Escape from hell: Residents flee Aleppo as UN reports civilian slaughter

Syrian residents, fleeing violence in the restive Bustan Al-Qasr neighborhood, arrive in Aleppo’s Fardos area on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 14 December 2016

Escape from hell: Residents flee Aleppo as UN reports civilian slaughter

JEDDAH/NEW YORK/ALEPPO: A Syrian regime’s offensive in Aleppo, backed by Russia and Iran, was over, Russia’s UN envoy said on Tuesday as the US described the violence in the besieged city as “modern evil.”
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said an agreement had been struck for opposition fighters to evacuate the northwestern city and he said civilians would be unharmed, despite western and UN accusations of the intentional killing of civilians.
“Over the last hour we have received information that the military activities in east Aleppo have stopped,” Churkin told a heated UN Security Council meeting called by France and Britain. “The Syrian government has established control over east Aleppo.”
The UN said on Tuesday it had reports that Syrian soldiers and allied Iraqi fighters had summarily shot dead 82 civilians in recaptured districts of Aleppo.
“They have gone from siege to slaughter,” British UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told the 15-member council.
Saudi Arabia’s Senior ulema panel said it’s time for world action against the Syrian regime’s “criminal massacres” in Aleppo.
“The criminal Syrian regime has committed the ugliest crimes in a way unknown in modern history, where the bodies of the dead fill the streets and under the rubble of destroyed buildings,” the secretariat of the Council of Senior Scholars said in a statement carried by SPA.
“The savage bombardment harvests lives everywhere, including in hospitals and houses of worship, while the international community is helpless or ineffective to take any decision to deter this criminal machine,” it added.
The panel said it’s time for the world and international organizations to end their indifference and move “to deter the criminal machine of Bashar Assad.”
It appealed to the Muslim world “to rise in support of its causes and stand with all its energy for its rights.”
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) condemned “the barbaric shelling” of Aleppo and called on the UN to move quickly to provide relief to the Syrian people.
“The GCC states strongly denounce the killing, siege and starvation that the ancient and historic city of Aleppo is subjected to as a violation of all humanitarian rights guaranteed by international law,” the bloc said in a statement issued by its Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani.
The United Nations described the situation as a “complete meltdown of humanity.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his briefing to the council, called on the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran to urgently allow civilians to escape Aleppo.
“There was an abundance of early warning given to this council regarding the situation in Aleppo,” Ban said. “We have collectively failed the people of Syria ... History will not easily absolve us.”
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran would be responsible for atrocities committed in Aleppo.
“By rejecting UN/ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) evacuation efforts you are signaling to those militia who are massacring innocents to keep doing what they are doing,” Power said.
“Aleppo will join the ranks of those events in world history that define modern evil, that stain our conscience decades later — Halabja, Rwanda, Srebrenica and now Aleppo,” she said.
As the four-month siege neared its end, some survivors trudged in the rain past dead bodies to the regime-held west or the few districts still in rebel hands.
Others stayed in their homes and awaited the regime army’s arrival.
For all of them, fear of arrest, conscription or summary execution had added to the daily terror of bombardment.
“People are saying the troops have lists of families of fighters and are asking them if they had sons with the terrorists. (They are) then either left or shot and left to die,” said Abu Malek Al-Shamali in Seif Al-Dawla, one of the last rebel-held neighborhoods.
Abu Yousef, in his 30s, said he and his family fled bombardments, tanks and executions in his home neighborhood of Bustan Al-Qasr.
“Thanks be to God, we are still alive ... the regime is constantly bombing us. My two children are injured, I am injured. The regime wants to kill us all. We are very afraid,” he said.
“You tell me ‘may God protect you’ we want a solution! We want a cessation of hostilities. We want someone to get us out of here. It’s enough. People are dying,” he said.
The UN has called for international oversight for civilians and rebel fighters as the government takes over.
The civil defense wrote on its Twitter account on Tuesday it could no longer keep track of the numbers of dead.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned that what we are seeing now in Aleppo could happen to populations of other towns outside government control such as Douma, Raqqa and Idlib.
Qatar called for an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss the situation in Aleppo.
The request was made for a meeting at the level of representatives to the Cairo-based Arab League.
Egypt’s state news agency also reported that a request had been made by Qatar’s delegation to the Arab League “to discuss the tragic situation in Aleppo.”

— with input from REUTERS, AP, AFP

US ‘suspects’ Iran seized UAE based oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Updated 16 July 2019

US ‘suspects’ Iran seized UAE based oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

  • Ship tracking data shows the Panamanian-flagged tanker Riah stopped transmitting its location Saturday
  • A US defense official told AP that Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island

LONDON: The US said it suspects Iran has seized an oil tanker that drifted into Iranian waters as it traveled through the Strait of Hormuz.

Ship tracking data shows the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Riah, which is based in the UAE, stopped transmitting its location on Saturday.

The incident is the latest involving shipping in the region where tensions between Iran and the US have escalated in recent months. Iran has been accused of planting mines on several tankers as Washington ramps up economic and military pressure on the regime over its nuclear program and aggressive foreign policy in the region.

Iran also threatened to retaliate against shipping after British forces this month helped seize an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar as it attempted to deliver oil to Syria.

A US defense official told AP that Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it. He said the US "has suspicions" Iran seized the vessel.

"Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That's a possibility," the official said. "But the longer there is a period of no contact ... it's going to be a concern."

The Riah, a 58-meter oil tanker, traveled from a port near Dubai through the Strait of Hormuz toward Fujairah on the UAE's east coast. After 11 p.m. Saturday something happened to the vessel, according to tracking data.

Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told AP that the tanker had not switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE.

"That is a red flag," Raja said. 

An Emirati official told Al Arabiya that the oil tanker is not owned or operated by the UAE and has not sent a distress call.

“We are monitoring the situation with our international partners,” the official said.

The ship's registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told AP it had sold the ship to another company.

Iranian officials have not said anything publicly about the ship.

*With AP