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UN green light for aid to Idlib puts miseries of Syria’s war into stark relief

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Children attend an outdoor event celebrating World Children's Day at the Haranbush camp for displaced Syrians in Syria's rebel-held Idlib province on Nov. 20, 2021. (OMAR HAJ KADOUR / AFP)
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hildren attend the first day of school in a village in the countryside of Syria's northwestern Idlib province on Oct. 9, 2021. (AFP file)
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Children help put together tables and chairs to use in class as they attend the first day of school in a village in the countryside of Syria's Idlib province on Oct. 9, 2021. (Omar Haj Kadour / AFP)
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Syrian rescuers, known as White Helmets, recover bodies in Zardana, in the mostly rebel-held northern province of Idlib, following air strikes in the area late on June 7, 2018. (AFP file)
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Updated 13 January 2022

UN green light for aid to Idlib puts miseries of Syria’s war into stark relief

  • White Helmets say attacks by the Assad regime and its foreign military backers have intensified in recent months 
  • Campaigners say children in northwest Syria are traumatized and unable to go to school due to constant bombing

WASHINGTON D.C.:  Airstrikes targeting civilian infrastructure in the rebel-held enclave of Idlib in Syria have become so common in recent months, they have ceased to be considered news by many Western media outlets, human-rights campaigners say.

According to Syrian Civil Defense, the rebel-affiliated first responders also known as the White Helmets, attacks by the Bashar Assad regime and its foreign military backers have intensified, maiming and killing scores of children.

One photograph released by the White Helmets in mid-November shows first responders lifting the lifeless body of a little girl from the rubble of what used to be her home. Such images were once front-page news. Now they barely register on the news media’s radar.




Syria's White Helmets volunteers search through the rubble of a building destroyed by an exploding bomb in Idlib. (AFP file photo)

Since June this year, the White Helmets have documented the deaths of 63 children in air and artillery attacks on rebel-held northwest Syria. To highlight the issue, the group has launched a social media hashtag campaign, #ChildrenUnderAttack.

Northwest Syria does receive a modicum of media attention every time the UN extends a measure that allows cross-border aid into the region for a period of six months, as happened on Monday. Roughly three million people live in Idlib, which remains outside the Assad regime’s control.

The green light for continued passage of humanitarian supplies through the crossing at Bab Al-Hawa, on the Syrian-Turkey border, was given even though the Assad government does not approve of the move and the Security Council did not hold a new vote on the matter.

Many analysts argue that Assad has “won” the Syrian civil war and therefore the international community ought to accept the new status quo. However, teachers in rebel-held areas have said it is wrong for the world to simply turn a blind eye to the regime’s crimes.

School staff in Idlib recently published an open letter with the help of a UK-based charity, The Syria Campaign, urging world leaders not to forget the region’s children who live under almost daily bombardment.

“We are the teachers of students in northwest Syria who are deliberately targeted in their homes, classrooms and as they walk to school,” the letter states. “We go to work afraid of another attack, and of another traumatizing day, which we know will affect our pupils for the rest of their lives.

“Our letter could not be more urgent. Early on Wednesday, October 20, four students and our colleague, Arabic teacher Qamar Hafez, were tragically killed on their way to school when Syrian government forces attacked the town of Ariha in southern Idlib with artillery shells.




Children attend the first day of school in a village in the countryside of Syria's northwestern Idlib province on Oct.  9, 2021. (Omar Haj Kadour / AFP)

“One million children in Idlib are terrified they might be next or they might lose their best friend at any moment. Like teachers everywhere, we are deeply committed to the children we teach, and we do all we can to try to protect them, but it is not enough. We need world leaders to stop the attacks, and ensure that children are safe and able to continue their education.”

Children have suffered the brunt of the Syrian conflict, which began more than a decade ago when anti-government protests met with violent repression, sparking a civil war.

According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, another UK-based monitor, at least 29,661 children have been killed in Syria since March 2011 — 22,930 of them at the hands of regime forces.

