Russian strikes kill 14 civilians in eastern Syria: monitor

Smoke rises from buildings following a reported strike on a rebel-held area of the Jobar district, east of the Syrian capital on October 6, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 06 October 2017
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Russian strikes kill 14 civilians in eastern Syria: monitor

BEIRUT: Russian air strikes killed 14 people fleeing across a river on rafts in eastern Syria as renewed fighting across the country took an ever mounting toll on civilians, a monitor said Friday.
The strikes, the latest in a string of such incidents this week, targeted a group crossing the Euphrates near the jihadist-held town of Mayadeen, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“They were crossing the river on makeshift rafts in a village south of Mayadeen,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that three children were among those killed overnight.
Russia has in recent days intensified its air raids in support of Syrian regime forces battling jihadists across the country.
Abdel Rahman said the civilians were fleeing the village of Mahkan, south of Mayadeen, which lies about 420 kilometers (260 miles) east of Damascus and is one of the Daesh group’s main remaining bastions.
Mayadeen has been under Daesh control since 2014 when the group swept across swathes of Iraq and Syria and proclaimed a “caliphate,” but regime forces have tightened the noose around the town.
The state news agency SANA said government forces advancing from desert areas northwest of Mayadeen had moved to within five kilometers (three miles) of the town.
In Deir Ezzor province, Daesh still controls Mayadeen, eastern neighborhoods of the city of Deir Ezzor further up the Euphrates Valley, the town of Albu Kamal downstream on the Iraqi border, and several other smaller towns.
Moscow has been carrying out relentless air strikes in support of its ally Damascus targeting both Daesh in Deir Ezzor province and rival jihadists led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate in Idlib province in the northwest.
The Daesh group, which once controlled a territory roughly the size of Britain, has seen its “caliphate” shrink steadily over the past two years and has lost all but a few of its main hubs in both Iraq and Syria.
A Kurdish-led alliance is currently fighting Daesh in Raqqa, the group’s biggest bastion since the recapture by Iraqi forces of Mosul in July.
The city, further up the Euphrates, was the de facto Syrian capital of Daesh’s now collapsing “state.”
On Wednesday, a Russian air strike killed 38 civilians trying to flee the fighting in Deir Ezzor province, according to the Observatory.
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. On Tuesday, it said a US-led coalition strike in Raqqa killed at least 18 civilians.
Russia has not acknowledged any civilian deaths from its strikes since it intervened in Syria in 2015 and dismisses the Observatory’s reporting as biased.
On Thursday, the Red Cross said Syria was experiencing its worst levels of violence since the battle for second city Aleppo late last year.
“For the past two weeks, we have seen an increasingly worrying spike in military operations that correlates with high levels of civilian casualties,” Marianne Gasser, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Syria, said.


Ex-child soldier presents damning testimony of Houthi recruitment in Yemen

Updated 19 min 28 sec ago
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Ex-child soldier presents damning testimony of Houthi recruitment in Yemen

  • Children who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting
  • The study shows 80 percent of child soldiers in Yemen begin fighting to earn much-needed money

JEDDAH: Children recruited as fighters by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen are beaten into submission and face psychological abuse, as well as the risk of death, injury and disability, a former child soldier said on Friday.
Those who try to flee are recaptured and forced to continue fighting, he told the Yemeni Coalition to Monitor Human Rights Violations (YCMHRV).
The child’s testimony is part of a documentary about the recruitment of children in Yemen, which was broadcast during the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
Legal expert Lisa Al-Badawi highlighted efforts to rehabilitate former child soldiers and children affected by the war in Yemen.
She said children make up a third of fighters in the Houthi militias, according to a field study by the Wethaq Foundation for Civil Orientation.
The study showed that 80 percent of child soldiers in Yemen begin fighting to earn much-needed money amid deteriorating economic conditions, while just 10 percent join Houthi ranks for “ideological reasons.”
Al-Badawi revealed numerous human rights violations faced by the recruits, including the risk of death and injury, deprivation of education, and exposure to sexual and psychological abuse.
She also discussed the methods used to treat and rehabilitate these children, emphasizing the importance of promoting awareness among parents.
She presented statistics on the areas covered by the rehabilitation process, which is carried out with support from the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief).
Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar, said he is not surprised by the Houthis’ large-scale recruitment of children.
“By devious design, they push children onto the frontlines so that when the children become victims, the Houthis can cry foul and blame the legitimate Yemeni government for killing children,” he told Arab News.
“These are terrorist militias, and like all terrorists, they have no qualms about playing with the lives of children.”
It is easy for the militias to brainwash children, Al-Shehri said. “Grown people are difficult to convince, but children become easy prey,” he added.
“In most cases, the Houthis don’t even tell children that they’re going to the frontlines. They lure them by saying they’ll be helping their men.”
Now that the Houthis have been cornered in Hodeidah, they will use children and the civilian population as human shields, Al-Shehri said, asking: “What can we expect from such terrorists?”
Meanwhile, the Houthis have indicated they would be willing to hand over management of Hodeidah port to the UN, according to sources quoted by Reuters. The port is a principal entry point for relief supplies for Yemen.
This week, UN envoy Martin Griffiths has been in the Houthi-controlled Yemeni capital Sanaa and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to try to negotiate a solution.
The source, quoted by Reuters, said the Houthis indicated that they would accept overall UN management and inspections of the port.
A Western diplomat said the UN would oversee income from the port and make sure it gets to Yemen’s central bank. The understanding is that Yemeni state employees will work alongside the UN.
Griffiths on Thursday said he was “encouraged by the constructive engagement” of the Houthis, and will be holding meetings with Yemen’s internationally backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
Speaking earlier at the UN, Saudi Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi reiterated the Saudi-led coalition’s demand that the Houthis quit the city of Hodeidah entirely.
“What we are offering is for the Houthis to hand over their weapons to the government of Yemen and to leave, to leave peacefully, and to provide information about the locations of mines and improvised explosive devices,” he said.