Russian strike kills 20 fleeing civilians in east Syria: monitor

Smoke billows from buildings following a reported air strike on Ain Tarma in the Eastern Ghouta area, a rebel stronghold east of the Syrian capital, on October 2, 2017. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 04 October 2017
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Russian strike kills 20 fleeing civilians in east Syria: monitor

BEIRUT: A Russian air strike killed at least 20 civilians on Wednesday as they tried to cross the Euphrates river to escape fighting in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor province, a monitor said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, said children were among those killed as they tried to cross the river aboard rafts, escaping from areas where Russian-backed regime forces are battling the Daesh group.
Two campaigns are being fought against the jihadist group in east Deir Ezzor, with one on the western side of the Euphrates river that slices diagonally across the province led by Syrian troops and backed by ally Russia.
The second is being fought by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, on the eastern bank of the river.
The Observatory relies on a network of sources inside Syria and says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.
The group has reported hundreds of civilians killed in operations against Daesh in Deir Ezzor and neighboring Raqqa province, where the SDF is fighting with US support to capture the former jihadist bastion Raqqa city.
On Tuesday, the Observatory said a US-led coalition strike in Raqqa killed at least 18 civilians.
The coalition says it takes all measures possible to avoid civilian casualties and that it investigates all credible allegations.
Last month, it acknowledged the deaths of over 700 civilians in its strikes in Syria and Iraq since 2014.
Russia has not acknowledged any civilian deaths in its strikes since its intervened in Syria’s war in 2015 and dismisses the Observatory’s reporting as biased.
The deaths in Deir Ezzor on Wednesday prompted outrage from the opposition Syrian National Coalition which described the incident as a “heinous crime.”
More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.


Holy Land churches cry foul over Israeli legislation on lands

Updated 59 min 58 sec ago
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Holy Land churches cry foul over Israeli legislation on lands

  • In their letter to Netanyahu, the Christian leaders slammed the “scandalous bill,” accusing its backers of an “unprecedented attack against the Christians of the Land.”
  • Large swathes of Jerusalem are owned by various churches, which in many cases reached long-term leasing agreements with the state.

JERUSALEM: Three major Holy Land churches implored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to prevent the advancement of a draft bill they said was aimed at expropriating their lands.
Heads of the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Catholic churches in Jerusalem also accused the Israeli authorities of failing to keep a committment made just a few months ago that brought an end to a major crisis between the sides.
In February, the Jerusalem municipality began enforcing tax collection on church property, while separately lawmakers in the parliament worked on advancing a law that would allow expropriation of church property.
The church leaders in protest closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site in Jerusalem where Jesus is believed to have been crucified and buried, following which Israeli authorities froze both the tax measures and the legislation, committing to a dialogue with the Christians over the issues.
Rachel Azaria, a lawmaker with the centrist coalition party Kulanu, recently renewed work on a slightly revised bill that does not mention churches but would let the state expropriate the rights over lands sold by such bodies in Jerusalem, while offering compensation.
In their Monday letter to Netanyahu, the Christian leaders slammed the “scandalous bill,” accusing its backers of an “unprecedented attack against the Christians of the Land.”
“Certain elements in the government of Israel are still attempting to promote divisive, racist and subversive agendas, thereby undermining the Status Quo and targeting the Christian community on the basis of extraneous and populist considerations,” they said.
The church leaders also said that despite the Israeli committment to communicate on these issues via a specially appointed committee headed by Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, “no dialogue whatsoever has taken place with us” since the end of February.
“We view such conduct, from those who promote the bill, as a flagrant violation and undermining of Your Excellency’s commitment and of the basic and fundamental freedom of worship,” the church leaders said.
They urged Netanyahu to swiftly “block the bill whose unilateral promotion will compel the Churches to reciprocate.”
Large swathes of Jerusalem are owned by various churches, which in many cases reached long-term leasing agreements with the state.
Residents living in homes on such lands fear the churches could sell the lands to private developers, who would be free to do as they wish with their property, including raising rents or razing existing structures.
Azaria said her bill did not single out churches, and was aimed at solving the problem of “thousands of Jerusalem residents who could lose their homes due to the demands of developers.”
There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu’s office while Hanegbi refused to comment.
A spokeswoman for Azaria told AFP the bill was coordinated with Netanyahu and Hanegbi.