In its latest report, published on Nov. 20 to coincide with World Children’s Day, the network said at least 1,197 schools and 29 kindergartens had been completely or partially destroyed across Syria since March 2011.

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An estimated 2.5 million children in Syria are out of school, with another 1.6 million at risk of dropping out, according to UNICEF, which estimates that nine in 10 children in Syria live in poverty and more than 5,700 children — some as young as seven — have been recruited to fight.

According to UNICEF, 512 children were killed in attacks last year, most of them in northwest Syria. Around 1.7 million vulnerable children reside in the rebel-held areas, most of whom have been displaced multiple times by successive regime offensives. There are currently at least 2.5 million displaced children in Syria.

First responders have catalogued the impact of the war on the mental health of children living in the region’s displacement camps. Humanitarian aid workers have referred to the trend as a “psychological disaster that threatens this generation, and future generations of Syria.”

Speaking to Arab News, Layla Hasso, a Syrian advocacy director for the Hurras Network, a child protection NGO, said: “The goal is to terrify the half million children who live in Idlib province and to send a clear message to their families that there is no future for their children here. It’s why civilians are being targeted at their homes, schools, hospitals.




Pictures of Syrian regime victims are displayed during a protest in Koblenz, Germany, during the trial of two former Syrian officials accused for crimes against humanity. (AFP file)

“This is what I call terrorism and it has to stop. The international community cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this horror.”

However, anecdotal evidence suggests news consumers across the world are fatigued by the unending stream of images of devastation emanating from the region. As a result, global concern over Syria and its people has declined noticeably in recent years.

Analysts say this indifference, coupled with the inaction of the UN Security Council, has emboldened the regime to continue its bombing campaign. By giving the Syrian crisis a human face, The Syria Campaign hopes to revive international interest in the plight of Idlib’s children.

“Teachers joined together to write this letter to remind world leaders that Syrian and Russian forces continue to bomb civilians, including children, in northwest Syria with zero accountability,” Sara Hashash, communications director at The Syria Campaign, told Arab News.




Children in northwest Syria are unable to go to school due to constant bombing and displacement. (AFP photo)

“Children in northwest Syria are traumatized and unable to go to school due to constant bombing and displacement. A child has been killed almost every other day for the past four months.

“On Nov. 15, two children were killed by Syrian regime artillery shelling on Kafr Nouran in the Aleppo countryside. It’s frustrating that many of these attacks no longer get widespread media coverage.”

The result of the media silence on the issue has been political inaction. Already the Assad regime is being welcomed back into the regional fold. Many feel it is perhaps only a matter of time before Western and moderate Arab powers accept that Assad is here to stay.

In remarks to reporters on Nov. 11, Ned Price, the US State Department spokesperson, said: “This (Biden) administration will not express any support for efforts to normalize or rehabilitate Bashar Assad, who is a brutal dictator.”




A Syrian air force MiG-23 jet drops a payload during an air strike in the rebel-held town of Arbin in Eastern Ghouta region, outskirts of the Damascus, on Feb. 7, 2018. (AFP)

He said: “There has been no change in our position and Bashar Assad certainly has not said anything that would rehabilitate his image or that would suggest that he or his regime is changing its ways.”

In his column in Asharq Al-Awsat, the Syrian commentator Ibrahim Hamidi recently wrote: “As it stands, the room for confrontation is now limited to two options: The first is engaging Assad and ending Damascus’ isolation with the hope of easing Iran’s influence. Some Arab countries have indeed forged ahead with normalization, demanding that Damascus begin reining in Iran in Syria and the region.

“The second option lies in banking on the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ability to rein in Iran. This option stems from the position that the war had brought together Putin and Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei in Syria, but peace and normalization will pull them apart.”

INNUMBERS

2.5 million Children out of school in Syria.

9/10 Living in poverty.

5,700 Recruited to fight.

(Source: UNICEF)

For better or worse, according to Hashash of the Syria Campaign, the normalization effort is still limited to regional leaders. “On an international level, Assad is still largely isolated and dependent on the backing of Russia and Iran, and heavily sanctioned by the US and EU,” she told Arab News.

