Syrian rebels reject Russian claims on chemicals
Syrian rebels reject Russian claims on chemicals
The Syrian National Coalition called the charges “desperate” and “fabricated.” Russia is a key ally of President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Use of chemical weapons is an explosive issue, potentially guiding whether the West increases its aid to rebel forces. President Barack Obama called chemical weapons use by the Assad government a “red line,” while such accusations against the rebels could reinforce Western misgivings about arming them.
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, blamed opposition fighters for the March 19 attack in the government-controlled Aleppo suburb of Khan Al-Assal, which he said killed 26 people, including 16 government troops, and injured 86 others.
The rebels have blamed the government for the attack. The US, Britain and France have said they have seen no evidence that the opposition has acquired or used chemical weapons.
“Evidence provided by parties that support Assad’s tyrannical regime with money, weapons, and ammunition is false and clearly fabricated,” said the statement by the SNC, a group made up mostly of exiled dissidents.
“The recent Russian analysis on the use of chemical weapons in Khan Al-Assal is a desperate attempt by Russia to deceive the world and justify Assad’s crimes,” it added. “The Syrian people consider Russia (to be) Assad’s partner in the murder of innocent Syrian civilians.”
The Coalition invited a UN fact-finding mission to enter areas under rebel control in Syria to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
On Monday, the Syrian government also invited Ake Sellstrom, head of the UN fact-finding mission on allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria, and UN disarmament chief Angela Kane to visit Damascus for foreign minister level talks on conducting an inquiry into the Khan Al-Assal attack alone. The UN has sought wider access.
Up to now the government and UN have not been able to agree on the scope of an inquiry, and there has been no independent investigation.
Churkin delivered an 80-page report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday. He said Syria asked its ally Russia to investigate the attack because of the impasse with the UN
The samples taken from the impact site were analyzed at a Russian laboratory, Churkin said, and “there is every reason to believe that it was the armed opposition fighters who used the chemical weapons in Khan Al-Assal.”
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney replied, “We have yet to see any evidence that backs up the assertion that anybody besides the Syrian government has had the ability to use chemical weapons or has used chemical weapons.”
The US says it has “high confidence” that Assad’s forces have killed up to 150 people with sarin gas.
In violence Wednesday, woman and her four children were killed as they fled shelling near Damascus, the Observatory said.
Residents of two northern Syrian towns demonstrated against Al-Qaeda-linked rebels, an activist said Wednesday, suggesting growing discontent in opposition areas toward hard-line Islamists fighting against the Syrian regime.
There have been similar protests over the past month in rebel-held areas, said Rami Abdul-Rahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The organization receives its information through a wide network of activists on the ground.
“There’s clear dissatisfaction against them,” Abdul-Rahman said. He said most residents’ anger was directed against one specific group, “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” an Al-Qaeda-linked coalition announced by the head of Iraq’s Al-Qaeda arm, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, in April.
The Syrian Al-Qaeda element, the Al-Nusra Front, rejected the merger. Last month Al-Qaeda’s global leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, was said to be trying to end the squabbling, ordering that the merger be dissolved.
Hard-line Sunni fighters, some from other countries, form the most organized part of the chaotic brigades battling Assad’s rule. The war in Syria is now in its third year, and different groups of rebels control northern and southern parts of the country.
Abdul-Rahman said it seemed residents were angry because fighters had been arresting youths on flimsy pretexts.
“They are trying to show their muscle,” he said.
Similar demonstrations took place in Aleppo province.
‘We cry in our hearts. We cry to God:’ Forgotten Yemeni refugees of Djibouti
- As strife-torn Yemen marks its unity day, thousands of Yemeni refugees in neighboring Djibouti say they have little to cheer about
- Perched strategically on the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is the only country in the world to welcome refugees from Yemen
DUBAI: Yemen this week celebrated its national unification day, marking 28 years since the north and south were united — only to be torn apart again by the current war.
Across the Red Sea from Yemen’s coastline, however, a forgotten segment of the country’s vast displaced population would have found little time for the festivities on Tuesday.
