Syrian forces aim to split east Aleppo in two, says rebel commander

People clean a damaged mosque at a site hit by an airstrike in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 25 November 2016

Syrian forces aim to split east Aleppo in two, says rebel commander

BEIRUT: Syrian government forces are trying to split opposition-held eastern Aleppo in two in a fierce ground and air assault that is taking a heavy toll on besieged civilians and rebel fighters who are battling hard to stop them, a rebel commander said.
Abu Abdelrahman Nour, Aleppo commander of the Jabha Shamiya, one of the biggest groups fighting against President Bashar Assad in northern Syria, called for more help from countries such as France and Turkey, saying it would be a “catastrophe” if the government forces managed to bisect eastern Aleppo.
Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city before the start of a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, is already divided into the government-held west and rebel-held east, where UN officials say at least 250,000 people are under siege.
Dividing eastern Aleppo would expose rebel fighters to attack on new fronts and could hasten what would be a major victory for Assad in the rebels’ most important urban stronghold after five years of fighting.
In the latest fighting, the pro-government forces, identified by the rebels mainly as Shiite militias, have sought to advance into an area of northeastern Aleppo, Nour said. Heavy bombardment of civilian areas has also resumed.
“The regime is using heavy, systematic bombardment in the areas where it is trying to advance. This is causing many injuries in the ranks of the revolutionaries,” he said late on Wednesday via Skype from Aleppo.
“For roughly five days the intensity of the attack and clashes in the northeast area has increased, and this threatens the entire eastern region.”
The aim is “to besiege Aleppo twice, and split it into two areas, and this will be a catastrophe if it happens,” Nour said, explaining that the pro-government forces would then able to open new fronts in the battle for Aleppo.
This would further stretch the outgunned rebel fighters after what Nour called “one of the hardest periods” Aleppo had faced.
Parts of the city have been largely reduced to rubble and residents are short of food, medicine and fuel. Nour said flour was being mixed with other foods such as rice and cracked wheat to eke out remaining supplies.
Despite this, Nour said rebel morale was high.
“God willing it will not be easy for the regime. We have excellent capabilities and are defending well,” he said.
The government, backed by Russian air power and Shiite militias from Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, has tightened its grip on eastern Aleppo this year, gradually encircling it before launching the new assault in September.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based organization that reports on the war, says pro-Assad forces are making “clear advances” in eastern Aleppo, including the belt of territory that could split the rebel-held east in two.
Asked about the government’s strategy, a Syrian military source said “the army had a number of plans for the eastern districts.” The source said “the matter will be settled sooner or later, and it won’t be later.”
Western states have condemned the Russian-backed campaign that has killed hundreds of people since September. Hospitals and other civilian infrastructure have been hit, and all of east Aleppo’s hospitals were declared out of action last week.
France accused the Syrian government and its allies on Wednesday of using political uncertainty in the United States to launch “total war” against rebel-held areas.
Syrian rebels in besieged east Aleppo have agreed to a UN plan for aid delivery and medical evacuations, but the United Nations is awaiting a green light from Russia and the Syrian government, humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland said.
Meanwhile, the Turkish army blamed the Syrian regime for an airstrike on Thursday in northern Syria that killed three soldiers, the first time it has accused Damascus of killing its soldiers since launching its three-month military incursion.
The incident came on the first anniversary of the shooting down of a Russian military jet over the Syrian border by the Turkish air force.
That led to a seven-month crisis in relations between Turkey and Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad that has provided military support to Damascus.
The army said the strike took place at 3:30 a.m. (0030 GMT) without indicating where in Syria, although local media said it took place in the Al Bab region.
“In the airstrike assessed to have been by Syrian regime forces, three of our heroic soldiers were killed and 10 soldiers wounded, one seriously,” the armed forces said in a statement on its website.
Turkish media reported earlier that the attack was by Daesh militants. The prime ministry slapped a broadcasting ban on coverage of the strike an hour after the military’s statement, Turkey’s broadcast watchdog said on its website.
The injured soldiers were taken to hospitals in Turkey’s southeastern cities of Kilis and Gaziantep close to the Syrian border, the official news agency Anadolu said.