“Regional leaders who seem to be ready to move on from Assad’s crimes must be reminded that there can be no real peace in Syria without justice and accountability.”

According to the White Helmets, the number of civilian casualties has increased dramatically since the regime and Russia began using Krasnopol laser-guided artillery. The group says several members of the same family are often killed in such strikes.

The White Helmets allege that regime artillery and Russian jets have deliberately targeted schools and deprived children of an education.




In many cases, entire families are killed in indiscrimate shellings and bombings by the Assad regime. (AFP file photo)

Reports from the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic corroborate many of their claims that residential areas, markets and medical facilities have been deliberately targeted, often indiscriminately.

With the Russian military in control over Idlib’s airspace and operating an airbase in neighboring Latakia province, local medical and aid workers are unequivocal in pointing the finger of blame.

The Russian government has consistently and strenuously denied responsibility for the airstrikes, as well as accusations that its forces indiscriminately attack civilians.

Against this backdrop of conflicting accounts, Hashash has a message for the international media: It must speak to Syrians to amplify their voices and ensure their narrative is highlighted when reporting on the war-torn country.

“When stories are told, the world will listen,” she said.

________________

Twitter: @OS26


Fears grow over Iran influence in Lebanon after Hezbollah, Amal Cabinet decision

Updated 16 January 2022

Fears grow over Iran influence in Lebanon after Hezbollah, Amal Cabinet decision

  • Ending of 3-month boycott serves an “external agenda,” analysts warn
  • Mikati said he would convene a Cabinet meeting as soon as Finance Ministry had sent through a draft budget

BEIRUT: A decision by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement to end a boycott of Lebanon’s Cabinet has led to speculation that Iran is making moves to control Lebanon’s political system.

Lebanese Forces MP Ziad Hawat said: “The order came from Tehran, so the ‘disruption duo’ decided to set the Cabinet meetings free. These are the repercussions of external negotiations.”

He added: “The ‘disruption duo’ pawned the country to the outside will. But the parliamentary elections are coming and the hour of reckoning is upon us.”

The two parties said on Saturday that they would take part in Cabinet meetings after a three-month boycott.

The decision came as a surprise to many, and positively impacted the currency rate on Sunday.

Reacting to the announcement, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that he would convene a Cabinet meeting as soon as the Finance Ministry had sent through a draft budget.

He added that the decision “aligns with his personal repeated calls for everyone to participate in assuming the national responsibility in a way that preserves the national pact, especially during these critical times the country is going through.”

Mikati’s office noted the need “to set a recovery plan to launch the negotiation process with the International Monetary Fund.”

Some political observers said that the two parties are facing a political stalemate and popular pressure accusing them of escalating crises.

Parliamentary elections are around the corner and the two parties “want to absorb people’s resentment before the date of the said elections next May.”

Other observers linked the decision by the two parties to “regional developments regarding the Vienna talks.”

They believe that “the decision to disrupt the Cabinet meetings served an external agenda, specifically an Iranian one, and that perhaps they ended their boycott to demonstrate flexibility in the complicated negotiations.”

The two parties said in their joint statement on Saturday: “We announce our agreement to participate in Cabinet meetings to approve the national budget and discuss the economic rescue plan, and all that concerns improving the living conditions of the Lebanese.”

They claimed that the decision came “following the acceleration of events and the escalation of the internal political and economic crisis to an unprecedented level, with the collapse of the Lebanese pound’s exchange rate, the decline of the public sector and the collapse of citizen income and purchasing power.”

Hezbollah and Amal also mentioned in their mutual statement that their boycott was due to “the unconstitutional steps undertaken by Judge Tarek Bitar in the Beirut Port blast case — the gross legal infringements, flagrant politicization, lack of justice and lack of respect for standardization.”

Instead of Bitar presiding over the case, the two parties have requested that a parliamentary panel should look into the matter.

This requirement, however, has not been executed yet, as the prime minister has refused to “interfere with judicial operations,” with his party firmly backing Bitar.

