Russia seeks UN guarantees for new Aleppo humanitarian pauses

A Syrian woman carries her child at a temporary refugee camp in the village of Ain Issa, housing people who fled Raqqa, some 50 km north of the group’s de facto capital. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2016
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Russia seeks UN guarantees for new Aleppo humanitarian pauses

MOSCOW: The Russian Defense Ministry said on Saturday it would need the UN mission in Syria to formally confirm its ability to deliver aid to eastern Aleppo before Moscow agreed to any new humanitarian pauses in fighting in the shattered Syrian city.
Moscow says previous temporary cease-fires on the ground, to allow aid deliveries and the evacuation of the wounded and civilians, have come to nothing because rebels have opened fire on anyone trying to come in or out.
Rebels contest that and say it is the Syrian army and its allies who have sabotaged the humanitarian pauses.
“The Russian Defense Ministry will be ready to consider introducing new ‘humanitarian pauses’ at any time as soon as representatives of the UN mission in Syria officially confirm their readiness and possibility to deliver humanitarian aid to eastern Aleppo and to evacuate wounded and sick civilians,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
The occasional humanitarian pauses on the ground are distinct from a unilateral moratorium on Russian air strikes on rebel targets inside Aleppo, which remains in place for now.
A Russian naval commander, meanwhile, said a flotilla of Russian warships is now in the eastern Mediterranean off the Syrian coast after being sent to reinforce Russia’s military in the area.
The commander of Russia’s flagship Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, Sergei Artamonov, said via videolink that the ships are now in the “designated zone... in the eastern Mediterranean” and “are now jointly carrying out tasks, manoeuvering to the west of the Syrian coast.”
The battle group has traveled to Syria from the North Sea through the English Channel in the biggest such naval deployment in recent years as part of Russia’s military intervention in Syria.
The naval task force has been monitored closely by NATO, whose chief Jens Stoltenberg voiced concern the ships would be used to support the Russian military operation in Syria and “increase human and civilian suffering.”
The ship’s commander was speaking to a presenter on Russia-1 television from inside the Defense Ministry for a news show.
Also Saturday, Turkey’s military said it killed 18 Daesh terrorists in northern Syria over the last 24 hours.
Four buildings and one vehicle used by Daesh were destroyed in the strikes, an army statement said.
Separately, five Turkey-backed rebels and five terrorists were killed in clashes on the ground, the army said in its statement. In addition, it said coalition forces conducted six air strikes which killed another 10 Daesh militants.
Russia’s Interfax news agency on Friday had cited a Russian military and diplomatic source as saying that Russian MiG and Sukhoi jets have been regularly flying into Syrian airspace from the Kuznetsov to “determine combat missions.”
The Russian television channel also spoke to the commander of the Pyotr Veliky nuclear-powered battle cruiser, which is part of the same flotilla.
Asked whether foreign aircraft were flying over the ships, the commander, Vladislav Malakhovsky, said “they are afraid to come closer than 50 kilometers away, realizing very well how powerful the nuclear cruiser is.”
Russia says it has ceased strikes on rebel-held east Aleppo since October 18 and has also held brief unilateral cease-fires on the ground it calls “humanitarian pauses.”
It has accused the United States-led coalition of failing to persuade rebels to cooperate to allow civilians to leave, as only a few have done so.
The Russian defense ministry on Saturday said that it will introduce further “humanitarian pauses” only on condition that the United Nations humanitarian mission guarantees it is ready and able to organize aid supplies and evacuations.
The UN has warned that east Aleppo is now down to its final food supplies and has urged Russia to extend future truces to allow supplies through.
Russia said Saturday it is ready to act “at any time” as long as the UN “officially confirms its readiness and ability to supply humanitarian aid to Aleppo and evacuate wounded and sick peaceful residents.”
It complained that previous assurances from the UN had turned out to be “just words.”
Vehicles carrying humanitarian aid that try to enter the designated humanitarian passages into the city have “every time” faced “shooting from the rebel fighters” and have been unable to drive through because of mined roads, the ministry said.


Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

The worshippers forced their way into the area ahead of Friday prayer. (Reuters)
Updated 23 February 2019
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Muslims pray in banned area of Al-Aqsa for first time since 2003

  • The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area

AMMAN: For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram Al-Sharif/Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab Al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities.

The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayer, defying the Israeli ban.

The worshippers chanted religious and national slogans and mounted the flag of Palestine to show their delight at the reopening of the area, which has only been open during the past 16 years to Jewish fanatics during provocative visits to the Muslim holy place, the third holiest site in Islam, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the former mufti and now a member of the newly constituted Islamic Waqf Council in Jerusalem, delivered a short sermon in which he reiterated that “the Haram Al-Sharif is all 144 dunums of land, including the mosques, prayer halls, courtyard musuems and schools within it.” Sabri said that Muslims will not allow anyone to diminish Muslim rights in the entire mosque area.

The Friday prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh went off peacefully in part because of an Israeli decision late on Thursday not to make any further escalations, a reliable source in Jerusalem told Arab News.

Khaleel Assali, a member of the new council who participated in the prayer at Bab Al-Rahmeh, told Arab News that the mood was peaceful and upbeat. “It was a beautiful thing to be able to reclaim part of our religious site that we were barred from using for so many years.”

The deputy head of the PLO’s Fatah movement, Mahmoud Alloul, praised the unprecedented action by the popular movement in Jerusalem. 

In a statement published on the Wafa website, Alloul called on Palestinians to stay steadfast in the courtyards of Al-Aqsa and Bab Al-Rahmeh and to “continue to stand up to the occupiers and their repeated incursions in Al-Aqsa courtyards.”

Mohammad Ishtieh, a senior Fatah leader who is expected to be the next Palestinian prime minister, issued a statement saying that what happened in Jerusalem today proves beyond a shadow of doubt that all actions and decisions aimed at Judaization of Jerusalem have failed as a result of the steadfastness of our people in our eternal capital. Ishtieh praised the defenders of Jerusalem who screamed for justice and who again forced the Israeli occupiers to back down.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and a new member of the Jordanian-appointed Waqf Council, told Arab News that all parties participated and share this success. “Everyone participated and every party should get credit for this success. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa unite us.”

The popular protests that led to the breakup of the 16-year-old Israeli ban began on Feb. 13 when the newly constituted empowered and expanded 18-member Waqf Council decided to hold a symbolic prayer at the barred Bab Al-Rahmeh site. The Israelis responded by placing heavy chains at the gate and making arrests. 

After four days of arrests, Israel allowed the removal of the chains but would not go as far as allowing Muslim worshippers to enter. On Wednesday the Waqf Council called on worshippers to pray at the Bab Al-Rahmeh site. All five daily prayers were held outside the barred prayer hall. A confrontation was expected Friday, but the insistence of the worshippers on reclaiming their site led to the Israelis backing down, Jerusalem sources told Arab News.