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.


Syrian children study on the ground in abandoned villa

Displaced Syrian children attend class at a makeshift school in the village of Muhandiseen, in the south western countryside of the Aleppo province, on September 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 25 September 2018
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Syrian children study on the ground in abandoned villa

  • Some sit with their knees drawn on a plastic woven carpet, their shoes neatly by its side

ALEPPO, Syria: In rebel-held northern Syria, displaced children sit or lie on the ground of an unfinished villa, bending over their notebooks to apply themselves as they write the day’s lesson.
Four teachers instruct around 100 children — girls and boys aged six to 12 — at the makeshift school in an opposition-held area in the west of the northern province of Aleppo.
Between the bare walls of the villa abandoned mid-construction, children sit or lie on sheets or plain carpets, their small backpacks cast by their side.
Dubbed “Buds of Hope,” the teaching facility has no desks, library or even working toilets.
Instead, the air wafts in from beyond the pine trees outside through the gaping windows in the cement wall.
Dressed in a bright blue T-shirt and jeans, her hair neatly tied back in a pony tail, a barefoot girl kneels over her book, carefully writing.
“This isn’t a school,” says 11-year-old Ali Abdel Jawad.
“There aren’t any classrooms, no seats, nothing. We’re sitting on the ground,” he says.
In one classroom, a gaggle of veiled young girls sit on a bench, as the teacher explains the lesson to one of their male counterparts near a rare white board.
In another, the school’s only female teacher perches on a plastic chair, as her students gather around on the floor, their backs against the wall.

Some sit with their knees drawn on a plastic woven carpet, their shoes neatly by its side.
The children — as well as their teachers — have been displaced from their homes in other parts of Syria due to the seven-year war, a teacher told an AFP photographer.
Some hail from Eastern Ghouta outside Damascus, a former rebel stronghold that fell back under regime control in April after a blistering offensive and surrender deals.
Others come from the central provinces of Hama or Homs.
A dry fountain lies in the courtyard outside the villa’s elegant facade, where girls link arms and swing around in a circle.
Schools in opposition-held areas are generally funded by aid organizations, but have in the past been hit by bombardment.
“We’re always scared of bombardment and of the situation in general,” says one of the teachers, giving his name as Mohammed.
The building lies in rebel-held territory adjacent to regime-controlled parts of Aleppo city to the east, but also the major opposition stronghold of Idlib to the west.
Some three million people live in the Idlib province and adjacent areas of the neighboring Aleppo and Latakia provinces, around half of them displaced by war in other parts of Syria.
Earlier this month, many feared a regime assault on Idlib, but last week Damascus ally Moscow and rebel backer Ankara announced a deal to temporarily halt it.