Phalanges Party MP Samy Gemayel said that Hezbollah and Amal “think they owe us a favor by ending the boycott.”

He added: “They paralyzed the country for a year to form the government they wanted and they boycotted it to prevent justice from prevailing in the ‘crime of the century.’

“The Lebanese people are the ones paying the price. There’s no work, no electricity, no heating, no bread and no medicine,” said Gemayel.

He added: “Accountability for humiliating people will be achieved through the elections.”

In his Sunday sermon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi commented on the latest development regarding Cabinet sessions.

“In the democratic system, the procedural authority shall operate according to the powers conferred upon it by the constitution, without being subject to any illegal pressure or condition,” he said.

He warned against “resorting to the disruption of parliamentary and presidential elections — scheduled for next October — for suspicious personal objectives.

“The Cabinet disruption, the political escalation, the continued provocation, the use of justice to undermine the opponents and the inversion of priorities reassure neither the Lebanese people nor Lebanon’s brothers and friends.”

Internet services were disrupted in Lebanon on Sunday because of diesel shortages, adding another essential service to the list of casualties of the country’s economic crisis.

The Energy Ministry, however, categorically denied an Israeli Channel 12 report entitled “Washington approves an agreement to supply Lebanon with Israeli gas.”

The ministry said that “the gas supply agreement between the Lebanese government and the Egyptian government clearly states that the gas must come from Egypt, which owns large gas quantities.

“This gas will pass through Jordan, and then into Syria, which will in turn benefit from it.”


Jeers as Iran officials blame Asadabad blasts on thunderstorms

Updated 17 January 2022

Jeers as Iran officials blame Asadabad blasts on thunderstorms

  • The governor of Asadabad had ruled out the possibility of thunderstorms as the source of the blasts
  • Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Iranian authorities invited widespread ridicule on Sunday by insisting that large explosions in several areas in the west of the country were caused by thunderstorms.

Majid Mirahmadi, an official at the Interior Ministry, insisted: “After liaising with the relevant security and military agencies, it was determined that the sounds were caused by thunder and lightning and no special incident occurred.

However, the governor of the western town of Asadabad ruled out the possibility of thunderstorms as the source of reported loud blasts heard in several Iranian cities and towns.

One blast in the town of Asadabad caused panic among residents. “The intensity of the sound in some places was such that doors and windows of houses shook and people left their homes,” the Rokna news website said on its Telegram channel.

FASTFACT

Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran.

After several similar explosions in recent months, authorities said the Iranian military was holding unannounced air defense drills amid rising tensions with Israel and the US over Iran’s nuclear program.

Over the past two years, numerous mysterious explosions and fires have occurred at military, nuclear and industrial sites in Iran.

Two explosions at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility were clearly the result of sabotage.

Other explosions have taken place at missile sites, petrochemical plants, power stations and medical clinics. Previous explanations by the Tehran regime have included faulty safety procedures, human error, and, in one case, an earthquake.

Nevertheless, many analysts believe Iran is the target of a campaign of sabotage attacks by Israel as part of a “shadow war” between the two countries linked to Tehran’s nuclear program.

Most recently, in late 2021, there was a major explosion on an Iranian vessel docked at Latakia port in Syria, a fire broke out at an Iranian petrochemical factory on Khark Island in the Gulf, three people were injured in a fire at an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps research center west of Tehran, and a cyberattack crippled gas stations across Iran.

Israel has long threatened military action against Iran if indirect talks with Washington and Tehran fail to salvage a 2015 nuclear pact that then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

(With Reuters)

 

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Sudan doctors protest state violence in post-coup rallies

Updated 16 January 2022

Sudan doctors protest state violence in post-coup rallies

  • “During every protest they fire tear gas inside the hospital where I work,” one doctor, Houda Ahmad, said
  • “They even attack us inside the intensive care unit,” she added at the rally

