Syria fighting worst since Aleppo battle: ICRC

Children play inside a refugee camp on Wednesday in Ain Issa, Syria. (Reuters)
Updated 05 October 2017
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Syria fighting worst since Aleppo battle: ICRC

GENEVA: War-ravaged Syria is experiencing its worst levels of violence since the battle for Aleppo late last year, the Red Cross said Thursday, warning that the onslaught was causing “intolerable levels of suffering.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) voiced alarm at reports of hundreds of civilian deaths across several regions of Syria, and the recent destruction of numerous hospitals and schools.
“For the past two weeks, we have seen an increasingly worrying spike in military operations that correlates with high levels of civilian casualties,” head of ICRC’s delegation in Syria, Marianne Gasser, said in a statement.
Violence has surged not only in places like Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, where brutal battles are underway to oust Daesh, but also in many so called de-escalation areas, like Idlib, rural Hama and Eastern Ghouta.
The de-escalation zones, agreed upon during talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, contributed to a clear reduction in violence in recent months.
But Gasser warned that “the return to violence is once again bringing intolerable levels of suffering to wide areas of the country, while at the same time decreasing access for humanitarian agencies.”
“Taken together, these are the worst levels of violence since the battle for Aleppo in 2016,” ICRC said.
It pointed out that some camps around Raqqa and Deir Ezzor were receiving more than 1,000 civilians every single day, as men, women, children flee the bombings and battles.
“Humanitarian organizations are struggling to provide water, food and basic hygiene to new arrivals,” ICRC warned.
And in the past 10 days alone, as many as 10 hospitals had been damaged across Syria, “cutting hundreds of thousands of people from access to even the most basic health care,” it said.
Robert Mardini, who heads ICRC’s Near and Middle East operations, stressed that “military operations must not disregard the fate of civilians and of the vital infrastructure on which their survival depends.”
“Winning by any means is not only unlawful, but also unacceptable when it comes at such human cost,” he said, urging all sides fighting in Syria to “show restraint, and to abide by the basic tenets of International humanitarian law.”
Also on Thursday, Russia said its airstrikes in Syria had destroyed a huge underground arms depot belonging to the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a terrorist alliance led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate.
“Russian aviation destroyed the largest buried arsenal of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham near Abu Duhur,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, referring to a town in the northwestern Idlib province.
The munitions depot was hidden underground and contained “more than a thousand tons of weaponry,” he said in statement.
Russia said its aviation destroyed the depot using high power artillery, specially designed to destroy underground targets.
The strikes also killed “49 fighters, including seven leaders of the Al-Nusra Front’s eastern sector.”
Al-Nusra Front was Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria until mid-2016 when it broke off ties, before going on to found a new extremist alliance called Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, which now controls large swathes of Idlib province.
The statement repeated Russia’s claim on Wednesday to have seriously injured Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham’s leader Abu Mohamed Al-Jolani, saying he was “in a coma” and that this had “thrown the terrorists of the whole Idlib province into disarray.”
The terror alliance on Wednesday denied Russia’s claim, saying that Jolani was in “good health.”
Russia said on Wednesday it had killed 12 leaders of the terrorist coalition including Jolani’s security chief.
The Syrian regime and Russia have carried out heavy airstrikes on Idlib province after a Sept. 18 terrorist attack on its military police deployed in neighboring Hama province.


War fears mount despite cease-fire between Gaza and Israel

Updated 22 July 2018
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War fears mount despite cease-fire between Gaza and Israel

  • Any further escalation will deepen humanitarian catastrophe in the Strip: UN chief
  • Before the truce, Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters

GAZA CITY: After seven chaotic and violent hours, quiet returned to the Gaza Strip Friday night. Yet on Saturday, civilians in the Palestinian enclave and Israel remained fearful of the potential for a new war.
The fatal shooting by a Palestinian sniper of an Israeli soldier during protests along the border on Friday sparked a widespread wave of Israeli bombing, with three fighters from Hamas killed and dozens of targets struck.
After intensive indirect mediation by the UN and Egypt, a truce came into force at midnight, yet both populations remained on high alert of another all-out conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“War is coming. I know that the (Israeli) occupation is carrying out raids to pave the way with their home base,” Somaya Rabaya, 21, from Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza, said.
While the cease-fire deal included an end to rockets and mortars, it didn’t include a commitment by Hamas to stop what Israeli media have dubbed “terror kites,” a senior Hamas source said.
In a brief statement on Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the movement accepted the cease-fire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials and that calm had been restored. Later, the Israeli military announced a return to civilian routine along the volatile border.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “gravely concerned” about the escalation and called on both sides to step back from the prospect of another devastating conflict. “Any further escalation will endanger the lives of Palestinians and Israelis alike, deepen the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza and undermine current efforts to improve livelihoods,” he said.
On Saturday morning in Gaza, 17-year-old Wissam was with a number of other youths fitting kites with small bottles full of diesel, while sheltering behind a sandbank for fear of Israeli strikes. “This morning, they bombed a Hamas observation post near here. I was afraid they would hit us with a missile,” he said.
Israel says it has no interest is engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the Gaza militant campaign of flying the incendiary devices into Israel.
On Friday, Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters.
“The attack delivered a severe blow to the Hamas’ training array, command and control abilities, weaponry, aerial defense and logistic capabilities along with additional military infrastructure,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that the strikes “will intensify as necessary.”