UK envoy slams Russian ‘lack of humanity’ in Syria

Russia has been accused of a “lack of humanity” in the Syrian conflict by the UK’s Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce after it was revealed that more than half of displaced people in Idlib province are children. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2020

UK envoy slams Russian ‘lack of humanity’ in Syria

  • Nearly 1 million people forced to flee Idlib since Dec. 1 amid regime attacks supported by Russia
  • 60 percent of that number are children

LONDON: Russia has been accused of a “lack of humanity” in the Syrian conflict by the UK’s Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce after it was revealed that more than half of displaced people in Idlib province are children.
Pierce said the UN had recently been given a “sobering and frightening” briefing about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, where nearly 1 million people have been forced to flee Idlib since Dec. 1 amid attacks by regime forces supported by Russia.
She added that the report had revealed that more than 900,000 people were in “grave danger” as they escaped from the attacks in freezing winter conditions. Around 60 percent of that number are children.
Pierce, the UK’s ambassador-designate to the US, has been consistently critical of Russia’s involvement in the conflict, and accused Moscow of abusing the UN veto system to protect and help Syrian President Bashar Assad, who she said was “attacking his own people.”
She called on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad to “end indiscriminate and inhumane attacks” in the northwest of the country, which have led to innocent civilian casualties.
Pierce told Sky News: “I think it’s cynical of the Russians. I think it shows the lack of humanity. They would’ve seen the same footage and the scenes you’ve just shown your viewers, and yet they don’t want to do anything to try to protect civilians.”
She said the UN was ready and willing to back a cease-fire, but it could not happen until Moscow agreed to back it too.
“The UN wants to act and 13 members of the Security Council want to act, but we’re stopped from acting because of Russia, supported by China,” Pierce added.
“That’s the main thing — to get the Russians to restrain the Syrians and stop aiding them in the bombings that they’re doing, including the bombing of hospitals, which is against the Geneva Convention. Russia and the Syria regime don’t really care what price has to be paid by civilians.”
She also accused Assad of using the blocking of vital medical supplies to those in need as leverage in an attempt to regain control of rebel-held areas of the country.
“If Assad can’t put right the problems that led to the crisis in 2011-2012, then Syria will never be stable and the government of Syria will never be able to govern the whole of Syria,” Pierce said.
“So there are some very pressing, long-term questions to sort out as well as these immediate short-term needs.”
Her comments came after Russia on Friday proposed a summit on Syria that would include French, German and Turkish officials.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “concrete support” from France and Germany would be needed to bring an end to the conflict, and confirmed there would be no Turkish troop withdrawal from Idlib.


Jerusalem’s Palm Sunday march scaled back due to coronavirus

Updated 05 April 2020

Jerusalem’s Palm Sunday march scaled back due to coronavirus

  • Palm Sunday celebrations start the Holy Week leading up to Easter
  • JERUSALEM: A small group of Franciscan monks and Roman Catholic faithful took to the streets of Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter in the Old City Sunday to distribute olive branches after the traditional Palm Sunday procession was canceled due to restrictions

JERUSALEM: A small group of Franciscan monks and Roman Catholic faithful took to the streets of Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter in the Old City Sunday to distribute olive branches after the traditional Palm Sunday procession was canceled due to restrictions imposed to contain the spread of coronavirus.
The march took place as Israel deployed troops to help contain an outbreak in a hard-hit city. Iran, dealing with the worst outbreak in the Mideast, announced plans to allow some businesses to reopen later this month even as the death toll continued to climb. Lebanon, meanwhile, reopened its airport to allow citizens who had been stranded overseas to return home.
Palm Sunday celebrations start the Holy Week leading up to Easter. Worshipers traditionally carry palm fronds and olive branches and march from the top of the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem’s Old City.
While thousands of pilgrims usually participate in the march, this year was limited to a handful of participants. Clerics and faithful went door to door often throwing the branches to Christians looking on from their balconies.
“This year because of the new situation we are trying to come to all the Christians in our Christian Quarter to bring these branches of olives, the sign of new hope,” said the Rev. Sandro Tomasevic, a Catholic clergyman at the Latin Parish of Jerusalem.
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and is the start of the church’s most solemn week, which includes the Good Friday re-enactment of Jesus’ crucifixion and death and his resurrection on Easter.
In Israel, more than 8,000 people have contracted the coronavirus and 46 have died. In the West Bank, nearly 200 cases have been reported, including a large outbreak in the biblical town of Bethlehem.
The outbreak has forced church officials to close churches to the public and scale back religious observances throughout the week. Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land, held a small, closed service at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
The coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms in most patients, who recover within a few weeks. But it is highly contagious and can be spread by people showing no symptoms. It can cause serious illness and death in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health issues.
Iran has been the hardest-hit nation across the region. Iran state TV reported that an additional 151 people had died, pushing the death toll to 3,603 with over 58,000 confirmed cases.
But the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, announced that low-risk businesses will be allowed to resume their activities in Tehran on April 18. Businesses in other provinces will begin a week earlier, on April 11, he said during a meeting Saturday. He said government offices would also be able to boost staffing, from one-third to two-thirds of their work force, beginning April 11.
Rouhani said the decision would not contradict a stay-at-home policy and that businesses must still observe health restrictions ordered by the government. High-risk businesses, like pools, gyms and shopping malls will remain closed, he said.
In Lebanon, meanwhile, a jet carrying more than 70 Lebanese citizens who had been stuck in Saudi Arabia after Beirut’s international airport closed nearly three weeks arrived in Lebanon. It marked the beginning of flights that aim to return thousands of Lebanese from around the world. Three more flights are scheduled to arrive later Sunday from the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and Ivory Coast.
The tiny Mediterranean country has reported 520 cases of coronavirus and 20 deaths since the first case was reported in late February.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab said up to 21,000 people have registered to return home, and the process will take several weeks.
In Israel, the military began an operation in the hard-hit city of Bnei Brak, helping to distribute food and medicine. The government last week put Bnei Brak, home to a large population of ultra-Orthodox religious Jews, under a near closure after an outbreak ravaged the city. Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population has been disproportionately infected after religious leaders played down or ignored warnings to maintain social distance early in the crisis. Meanwhile, a nursing home in the southern city of Beersheba reported its sixth death in recent days.