Syrian regime has no respect for human life, says opposition

Smoke rises following an air strike on the rebel-held besieged town of Harasta, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 04 January 2018
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Syrian regime has no respect for human life, says opposition

JEDDAH: The Syrian regime’s relentless shelling and air raids show that it has no respect for human life or the rules of war, opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News on Wednesday.
The regime is amassing elite forces for a major assault on an army base on the outskirts of Damascus, in which at least 200 troops are believed to be besieged by rebels, Reuters reported.
Since Sunday, opposition fighters have expanded their control of parts of the base in Harasta. They are well entrenched, and the trapped troops might be used as bargaining chips “if they remain alive,” Al-Aridi said.
The likely outcome of the showdown is unclear, “but the regime can claim no victory or control, as it has been saying,” he added. The opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) “is the major power” besieging the base, he said.
In four days of heavy airstrikes, 38 civilians have been killed and at least 147 people injured. Five civilians were killed on Tuesday. The regime and its supporters “don’t care about a political solution,” Al-Aridi said.
Bahia Mardini, a UK-based Syrian journalist and human rights activist, told Arab News: “We believe passionately in the elimination of terrorism and the defeat of all terrorist groups in Syria — whatever name they go by —  but we must spare civilian lives.”
She added: “The regime and its Russian allies mustn’t be allowed to use terrorism as an excuse to kill civilians and maintain their deadly siege.” Despite the regime’s scorched-earth policy, Syrians continue to reject violence, Mardini said.
She appealed to the six new members of the UN Security Council “to stand up to the regime and ask its allies to pressure it so that together we can prevent the killing of Syrian civilians.”
 


EU-Arab summit set for February 24-25 in Egypt

Updated 4 min 37 sec ago
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EU-Arab summit set for February 24-25 in Egypt

BRUSSELS: European Union and Arab leaders will meet in Egypt in late February for their first summit as part of efforts to forge a new European-African alliance and fight migrant smuggling, officials said Thursday.
European leaders first mentioned the summit in Austria last month as they vowed to intensify talks with Egypt and other North African countries to curb illegal migration.
“The European Council welcomes the holding of the forthcoming first summit between the 28 EU Member States and the League of Arab States, hosted by Egypt on 24-25 February 2019,” the council of EU leaders said after a summit in Brussels.
The Cairo-based Arab League includes North African countries Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco as well as those in the Middle East and Gulf.
EU officials insisted the summit was about more than just migration, but part of a broader push to build closer ties with Africa outlined by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in September.
“It is now much more than about migration and fighting traffickers,” an EU official told reporters.
Juncker urged the EU to strike a “new alliance” with Africa that would create millions of jobs and include a free trade deal.
The Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, hopes the strategy will both showcase its international influence and help stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.
The EU also wants to boost development in sub-Saharan Africa to ease the poverty that often drives migration.
Brussels has previously struck cooperation deals with both Turkey and Libya, whose coast guard officers are trained by the Europeans to stop migrant sea crossings — despite concerns about conditions in Libyan detention centers.
The deals with the two gateway countries have helped to cut migration to Europe sharply since a 2015 peak, but the bloc wants to expand work with all north African countries.
The leaders called for “strengthening cooperation with countries of origin and transit, particularly in North Africa,” according to the summit’s published conclusions.
“Work with third countries on investigating, apprehending and prosecuting smugglers and traffickers should be intensified,” it said.
EU officials say Egypt has set a high bar in fighting traffickers and smugglers, which could be emulated by other North African countries.
The EU is increasingly focused on bolstering its external borders amid longstanding divisions over redistributing asylum-seekers who make it to Italian and other European shores.
But it is still confronted with the refusal of Hungary and other former communist eastern countries to admit migrants, particularly from Muslim countries.
And Italy’s populist government has this year turned away migrant rescue ships in a bid to force fellow EU countries to share responsibility for them.
The United Nations refugee and migration agencies, the UNHCR and IOM, had this week urged EU leaders to take steps to ensure responsiblities are shared.
They said the debate was so “dangerously toxic” in some countries that it was harder to find common solutions.
Even though fewer people were arriving in Europe, the two agencies said, the rate of people dying in the Mediterranean was increasing. More than 1,700 lives have been lost since January.