KHARTOUM: Sudanese doctors protested Sunday against violent attacks by security forces targeting medical personnel during pro-democracy rallies following last year’s military coup.
“During every protest they fire tear gas inside the hospital where I work,” one doctor, Houda Ahmad, said at the rally in Khartoum.
“They even attack us inside the intensive care unit,” she added at the rally, where medical personnel carried pictures of colleagues they said had been killed.
The demonstration was the latest in the crisis-hit north-east African country, where protesters in the north also blockaded roads to vent their anger against an electricity price hike announced last week, and that has since been frozen.
Sudan’s October 25 coup led by military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule, that had started with the 2019 ouster of strongman Omar Al-Bashir following youth-led mass protests.
The military power grab has sparked an international outcry and triggered a new wave of street demonstrations, with another rally expected on Monday.
During the turmoil of recent months, prime minister Abdulla Hamdok was detained and later reinstated but then quit, warning that Sudan was at a dangerous crossroads threatening its very “survival.”
Deadly crackdowns have claimed the lives of 64 protesters, according to pro-democracy medics. A police general has also been killed in the street violence that has rocked Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries.
The UN World Health Organization said last week there had been 11 confirmed attacks on Sudanese health facilities since November.
The WHO said it was “also aware of the interception of ambulances, medical personnel and patients during their attempts to seek safety.”
It called for the attacks to “stop now,” pointing out that they threaten health care services needed more than ever during the Covid pandemic.
Covid-19 is a “grave threat” for Sudan, where 94 percent of the population has not been vaccinated, said the WHO.
Sudan has confirmed 93,973 coronavirus infections and about 4,000 deaths. In September, it said 64 percent of about 1,000 health workers tested had been found to be Covid-positive.
Sudan’s 45 million people have also been dealing with a severe economic crisis and inflation approaching 400 percent.
On Sunday, hundreds blocked key roads in the Northern Province, 350 kilometers (229 miles) from the capital, angered by recent news electricity prices would double — a move that was then frozen, but not officially abolished.
“No vehicle will pass until the authorities have canceled this increase, because it signs the death certificate of our agriculture,” protester Hassan Idriss told AFP by phone.
The protests that led to the 2019 ouster of Bashir had started after the government decided to triple the price of bread.
During the recent protests, Sudan has also often shut down the Internet and moved to limit reporting on the unrest.
In the latest move it revoked the license of Al Jazeera Mubasher, the live TV unit of the Qatar-based network, accusing it of “unprofessional” coverage of protests, the channel said.
The United Nations is now seeking to organize talks involving political, military and social actors to resolve the crisis.
UN special representative Volker Perthes announced the bid last week saying it was “time to end the violence and enter into a comprehensive consultative process.”
The mainstream faction of the Forces for Freedom and Change, the leading civilian pro-democracy group, said Sunday it would accept the offer of dialogue if it were to revive the transition to civilian rule.
Sudan’s military in April 2019 put an end Bashir’s three-decade rule, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of the autocrat and many regime officials.
Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
An imprisoned former foreign minister under Bashir, Ibrahim Ghandour, has begun a hunger strike along with several ex-regime officials, his family said Sunday.
They will only end it “once they have been freed or brought before an impartial tribunal,” his family said in a statement.
The public prosecutor’s office had recently ordered the release of several ex-officials, but Burhan instead ordered they stay in detention.
Ghandour’s family decried the “interference in judicial affairs.”
The protester movement however accuses Burhan, who was Bashir’s ground forces commander, of helping old regime figures come back to power.


Houthis reject UN call to release hijacked UAE-flagged ship

Updated 16 January 2022

Houthis reject UN call to release hijacked UAE-flagged ship

  • Houthis seized the vessel carrying medical supplies from Yemeni island of Socotra to Jazan
  • Arab coalition announces killing over 300 Houthis, destroying 37 militia vehicles in 60 airstrikes

AL-MUKALLA: The Houthis on Saturday criticized the UN Security Council for demanding they release a hijacked UAE-flagged ship.

Militia official Hussein Al-Azzi Houthi rejected the UN’s calls to free the ship and repeated claims it had been carrying weapons for the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen.

“The ship was also not loaded with dates or children's toys, but was loaded with weapons,” he tweeted, accusing the UN of “misleading public opinion.”