Kuwaiti eco-activists show how to win the war on waste

Updated 11 min 1 sec ago

Kuwaiti eco-activists show how to win the war on waste

  • Country's first PET bottle recycling project set up by Sanaa Al-Qamlaas, Farah Shabaan and Soad Al-Fozan
  • Today Omniya is a familiar name in Kuwait and the passion is still strong

KUWAIT CITY:  Kuwait has been facing serious challenges in managing its solid waste for some time now.

The dumping of non-biodegradable materials such as plastic into landfills and the subsequent migration of leachate, causing groundwater contamination, has also been equally worrying.

Sanaa Al-Qamlaas, a witness to the unethical dumping of all kinds of waste materials into these sites, said she first felt the need for a change in the management of waste in Kuwait several years ago.

“I often visited landfills and it was hard for me not to tear up watching them,” she said. “I decided that we had to stop at least plastic from going into these landfills as it had a major negative impact on the environment.”

Al-Qamlaas got together with her best friend, Farah Shabaan, and her nephew, Soad Al-Fozan, and soon Kuwait’s first polyethylene terephthalate (PET — plastic) bottle recycling project, Omniya, was born.

Starting in August 2015, the trio initially focused on the collection and recycling of PET bottles as “there were massive quantities of these bottles in the landfills and these were ignored even by the scavengers as they were light-weight,” said Al-Qamlaas.

There were massive quantities of these bottles in the landfills that were ignored by the scavengers.

Sanaa Al-Qamlaas

With a 1,000 dinar ($3,300) budget in hand and no plan for the road ahead, Al-Qamlaas and Shabaan decided one weekend to simply send WhatsApp messages to the people on their contacts list, asking them to segregate their plastics and to drop them in cardboard containers that would be provided at their homes.

Once done, the two friends went to each home to pick up the collected plastic.

“We just sent the message to our friends, but we were in for a surprise when the former minister of social affairs, Hind Al-Sabeeh, contacted us asking us what we were up to. It was a positive indicator of how powerful social media can be,” remembers Al Qamlaas.

The ex-minister encouraged them and told them to get a certification for their initiative.

Omniya’s message was also noticed on Instagram by the chairman and director general of the Environment Public Authority (EPA), Sheikh Abdullah Al-Ahmad Al-Humoud Al-Sabah, who instructed his team to assist the women in their new project.

Omniya started getting calls from residents asking them for containers for their own bottles.

“We went to each home, spoke to everybody, taught them how to crush the plastic bottles, how to segregate plastic; once the bags were full, we took them back in our cars.”

Initially Al-Qamlaas and Shabaan were challenged by the rubbish that users put in with the plastic.

“Our cars stank and our homes too, but all that changed once people knew what to segregate,” said Al-Qamlaas.

They visited 4,500 homes in the first year, going back and forth picking up bottles, followed by visits to around 100 schools to spread awareness. They soon collected enough bottles to get on to the next step — recycling.

With partial financial help from the Kuwait National Fund, Omniya set up the country’s first PET recycling plant.

“We just started production a year ago; we are still hugely in debt as we have to pay our land rent and operate our machinery and do not have any air-conditioners in the factory. But we are producing hot-washed, high-class PET flakes, that we now sell to Ireland, Italy and Turkey — markets with niche specifications,” says Al-Qamlaas.

Realizing that they needed more support to run a factory, the team roped in the private sector for sponsorships and partnered with various organizations such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Ministry of Education as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Today, Omniya is a familiar name in Kuwait and the passion is still strong.

“We have just one aim — to stop plastic from going to these landfills,” Al-Qamlaas said. “The road is long and we are tired but we owe it to our country — to the next generation.”


This report is part of a series being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.