father was arrested last weekend with their daughter Assia in Turkey, where he is still being held, a French interior ministry source said.

Assia's father had failed to bring his daughter home after spending the day with her in October last year, and had left France by road bound for Turkey, from where he called his wife regularly and asked her to come and join them.

He had also said he planned to cross into Syria with their daughter to join the Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda's official Syrian affiliate.

According to Rhaiem's lawyer Gabriel Versini-Bullara, her husband had become radicalized after travelling to Mecca, asking her to wear the veil, criticizing her for working or banning her from playing music to Assia.

Like a number of European countries, France has expressed concern over radicalized people leaving the country to fight in Iraq and Syria, with fears that they could pose a risk to domestic security on their return.

According to official estimates, around 800 French nationals or residents – including several dozen women – have travelled to Syria, returned from the conflict-ridden country or plan to go there.

France unveiled a bill in July aimed at stopping aspiring jihadists from travelling to Syria. It includes a ban on foreign travel of up to six months for individuals suspected of radicalization, and gives authorities powers to temporarily confiscate and invalidate their passports.

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SYRIA

French group to open two hotels in Damascus

France's Louvre Hotels Group has signed an agreement to open two hotels under its own name in Damascus, the first with a western hotel operator since Syria's brutal civil war began in 2011.

French group to open two hotels in Damascus
Louvre owns the Golden Tulip five-star brand. Photo: Louvre Hotels Group
The confirmation of the two hotels opening, after recent media reports, came a day after the UN announced an internal investigation into the bombing of hospitals in Syria, and as at least six civilians were killed by the Syrian regime and Russian fire in northwestern Idlib province in the past days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 
The region of around three million people, many of them displaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition fighting against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
   
The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda's former Syria affiliate controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighbouring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
   
The hotels “will open soon under the brand name of Louvres Hotels Group,” the company, which is owned by China's Jin
Jiang, said in a statement.
 
Louvre Hotels Group said the deal was signed between Syria's Nazha Investment Group and “a partner with whom Louvre Hotels cooperates in the Middle East”.
   
The exact number of people killed in Syria's war is unknown but hundreds of thousands have died.
   
Several dozen medical facilities with links to the UN have been damaged or destroyed by bombs this year. Russian has denied deliberately targeting civilian installations.
   
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday said an internal inquiry would look into the bombing of hospitals in Syria which had previously flagged their coordinates to avoid air strikes.
   
“The deal is strictly in line with international law and all international directives regarding Syria,” the French company statement said.
   
According to the website, The Syria Report, it is the first agreement with a western hotel operator since 2011, when the devastating conflict began. Louvre Hotels Group was taken over by China's Jin Jiang in 2015 and it operates more than 1,500 hotels in 54 countries.
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