The Houthis seized the vessel, which was carrying medical supplies from the remote Yemeni island of Socotra to the Saudi port of Jazan, on Jan. 3. 

Their defiance came as government troops, backed by coalition air support, on Friday and Saturday took control of new mountainous locations south and west of the city of Marib.

Yemen’s Defense Ministry and local media reports said there were intensified attacks on pockets of Houthis fighting in Hareb district, south of Marib.

Troops also pushed almost 10 km into Houthi-controlled territory in Juba district, mainly in the Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi mountain range.

The Houthis have suffered massive setbacks since the start of this year, when troops took control of three districts in the oil-rich province of Shabwa and later advanced into Hareb district.

The coalition on Saturday urged Yemenis not to drive through main roads linking Marib and Al-Bayda with Hareb, Bayhan and Ouselan districts, declaring them “areas of operations” amid fighting on the ground and coalition airstrikes.

The coalition also announced killing at least 345 Houthis and destroying 37 militia vehicles in 60 airstrikes over the past 24 hours in the provinces of Al-Bayda and Marib.

Yemeni Landmine Records, which documents victims of mines or unexploded ordnances, said Friday that Houthi landmines had killed 38 government fighters and civilians since earlier this month in Shabwa and Marib provinces.

Landmine specialist Musa Abdullah Al-Harethi was killed on Saturday while defusing a device planted by the Houthis in Ouselan district. Two children were killed in a blast caused by a landmine in Al-Khoka, south of Hodeidah province, the organization said.


Iran jails anew French academic for ‘violating’ house arrest: Judiciary

Updated 16 January 2022

Iran jails anew French academic for ‘violating’ house arrest: Judiciary

  • Adelkhah, 62, is an expert on Iran and Shiite Islam at France's prestigious Sciences Po university
  • She was arrested on June 5, 2019, at Tehran airport and sentenced to five years' imprisonment

TEHRAN: French-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah was jailed anew for breaking house arrest restrictions, an official from the Islamic republic’s judiciary authority said on Sunday.
Her Paris-based support group had on Wednesday announced “with great shock and indignation” her reincarceration, which comes during sensitive talks in Vienna aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal which offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
“Ms Adelkhah... has unfortunately knowingly violated the limits of house arrest dozens of times,” Kazem Gharibabadi, deputy head of the judiciary, was quoted as saying by Mizan Online, the authority’s news agency.
“She has insisted on doing so despite repeated warnings from judicial authorities. So now, like any other prisoner who has violated the same rules... she has been returned to prison,” he added.
Adelkhah, 62, an expert on Iran and Shiite Islam at France’s prestigious Sciences Po university, was arrested on June 5, 2019, at Tehran airport.
She was sentenced in May 2020 to five years’ imprisonment for conspiring against national security, accusations her supporters have always denounced as absurd. In October of that year, she was placed under house arrest with an electronic bracelet.
The French foreign ministry said the reimprisonment “can only have negative consequences on the relationship between France and Iran and reduce confidence between our two countries.”
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called the decision “entirely arbitrary,” adding that “the whole of France” was “mobilized for her release.”
Gharibabadi insisted that Adelkhah is “a citizen of the Islamic republic of Iran,” adding that Tehran “firmly condemns the intervention of other countries in (its) judicial process.”
Iran does not recognize dual nationality so denies French consular staff access to Adelkhah.
“It is very unfortunate that the French authorities... by issuing hasty statements, make baseless and unfounded remarks that are definitely unacceptable,” Gharibabadi said.
She is one of at least a dozen Western nationals believed to be held in Iran who rights groups abroad say are being detained for political reasons to extract concessions from the West.
Talks between Tehran and global powers on the 2015 nuclear deal entered the New Year with positive signals emerging, including the European Union saying on Friday that a deal remained possible.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman last week cited “good progress” but French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Friday reiterated his view that the talks were progressing “much too slowly to be able to reach a result.”
Then-president Donald Trump had pulled the US out of the agreement in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin rolling back on its commitments.

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