Assad regime expanding use of cluster munitions

Updated 18 March 2013
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Assad regime expanding use of cluster munitions

BEIRUT: The Syrian regime is expanding its use of widely banned cluster bombs, an international human rights group said yesterday as the deadlocked conflict entered its third year.
In new violence, rebels detonated a powerful car bomb outside a high-rise building in the eastern city of Deir El-Zour, setting off clashes with regime troops, state TV and activists said.
The blast came a day after Syrians marked the second anniversary of their uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Yesterday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Syrian forces have dropped at least 156 cluster bombs in 119 locations across the country in the past six months, causing mounting civilian casualties.
Two strikes in the past two weeks killed 11 civilians, including two women and five children, the report said. The group said it based its findings on field investigations and analysis of more than 450 amateur videos.
Cluster bombs open in flight, scattering smaller bomblets. They pose a threat to civilians long afterwards since many don’t explode immediately. Most countries have banned their use.
A senior Syrian government official denied that regime forces use cluster bombs and said, “Many amateur videos are doubtful.”
Yesterday, rebels in Deir El-Zour detonated a car rigged with more than two tons of explosives next to the tallest building in the city, known as the Insurance Building, state TV said.
The TV said rebels entered the building after the blast but were pushed out by government forces.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s foreign policy chief urged caution yesterday about a Franco-British drive to lift an EU arms embargo to help opposition fighters, questioning the impact such a step might have on attempts to reach a political settlement there.
Other EU governments rebuffed efforts by Paris and London at an EU summit on Friday to lift the Syrian arms embargo to help fighters, although they asked foreign ministers to discuss it again next week.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU needed to think “very carefully” about French and British arguments that lifting the embargo would encourage Assad to negotiate.
The EU should also consult UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi and Moaz Al-Khatib, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, about what impact lifting the embargo might have on their efforts to start talks to end the Syria crisis, she said.
“What we’ve got to make sure of is anything we do does not make that (work) harder,” she said, speaking at a conference.
Samir Nashar, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group in exile, said he hoped France and Britain would defy the EU if the embargo remains in place.
“I prefer that there is a consensus and a joint resolution,” he said Friday in Istanbul. “But if there’s no consensus, I still think France and Britain will act unilaterally.”


In an Iraqi village, a little girl hides skin disease from neighbors

Haura, a 4-year-old Iraqi child, in the village of Wahed Haziran, Diwaniya province, has a rare skin disease that covers much of her upper body in black marks and hair. AFP
Updated 49 min 33 sec ago
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In an Iraqi village, a little girl hides skin disease from neighbors

  • Iraq’s medical system has been destroyed by the 15 years of chaos
  • We have seen several doctors and they all told us that she cannot be treated in Iraq

WAHED HAZIRAN: Four-year-old Iraqi girl Haura should be enjoying her childhood — games in the street, tearing in and out of friends’ homes and small squabbles over toys.
Instead, a rare congenital skin condition covering much of her upper body in black marks and hair has made her the object of ridicule in her village, about 200 km south of Baghdad.
Everyday, Haura’s parents dress her in long sleeved shirts and high collars, but it is a losing battle — her neck gives her away, to laughter and jeers.
“In two years, she will have to go to school — we really dread that,” says Haura’s mother Alia Khafif at the family home, in Wahed Haziran, Diwaniya province.
“How will the other children behave with her? We can’t guarantee that she’ll be comfortable in a school and this is the biggest obstacle for her future,” sighs Khafif, dressed in a traditional long black veil.
The black marks and hair cover Haura’s shoulders and almost her entire back, along with much of her arms and neck.
But things could still get a lot worse.
Her condition, a giant form of naevus — birthmarks or moles — make her highly vulnerable to malignant melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer.
To ward off a potentially “fatal” outcome, the best treatments would be a skin graft and laser sessions, dermatologist Aqil Al-Khaldi tells AFP. He also recommends psychological help.
But Haura’s despairing family can’t afford these things.
Iraq’s medical system has been destroyed by the 15 years of chaos that has followed the toppling in 2003 of dictator Saddam Hussein, and by more than a decade of sanctions before that.
“We have seen several doctors and they all told us that she cannot be treated in Iraq. They all say we have to go to a specialist center abroad,” says Haura’s mother.
“We cannot afford the journey or medical costs.”
Even treatment to alleviate itching is beyond the family’s reach — and the irritation gets worse with the Summer heat, as temperatures regularly exceed 50 Celsius.
“What we have is barely enough to live on and to send four brothers and sisters to school,” adds Khafif, whose husband is old, sick and unemployed.
Haura’s teenage brother Ahmad stands up for her.
“She’s a normal child, there’s nothing wrong with her,” he insists.
“But when she leaves the house, our neighbors laugh at her.”
Outside in the street, passing children avoid her like the plague.
“Even if the Prophet asks us, we won’t play with her,” one says.
So when her siblings head to school, Haura sits and plays on her own — or peers mournfully into a little green-framed mirror, held up close to show only her big brown eyes and pretty face.