Clashes rock Damascus; half of refugees lack medical care

Updated 08 February 2013
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Clashes rock Damascus; half of refugees lack medical care

BEIRUT: Syrian troops and rebels clashed again yesterday in the capital Damascus, a day after what activists described as the heaviest fighting in months in President Bashar Assad’s seat of power.
The clashes were inching closer to the heart of the city, but still were focused in outlying neighborhoods such as Qaboun, Jobar and Zamalka in the northeast and the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in the south, according to the activist groups Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Authorities.
The Observatory, based in Britain, said five people, three of them women, were killed in Yarmouk overnight. Damascus residents said yesterday was quieter, but they were still hearing sporadic explosions.
State-run television said rebels fired two mortar rounds at a bus station in the Qaboun neighborhood of Damascus, killing six people including three children and a woman. The TV, quoting an unnamed Interior Ministry official, said others were wounded in the attack.
The Observatory reported clashes and shelling between troops and rebels near Qaboun, saying several shells hit the neighborhood. It said the fighting occurred near the highway that links Damascus with the central city of Homs, Syria’s third-largest.
In other areas, the Observatory reported heavy clashes between troops and rebels near the northern town of Al-Safira, where there have been heavy clashes over the past weeks.
Al-Safira, south of the northern city of Aleppo, is home to military production facilities. The rebels have failed to advance in the area after weeks of intense clashes. The LCC and Observatory reported violence elsewhere in Syrian including the suburbs of the capital, the eastern region of Deir El-Zour and the southern region of Daraa, where the uprising against Assad began 22 months ago.
Syria’s opposition chief, who recently offered a dialogue with the government, demanded that the regime release all female political prisoners or he would scrap his offer.
Mouaz Al-Khatib of the Syrian National Alliance said: “The regime has until Sunday to begin releasing detainees, especially women. This should be the introduction of prisoners’ release,” Al-Khatib said. “I warn anyone not to harm any of our women.”
More than half of the estimated 300,000 Syrian refugees who have fled to Lebanon are not receiving the medical treatment they need because of high costs, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said yesterday.
In a report entitled “Misery beyond the war zone,” MSF gave the results of a survey carried out in the southern city of Sidon, the eastern Bekaa Valley and the northern city of Tripoli, where its teams are providing free medical care.
Syrian refugees, as well as Palestinian refugees and Lebanese nationals fleeing the embattled country, have “profound humanitarian needs that are not being met” said MSF, whose report covered registration issues and access to medical care and lodging.
More than 50 percent of those interviewed, whether officially registered as refugees or not, were housed in substandard structures with little to no protection from the elements and the rest were struggling to pay rent after losing their livelihoods.
And more than half could not afford treatment for chronic diseases, and nearly one-third had to suspend treatment because of high costs. “For those who are and are not registered alike, the costs attached to essential primary health care, ante-natal care and institutional deliveries are prohibitive,” it said.
The MSF said that nearly two-thirds of unregistered refugees and Lebanese returnees received no assistance whatsoever from any NGO and emphasized that registration itself was difficult.
“Forty-one percent of the interviewees said they were not registered, mainly because they lacked information on how and where to register or the registration points were too far away. “Others worried that they did not have proper legal papers and would be therefore sent back to Syria,” it said.


Campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

Updated 11 min 51 sec ago
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Campaign fever turns into clash between Druze parties

  • Lebanon's independent Sabaa party talks about exploitation of positions and money.
  • Several young men from the Sabaa party demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior.
BEIRUT: Sectarian and partisan polarization resulting from fierce competition for parliamentary seats in Lebanon has led to the first armed clash between two rival Druze parties.
Machine guns were used in the clash between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Lebanese Democratic Party, led by Talal Arslan, which took place on Sunday evening in the city of Choueifat, about 5 km south of Beirut.
The two parties’ leaders acted quickly to calm their supporters.
“When politicians plant seeds of hatred and grudges among people, they commit a crime against citizens who have been breaking bread together for centuries,” Jumblatt said in a tweet.
In a joint statement, the two parties stressed “the need to avoid any steps that could provoke anger among supporters or disturb citizens who look forward to freely exercising their right to vote in an atmosphere of democratic competition.”
The two parties, alongside other parties with supporters in Choueifat, such as Hezbollah, the Lebanese Forces, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Amal Movement, have agreed on “disowning anyone who breaches security, requesting that the security forces intensify their presence in Choueifat, identifying fixed locations until the elections are over, and restraining from carrying out provocative processions.”
Campaigning lasts 24 hours before polling and has seen various kinds of violations of the electoral law.
Several young men from the Sabaa party — a group of independent activists — demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Ministry of Interior, carrying banners questioning the ministry’s role in election-related issues.
“Serious violations are taking place because the country is out of control; many are exploiting their positions and pouring (in) their money, and conflicts are happening at grassroots level — people are tearing down photos of candidates and individuals are fighting with one another,” said Gilbert Hobeish on behalf of the demonstrators.
He added: “This is unacceptable, and the minister of interior must take responsibility.”
Hobeish criticized the Electoral Supervisory Commission, saying “it only oversees the civil society or change candidates.”
“We reject this in toto,” he said.
Ali Al-Amin, a candidate on the Shbaana Haki electoral list (who was assaulted last Sunday by Hezbollah supporters in the town of Shaqra because he hung his photo outside his house), held a press conference in the town of Nabatiyah Al-Fawqa and renewed his protest against “the tyranny that silences voices, oppresses liberties and acts on its own will and temperaments, making us feel as if we were in the law of the jungle era.”
He said that “resistance isn’t anyone’s property nor is it one party’s ownership.”
He also called on “the free people of the south to decide which life they wanted and to which homeland and identity they belonged.”
Campaign fever is rising in Lebanon 48 hours before the elections are held for the first time for Lebanese communities in several Arab countries. These elections are to be held 11 days before parliamentary elections take place inside Lebanon.