Regime-Russia assault kills 6 in Syria

Onlookers gather at the scene of a reported Russian air strike in the village of Al-Daher in Syria’s northwestern Idlib on September 11, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 15 September 2019

Regime-Russia assault kills 6 in Syria

  • On Tuesday, Russia carried out its first air strikes in the area since the cease-fire began
  • The cease-fire is the second since Damascus escalated its operations in the area in April

BEIRUT: Regime and Russian fire has killed at least six civilians in northwestern Syria’s Idlib province, a war monitor said on Saturday, two weeks after Moscow declared a cease-fire in the opposition-dominated region. The truce, which brought a halt to four months of devastating bombardment on Idlib province by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia, had largely held apart from sporadic artillery fire and airstrikes.
But on Tuesday, Russia carried out its first airstrikes in the area since the cease-fire began, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
On Friday, regime rocket fire on the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Kafranbel in southern Idlib province killed five civilians including a child, the Observatory said.
A sixth civilian was killed in a Russian airstrike in the rural west of the province, it added.
That brought to 11 the number killed since the cease-fire came into effect, according to the Britain-based monitor, which has a network of contacts across the war-torn country.
The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate controls most of Idlib as well as parts of neighboring Aleppo and Latakia provinces.
The region of around 3 million people, many of them displaced by fighting in other areas, is one of the last holdouts of opposition to forces backing Syria’s Bashar Assad.
The Observatory on Saturday reported regime fire in various parts of southern Idlib, including close to a Turkish military observation post.
Russian air raids have also targeted hard-line fighters in Idlib’s western countryside and nearby parts of Latakia, it said.
The cease-fire is the second since Damascus escalated its operations in the area in April, which have since left at least 980 civilians dead, according to Observatory figures, and which the UN says have forced more than 400,000 people to flee.
Besieged
Meanwhile, Syrian state media is accusing militant groups of preventing civilians on Saturday from leaving the last opposition-held stronghold in the country’s northwest through a corridor government troops are securing.
The government has used such passageways before to allow residents to flee areas it is besieging ahead of a military offensive.
Last month, Syrian officials declared a “humanitarian corridor” at the southern tip of the stronghold while troops besieged the area.
State-run TV Al-Ikhbariya said no civilians came out via the corridor from Idlib province, controlled by militants dominated by opposition groups, for the second straight day. Al-Ikhabariya said 20 vehicles were barred by militants from reaching the Abu Dhuhur crossing, including by shooting at those looking to leave.
State news agency SANA also said militants shot at motorists in Idlib, denying them an exit. There was no independent confirmation.
The Abu Dhuhur crossing links between opposition-controlled Idlib, home to nearly 3 million people, and government-controlled areas. State television stations showed buses and medical teams waiting at the crossing.
UN and aid groups question the government’s use of such corridors amid military offensives and sieges and in the absence of any independent monitors. The UN says such exit corridors should be guaranteed from all sides to allow people to use them voluntarily.
Syrian forces have made major ground advances on opposition-held Idlib in recent weeks despite a short-lived cease-fire. The government military offensive since late April has forced nearly half a million people to be displaced within the stronghold, and left about 1,000 killed.
David Miliband, who heads the aid group International Rescue Committee, told a UN panel on northwest Syria on Friday that the breakdown of the recent cease-fire “makes us fear that the worst may be yet to come.” He called for an immediate end to the violence against civilians and an accountability mechanism to investigate attacks against civilians.
IRC supports 24 health facilities and 19 ambulances across northwest Syria, including eight who came under attack. Since April, 51 health facilities have come under attack, mostly in government airstrikes.


Darfur victims say for sake of peace Bashir must face ICC

Updated 33 min 29 sec ago

Darfur victims say for sake of peace Bashir must face ICC

  • Jamal Ibrahim saw his sisters get raped by militiamen in Darfur

CAMP KALMA: For Jamal Ibrahim, whose sisters were raped by militiamen in Darfur, only the handover of Sudan’s ousted dictator Omar Al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court can bring peace to the restive Darfur region.
“Two of my sisters were raped in front of my eyes by militiamen who stormed through our village, setting our houses on fire,” Ibrahim, 34, told AFP at Camp Kalma, a sprawling facility where tens of thousands of people displaced by the conflict in Darfur have lived for years.
“Bashir and his aides who committed the crimes in Darfur must be handed over to the ICC if peace is to be established in the region.”
Ibrahim, who is from Mershing in the mountainous Jebel Marra area of Darfur, said his village was attacked by Arab militiamen in March 2003 soon after conflict erupted in the region.
The fighting broke out when ethnic African rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s then Arab-dominated government under Bashir, alleging racial discrimination, marginalization and exclusion.
Khartoum responded by unleashing the Janjaweed, a group of mostly Arab raiding nomads that it recruited and armed to create a militia of gunmen who were often mounted on horses or camels.
They have been accused of applying a scorched earth policy against ethnic groups suspected of supporting the rebels — raping, killing, looting and burning villages.
The brutal campaign earned Bashir and others arrest warrants from The Hague-based ICC for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
About 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in the conflict, the United Nations says.
Bashir, who denies the ICC charges, was ousted by the army in April after months of nationwide protests against his ironfisted rule of three decades.
He is currently on trial in Khartoum on charges of corruption, but war victims like Ibrahim want the ex-leader to stand trial at the ICC, something the northeast African country’s new authorities have so far resisted.
Ibrahim said his father and his uncle were shot dead when militiamen, riding on camels, rampaged through their village.
“We fled from there... and came to this camp. Since then we have not returned to our village,” Ibrahim told an AFP correspondent who visited Camp Kalma last week.
Established near Niyala, the provincial capital of South Darfur state, Camp Kalma is one of the largest facilities hosting people displaced by the conflict.
It is a sprawling complex of dusty tracks lined with mud and brick structures, including a school, a medical center and a thriving market, where everything from clothes to mobile phones are sold.
Hundreds of thousands of Darfur victims live in such camps, subsisting on aid provided by the UN and other international organizations.
In Camp Kalma, hundreds of women and children queue up daily to collect their monthly quota of food aid.
“Often the officials here tell us that we must return to our village, but we can’t because our lands are occupied by others,” said a visibly angry Amina Mohamed, referring to Arab pastoralists who now occupy large swathes of land that previously belonged to people from Darfur.
“We won’t accept any peace deal unless we get back our land. We will leave this camp only when those who committed the crimes are taken to the ICC.”
Even as instances of violence in Darfur, a region the size of Spain, have fallen in recent years, there are still regular skirmishes between militiamen fighting for resources and livestock.
Sudan’s new transitional authorities have vowed to bring peace to Darfur and two other conflict zones of Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
A Sudanese delegation led by generals and government officials is currently holding peace talks in the South Sudan capital of Juba with two umbrella rebel groups that fought Bashir’s forces in these three regions.
On Wednesday, the chief of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, announced a “permanent cease-fire” in the three regions to show that authorities are committed to establishing peace.
But residents of Camp Kalma are not convinced, with hundreds of them staging a protest against the talks in Juba.
Musa Adam, 59, who hails from the village of Dilej but has lived in Camp Kalma for years, is in no mood to forgive Bashir.
Seven members of his family were shot dead by militiamen when they raided his village in 2003, Adam said.
“I know those militia leaders... I am ready to testify at the ICC against them as a witness to their crimes,” he said.
“Until these criminals are taken to the ICC, we cannot have peace in Darfur.”

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