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SYRIA

Syria’s UN human rights envoy defects in Geneva

Syria's top representative at the UN Human Rights Council said Monday he had defected because he no longer felt able in that position to do anything for the Syrian people.

"Basically, when I felt I could not help my people any more I had to move on," Danny al-Baaj, the first Syrian diplomat in Switzerland to abandon Bashar al-Assad's regime, told AFP.

"When I was involved in any negotiations (on Syria) my concern was to protect the country not the government," he added.

Baaj said he took his decision a long time ago and had been in contact with Syrian opposition group the Democratic Forum based in Paris.

He had been in Geneva for two years and met the opposition group "some time ago", before announcing his resignation last Friday, he said.

"I met the charge d'affaires (of Syria in Geneva) and I told him I had made my decision that I was going to the opposition… He said it was my choice and he wished me luck."

Speaking from Geneva where he is considering his next move, Baaj described the Democratic Forum as one of the main opposition groups. It is headed by Michel Kilo, a long-time opponent of the regime.

The development comes ahead of the release on Wednesday of an official UNHRC independent commission of inquiry report into Syria.

Baaj said he "hoped" the Geneva-based body would make progress towards consensus on the situation in Syria despite many countries letting their own agendas interfere with finding a solution.

"At the last session the HRC was very close to reaching consensus … I hope different countries put aside their agendas to help the Syrian people," he said.

Baaj also stressed his opposition to outside military intervention in the conflict but supported the role of the UN's Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), calling it "a good thing".

"I hope it stays there. It's very important to document abuses by both sides," he said.

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SYRIA

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State

A 31-year-old woman from Winterthur who tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State (IS) is standing trial under Swiss anti-terror laws.

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State
The federal criminal court in Bellinzona. Photo: Swiss Confederation/OFCL

The alleged ‘jihadi tourist' appeared before Switzerland's federal criminal court in Bellinzona on Friday, the Swiss news agency SDA reported. 

In December 2015, the woman, accompanied by her four-year-old child, attempted to travel to Syria via Greece and Turkey in order to join IS, the authorities allege. 

Her intended destination was Raqqa, which was at the time an IS stronghold in Syria.

The woman was prevented from continuing her journey by the Greek authorities and was arrested at Zurich airport on her return to Switzerland in January 2016. 

The Swiss attorney general's office filed an indictment against the Swiss national for offences under the federal law that bans terror groups including Isis. 

According to the indictment, the woman radicalized herself through internet propaganda after converting to Islam in 2009.

It says the Swiss national believed it was the duty of all Muslims to support IS.

She said she rejected western values.

This is only the second case concerning a so-called ‘jihadi tourist' to go before Switzerland's federal criminal court. 

The first prosecution of its kind took place in 2016, when a 26-year-old man was found guilty of attempting to travel to join Isis and given an 18-month suspended jail sentence.

Islamic State has been banned in Switzerland since 2014.