Iran admits over 1,000 men it sent to defend Syrian tyrant killed

A K9 unit patrol along a wall on the Syria-Turkey border, near the village of Besarslan in Hatay province, Turkey, earlier this month. (Reuters)
Updated 23 November 2016
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Iran admits over 1,000 men it sent to defend Syrian tyrant killed

TEHRAN: More than 1,000 combatants sent from Iran to fight in support of President Bashar Assad in Syria have been killed in the conflict, the head of Iran’s veterans’ affairs office said Tuesday. 
“The number of martyrs from our country defending the shrines has now passed 1,000,” Tasnim news agency quoted Mohammad Ali Shahidi Mahalati, the head of Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs’ and Veterans’ Affairs, as saying.
Iran has sent military advisers, as well as Shiite fighters recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to work with Assad’s forces. They are known in Iran as “defenders of the shrines.”
The Fatemiyoun Division of Afghan recruits organized by Iran comprises the majority of volunteers sent from Iran to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Iranian media regularly report on the death in Syria of Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani “martyrs” whose bodies are buried in Iran.
The latest death toll is significantly higher than previous tallies, although no overall figures have been officially announced so far.
In August, Shahidi said Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs’ and Veterans’ Affairs was caring for 400 people related to fighters killed in action in Syria and Iraq, half of them Afghans.
“We immediately cover (the families) that the Quds Force announces to us,” he said, according to ILNA news agency, referring to the Guards’ foreign operations wing headed by Qassem Suleimani.
“We are waiting for the Quds Force to confirm the martyrdom” of more fighters, “so we can cover their families too,” he said at the time.
Iran in May passed a law allowing the government to grant citizenship to the families of foreigners killed while fighting for Tehran.
The law could apply to volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan who are fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, the United States on Monday accused 13 Syrian commanders and prison officials of responsibility for attacks on cities, residential areas and civilian infrastructure as well as acts of torture.
US Ambassador Samantha Power read out the names of Maj. Gen. Adib Salameh, Brig. Gen. Adnan Aboud Hilweh, Maj. Gen. Jawdat Salbi Mawas, Col. Suhail Hassan, and Maj. General Tahir Hamid Khalil at a Security Council meeting, saying the international community is watching “and one day they will be held accountable.”
The detailed allegations appeared to be aimed at laying the groundwork for future war crimes prosecutions and marked an 11th hour attempt by the Obama administration to hold the Syrian government accountable for alleged atrocities.
Power accused the Assad regime and close ally Russia of continuing their “starve, get bombed, or surrender” strategy in rebel-held eastern Aleppo and stressed that this was not an isolated case.
“Across Syria, Russia and the Assad regime are waging a campaign that includes sieges, the blocking of humanitarian aid, the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, and the use of barrel bombs,” she said.
The US also knows where torture allegedly takes place in Syria, she said, citing four military intelligence branches, the Air Force Intelligence Investigation Branch in Mezzeh military airport, and the Tishreen and Harasta military hospitals.
Power named eight commanding officers and prison officials who work at these facilities saying the United States “will continue fighting to hold them accountable for their hateful crimes.”
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien strongly criticized the Assad regime for invoking national sovereignty “to bomb its own people.” He said the number of Syrians living in areas besieged mainly by government forces has more than doubled in the past year to nearly one million people.
“It is a deliberate tactic of cruelty to compound a people’s suffering for political, military and in some cases economic gain, to destroy and defeat a civilian population who cannot fight back,” O’Brien said.
Separately, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a conference hosted by his Social Democrat party that despite all their differences, opposition groups in Syria agree that there cannot be a future with Assad.
Steinmeier repeated his call for an end to the bombardment of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo and other parts of the country, and said a transition plan was needed to get to a political solution for ending the civil war there.
He said there were discussions about bringing humanitarian relief supplies into Aleppo via Turkey, but there were no guarantees for success.


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 45 min 16 sec ago
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”