Thousands of Yemenis have sought refuge in a desolate, sun-baked desert camp in the tiny nation of Djibouti.
Perched strategically on the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is the only country in the world to welcome refugees from Yemen.
Associate reporting officer for the the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Djibouti, Vanessa Panaligan, told Arab News that many Yemenis had fled their homeland in search of safety.
“From the stories I keep hearing, they were tired of seeing bombs and constant fighting in their neighborhood,” Panaligan said.
“They thought, ‘I’ve had it, we’ve stayed long enough and it’s time to get going because you never know when you are next, or if you would survive the next couple of months,’” she said.
Four years of war in Yemen have displaced more than 2 million people and left 75 percent of the population in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN.
UNHCR said there has been a spike in the number of refugees coming from Yemen in the past six months.
From the end of last year, after the killing of the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Houthi rebels, the situation deteriorated significantly, leading to “a sharp surge in new arrivals” in Djibouti.
Almost 200 refugees arrived in December, and more than 100 in January and February.
Panaligan said that although the influx has tapered off, the conflict shows no signs of letting up, forcing the agency to remain on standby with a contingency plan in case of an emergency influx.
“The sharp increase from what we are used to seeing is definitely a cause for alarm,” Panaligan said. “We’re planning for an emergency.”
In 2015, 38,000 Yemenis traveled to Djibouti. However, due to the harsh living conditions, many left to go elsewhere, while others returned to Yemen. The current population of Yemeni refugees in Djibouti is almost 4,000 — of which 1,695 live at the Markazi refugee camp in the port town of Obock.
Refugees arrive in Obock and are then sent to reception centers, where they are registered, and given food and water before being sent to Markazi camp.
The tiny coastal country is home to more than 22,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, making up 2.5 percent of its 900,000 population.
Houssein Hassan Darar, executive secretary of the Office of National Assistance for Refugees and Displaced Persons (ONARS), proudly explained his country’s history of helping other nationalities.
Since gaining independence from France in 1977, Djibouti had welcomed tens of thousands of refugees from nations including Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea, he said.
In response to the growing refugee population, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh signed two decrees in December to allow better access to social services and employment.
The government said it was building a new school for refugees in Obock.
Refugees with teaching experience are able to work in the existing schools, and are paid and trained by Djibouti’s education ministry, Panaligan said.
In Markazi camp, most of the population is under the age of 18, but fewer than 300 primary students and 20 secondary students are enrolled in school.
Despite attempts to house the influx of Yemeni refugees, living conditions in the camp are harsh.
When Arab News visited the camp in Obock last year, many refugees were living in tents made of thin fabric to protect them from the desert environment and endured scorching temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius as well as sandstorms.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center built 300 housing units in January to ease their suffering, spokesman Dr. Samer Al-Jatili told Arab News.
The housing units hold two rooms. One is the living space, with a kitchen and living room, while the other is the sleeping area. A small closet holds a shower area, and the floor lifts up to work as a toilet.
However, the camp lacks running water and electricity.
Panaligan said that of the 300 housing units, 250 were given to families and 50 to single people. An average family has five or six members.
Refugees are given food rations, but many have said it is not enough. The UNHCR reported that in the past few months, about 164 refugees at Markazi were at risk of malnutrition.
Nathair Ali Thabit, 34, who has a family of five, told Arab News last year that refugees get two meals a day, but no meat or vegetables.
“We have bread and tea in the morning and in the evening rice,” Thabit said. “I haven’t tasted meat, chicken or fish in two years.
“My children sometimes want biscuits or milk, so I try to distract them by taking them to the beach and playing with them.
“We are in the middle of nowhere, so there’s not much we can do” he said.
“We cry in our hearts — we don’t show anyone, we just cry to God.”
Panaligan said that despite the challenges of life in Djibouti, Yemeni refugees come for safety, which is missing in their homeland.
“Many have come to join their families who left Yemen last year, too,” she said.